Sunday, December 06, 2015

How Safe Are Us Cabbies Out There? Semtex.

One of the most admirable qualities of the Great London Cab Trade, I think, is our tenacious resolve in continuing to drive our cabs, through whatever nature, acts of God or human hatred throw at us.

Of course, it isn't just bravado and pride that push us. Mortgages, rent, expenses, food and other life necessities demand that whatever the situation, we jump into the old sherbert, start her up, and make our way into the capital, hoping for a trouble free, lucky shift.

We just do it, don't we ? 
It is our job, our profession and something that we trained for years to become licensed for.
As many of us can no doubt relate to, throughout the bombings over and during the last 20 odd years or so, London Taxis haven't just turned up for work and carried on, but been a main part of the evacuation and hospital run statistics, working freely for no wages, to assist. We always have done it, and will probably go on doing it in times of National emergency. In contrast, during the recent attack in Paris, Uber put their charges on full surge, as our Parisienne  counterparts did what we do, by freely assisting the injured and shocked.

We know all about it, naturally, because we were doing it. Our families and loved one's are aware of this too, because they were phoning our mobiles every two minutes, making sure we were safe.
But you never read about these things, do you ? 

Nobody, but ourselves, ever mentions it.
By the same token, I am sure that if it wasn't for Poppy Day, no one would hardly mention what our troops did for our country either.
Folks, don't worry ! I'm not going into one of my Dad's Army post's again !
But seriously, and more so in these precarious days of global international terrorism, how safe are we driving out on those roads and streets of London every night ?
I have friends in MI5, MI6 and National Counter Surveillance. If I were to ask any of these people that question, I would imagine that they would all categorically say quite simply, that we  ain't !  London is far from "safe",  in fact and as I write these notes, an imminent attack from the cowardly Daesh is no doubt being conceived on the UK's democratic life style right now.
Of course, our National Security, Police and Intelligence Services in London are working 24 hours, outwitting the potential terror that these backward's are planning, as much as they are physically and technically able.

One of the biggest problems that our Intelligence Agencies have to deal with however, is the alarming escalation in "home bred terrorist sympathisers ". In defence of our National Security Officers, this menace of home grown recruits can clearly be seen as a huge problem.

I don't want to get into too much about my own personal opinion in this, but to me, foreign terrorism aimed at our country is one thing, but if it turns out that the terrorist is a UK National and either born, educated, clothed, fed, housed or taken care of by the UK and decide to launch a terrorist attack against us, then that is Treason. No doubt about it. Its treason and should be punishable by a death sentence without trial. End of. I would gladly volunteer to pull the trigger or release the trapdoor spring.
Aside from my personal views though, our security services have a tough remit. When I served in the army, I was TAUGHT racial profiling ! Today of course, in the melting pot of multi-cultural society that the UK, especially London has become, racial profiling is not only discouraged, but illegal.

Mate's of mine will know that my eldest daughter is a serving Special Branch Officer. I wont divulge where she is currently operating, but I can tell you that racial profiling is a serious breach of her remit, and a sackable offence.
You don't have to be a professor of human behaviour to see how this situation has become the problem that it is. But it is what it is, nothing more.
A few weeks after the 7/7 bombings in London, I was rolling down the ramp at Euston. The rank was full. I ducked down into my lunch box my beautiful wife had prepared earlier, to bolt down whatever she had put in there for me. I used to look forward to this lucky dip in the box regime. It was one of those things that got me through the day. I never knew what I was going to come up with. I used to tease myself by not looking in the box, just feeling around and taking my chance. It could be a sandwich, a sausage, a packet of crisps, one of those little Tunnocks tea cakes or even a bit of last night's KFC. Stone cold with the fat gone hard. One of my favourites !

Anyway, I'm slowly rolling down the ramp and edging my way slowly to point, searching my box like a magpie. A train had obviously just come in, as the stairs coming down to the rank started to fill up.
I've looked up the stairs and my blood chilled! There's a chap taking his place in the queue. He is dressed in full Middle East regalia. Not the traditional Saudi type robes, but the Long white gown, long beard, little white hat, black M&S socks and the obligatory Nike Trainers ! AND CARRYING A RUCK SACK ! FFS!

Now folks, there are two things that I insist you bear in mind when reading the next few paragraphs. Firstly, I am no Alf Garnett. I liked the programme, admired the writer, Johnny Speight, but there it endeth ! Life and society have moved on, taken me with it. I honestly am not racist.

