you a cab driver?
You a cab driver? Had anyone famous in the back of the cab? Give me a fiver for every time I’ve been asked and I’ll pay the Hunters Restaurant bill next time round. I have a rule, though; I do not start talking until they do. Always a polite good morning/afternoon, of course, and a, “Where would you like to go?”
Entertainers are subject to many pressures and I always respect their privacy. When asked who I 'have had in the back of my cab', my experience with two totally down-to-earth English performers always comes to mind; Jim Davidson and Bob Monkhouse. It’s a long time ago, but from memory, Jim was appearing at the Dominion. It was late afternoon and the nights were drawing in. I picked him up near Centre Point and he told me that he had a couple of shops to visit and would I mind waiting for him and then taking him back to the theatre. No problem, a good job. In those days we could wait by the side of the road; no cameras then, only reasonably friendly Traffic Wardens who either moved you on or gave you two more minutes.
(Oh, god, how I hate those cameras. Everything is literally black and white. You cannot make mistakes or an error of judgement. Cameras do not take into account human frailty. Neither do the commonplace minds who act as gods over us when they make the decisions to send out the FPN's.)
I always told punters that if I wasn’t outside waiting when they’d finished, they were to wait for me as I would be circling the block and be back as soon as possible. Jim did his shopping and we chatted in a friendly manner on the return journey. At that time he’d had a lot of bad press, but all I can say is that I found him a warm, decent bloke lacking in any airs or graces. A good ride and a very good payer. He can ride in my cab any old time.
Bob Monkhouse I picked up in the Clerkenwell Road area. He didn’t give me a chance to do my usual spiel; he got in, said hello, gave me the address and asked how I was. We were off, chatting all the way. I can date this occasion because my wife and I had just seen the new Emma Thompson, Jeff Goldblum film, ‘The Tall Guy’ and that came out in 1989. I was telling Bob about it, relating especially to the amount of flesh that Emma Thompson showed in the film. (Isn’t it funny how things like that stick in one’s mind?) Bob replied, (words to the effect: Really? I must go and see it then.)
Bob was a man’s man. If anyone has read his autobiography they will remember the scene where he came face-to-face with Diana Dors’ husband or boyfriend at a party. Bob was also a friend of Diana’s at that time and this bloke was the last person he wanted to see. The bloke steamed over to Bob and Bob said he did the only thing he could think of and that was to kick him in the balls and run. Clever fellow, that Bob.
He died in December 2003 of prostate and bone cancer and it struck me many years later, long after I had been diagnosed with the same problem, that it really is luck, when and if, you get the right treatment. But it should not be like that. I was being treated for kidney stones and my consultant told me after the treatment was finished, that whenever I had blood tests, (frequently) he also checked the box on the form marked PSA.
‘What is PSA, I asked?’
‘It is a test for prostate cancer’, he replied.
Half of my brain then struggled to hold my sphincter muscle tight and the other half, showing my usual curiosity and interest, asked him why did he do that?
‘Oh, I always do it for men of a certain age’, he said, (it was 2004 - work it out yourself) ‘and you come into that category’.
‘Well, I want to continue giving you blood tests because your reading was a little high’, he replied. Hmmm.
The tests continued regularly for over a year and then came the statement I was dreading. ‘Your PSA reading has jumped and you will have to have a biopsy’. (I acknowledge here that I just have to know about 'Things'. The internet is a wonderful library and there I found out enough to hope that I never, ever, got prostate cancer)
No problem with the news, I knew it was the next step and if I did have cancer then I would want to know early and then do something about it. (during this time my anus was entered by his thick, probing finger on many occasions and my gland always told him the same three things: it was small, soft and smooth - all the things that a prostate gland should normally be.) Proof that rectal invasions are unnecessary, in my opinion.
I was referred to The Man. He probed, read the reports, I gave more blood, he pronounced: biopsy next whenever. Barnet Hospital. The Day came. My beloved Maxine came with me. I knew what to expect but that did not make it any easier. Nursey arrived. Come with me, please. I followed her through the swing doors into the theatre and in one glance took in the bed, the table alongside it and on the table, good grief, The Thing! Fuck me, it was long. Long and shiny, with a head that opened to stick grooved needles into the prostate gland to extract tissue samples. A monitor. His stool. Tense. Lay down, turn on your side and pull your knees up to your chest. I will gloss over the rest. Suffice it to say that The Man did not give the anaesthetic gel time to work properly. I nearly broke the nurse’s fingers.
