Taxis & Canaries

Taxi drivers are an interesting breed.  The taxi situation in London has changed over the years.  In contrast to, let’s say, 30 or so years ago when the London Black Cab had a virtual monopoly, today there are umpteen minicab companies, as well as Uber, Gett and probably lots more that I’ve never even heard of.  Moreover, black cabs are no longer necessarily black and they provide advertising space for any number of organisations — and moreover, with all the competition, it’s become a cutthroat business.



Cut-throat competition

London cabbies still have to pass an extensive training course, “The Knowledge”, in order to be licensed. They have to be able to decide routes immediately in response to a passenger’s request or traffic conditions, rather than stopping to look at a map, relying on GPS or asking a controller to help them.  As a consequence, London cabbies have an intimate knowledge of the city.  They know all the details of 320 standard routes through Central London, involving some 25,000 streets within a 10km radius of Charing Cross.  In addition, they have to be familiar with all the major arterial routes through the rest of London.   Still, it can be a boring job sometimes, though at other times, I guess it can be interesting, too.


B  O  R  I  N  G!


Are you the driver of this vehicle, my good man?

I remember once asking a cabbie to take me to Antrim Road (there’s only one such in Greater London) and as we approached the street, he asked me whether I needed “this end or the library end”.  I was flabbergasted when I paid him opposite the library and he told me that it had been 26 years since he had been in that part of the city.  


A slow trip — but the ultimate in intimacy guaranteed

Things are a bit different in Israel.  The taxis look different and the drivers drive faster.

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Last week, after exiting Terminal 3 at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv in the rain, we encountered the usual line of taxis waiting to pick up a passenger or two.  I checked the price on the computer stand in the dispatch area, added on the two suitcases, the mobility scooter and the two passengers (us) — and came up with an amount that I had more or less expected.   I did this because most of the drivers ask you whether you’d prefer a metered ride or the “fixed price”, which they then quote to you and as I imagine that most visitors haven’t a clue what the price is fixed at, the drivers reckon they might be able to squeeze out a little more than they’re legally entitled to.

As we made our way towards the taxis, the dispatcher handed the docket to the first available taxi driver who scrutinised and our belongings and shook his head in a “No, thank you very much” way.  Consequently, the dispatcher directed us to the next taxi in the line.  This was a smaller car than the one that had just turned us down but this driver, too, looked at us, then looked at his at his car with the open boot/trunk, figured out within about ten seconds where everything should go — including the detached parts of the scooter and within three minutes or so we were on our way home.

Now, I usually do not engage in small-talk with taxi drivers because they often like to talk about politics and more often than not, theirs is not usually mine; or they might chat about football, which interests me up to a certain degree only and if they are devout Arsenal supporters and you mix up Arsenal with Tottenham Hotspur, you’re likely to be in big trouble.

However, this driver — Eliyahu — a personable chap in his 40s, I would guess, wanted to talk.  This had been obvious from the second we clapped eyes on him.  (In fact, he kept up a chat at twenty to the dozen all the way to the house.)  So, not wishing to appear rude, like any good native English-speaker from the ex-British Isles, I politely asked him about the weather. Had it been raining during all of the five days that we had been away? 

His weather report was brief and to the point and the monologue (it was dialogue only if you count my brief questions) developed into a lecture on the effects of global warming.  I  thought “here we go” but I listened to him and within a very short time indeed, I realised that what he knew wasn’t just from things he’d heard on TV or read in the popular press.  In fact, he seemed to understand what was happening so well, the arguments and the counter-arguments as to whether global warming is happening, that I asked him if he’d always been a taxi driver.  This was because I thought that perhaps he had a degree in geography or ecology or a related discipline and was working as a taxi driver in order to supplement his meagre income as a college lecturer or something. Without hesitation repetition or deviation, he responded that he’s always been a taxi driver at which point he then deviated and told me about his car: it was cheap because it had a robotic gearbox, which many people don’t like.  So just in case I ever thought of buying one, he gave me instructions on how to save 30% on the fuel bill if you know how to operate one of these cars in the correct manner.

As we entered the Ayalon Freeway, which runs along the eastern side of Tel Aviv, he began to talk about the effects of global warming on bird migrations.  At this point, we got to the interesting part of his soliloquy because talking about bird migrations led him into what seems to be the love of his life.  He breeds canaries. In 10 minutes I learned more about which genetic traits  are passed to the next generation by male canaries and which by females, more than I had known before in all my 72 years.  (Admittedly, this was nil minus.).  I received information on which veterinarians in Central Israel know something about these little yellow birds (it turns out that most of them don’t know anything because any avians encountered in their professional training were mostly parrots and parrots, I further learned, are not in the least bit like canaries). He also managed to tell me which vets refer their canary patients to him (Eliyahu, the taxi driver).  I asked him where exactly he manages to breed the little feathered friends and was enlightened by the response that he has a 16 sq. m  room in the basement of the building in which he lives.  I also learned about the automatically controlled dimmers and heaters that are used into misleading the birds about day and night and the seasons.  He also writes canary articles for avian journals, &c.  

By this time, I was beginning to have canaries.  I thought that he might miss the turns into the street where we live but he told me that with Waze GPS, he only has to concentrate on being safe on the road.  He was without a doubt the most fascinating taxi driver I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure to ride with.  And the best thing of all was that by the time I had assembled the mobility scooter, the suitcases and backpack were standing outside the door of the lift.  And, as I paid him and he returned to his taxi, he reminded me that one of the bottles from the duty-free was not in a box and that I should be extra careful and I would have been rather unhappy had the rum bottle smashed and that would have been unfortunate indeed because I’m usually careful not to have such rum mishaps.

This morning, as I was in the midst of writing this piece, I went out into the park in search of some little yellow birdies.  I passed a duck but that didn’t count …


… but I didn’t really expect to find any because with my updated knowledge base, I now know that they’re not to be found in parks but in boxes in the basements of buildings.  Nonetheless, I did manage to see a wide variety of familiar feathered friends in an hour’s walk.

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By the way, in case anyone might be wondering, I didn’t have the heart to tell Eliyahu (although I’m pretty sure he knows but keeps it bottled up inside) that well into the twentieth century, well-meaning, hard-working, family-minded, socially conscious, chapel-going, choir-singing, rugby-loving Welsh coal miners brought canaries into the mines as an early-warning signal for toxic gases. The birds, being more sensitive than humans (not hard to be), would succumb fatally before the miners felt the effects of the monoxide, thereby giving them the chance to escape or to put on protective respirators.  


Poor little buggers!  

Oh, I just remembered.  This blog is called PhotoGeoGraphy so I need at least one authentic geography picture, too!


One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London



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