London cabbies have the reputation, sometimes deserved, as being the most talkative of London’s professions. Below are some of the tales and anecdotes sent to CabbieBlog.
Other cabbie’s tales, tall or otherwise would be most welcome. Details of how to contact CabbieBlog are to be found in the About page of this site.
A great lady
By Leonard A. Lucinti from New York
“A great lady”. These are not my words. They are the words heard in the movie “Gone with the wind”, by Clark Gable, describing “Melanie”, played by Olivia de Havilland. On screen or off screen, a true “great lady” is the same person. I was fortunate to encounter, one day about thirty years ago, this truly “great lady”.
Who am I? I drove private cars in the New York City area. These cars can be seen today among the yellow cabs, and are usually dark blue, or sometimes, black. There was a company involved in the livery business at the time, and I tried it for a month. Low and behold, it went out of business. Prior to that, I drove “gypsy cabs” in the borough of Brooklyn. They were disgusting oil guzzlers that usually stank from something. Could be from people vomiting in them. They were horrible, but for less than a buck, they were affordable back when N.Y.C. was in big financial trouble.
My encounter with Olivia de Havilland took place by coincidence. I was sent by my dispatcher to J.F.K. airport to pick up two people heading up to a town about thirty miles north of the N.Y.C. border, known as Ossining. Ossining is known mostly for its prison. I waited and waited. Airports usually have a “staging area” where chauffeurs and drivers wait for planes to land, and they usually identify themselves by carrying a placard. I kept waiting and waiting. Drivers for private cars must know how to master the art of extreme patience. My patience was running out when an hour went by, and nobody showed. While waiting, I noticed a nice looking lady dressed in a plain dress. Nothing fancy about her. She looked like an ordinary lady. Upon closer glance, I knew who she was. She was looking for her baggage to arrive among many other suitcases, off of a carousel. I then decided to call my dispatcher, and explain that the couple going to Ossining weren’t around, but I wanted to ask a known celebrity if she needed a ride. They said, go ahead.
As I neared Ms. de Havilland, I noticed her big, beautiful eyes contacting my own eyes, and she smiled, however faintly. Politely, I asked her. She then looked deeper into my eyes and said she needed to get to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manhattan. I said my car was parked outside, and I’d be happy to drive her. I then grabbed her luggage and soon departed the airport.
Inside, she seated herself like a true lady, and I began asking her about her career making movies. It was an hour of pure joy, reliving her experiences with actors now long gone. When I asked her what movie she felt she performed her best in, it was the psychotic movie “Snake Pit”. I personally loved her as the villainess in “Hush, hush sweet Charlotte”, opposite Bette Davis.
Folks, they don’t make them like they used to.
Diana Rigg gets her kit off
From Stan Shaw:
I drove a cab from 1957 to 1995. Around the summer of 1968 I was hailed by Donald Zec, gossip writer of the Daily Mirror, he was taking Diana Rigg to the Savoy hotel to interview her over lunch. When we got there Zec paid me off and Miss Rigg came over and asked me to hold on for a moment. It appeared that the fabulous tangerine trouser suit with a thigh length jacket (I was once in the schmutter trade) was not considered “proper attire” by the management. She got into the back of the cab to take off her trousers. Zec looked away but I asked if I could watch, “Of course”, she said . . . what a great pair of legs. They went all the way to her arm-pits, and those tiny white knickers still haunt me. She got out of the cab with her trousers over her arm and they went off to lunch.
Have I just bought a black cab?
By Colin in Thailand:
On my way home but with my light still on and the early hours of the morning a guy waves me down and asks if I would take him to somewhere in deepest Kent (forget now exactly where) after 45 minutes he asks: could I in any way slow down the meter; or could I drive slower? I say to him that would make no difference to the metered fare. He was I think just happy to be getting home, after about 50 minutes or so his phone rings and it was his wife asking where he was: “Be home in about 20 minutes Luv” he says and, “Oh, by the way take your car out of the garage, I think I’ve have just bought a black-cab”.
A ghost from the past
From The Manchester Evening Times:
This is a true story from the pages of the Manchester Evening Times.
Last Wednesday a passenger in a taxi heading for Salford station leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb and stopped just inches from a large plate window. For a few moments everything was silent in the cab. Then, the shaking driver said “are you OK? I’m so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.”
The badly shaken passenger apologized to the driver and said, “I didn’t realize that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle someone so badly.”
The driver replied, “No, no, I’m the one who is sorry, it’s entirely my fault. Today is my very first day driving a cab. I’ve been driving a hearse for 25 years.”