Secondly, you must understand that this was only a few weeks after 7/7. The fear, vigilance and concern in London was rife and feelings were still red raw. Now I don't care who you are, how tolerant you're  beliefs, or what you believe is right or wrong or what is politically correct, neither the fact that we were told by the Government not to let this sort of thing concern us..................but folks, a man wearing this garb at this particular period in London and carrying a rucksack................ is an effing CONCERN !
At this stage, I'm still by the bottom wall of the rank, with my wheels on full lock to get round. But I'm watching our celebrity move slowly but progressively towards the front of the rank. Please don't let it be me, I thought. I'm counting the cabs, and counting his position in the queue. One, two, three, four, five, six.............then three of the ones I'm counting get into one cab ! Sod it ! Start again ! One, two, three............Matey's moving nearer and nearer the front..........and so am I ! One, two, three.......I'm now sitting fourth in the rank from point. There are seven in the queue. Phew Thank the Lord ! Oh, no ! Hang on ! The point cab's just took a three hander. One, two, three........ITS ME ! OH NO ! ITS ONLY ME ! 

I know your'e not supposed to racially profile, but be fair ! This geezer's a million ! All my life I've been amongst this stuff, I'm thinking. I've had enough of it ! I just want to go to work and come home again. Watch the telly, have a cup of tea and read a book, for Christ sake ! Why Me ? I don't need this !
Slowly, slowly, as if in slow motion, my cab comes to a stop. Years of professional judgement, not just as a London Cabby, but as a former Guardsman serving in a specialist unit is now requesting the experienced hypocampus part of my brain, to make a decision on this chap, now with his head in my nearside front window, resembling Bin Laden's twin brother.

I quickly look in my rear view mirror. The colleague directly behind me must have been counting too ! He's pulled away so fast with his punter, probably well pleased that he's not me, that he's left one of her cases on the concourse !
And then came the chilling request ! "Westminster, please". By this time, he's in the back.

I pulls out of the tunnel and stop at the red light at Melton Street. "What part of Westminster would you like, sir ?" "Houses of Parliament, please". You think I'm making this up, don't you ? 
On my kid's live's, every bit of this story is true.
By this stage, I am not only convinced that he is going to kill us, but now wondering how many others he plans to take with us !
My brain went into auto pilot. I'm now in collateral damage risk mode. I attempt to get as much information as I can out of him.
"Nice day, Sir!" Not much headway, just a simple polite nod. I'm watching the rucksack, I'm watching his hands, I'm watching cyclists, I'm watching traffic lights, I'm watching motor bikes, I'm watching pedestrians.

I decide that at this particular day, with the current road conditions, I will take him down Gower Street, Charing Cross Road, etc.
We get to Trafalgar Square and stop at the lights by Duncannon Street. His hands move. Then they stop, and rest in his lap again. Phew! I'm trying to find an armed response police car or a red Diplomatic motor, who I know are all tooled up for this stuff. Sod's Law ! All I can see are area panda cars and traffic warden vans.  If I see one, I will covertly indicate to them that I am in trouble. But none on that day ! Typical form !
By this time, we are making good progress. We are getting nearer and nearer to Parliament. And I'm getting more and more concerned. I can just imagine the headlines. 100 People killed because of London Cabby's ridiculous judgement ! What a fool ! And when it comes out that he had been trained in Counter Surveillance.........what a life of embarrassment for my kids ! 

I'm still looking, but cant see an armed unit anywhere on the route.
I get to the lights at Whitehall. They are red. I'm still watching the rucksack, I'm still watching his hands. Maybe this is the time when I floor the TX4's responsive accelerator, chuck a sharp left, round to the river and straight into the Thames. At least the casualty numbers should be smaller. 

But how about if he's genuine ? How will I look then ? Too late ! Amber, Green. Decide NOW Semtex old son ! I don't know what made me do it, but I drove straight on, indicated left into Parliament's main gates and slowed the cab right down. I deliberately wanted to appear suspicious, for their own benefit.  The copper comes out the box and beckons me in. I refuse to move. He waves me forward. I still refuse. I'm watching the rucksack, watching the passenger's hands. 