A few days later, after the results came back, I was given the bad news. I was stoic; my wife shocked and crying. Somehow, I knew it already. Next step, bone scan and this is where my thoughts of Bob Monkhouse return. My bone scan was clear, the cancer had not spread. Bob’s scan obviously was not. It is not cancer of the prostate that kills you, but the consequential spread of it into the body. Thanks to my renal consultant going the extra yard I had found out early. That man saved my life and I duly thanked him for it. Several times.
Now I do not know the details of Bob’s condition. Whether he had the warning signs of getting up in the night to urinate several times and when he did, only a trickle would appear. Whether there was any other discomfort at all. Or if he had spoken of it to his doctor and was too late in doing so. As I mentioned earlier, I had no signs at all and if it wasn’t for my consultant I quite possibly would never have known until it was too late. I believe one of our own Boys, Jerome Want-Sibley (I knew him at Laycock Juniors as Jerome Sibley) died of the condition only a few years ago. He came to an early reunion at the Earl of Essex, a pub back of the Angel, Islington. He was our age.
Have you had a blood test lately? What was your PSA reading?
I watched the first episode of the program on Lucan on ITV tonight, and it reminded me of an encounter I had with him in about ’72 or ’73. I worked a week nights followed by a week days with my original partner David Bovingdon. A working arrangement which suited us for a year or two, anyway I knew all the night spots, Churchill’s, 21 Club and of course, the Claremont.
One afternoon on my day shift I was stopped outside one of the shirt shops in Jermyn Street at the back of Fortnums. A guy in a cavalry twill overcoat, Saville Row Suit and Lobb shoes stopped me, got in the cab and shouted (as they do) ‘Claremont’. I put the cab into gear and pulled out when he knocked on the partition. Stop! You’ve got to wait for my wife, she’s in the shop buying a blouse. It was late in the afternoon and traffic was building up behind me with cars parked both sides. ‘Sorry mate’ says I, ‘I can’t wait here, I’m holding up all the traffic’.
‘You’ll wait here until I say I’m ready’.
‘Well says I, stay in the back of the cab and we’ll go round the block (Duke St, King St, St James Sq, Duke of York, back into Jermyn) and when your wife comes out we’ll pick her up’.
‘I don’t think you know who you’re talking to,’ he replies.
‘I know exactly who I’m talking to’, says I, ‘a Fucking pound ride to Berkley Square, now fuck off and get another cab when you’re ready to go’.
Funny that init, a couple of years later he allegedly murders his wife, or nanny, I don’t remember which, and has never been seen again. I’ve ‘ad ‘em all.
And another from the maestro. You’ll never guess who I had in the back of my cab.
The news has just come hot off the presses that two Italian ladies who used to work as Personal Assistants to those pillars of British High Society; Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson; have been found Not Guilty of defrauding the couple of £685,000. I would like to add some grist to the mill in respect of the Saatchi / Lawson spending habits. Some years ago now I was driving my shiny Red (for Arsenal) London Taxi, when I received a pickup over the Computer Cab booking system. This was to pick up the aforementioned couple from their house in Eton Square SW1, and take them on a ‘mystery’ job with a minimum hiring of two hours. We were always pre warned as we didn’t have to accept a job if it were for greater than one hour. I took the job and arrived at the pickup at the appointed time. Having rung the bell I was told to wait (naturally). They came down in no more than 15 minutes. Getting in the cab Charles (as I always called him) asked if I knew ‘Laskey’s’ in Old Street, (Leonard Street) I said I did. Well we’ll go there first he said. Laskey’s is an architectural salvage yard where you can buy old Roman Pillars, or a Robert Adam fireplace. As it was a Saturday morning there wasn’t a lot of traffic so I probably got there in 20 minutes or so.
I dropped them at Laskey’s and was asked (told) to wait. They went into the shop / yard, I sat outside and waited. Fortunately I had a copy of ‘War and Peace’ ready for just such an occurrence. They were only in the shop an hour or so and got back in the cab empty handed and asked for Thomas Goode, the china shop in South Audley Street, Mayfair. So off we went back to Mayfair. They went in the shop, but were only about half an hour and got back in the cab, also empty handed. The next destination was Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly my friend Charles (sometimes I call him Chas) asked me to drop them round the back in Jermyn Street so they could slip unrecognised through the goods entrance. Once again they were in the shop for about half an hour, but this time they returned with a purchase, a bathroom loofer, in a brown paper bag but with one end sticking out of the bag.