Rita Moreno knows me
By Stan from Florida
I was driving my cab around London in 1966 when the film ‘West Side Story’ had just been released. Suddenly my cab was struck from behind, I leapt out to investigate and found there was no damage to either party. I continued on with my fare to Haverstock Hill where she got out. I asked if she would mind giving me her name and address in case the other guy pulled a fast one, the lady wrote it out and handed it to me. It read Rita Moreno. She was a perfectly ordinary looking girl and before I could get control of my big mouth, I blurted out “You look nothing like the other Rita Moreno”. She smiled at me and said “I am the other Rita Moreno”, and she was gone . . . I wonder if she remembers me?
A Tale of Two Griffins
From David Styles:
As traditional pubs continue to lose custom, landlords have to make decisions if they want to stay in business. They could become a “sports bar”, but how many noisy multi-screen establishments can one town take? Become a trendy restaurant if located among the leafy leftie enclaves of Chelsea and Fulham. Another option available is to become a “Gentlemen’s Venue”, lap dancing club to you and me. So when a young woman with a small airline case asked for “The Griffin” I naturally took her to the sleazy pub conversion in Clerkenwell. On arrival as my passenger got out, another heavily made up young woman got in with the ubiquitous suitcase and asked for Brown’s a well known strip club. With that, girl number one returns wearing a rather startled expression to inform me accusingly that it was certainly NOT the Griffin pub she wanted. I drove red faced to Brown’s via the correct Griffin pub with not a word spoken in the back from my two passengers. The moral of the story: Don’t always assume small flight bags are full of g-strings.
When you go to a restaurant, do you go into the kitchen and cook your own meal?
From Richard Cudlip at The Cabbies Capital:
The only time I’ve really shouted at a punter and that’s what I said to her. I’d been working on that line for ages and was delighted to use it, just a pity I hadn’t been a bit more controlled with the delivery. But she deserved it. Only going from Mayfair to Brompton Cross (the junction of Fulham Rd where the Michelin Building is), three times she had a go at me about the route. “Why are you going through the park?” (Answer: to farking annoy you); “Just go down Knightsbridge” (genius, let’s sit in the traffic caused by No 1 Hyde Park); “Why don’t you go that back route?” (Said at Hyde Park Corner, two minutes after insisting I go down Knightsbridge). And that’s when I lose it. Just let me do the driving, that’s why I get to charge you for the journey. If you want to go a certain way, tell me when you first get in. WHEN YOU GO TO A RESTAURANT, DO YOU GO INTO THE KITCHEN AND COOK THE MEAL YOURSELF? We go the “back route” (Pont Street, Walton Street) and the traffic is rubbish. She hasn’t spoken since my tirade and then gets out 500 yards from the destination, slamming the door harder than anyone before or since. No tip. Bitch.
Just kidding Mr Niven
From Stan Shaw:
About the summer of 1972 I picked up David Niven, my sister had told me the day before that she was reading his book “The Moon Is a Balloon” and she thought it a great book. As he settled into the back seat, I said “Just read your book”. He jumped forward on to the cricket seat with excitement saying “Really? Did you like it?” “Nah!” I said, “It was a load of rubbish!” He fell back to the rear seat and I had to stop the cab to say that I was only kidding. I explained that my sister was ¾ of the way through it and found so good that she did not believe that he wrote it. I was going to read it when she was finished. He went on to explain that he had written it all by hand in school exercise books (so that nothing would be thrown away) and then his publisher had it typed up and then passed to a literary editor, who re-arranged it into chapters without altering any of the writing. He gave me a handsome tip and said “Here go buy your own copy!” I did! Then I bought his follow-up book “Bring on the Empty Horses”. He was one of my most charming passengers. Both books are worth reading!
A drunken dwarf
By David Styles:
It started as it often does with the comparatively sober one hailing the cab, and then bundling his drunken friend into the back and then closing the door, while they still stood on the pavement. When my passenger struggled to get into the cab I realised why his friend had been so considerate – the man was short, very short. I started driving to the station he had requested when I had occasion to apply the brakes sharply. As always when sudden braking occurs I apologised and checked in my mirror to see that my passenger was OK. No sign of him! I turned round no one was on the backseat. Had he got out the cab? Stopping I looked and there on his back like a turtle was my passenger. Opening the passenger door I realised why he couldn’t right himself, the poor man was a Thalidomide victim and had extremely short arms.
Here I should mention that at 5 foot 4 inches I’m also somewhat vertically challenged myself, and having studiously avoided any physical exercise for most of my life, I was hardly in a position to lift a 10 stone drunk. I eventually managed to slide him back on to the rear seat, and that is when I realised he really couldn’t hold his drink, I suppose there just wasn’t enough of him to contain it; he was pissed. Jumping out of the cab I managed to tear a ligament in my knee, a joint that had previous cartilage surgery. I was in agony. So here we were; me virtually unable to drive and him virtually unable to walk. I just managed to drive to the station and on arrival he couldn’t find his money. He managed to get out unaided, and took my business card promising to pay me later. Let’s face it I was unable to drive him home anyway.
