Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Horseshit, utter horseshit

There are very few things more exciting, more exhilarating and exponentially cool than a spring day: except a spring day in London. The sky is clear and blue, and there is only a hint of breeze to keep the smog at bay (breeze + Base Wind Factor (BWF) = -6). And, the only way to celebrate such a spring day in London, besides cocktails, which by my watch are still some hours off, is a bike ride into work. Now, for those of you who do not know London, I mean intimately, like a cyclist would, probably do not realize how urbanized it is. Granted, my friend Arnaud—a Frenchman—argues that London is actually quite sub-urban, but that is a topic for after cocktail hour, so for the sake of argument, we will just call the City urban. This of course means that it has all of the facets of an urban, mostly modern city: electricity, running water, sewers, tall buildings (sort of, but not like Manhattan), a number of cars, roads, sidewalks, infinite numbers of speed bumps, and even bike lanes painted green, which are extra fun when it rain, like it never does in London. So, when I rounded a corner on my way in this morning, near a Taxi driving training facility where, amongst other things, the teach The Knowledge, and near a decidedly urban junction near a big international train station, I nearly ploughed into a giant, steaming pile of horse shit. Fortunately my bike hopping skills are well tuned, and I was able to avoid the mess; the Mini-Cooper behind me was not so lucky, but drivers of those are twats anyway. What intrigues me about this whole incident, however, is that here, in London, on a Wednesday, there could be a steaming pile of horseshit in the street. My experiences with shit in the city are fairly mundane and centre around dogs mainly. Though recently, I did spy a spent diaper on the sidewalk near my house. However, horseshit is somewhat rare in a city where horses are not the normal mode of transportation. I know for policing purposes that horses are common, especially in riot situations, like when Arsenal plays Manchester, but I would assume that those horses are indeed wearing diapers when they shit, else there would be horseshit on the pavement. So why, here in almost Central London, where there are no football grounds, would there be an enormous pile of steaming horseshit? My only guess is that it comes from a real life inspired game of Cowboys and Indians that a come a whooping and a’hollering through Kings Cross all before Mungo arrives...
Only slightly more bizarre than this image is that there is a place where the Knowledge can be taught, and that, once having been taught the knowledge, one could say that they have the Knowledge. The concept of the Knowledge is intriguing. The be a cab driver in London, one has to pass a ‘basic’ test of their knowledge of London’s intricate geography. Only this small test takes about 26 months to learn, there are dedicated training centres so that the test can be studied for and presumably passed at some later date, once the Knowledge is learned. Now I’m not one to advocate extra testing, but when it comes to cabs in a big city, absolutely should there be a test on not only the core competencies of driving a cab, but also a test to ensure that the driver knows where the hell he or she is going. Take this example. I was in San Francisco last year trying to find a particular bar on a particular street in the city. I hopped in a cab, told the driver the name of the bar and the street, which was something like 115th. The cabbie looks at me and says ‘so where’s that?’ ‘It’s on 115th street.’ ‘Where’s that?’ How the fuck do I know? You’re the cab driver; it’s probably after 114th and before 116th.’ Needless to say, after guiding him to the bar, with the help of a mobile phone sat nav (not the driver’s), the subject of the bill came up. ‘That’ll be $21’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘$21’ ‘But all you did was operate a car, which, according to a Clint Eastwood movie, any monkey can do. I’m not giving you $21 dollars when I supplied most of the information to get me to where I needed to go. I’ll you $6 for gas.’ ‘Fuck you. You give me $21!’ ‘For what? You did not do your job, so why should I pay you for what you didn’t do? How about I give you $21 dollars and you give me $100 for my time because as a highly qualified professional in a geographically related field, I’m worth about $100 an hour as a consultant, which is precisely the amount of time it took for me to figure out how to tell you how the fuck to get to the bar that I was going to even though you, the cab driver, were hired to provide me that service. Fuck you here’s $5!.’ A few words on the street later, I was merrily drinking in said bar, an hour late, relishing a nearly free cab ride.
But, I digressed from my point. Having drivers know the city they are to be drivers in is an important quality to the qualifications for being a ‘driver.’ And now, you may ask, how comprehensive is the Knowledge. A friend of mine’s dad is a London cabbie which makes him able to do at least two things very, very well. Quote from the Daily Mail, and drive a cab in London. We were out one night on foot trying to find a bar, and in lost desperation, Pete calls his dad. His dad asked where we were going, i.e. the name of the bar, where we were at the time and preceded to direct us to take ‘two immediate lefts, a right, walk about 40ft, take the next left up an alley and veer right past the news agent. It’ll be on the left across the road.’ And, low and behold, after two lefts, a right, a 40ft walk, a left in an alley and veering right at the news agent, the bar was across the street. The Knowledge. Though, if I were to ask him about the horseshit in the street, he’d blame the former mayor, Ken. (‘Fahcking Ken!’)


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