Black Mafia

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While en route to Kings Cross in a Black Cab today we happened to pass Warren Street tube station. I shivered. A bad thing once happened to me at Warren Street tube station. Nothing dark and ominous but a moment of betrayal that is unforgotten. Somewhat unusually, the betrayal had nothing to do with the girlfriend whose flat I was looking for.

Way back, in fact all the way back to 1979, I walked out of the tube station on a dark Autumn night and asked a cabbie the way to an address. I knew it was near. So did he. ‘Hop in he said, I’ll take you there.’ I did and alighted 10 minutes later but only 400 yards away and £5 poorer. Robbing sod; I hope he is suffering a plague of boils and hemoroids in retirement. 

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It was, an unusual experience. The only time in fact that a cabbie has ripped me off in all the years since. Admittedly my naivety was in those days, boundless. I had after all, earlier spent 15 minutes on a tube platform waiting for a train to come my way without realising that each line had two platforms, East and West or North and South.

 I mentioned the experience to my cabbie today, ‘you must have had a wrong un Guv,’ he said. There aren’t many. Times are changing though. It is sad for example that with the growing headwinds that cabbies face, and I’m the first to admit that they haven’t helped themselves over the years, that the old fashioned courtesy between drivers themselves is in steep decline. Their world has become one of dog eat dog with for example, fewer letting others out of junctions and not stealing each other’s fares. Interestingly, and in favour of cabs, my daughter (and she says most of her friends), refuse to use Uber. Too many bad stories.

I meanwhile in common with many  others, have reverted to the Tube this last year or two for most journeys after serial idiot policies by London mayors have made it impossible to do even the briefest of journeys in reasonable time and at reasonable cost by cab. To be fair, paying on entry and exit in the tube with the wavy debit card thing has made it super easy and I did learn the other day that all cabs now do the wavy debit card thing too. Interestingly, I actually find the tube while busier, is much less threatening than was the case years ago. There is no way anyone would have sat on the tube with headphones on holding an £800 tablet in the 1970’s or 80s. It would have been like holding a sign saying ‘come and rob me.’

But, you don’t get to talk to anyone in the tube and I miss the daily chat with the cabbie (unless they have those annoying football phone-in radio shows blaring away). I remember once, while standing at the Gunner Memorial at Hyde Park Corner on Rememberance Sunday, the police stopped the traffic for the two minutes silence. An older cab driver opened his door, stepped out, took his flat cap off and stood to attention with the rest of us. I thought it a haunting evocation of what must have happened all around the streets in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

It’s all changing. Some good, some bad. I welcome some of the new, but miss some of the old. 

On to Doncaster then. Wonder which side of the ‘old or new’ awaits me there...