Neither move. The copper's getting the hump. "Cabby ! Pull Forward !" I stay there. The police officer has now got cold feet, not because of my passenger, but because of me ! Three armed response officers approach the cab. "Pull forward Cabby !" I keep my foot on the brakes and make an eye movement towards the passenger to alert the armed officers. Two of the armed officers approach the back of the cab and open it. If the passenger goes for the ruck sack my toe's going to the floor, and I was already in reverse !
And then it happened ! The Police Officer in the box pressed the button in the box, dropped the raised vehicle ram attack barriers and opened the gate waving me through. I said to him "You sure it's Ok ?" "Is what OK ?" he said. "OK if I proceed " again making eye movements to the back of the cab. "Well if you don't, how is ********** MP going to represent his constituents in Parliament?"

On my life its true ! The man was an MP from up North down to represent his constituents in Parliament ! I know its wrong, but I felt like punching him !
To make it worse, on my way out, the Four Coppers were in fits ! They knew exactly what I was thinking !
Folks, whether we are taught not to do it, encouraged not to be like it, it is human nature ! I have trained detection and patrol dogs for many years. There are not many Rottweillers in service, but more than you would imagine. People are terrified of them ! And yet, the leaner, cuter looking Belgian Malinois is so agile, powerful and fast, that they would and do cause much more damage to an assailant than a Rotty ever could ! But the brain's image of a Rottweiller is one of ferociousness, so you either stop in your tracks when being persued by one, or cross the road if you see one walking the street.

That too is profiling. The brain is programmed to quickly assess the dangers that life holds in store. Fight or flight.
Over the last few years, an influx of migrants to our great country has seen many many Foreign Nationals come begging. Naturally, some of them may very well be absolutely fine, with no ill intent to the UK whatsoever. But make no mistake about it, there are also many many others........who aren't absolutely fine. 

It is amazing then isn't it, that during these times of incredibly realistic threat to our nation, that Foreign Nationals from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria are allowed to apply for a mini cab licence, that when granted, gives them a carte blanch freedom to drive un- interrupted through the capital's most sensitive areas ?

Not only that. Current TFL PHV criteria only ask for a certificate of good conduct, if the applicant has not been residing in the UK for long enough for their origins and character's to be thoroughly checked by DBS/CRB.

A Certificate Of Good Conduct ! Is it me ? Our Counter Terrorist Police Officers, SO15/17, MI5/6, Special Forces...........are all working round the clock trying to protect us from an imminent attack.....................and meanwhile, TFL are licensing candidates from countries who are regarded as a dangerous imminent threat by our Nation Security Agencies, as long as they have the fee, a completed form and if not a UK National,...............A CERTIFICATE OF GOOD CONDUCT !
As I write this post today, MI5's National Threat Level is deemed as Severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.
Is it not a sensible temporary measure then, for TFL to suspend any further applications from foreign nationals applying for mini cab licenses, until MI5 see fit to reduce the threat level ? 
Or is that deemed as Racial Profiling ? 

I not only view it as ludicrous to be issuing these licences, but think it is both an extreme hindrance and a lack of concern or respect to the personnel risking their lives trying to protect us.

But as always, Cash is King, it seems. The revenue pouring into TFL's coffers for PHV roundels would hold its own with the Colombian Opium Trade.
Which takes me back to my original question. How safe are us cabbies out there, right now ? Judge for yourself. Our Police are working their pipes out, our National Security are doing their best, our Military have had Christmas leave cancelled and on stand by. So far so good.

Meanwhile, Uber welcome overseas migrants to the UK with "open arms" as TFL duly take the dough and licence as many as Uber can lay their hands on. It doesn't add up to me. Does it you ? Something's wrong somewhere. Surely ?
Take care folks. Please be careful. We don't often get the deserved praise, but London and Londoners will be up the creek without us ! For those rolling the dice with their Uber choice tonight, please spare our trade from your whines and cries of foul play on Twitter ! Its no good saying Black cabs # best in the world AFTER you've been shafted or assaulted  by your Uber driver ! You know the score. You pays you're money and takes you're choice !
One thing is for sure. I may be bias, but looking at London from where I sit, The London Cab Trade are without doubt one of the most valuable assets that our capital could possess ! 

Watching our trade continue to deliver a gold encrusted service to London, under corrupt terms of engagement, piss poor management from the authorities, and a ludicrously run enforcement programme.............makes me prouder than I have ever been before, to put my badge on and go back to work. Doing what we know so well, so professional and with so much expertise is something I am immensely proud of. Anyone who risks losing our 400 year old legacy to London, seriously wants their head examining ! Even if I say it myself....we are a National Treasure !
I've just seen my lovely wife put my box into the drawbag and hang it on the door. With a bit of luck, it will be last night's KFC ! Blinding !
Be lucky all and be vigilant.
8829 Semtex.