They asked to go back to Eton Square, but before getting there asked me to stop off in Orange Square, Pimlico Road. I thought they were going into my old friend David Linley’s furniture shop (more of him another time), but no – they wanted Starbuck’s opposite, they asked me to wait; again. I thought they would buy their coffee and take it home, but no they had me wait while they finished their cappuccino, and then take them home. So in about three hours in my cab riding round town on their shopping trip they had bought a loofer and two coffees. I didn’t mind, it took up a few hours until Kick Off and the money in my account the next pay day was better than going to the Airport.
One afternoon I got a COMCAB job picking up from a restaurant in Pimlico, as I recall an Italian somewhere south of Victoria. Passenger, Lord Snowdon, going home on account. I arrived at the pickup and he’s standing on the pavement with the Chef and Maitre‘D. They helped him in the cab and said their fond farewell’s. He sat on the Jump Seat and talked through the window. “Driver, have you picked me up before?” Yes, I replied. “Have I ever been to that restaurant before?" Well I’ve never picked you up there – why? “Well they treated me like Royalty." Excuse me for saying so, said I, but you are Royalty. “Not anymore,” he replied.
Anyway we get on our way to his home address in Launceston Place, South Ken. As I drove him the cab drivers route, down Warwick Way and into Pimlico Road he pointed out his son David’s furniture shop, right there on Orange Square. He asked if I knew of his son, and I said that I did. “Do you know how much rent he pays” – I didn’t reply “Well it’s a bloody fortune – I used to have a small studio there back in the 60’s and paid about three quid a week rent”. Oh, said I, but when you moved up the other end of Buckingham Palace Road you would have lived there rent free. “The rent was free but I paid in other ways," he said – "anyway I’d rather not talk about that”. Fair enough I thought.
We then got to talking about his love of cars, and I said I’d once seen him and Peter Sellers in their customised Mini’s racing down the Kings Road in about ’69 or ’70. “Dear boy you certainly can’t have, you’re much too young”. Well he has a good eye. Before getting to Ken Hi Street he asked if I would mind doing a bit of shopping for him. We went to Carphone Warehouse in Ken Hi where he had ordered some ‘walkie talkie’ radios. I went into the shop with his credit card to pay for them, he even trusted me with the PIN. When I got back to the cab he asked me to walk to the end of the Mews (Adam & Eve) to test the radios, he had one and I had the other. He had bought them for a photo shoot so he could talk to his assistant who pressed the shutter while he was lining up the model. Well somebody has to.
We finally got to Launceston Place, and there in the small drive was a brand new yellow and black Mini Cooper. “BMW just gave me that because they knew I had one years ago, and I suppose they want me to be seen driving it, although I don’t drive any more”. He got out of the cab and went inside telling me to stay there and not to turn off the clock. He came out again and handed me a set of keys. “Here take it for a spin around the block”. I declined saying there was nowhere to park the cab, but thanked him for the offer.
What a lovely man. I’ve taken him three or four times, but now he has a personal assistant with him at all times to help him in and out of the cab.
There are 6 million stories in The Naked City, this has been one of them.
It’s strange the way one’s mind drifts between dozing and sleeping these days. I had one of those moments just last night.
During this pandemic lockdown which we have all been experiencing recently, I have discovered that although there is nothing in particular that I wish to get up for, I am going to bed early; about 10:00 p.m. and waking up late at about 8:00 a.m., so am averaging about ten hours sleep a night.
Last night I had a particularly vivid dream, or rather recollection. I have now been retired for three years after holding a London taxi driver's badge for 48 years. May, 1969 to June, 2017. So, in that time, I reckon I drove 1 million miles, Averaging about 15 rides per day, five days a week for 48 weeks a year. So about 3,500 rides per year for 48 years – giving a career total of about 172,000 rides. Of those approx. 172,000 rides, I can probably remember about a half dozen, but one in particular came to me in a dream last night.
Sometime in the early 1970s I shared a cab with an old mate, David Bovington. We did split shifts; me – nights one week – days the following week, with David doing the opposite. We had a brand new cab that we bought and were on Mountview radio circuit. I recall it was a Friday night when I was allocated a ride from The Marquee club in Wardour Street going on account to St Johns Wood. The account was in the name of Paul McCartney. Now, as a failed professional guitarist I was looking forward to taking Paul home, just for the chance of having a word with him. I got to the pickup point, the phone box outside the Marquee, and was told by the radio dispatcher that I was to take Caroline (or Chloe or Sarah), anyway some posh bit of totty. She got in the cab and asked for Paul McCartney’s address in Cavandish Avenue, St Johns Wood, just behind Lords Cricket Ground.
