Let me tell you a cab trade secret. Cab drivers don’t know EVERY street in London, there are over 20,000 for gawd’s sake, you could never learn them all. And even when you’ve learned all the ones you need to get you through The Knowledge, you slowly forget some of them too. Then there is the issue of rubbish intercoms, onsetting deafness through old age & comedy foreign accents, predominantly from our friends directly across the channel. Witness a job I did on Wednesday night from the Landmark Hotel – “60 Charles Street, pleez” in what can only be described as a Clouseauesque accent. To which I would normally just ask exactly where the punter was going as I know landmarks much better than house number. But I didn’t and as we got to Charles St, I slowed down to try and see where No. 60 is. “Why are we stopping here driver?” was the response from my punter, “You wanted 60 Charles St, no?” as alarm bells started to ring, “No, I wanted *incomprehensible* St”. So I pull over and after my poor punter has to spell out the name of the Street it turns out he wanted the Gaucho Restaurant on Charlotte Street. Why didn’t he just say that in the first place? Tsk. But hopefully you get my point, it isn’t quite as straightforward understanding where someone wants to get to, and these kind of episodes are one of the best examples of why Sat Nav can’t replace The Knowledge. But let’s not get into that argument, not today anyway.
My other little secret, and the main point of this post, is that if I’m really not sure where a punter means, or I just can’t remember the road, I’ll ask “which end of XYZ Road/Street do you need?”. Which is designed to get a response that helps me place where the road is like, “Farringdon end”, or “Grays Inn Road end” but can open up a whole other can of geographical worms. What if the punter says “Oh, about in the middle”, or “up at the top end”, or “down the bottom end”. Then you’re buggered. It’s then that I start on the “having a brain freeze/need some more coffee/just can’t think of where that is” type jibberish. And many times, it really is that I’ve just misheard what the punter said in the first place.
But when someone does say “I’m at the top of the road”, what do you think they mean? I once had a very long “discussion” with a punter about what was the top (and therefore bottom) of Portobello Road. Given that Portobello Road is mainly one way for it’s entire length and travels in a S(E) to N(W) direction I would think that it’s a no brainer that the Notting Hill end was the bottom, wouldn’t you? But no, when I said which end did she want, my punter said “Oh, near the top” and then got upset when I headed for the north end. So if roads like that are open to debate, they shouldn’t be of course, what about roads that go West to East? Do they have a top and a bottom? I’d argue that they do, and that the “top” is the bit closest to the centre of London and the bottom bit furthest away. So the “top” of Holland Park Avenue would be Notting Hill end and the “bottom” down at Sheperd’s Bush. Some of you might think this slightly nit picking, or perhaps slightly obsessional, but when your job is to get people as efficiently as possible to their destination, these things really are important. So next time you get in a cab, just be sure you and your driver are as one when you ask him to take you to the “top” of your road.
** Update 22nd January, 10:20am **
As has been quite rightly pointed out in the comments below, if a road actually does, you know, climb a hill then the top is just naturally the top. Not the bottom. Just to be clear…………