Having resigned myself to never seeing my payment (and still nursing an unusable leg) I was surprised to receive the phone call from him the next day with an offer of payment. The moral of this story: Some drunks pay up and some passengers just need a little help.
A cab as a changing room
From Richard Cudlip at The Cabbies Capital:
Nice young lady hails me on Piccadilly and needs to get to Covent Garden pronto. Dressed in nice smart business suit carrying briefcase and holdall. I concentrate on getting her there when all of a sudden I can’t see her in the rear view mirror. What the? I then notice that she is lying on the floor of the cab trying to fit herself into some pretty tight jeans. Concentrate on the road cabbie, concentrate. Two minutes later we reach her destination, she gives me a decent tip looking very glam and, I’ve just noticed, wearing a completely different top. When did she do that? Gutted, a nice old couple hail me and I take them to Victoria. Did that just happen?
First day on The Knowledge
By Stan from Florida:
It was the first week of January 1957. I had decided to do “The Knowledge”. I had found myself a partner who knew absolutely everything there was to know (?). He had all the runs copied out (by someone else) and a list of every point asked since 1645 AD. I turned up at his parents flat in Downs Court, a block of flats overlooking the Pembury Circle. It was 7.30 am and I was riding my Rudge Whitworth bicycle that my Dad had bought me in 1949 in “Club Row” for a fiver. His mother, answering the door told me that he (I can’t remember his name) was still in bed. From under the bedclothes he mumbled that it was too cold to get up. In disgust I took off on my own. My knowledge of London was far less than nil. I had no idea that there was a Euston Station, or Marylebone or Cannon Street, Blackfriars, Charing Cross or London Bridge. Who could possibly want all those stations? I cannot remember what sort of “run” I was doing, but I found myself in Wilton Crescent leaning back on my bike and looking up at the church spire. It suddenly took on a wobbly shape and everything went black. When I came too I realized that I had been “out” for at least 30 minutes and I was lying on top of my bike in the middle of the road. No one had come to my assistance. With great difficulty I got to my feet and leaning on my bike (it was very difficult to walk), I trudged around up to Hyde Park Corner, and down into the subterranean toilets (they are probably not there now). The attendant there must have taken pity on me. I gave him the 3 pence for a standard wash and he gave me the De Luxe treatment. Two wonderfully soft white towels, all the hot water I wanted, a face cloth and a bar of soap. That was the sixpence treatment. After I had recovered somewhat I staggered across Knightsbridge (no underpass in those days) and into “J. Lyons” tea shop. I had a steaming hot cup of tea and a large sugar covered Chelsea Bun. It was delicious. So I had another and another.
I rode my bike home and the next day went out and got myself a job as a “top machiner” in a sweat shop. I restarted “The Knowledge” at the end of February with a new partner and I started from scratch – I passed in the middle of September.
Character of Cabs and Cabmen
By Charles Dickens
Reproduced from The Victorian Dictionary by Lee Jackson:
He was a man of most simple and prepossessing appearance. He was a brown-whiskered, white-hatted, no-coated cabman; his nose was generally red, and his bright blue eye not unfrequently stood out in bold relief against a black border of artificial workmanship; his boots were of the Wellington form, pulled up to meet his corduroy knee-smalls, or at least to approach as near them as their dimensions would admit of; and his neck was usually garnished with a bright yellow handkerchief. In summer he carried in his mouth a flower; in winter, a straw – slight, but, to a contemplative mind, certain indications of a love of nature, and a taste for botany.
His cabriolet was gorgeously painted – a bright red; and wherever we went, City or West End, Paddington or Holloway, North, East, West, or South, there was the red cab, bumping up against the posts at the street corners, and turning in and out, among hackney-coaches, and drays, and carts, and waggons, and omnibuses, and contriving by some strange means or other, to get out of places which no other vehicle but the red cab could ever by any possibility have contrived to get into at all. Our fondness for that red cab was unbounded. How we should have liked to have seen it in the circle at Astley’s! Our life upon it, that it should have performed such evolutions as would have put the whole company to shame – Indian chiefs, knights, Swiss peasants, and all.
Some people object to the exertion of getting into cabs, and others object to the difficulty of getting out of them; we think both these are objections which take their rise in perverse and ill-conditioned minds. The getting into a cab is a very pretty and graceful process, which, when well performed, is essentially melodramatic. First, there is the expressive pantomime of every one of the eighteen cabmen on the stand, the moment you raise your eyes from the ground. Then there is your own pantomime in reply – quite a little ballet. Four cabs immediately leave the stand, for your especial accommodation; and the evolutions of the animals who draw them, are beautiful in the extreme, as they grate the wheels of the cabs against the curb-stones, and sport playfully in the kennel. You single out a particular cab, and dart swiftly towards it. One bound, and you are on the first step; turn your body lightly round to the right, and you are on the second; bend gracefully beneath the reins, working round to the left at the same time, and you are in the cab. There is no difficulty in finding a seat: the apron knocks you comfortably into it at once, and off you go.