We chatted on the way and she said she was Paul’s PA and was staying at the house as Paul and Linda were away. We finally got to the address and the big front gates were open, so she asked me to go in the drive. It was at that moment that she had doubts about the safety of the house. Not only was the gate open, the light on the burglar alarm was not flashing. She said she must have forgotten to set the alarm before leaving. She said she was scared to go inside on her own, and asked if I would accompany her. I agreed to set her mind at ease.
She had the key and the door was definitely locked. She asked if I would come in and just check the house. We went in all the rooms both downstairs and up and, thankfully, there was no sign of anyone having been in the house. She asked if I would like a cup of coffee as she was having one, so I thanked her and we went into the kitchen. Now, as you may imagine, it was a large kitchen with all the latest gadgets. However, it was built and decorated in a style which today you would describe as ‘shabby chic’. Caroline explained to me that all the wood for the shelves, cupboards and worktops was ‘reclaimed’; probably down to Linda McCartney’s ‘saving the world's resources’ habits. She would have loved today’s fad for saving the planet. They did, however, have the biggest Gaggia coffee maker I had seen outside the Bar Italia. We drank our coffee and chatted. She asked me if there was anything I would like to see in the house. I said yes, I would love to see Paul’s music room, which I had noticed when we were checking the rooms upstairs. So she showed me up there.
There was the famous Hoffner ‘violin’ Bass, another Rickenbacker Bass that Paul used playing with Wings, a couple of Guitars, one beautiful Gibson which I recognised from the TV when he plays Yesterday and Blackbird, and even a ¾ scale Stand Up Bass. But, as Paul is left handed, all the guitars and even the bass was strung left handed, so they were impossible for me to play. However, he did have in this room a small white Baby Grand, on which I thumped out a few numbers.
I thanked Caroline for the coffee and the tour, got back in my cab and drove away into the night. I don’t, to this day, really know what else Caroline was offering me, but I was happy with an espresso coffee and a go on Macca’s Joanna. I met George once, and took Ringo home to Hayes Mews on a couple of occasions. "You know where I live Whack!", said Ringo, "It’s where you cabbies stop for a piss." But I never met John or Paul, and am hardly likely to now. I’ll tell you my Eric Clapton story, but that’s for another day.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Self employed work had slowed down, so doing the Knowledge, could eventually lead to a living wage. It was the mid 90’s and friends who had got their badge, were earning over £1000 a week, so not to be sniffed at!
Now, having been an avid cyclist, I took to doing the Knowledge on a push bike and I must say the Points I learned on the bike, stuck in my head better than those that I did on a moped.
Anyway, Queen’s Club Gardens, AKA known as A to Z Mansions, as each building name is in alphabetical order. I stopped on the bike to consult the A to Z street map and was approached by an odd looking fellow, who came mincing up to me and spoke in the affected voice of those who are a bit light on their feet.
“Oooh hello, you look a bit tired. Would you like to come back with me to my flat for some tea and cake?”
“You do look tired and hot, you can come and have a shower and freshen up at my my place if you would like to.”
“No thanks, I’m working,”
Are you sure? It would be no trouble. It would really be no trouble at all”
“Nah, you’re OK, I’ve go to go now.” And off I peddled a little faster than usual!
Note to self. Don’t stop if you are wearing skin tight Lycra cycling clobber!
See how that has stuck in my brain. Cycling is the way to do the Knowledge!
What do you know, the same thing happened to me - only with a different punchline.
The summer of ’76. Sweat running everywhere because cab engines were known to be warm in winter and then warm in summer. Allegedly a design fault I am told. Picked up this bloke and took him to a side street off the Kings Road.
He got out and through the luggage door window handed me the money, saying, ‘you look terribly hot, would you like cold drink?’
I was a butter boy, new at the game and just thought he was being friendly. He didn’t mince, swish, lisp or affect a girlie attitude.
‘No thanks,’ I replied, ‘got to keep working.’ (we were busy in them days).
‘Are you sure? I’ve got any soft drink you might like; coke, sqash and that. My flat is just there and you really need to drink. You look exhausted, honest you do.’
Shaking my head, I said, ‘sorry mate, I’ve got to go.’
Slowly shaking his head, he replied, ’funny, I’ve never been wrong before!’