Friday, June 24, 2011

I had that Steve Jobs in the back of my cab...

There's an app for everything, so the Apple advert said. 

Which patently wasn't true by the way. There wasn't an app that made me a cup of tea. There wasn't an app that gave me a quick response to an idiot on Twitter. There wasn't an app to tell me what to tell my daughter when she asked me what sex was. Modern advertising is just blatantly dishonest. Over here there used to a be a body which monitored adverts for unfounded claims. So when Victor Kyam came on and said the Remington would shave closer than your blade or he would give you your money back, he bloody well meant it (note to self: check Google and see if Kyam was lying and was ever challenged on that claim.)

So this stuff about Apps (horrible word, on the list for ugliest new word, it's up there behind 'webinar') is a load of old rubbish. But we know that. However, it would be churlish to deny that a few apps aren't useful. There's…um…er..actually I can't think of a useful app. I use Spotify  to stream new music but I see that more as a piece of software. But the difference between an app - for me, a gee-gaw for your phone or computer that does little than distract you like a ball of wool dangled in front of a kitten - and software - something you buy to make your life easier or more pleasurable - has been blurred somewhat. But that's the thing with new words - you can make them mean what you want. I knew an old lady who referred to apps as 'abs'. I didn't know what they were either. Which reminds me: I need an app to help get some abs.

But this week I learned of a potentially helpful new app. Those who have been to London know the iconic status of the black cab. The problem with is that in the driving rain, in the dead of night, and you need your bed, you want an actually taxi and not an icon. It's a truism that you can walk around all day in London seeing black taxis with their orange letterbox glow showing they're free for hire, but when you need one there's none in sight, and the ones you do see have their lights off and a driver doing all he can to avoid eye contact. And don't even try and find one south of the river (actually, just don't go south of the river - it's horrible down there.)

So, this new app tells you where the nearest available black cabs are to you. Download LDNtaxi and you will never be left marooned in London again.

Except…for this app to work cab drivers need to have signed up to the system. Given they drive around London listening to frighteningly right-wing talk radio all day, much of which is fulminating about the encroachment of Big Brother into our live, and the resulting loss of privacy, I can't see many of them signing up. As far as I can make out London cab drivers love to moan about congestion charges and parking laws. I can't see them going doolally over a system that allows them to be tracked, and a photo of their grizzled faces beamed to a young IT consultant stood freezing down a side street with his girlfriend so they know what he looks like when he arrives, like some weird online dating society.

Plus, it's all part of the fun, the romance of London. Standing in the rain, watching cab after cab pass you by, finally flagging one down, watching the meter rise inexorably to eye-wateringly high levels, the cabbie moaning to you about socialists and lesbians, while some idiot on the radio rants about political correctness gone mad, trusting him to take you the quickest route home only to realise he's taken the scenic route and that'll be £45, sir.

Actually, the app I'd like best is the one that can tell me The Knowledge. The Knowledge is what every cab driver has to learn before he can drive a black cab. It involves acquainting yourself with every side street, square and alley of London. It takes on average three years. You can spot cabbies learning The Knowledge because they drive around on mopeds and scooters, learning the roads, memorising the turns and topography. In a city of this size it's a truly staggering achievement. 

I may be wrong, but I don't see this app catching on. Black cab drivers are a law unto themselves. And long may they be so. Hunched over their wheels, circling around and around in the dead of night, on empty streets, taking home the drunk and the weary and the lost, they travel to their own tune, and not the whims of technology. I envy them.


Dan - Friday


  1. Dan, the US and Britain have another thing in common. We, too, are forced to be confined in mobile boxes with drivers listening to talk radio featuring the far right wing of the less than stable branch.

    I hope the same people who have the Knowledge are not the same people listening to right wing radio. That would be frightening.

  2. I wonder whether that app can also tell me where the queue begins? If not, I´ll still be told off by agitated natives for screwing up. (Well, but at least I was the one who got away in a cab) ;)

  3. I fear that the initial part of this comment may sound as if it's one of those politically incorrect, right-wing rants, but here goes anyway: It appears that at least in a London black cab the language streaming out of the radio in the front is understandable to the captive in the rear.

    In NYC, fugetaboudit. And the only "Knowledge" held by far too many NYC cabbies seems to be when to drive with the off-duty sign on. But here's the (hopefully) redeeming twist to that observation: If anyone wants to know what immigrant group is working day and night to get its piece of the American dream, just hail a NYC cab. And it's always been that way. Go Yellow!

    As for an Athens taxi, I think all the drivers must be great fans of Alfred, Lord Tennyson for they're best known for one singular thing: charging. Wildly.


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