The getting out of a cab is, perhaps, rather more complicated in its theory, and a shade more difficult in its execution. We have studied the subject a great deal, and we think the best way is, to throw yourself out, and trust to chance for alighting on your feet. If you make the driver alight first, and then throw yourself upon him, you will find that he breaks your fall materially. In the event of your contemplating an offer of eightpence, on no account make the tender, or show the money, until you are safely on the pavement. It is very bad policy attempting to save the fourpence. You are very much in the power of a cabman, and he considers it a kind of fee not to do you any wilful damage. Any instruction, however, in the art of getting out of a cab, is wholly unnecessary if you are going any distance, because the probability is, that you will be shot lightly out before you have completed the third mile.
We are not aware of any instance on record in which a cab-horse has performed three consecutive miles without going down once. What of that? It is all excitement. And in these days of derangement of the nervous system and universal lassitude, people are content to pay handsomely for excitement; where can it be procured at a cheaper rate?
A trip down Highgate Hill
From Stan Shaw:
Your comment about Highgate Hill reminded me of the time in 1957 when I was doing the Knowledge, my partner Mickey Green and I met up with about four other guys and we were crowding around a map that had been placed at Whitestone Pond. None of us had come across anything like it. Harry Green looking at it noticed the transparent arrow pointing to the pond saying YOU ARE HERE. He pondered for a moment and said “How the hell do they know where we are?” Then all six of us took off down East Heath Road. Now that is some hill. Soon we were all going too fast and could not stop. One of the guys had an old fashioned (even then) bike with a 28″ frame and enormous wheels. He was way ahead of us all whooping and shouting. He had a front lamp on a bracket on the front fork. It got shaken free and fell into the spokes. The whole front wheel fell apart and he went posterior over mammary then went sliding down the hill on his arse. We had to take him around to New End Hospital.
The Attack of the Woodentops
From Stan Shaw:
Woodentop was a police constable at London Airport in the late 60s-70s. I remember nothing about him except the name. He was totally unremarkable except for the name which says it all. No! This tale is about P.C. Plod who has to have been genetically related to Woodentop. It was the summer of 1970. I had given up driving a cab and was a full time student at Trent Park College, training to be schoolteacher. I did however drive a cab on Saturday nights and during the holidays. An acquaintance of mine (Ivan Ross of Southgate) a true gentleman always managed to find me a cab and charged me a mere £5.00 per day (or night).
So around noon, in the summer of 1970 I was sitting on Sloane Square rank. As I reached the point a fare jumped into the back and said “Cavendish Square please”. I immediately looked to my left hand mirror and started to ease the cab off the rank. I went around the square into Eaton Square then left up into Belgrave Square. Then along Grosvenor Corner to Hyde Park Corner. It was always (still?) easier to stay on the left lane because you could slip out into the crossing traffic. Very few people would give way to a cab so you had to seize the moment and charge out. When I got to the front I shoved my nose out into the traffic by about a foot, forcing any pedestrian wanting to cross to go behind me. That way I could concentrate fully on the traffic from the right.
Suddenly there was an almighty thump on the left hand side of the cab and a very excited yelling. I tried to turn my head but was struck very heavily on my left cheek by a huge black cannon ball. The cab lurched forward about a foot and several cars to my right rear ended each other. I pulled around the corner and parked (as did the crashed cars) creating quite a traffic problem. I went around the cab and found a HUGE black arse sticking out of my luggage door window. It was P.C. Plod. It transpired that P.C. Plod had heroically hurled his body through the window of my cab to wrap his arms around my taximeter and scream “Gotcher! Gotcher!! Gotcher!!” I had forgotten to set my meter in motion. I had to pull his huge black arse out of the cab. He could not make it on his own. I thanked him and was about to get on with my job. “Not so fast!” he said and began writing me up. I asked my fare if he would like me to get him another cab and replied that he would watch the pantomime to its conclusion. All this time P.C. Plod was oblivious to the mounting traffic problem
Eventually I got underway again and I asked my fare why he had not told me about my error. He told me that he took a cab three times a day from Sloane Square to Cavendish Square and each and every time the driver took him a different way. Some went all the way up Sloane Street into the park, up Park Lane to Marble Arch. Edgware Road and along Wigmore Street. Some went through Eaton Square, Lower Grosvenor Place and around the Palace and up St. James Street. He said that no matter which way he was taken it always seemed to go the same on the meter. Five shillings and he always paid seven and six. When we got to Cavendish Square he gave me a pound and said he hoped that would cover the fine. You cannot make these things up . . .