The House of Windsor have not yet approved any Royal baby memorabilia so I could not get any Royal Baby George tea towels or stubby holders or mugs to bring back to Singapore with me. I am disappointed but at least I have some funny stories. I am also a tad disgruntled to be leaving London as it is one of the Great cities of the World. I quite like a lot of Englishness and London is full of it. It is only some of the English who annoy me and who I don't like. Great Cities have a buzz. New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney Rome, and Paris and there are others as well. Buzz cities. London is one.
It is Summer in London and there has been a Royal Baby born so there was an even bigger buzz than normal. My departure from London is imminent. My bag is packed and I have checked out of my hotel and I am sitting in the British Airways Business Class Lounge at Terminal Five in Heathrow Airport. There are a lot of people here and they are all on the move. We are all of us leaving London. I feel some sadness at leaving. That is an adequate enough descriptor of the emotion. It is not as deep a feeling of sadness that I experience when I leave Sydney or Melbourne or Kathmandu - but it is a sadness nevertheless. It is melancholy. Like a sad story.
I appreciate the architectural and historical glory of London and I love the palaces and the castles and the ancient buildings. I like the beautiful gardens and the well preserved facades and statues and arches and museums. They are everywhere and I will miss them. I love Harrods and Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury's and Waitroses. I love the pubs with names like the Lamb and Flag and the Barrow and Bush and the Pig and Whistle. They are classic and are very English. In a nice sort of a way. I like the Monarchy and all of it's pomp and ceremony and I love the drivers of the London Black Cabs. I like the word 'pomp.' I enjoy both writing it and saying it. As a general rule I like words that begin and end with the letter 'p'. Pomp. Pimp. Pump. Poop. Pomp means splendid and magnificent and London is full of it.
I have caught many a Black Cab during my brief week in London. The Black Cabs of London are no longer just black though. The Black Cabs I caught were grey and white and only two were black. Canary Wharf is a fairly isolated place to stay and I had social meetings with friends one night in Shepherds Bush Green and another in Covent Garden. I caught Black Cabs to and fro. The drivers of all Black Cabs in London are still required to do the Knowledge. This is the test for getting a London Taxi license. Passing the Knowledge is required no matter what color the Black Cab you drive is. It is mandatory and you get a badge and a license to drive when you have completed it. The Knowledge is regarded as being the most difficult taxi licensing test in the world.
The taxi license test that is required in Sydney is far simpler. All that is needed to drive a taxi in Sydney is proof that you can not speak English, you do not know your way around the city, you are a very dangerous driver and you will scream into your mobile telephone the whole time that you will be driving. It is that easy. The process of "Taking the Knowledge" was initiated in London in the year 1865 and it has changed little since. The very best can complete it in two years but for others it may take up to a decade. The Knowledge requires that all drivers be able to navigate their way around all of Greater London without consulting a map or using a GPS. It is the ability to recall the location of every street, lane, road, avenue, motorway, expressway, circle and boulevard in London. The Black Cab Drivers of London must be able to know their way around London intimately. This is the Knowledge story.
The sixth century Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote that: "To attain knowledge add things every day. To attain wisdom remove things every day" I just thought that I would throw that one in there. It was written long before motor vehicle or Black Cabs were invented. One of the Black Cab drivers I used in London told me that acquiring the Knowledge was the hardest thing that he had ever done. His name was Stan. I guessed that Stan and I were about the same age. I told Stan that I was not surprised that it was very hard. Stan - the driver of my Black Cab driver was not black and nor was his taxi, The taxi was grey and he was white.
Stan was a Londoner. When I asked him about doing the Knowledge he told me: 'It wuz 'arder than dooin' me schoolin' "What exactly is involved in doing the Knowledge then Stan?" I put to him. "Appearances guvnor" he replied gravely. "Twelve bleedin' Appearances" Stan was speaking cockney English. 'Guvnor' is a term used by some of the cockney English in a way we might use the word "Sir". It must go back to days when there were a lot more actual Governors around. I like it. "Bleedin'" you can substitute for "Bloody" or "Fucking" if you want. It is a bit of harmless swearing. The London cockney English who speak this way tend to drop off their "h's" at the beginnings of words and "g's" off the end and "t's'' sometimes also disappear. I find that Londoners are always full of funny stories.
