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The cabbie perspective

The drivers of Britain’s famous black cabs, especially those widely used in London, are renowed for the robust independence of mind they bring to their job. Enterprising, hardworking and usually full of sharp intelligence, the drivers of our black cabs are a welcome reminder that parts of the British economy are in fine fettle. (My only beef is that they all seem to be West Ham soccer fans).

The same holds true north of the border, I am glad to say. This week I was up in Scotland for a business conference and on my way from Edinburgh Airport, the driver immediately felt free to tell me what he thought of British finance minister Gordon Brown (also a Scot) and his budget. (Brown delivered his budget speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday).

It is fair to say that this obviously hardworking driver despised the whole tax-and-spend culture of the present Labour government. The driver waxed lyrical in his hatred of Scotland’s new spendthrift and recently devolved parliament, wasteful public spending across the board, and of course, the ludicrously bloated costs of the new Scottish parliament building. The latter subject, in particular, is a scandal of monstrous proportions. The people of Scotland are truly steamed up on this issue.

My driver was true to the bracing laissez faire values of that great Scot, Adam Smith. My only problem, though, was that I understood only about a third of what the chap said.

16 comments to The cabbie perspective

  • Imagine what the other 2/3’rds was like…

  • I imagine that he was trying to advise you to visit this place.

  • There’s nowt a thing wrong with the way the Scots speak !! Just listen up like a good lad, and ye’ll be fine as rain.

  • My driver was true to the bracing laissez faire values of that great Scot, Adam Smith.

    Another laissez-faire Scot? I thought I was the only one.

  • Maybe he was going on and on about West Ham and you just tuned out that part.

  • Russ Lemley

    I’m an American. When I was in high school, our band traveled to England and Scotland. Before a performance in Scotland, I was talking to a teenager who was roughly my age. He was trying to ask me a very simple question. But I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I kept asking him what he asked, and I kept not understanding his response. I felt so bad about my lack of comprehension I felt like crying. So if you understand 1/3 of what he was saying, you did a hell of a lot better than me!

  • I remember when, years ago, my mother’s Brit friend visited us in California. We went down to San Francisco, in particular Chinatown, and I have this mental image of my mother translating from English (Brit-form) to English (Chinese accent.)

  • Verity

    Actually, Johnathan raises an interesting thought. Over the past 20 years or so, in its loathing of received pronunciation, the BBC has flooded the airwaves with every conceivable accent for newsreaders, reporters and participants in discussion panels (save Jeremy Paxman, for some reason, and David Dimbleby), but you seldom hear a Scottish accent.

    Could it be something to do with the Scots being such achievers? The BBC hates success among the indigenes.

  • …but you seldom hear a Scottish accent.

    I don’t think I agree.

    Kirsty Wark, Eddie Mair, Gavin Esler, Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr are all BBC regulars with Scottish accents. There are also plenty of reporters with Scottish accents, but most of their names escape me at the moment.

    And if you came up to Scotland and listened to the local BBC, nearly everyone has a Scottish accent. But I don’t suppose you would count that.

  • Verity

    I don’t know them all, but in my haste to condemn the BBC, I forgot those mentioned. And Carol Smiley. I stand corrected.

  • Jonathan – if you’d been in Glasgow you probably wouldn’t have got more than 1/6!

    I regularly get cabs from Edinburgh Airport into town (home) and have had many interesting conversations with the regular airport cabbies about the most diverse things. The parliament building does come up quite often.

    I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the site a couple of weeks ago. Fascinating. It’ll be a good building in the end. Worth the money? No, but knock off the costs incurred by awful project management and the naive client changing their minds well into the build, and you have a building which is expensive because of the quality aspiration – design detailing, materials and product specification, workmanship, etc are all top notch.

    At the end of the day it will be a very good building. My suspicion, however, is that it will be too good… the institution that is the Scottish Parliament doesn’t deserve the building which will house it.

  • A_t

    Hmm… these “hardworking” cabdrivers, hard-working though they are, are beneficiaries of a protectionist system, with prices fixed (by local government?), & not much of a hint of market going on. We all know cabs in the UK, & in London in particular, are extortionate… Cabbies are currently protected just as farmers etc. are; they may not be subsidised, but keeping the prices artificially high ensures they’re unrealistically well paid, & not allowing other companies to pick up on the street etc. serves to enforce the black cab monopoly… so why one should listen to them as representatives of some self-made enterpreneurial class, repository of financial wisdom, I don’t know.

  • Andrew Duffin

    A_t is right. A cab company owner recently wrote to the local paper near where I live, complaining about the said council’s plan to increase the number of licenced cabs in Prestwick.

    I forget the words, but it was along the lines of “Nobody, of course, wants a free-for-all with anyone who wants to being allowed to run a taxi service…” yadda yadda yadda, you can write the rest yourselves.

    Why is the number of taxis on the road a matter for local councils? Why does that number need to be limited? Does anyone know? The cab drivers do!

  • Johnathan

    Well said A_T. Milton Friedman argued the same pretty much 50 years ago. Drivers of black cabs in London claim they have to have a licence because they have to pass an onerous exam, called “The Knowledge”, so that they can deposit a passenger to the right address without having to consult a map. Fair enough. If cabbies want to retain an entrance exam, fair enough. There ought to be a badge for cabbies who have “The Knowledge” and a different one for those that don’t. I guess the market will develop a sort of two-tier pricing steam, so that those who want expert cabbies will pay that bit extra for the added advantages.

    I think my Edinburgh cabbie is probably very silent today after the weekend’s rugby, BTW

  • The ones with the Knowledge are called taxi drivers, the ones without it are called minicab drivers. The latter are cheaper.

    The distinction between the two is highlighted clearly by the shape of their vehicle; this is useful, since a high proportion of taxi users are too drunk to be capable of detailed feats of identification (or anything else).

    In non-London areas, the distinction is harder to justify – black cab drivers in Manchester seem just as clueless about geography and directions as minicab drivers (and perhaps as a result, the price differential is much lower than in London).

  • A_t

    At least in London, only black cabs are supposed to pick up on the street, and only black cabs can display signs explaining that they are cabs.

    Why we can’t do like most other European countries & just allow people to run any sound car as a cab, with an explanatory light on the roof, I don’t know. Then, if I wanted to hire a man who could get me to my destination that little bit faster without consulting an A-Z, and in the confines of a specially made taxi, I could choose that option, but if i fancied saving money & flagging down a Peugeot, driven by a man who might have to stop & consult his A-Z, I could choose to do that too. At the moment, my choice is restricted for no particular reason I can think of other than “tradition”, control-freakery & protectionism. None of these things I find in the least bit good.