Cab drivers put their knowledge to the test

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You could have been forgiven for thinking that the obstacle course - complete with cardboard cut-outs of London bobbies and Nelson's Column - had been set up for the kids yesterday.

You could have been forgiven for thinking that the obstacle course - complete with cardboard cut-outs of London bobbies and Nelson's Column - had been set up for the kids yesterday.

But this, my son, was no child's play. This was the black cab drivers' Grand Prix. The man (for, sadly, no women had entered) who manoeuvred his vehicle most deftly around these assorted obstacles was likely to be crowned Dunlop Taxi Driver of the Year.

Yesterday, London's élite black Fairways, Metrocabs and TX1s were lined up in gleaming rows in Battersea Park for the annual test of skill and endurance.

Contrary to what one might expect, the competition did not include assessing the drivers on their ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, boast of the celebs that have graced their cab, the size of their sovereign rings or the most frequent use of the words "diamond geezer".

Perhaps more fittingly, the written section did evaluate their knowledge of when they could refuse change, turn their nose up at a cheque and leave a punter fuming on the pavement wishing to travel more than the obligatory six miles.

The 25-year-old race to claim the prize of London's best black cabby was in three sections. The first, a test of their legendary knowledge, began at 8am yesterday from Paddington station. The two dozen entrants were stripped of any maps and given the names of six locations, which they had to get to by the shortest route.

In years gone by, the drivers had been instructed to complete the course in the shortest time, but this allegedly led to some enterprising tactics. "We used to jump red lights and go the wrong way around roundabouts," admitted one race veteran.

The second section comprised a written test of their Highway Code and Hackney Carriage law. Courtney Connell, a man so proud of his profession that he had "London Cab Driver" alongside a picture of Big Ben engraved on a huge gold ring, was perplexed by question No 7.

"The only road in W1 is Tottenham Court Road, isn't it?" he asked urgently. (The rest are all streets and places, and so on.)

"No, Charing Cross Road," retorted Carlos Oliveira, inviting a heated debate from other drivers.

Mr Oliveira was, in fact wrong - surprisingly, as he was yesterday's winner, scooping the £2000 prize and stealing the title back from his brother Salverio.

The two British-born Spaniards are among three brothers who compete annually for the prize. "We are competitive," explained Carlos. "You should see us when we are playing cards."

Comments