I had some very good banter with Stan and I learned quite a bit. Stan told me that "Appearances" were the twelve tests someone doing the Knowledge had to take to prove that they knew their way around London. He told me that they are very tough. When I asked Stan what - as an Englishman - he thought about the birth of the Royal baby he told me, "I's bewaful en et?" Writing cockney English phonetically is sending my auto spell-check on my laptop computer into a frenzy. It does not like it. "I's bewaful en et?" is normal English for "It is beautiful isn't it? I agreed with Stan that it was and I told him that I thought that it would probably be a pretty tough life though growing up in the Royal Family. "Poor lil bligh'er. Is ol man is a right good geezer an all. bu I wouldn't swap me life for is few love or money" OK my spell check does not like this at all and manually re-correcting is annoying. Bugger I will have to do it again to explain what Stan said. "Poor lil bligh'er. Is ol man is a right good geezer an' all. bu I wouldn't swap me life for is few love or money" ....... is cockney English for: "Poor little fellow. His Father is a nice man but I would not swap my life as a Black Taxi driver for the life of a just-born baby who is now third in line to the English throne" A "geezer" is a word some English use as a substitute for 'man' or 'bloke'.
A geyser is also a natural phenomenon that sometimes occurs in seismic areas of the world. It occurs when a lava flow deep under the earth heats up below-surface water which is then periodically released through a fissure on the earth's surface in a high pressure gush. These are geysers. Their gushes are called "blows'. There is a very famous geyser in Yellowstone Park in the US. The Americans named it 'Old Faithful'. It gushes regularly. I have visited the Yellowstone National Park and I have seen 'Old Faithful". I have seen it blow. But that's a very different story.
The English word 'geezer' emerged amongst the cockneys in London in the early part of the nineteenth century. It was thought to have been originally used to describe 'odd or unusual' people - however in modern times it is just used to describe anyone male and it is mostly used by the cockney English. Strange characters lurked the streets of London in the 1820's. They wore unusual costumes and the fashion of the day was peculiar. Think Sherlock Holmes. Some people were thought to be in disguises and they came to be known as "Guisors". These people who were dressed in disguises were perhaps the odd people seen by the London cocknies and they adulterated the word to "Geezers"? This is one theory on the origins of the word and it is the one that I like the best. I like the sound and use of both words "Guvnor" and "Geezer".
When I return to work back amongst the English in my office on Monday I shall use both words and I shall use them liberally. I am sure that it will not be appreciated. The English with whom I work are not a very grateful or gracious lot. I told Stan that I also thought that the life of the Royal Baby George would not be an easy one. I told Stan that I thought that he was going to be watched by the world media for his entire life and he was going to be scrutinized. I also told Stan that I hoped that the Royal Baby George ended up being like his uncle Prince Harry. Stan told me that he hoped so too. He told me that he liked Prince Harry as well.
My driver to the airport this evening had not done the Knowledge. He told me that he had tried and failed on numerous occasions. This drivers name was Jack. Jack was not driving a Black Cab. He was driving a normal type of car. Jack worked for a company named Addison Lee. The English for whom I work use Addison Lee to drive us in London. They have an Account. Addison Lee a very big Company. They have many cars all over London and they are a major competitor of English Black cabs. Jack my Addison Lee driver tonight was a geezer. “Yorright” he said to me when he picked me up at the Marriott hotel. “Yorright” I replied to him. “Eefrow or Gatwick son?” “Heathrow please” I replied. “Terminal Five” “Awright me old mucker” “Good one” “’Edding ‘ome to Oz are we? “Nah back to Singapore” “Nice place to’ ide out until youze fellas learn ‘ow ta play cricket again' me lad. Maybe learn' ‘ow ta play rugby as well” England have been giving Australia a hiding in the Cricket Ashes..