Until a few years ago, Muratori’s Café stood on London’s Farringdon Road opposite the Mount Pleasant sorting office. It’s closed down now but then it was an old-style kind of caff, a steamedup greasy spoon with plenty of formica but without the reek of grease. There was wood panelling on the walls and tabloids on the benches, and once in a while someone would emerge from the kitchen with a comment or another pot of tea. The café’s place on the corner gave it a grandstand view of the passing traffic, but on a wet February afternoon everyone seemed only too happy to sit tight and offer some lively opinions on the place of cycling within an urban economy. The following exchange of views is interesting not because it’s unexpected but because, for an hour or so, it’s salutary to imagine what it must feel like to drive in circles
round London’s endless frustrations. Most of us cycle because we choose to – we do it for fun, not for work. Which is why it’s occasionally worthwhile to consider the view from the other side of the windscreen, and see the city as cabbies do. Black-cab drivers have always felt like they owned this city. They’re part of the place and, despite Uber’s incursions, London wouldn’t be the city it is without them. And since cabbies feel they belong to these streets, one of two things tends to happen. Either they become secure in that knowledge and very laid-back about everything or they become monumentally cross. BB (Bella, author): What do you think of cyclists? LES (taxi no. 30839): (Pointing at my digital recorder) How much swearing do you want? BB: That bad? LES: They are a bit of a nuisance. They’re not quick enough, for a start. They creep up the side, they jump lights, they ride across zebra crossings. And we’ve been told if a bike runs into us, then it’s our fault. BB: So have you ever cut up a cyclist? LES: No! UNANIMOUS SHOUTING FROM EVERYONE ROUND THE TABLE: No! No, no, no! LES: Seriously! Because the last thing I want is a cyclist bashing my cab. KEITH (taxi no. 30729): Because we know we’re on a loser. Even if you do nothing wrong, you’re on a loser. BB: That isn’t most cyclists’ experience. Most people have been cut up by a cab at some point. MICKEY (taxi no. 54316): Yeah, OK, but let’s say that happens, come up and talk to me, don’t bang on the wing mirror and
whenout, theI get cyclist out, rode cycle roundoff. I’ve and seen rounda cab tormentingand when the him guy becausegot he knew any time the guy got near him he could just cycle off. KEITH: They’re so aggressive, aren’t they? They bang your bonnet, bang your wing mirror and then they cycle off, they won’t stay around to argue. That’s what really pisses me off. BB: Do you think all cyclists are the same? KEITH: Yeah. You can generalize with cyclists. BB: So you don’t discriminate between couriers and other cyclists? KEITH: They’re all the same. Most of them are the ones travelling to and from work, and they’re the ones I can’t stand. I’ve just had so many problems with them over the years. There’s been several occasions when they’ve banged my wing mirrors or bent the aerial off, or hit the cab. I caught one of them once. LES:stuff all You overdo meetand the the backpacksodd one with and the everything,lights on and and theythe yellow generally stick to the rules. But the ones who are riding around with next to nothing on, just a bit of Lycra, zooming about delivering stuff, they will take the mickey, no doubt about it. I don’t go out of my way to get in their way, but I just find it’s hard to avoid them sometimes. BB: They’re just doing a job, same as you. LES: I understand that, but if they come up the side as they do, if you look at any of our cabs, there’ll be little scrape marks along the paintwork. Now, if I go in the garage for that, they’ll go, ‘£50, mate.’ I’m not going to get that back off them, never in a million years. And that happens every day. STEVE (didn’t give his driver number): There’s a place where all the paramedics go, the guys who deal with all the bad accidents and things, and their entertainment when they’re sitting waiting for a call is watching the traffic lights to see how many cyclists stop. They say they actually take a tally. Nine out of ten don’t bother. LES: front. I don’t understand why they’ve always got to push to the BB: Because if you don’t, you’re invisible and you’re stuck behind some trucker’s exhaust. LES: Yes, but I still don’t think, well, I’ve got to commit suicide, push myself in front of a lorry, just because I’m breathing a bit of crap. I’d sit a few yards back. KEITH: There should be some sort of registration for them. I know it’s difficult and it should be free at first, but they should be registered. Because for every cyclist, that’s one less car on the road, and that’s great. But you still can’t have them all banging and breaking things. MICKEY: If they knock off your wing mirror, scratch the side of the cab, smash your back light, there’s nothing you can do. There’s no comeback. They just ride off. There’s no way of recognizing them again. The old cabs used to have a diesel cap on the back. Many times, they just hold onto that and get dragged along by a cab rather than cycle. LES: A couple of weeks ago, there was a cyclist going the wrong way down Fleet Street. I tooted him and gave him the finger. He came back later and accused me of trying to kill him. KEITH: You should have done. (General laughter.) LES: I said, ‘ You’re on the wrong side of the road coming towards me, you’ve got it slightly wrong.’ Not in those words, obviously. PAUL (didn’t give his driver number): You know what it all boils down to? There’s no punishment. They don’t think that the law applies to them. LES (reflectively): There’s a lot of anger, isn’t there? A lot of anger coming out of people. See, most cab drivers know we’re not going to get anywhere quickly. So we don’t drive fast. We know – I’ve had twenty-nine years’ experience of knowing I’m not going to get anywhere. We’ll get there eventually, but there’s no point in rushing.
anyone driving a Mercedes. Meanwhile, the view from the other side was equally forthright. At the Westbourne Park Bus Garage, the drivers said they too had a list. Cyclists were the worst. Them, and bloody black cabs. In the end, all the different transport relationships in London begin to seem a lot like the way things are at the moment with Europe. We might say we hate it and that we want it out of our lives, but when something happens to damage that relationship, we feel bereft. London would be infinitely poorer without its red buses and its black cabs. And, just as fundamentally, without its own cyclists. Live and let live, like we’ve always done best. BB: But the point is, you can get somewhere quick on a bike. KEITH: See, that’s the trouble. That’s their mindset – ‘ I can get past that, I can go faster, I can get across town.’ But they’ve still got to realize they’ve got to stop at a red light. BB: If every cyclist suddenly stopped at every red light, would you start respecting them? LES: Well, I don’t know ... KEITH: Get ’em off the roads. Cycle lanes, whatever, just get ’em off the roads. LES: License them! MICKEY: Round ’em all up and nuke ’em! (General hilarity) PAUL (looking out of the window at a couple of cyclists coming across the junction towards the café): Hang on, watch that – watch that! He’s coming up to the red and ... (the cyclist stops). Well, he’s done it safely, but nine times out of ten they don’t. Look! Look! Guy’s just gone straight through. He’s gone through a red light. Look! He’s overtaking! BB: He’s allowed to overtake! KEITH: Yes, and he’s wearing a dirty jumper. And that ain’t right. (Gales of laughter) Oh, we don’t like cyclists, do we? We hate ’em. MICKEY: Last summer, June or July it was, there was a naked cycle ride. I was amazed, I was sitting there and there must have been a thousand of them. So if all cyclists cycled naked, would it make you BB: likethem better? KEITH: Yes. Definitely. They shouldn’t be allowed to cycle unless they’re naked. After an hour or so I put away my recorder and get up. KEITH: There you go, then. Sorry about that. Tell you what, though, we hate bus drivers more. Oh, we really dislike them. So you’re not top of the list. And motorbikes. They’re third. In fact, this turns out not to be a comprehensive list. The next time I took a cab, I asked the driver what he thought of other road users. In addition to cyclists, bikers and buses, he added Post Office vans, dustbin lorries and