Editorial Comment... By Jim Thomas

It's over 10 years since the horrendous 7/7 bombings in which 52 innocent soles were needlessly taken, leaving the lives of their family and friends shattered beyond belief. The heinous acts carried out on that day touched the lives of many people, including a colleague  of mine Harry, a London Taxi Driver from North London, who lost his wife Sue. 

The events of that day touched many lives, including that of my late wife Christine, who was working for TfL at the time. Along with many of her colleagues, she volunteered to stay at her post, working through the night on a 36 hour shift. 

Part of the service she provided that day/night, was to try to identify victims from belongings found at the scene. She saw things on that long shift that no one should ever witness. 

I tried to volunteer my services (refreshments, pick up clean cloths etc) but she said her office was on virtual lock down. So I went to the hospitals to see if I could volunteer to ferry some of the 700+ walking wounded home. I was so surprised at the many taxi drivers who just turned up to do the same. When I picked Christine up later on the 8th to take her home, she cried the whole journey. 

My Christine received a silver award from TfL for her service on that day, but never traveled on the underground again. 


Super Bob said...

Thanks for the reminder guys. If anything where to happen in London, there is no doubt it will affect at least one of out Taxi brethren. Here's hoping we all have a safe and Happy Christmas.......I would myself, if I could only stop these dark clouds from shadowing my thoughts about the future of our trade. One thing is for sure...our regulators and the PH industry they so much support, would love for us all to throw in the towel. Lets not do that. Instead lets become the longest thorn in their side they have ever known......:)

Editorial said...

Back in 1974, a gentleman with a strong Irish accent, left a small plain wooden box on my back seat, after paying the fare he ran off into an estate in Pimlico. When I saw the package I panicked, this was just days after the terrible atrocity at the Tower of London where 1 person was killed and many injured from an IRA bomb.

I drove at breakneck speed to Gerald Row police station. A constable came out to the cab and gingerly pick up the box, which appeared to be locked. Suddenly he stopped and put the box slowly down on the pavement.
"I don't like the feel of this, and there's a smell of alcohol" he said and the area was quickly cordoned off.

After calling out the bomb squad and after a small controlled explosion, they ascertained the box was indeed a box of half eaten foil wrapped chocolate liqueurs.

I remember thanking the officer for removing the box from the FX4 I was renting, saved me having to explain to an over excited, irate governor why the back seat of his cab had been blown up :)

Jim Thomas

Damian said...

Terrorists are unlikely to be wearing full Muslim attire or indeed to be foreign. British born and wearing 'normal' clothes is sadly where the danger comes from.

Dan said...

Once again, another excellent post from semtex....

Anonymous said...

Hi Damian,
You used the word "unlikely". That is your brain naturally profiling the risk of danger. You're brain is giving you the information that it believes to be normal or the "most likely" pattern or scenario to rely on.
Can I tell you that UK internet sales of traditional Muslim attire have risen in the UK by over 3000%, in the last 14 months only ! Three thousand percent !

Now, imagine you are a terrorist up to evil deed. You want to somehow get into or close enough to an extremely high profile target in London, to blow it, everyone around it and yourself into chalk dust. How would you do it ?

As you say yourself mate "Terrorists are unlikely to be wearing full Muslim attire or indeed to be foreign " . The key word here Damian is "UNLIKELY". Terrorists are masters at studying the unlikely ! Not just Daesh, but the IRA, AL Qaeda,al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, ETA, Hamas, etc etc. They all study the key to what will be seen as UNLIKELY. If they get it right, then finding the UNLIKELY, is the difference between faiklure and success in their evil atrocity.

I have an idea though. How about dressing in full muslim attire, getting into a London cab, all of whom have priority access into many London high profile venues,
asking the driver to take them to The House of Parliament, and pulling up right outside ?
After all, "Terrorists are unlikely to be wearing full Muslim attire or indeed to be foreign" Are'nt they ? How convenient !

BOOM !!!!!

I've spent all my life trying to outfox the "UNLIKELY" movements of terrorists and Intelligence targets buddy. And I would like to think that my cynical judgement and expecting something different, is the reason I'm still alive (just !) Never, ever look for what you LIKELY expect to happen in your cab when working out there my friend, cos you can bet youre bollox that it will be something UNLIKELY that happens, that will catch the lot of us out. God willing, I am wrong. Believe me I want to be on this occasion.

Be careful out there Damian, and be lucky mate.


Anonymous said...

With respect, and remembering that this incident took place only weeks after the atrocious 7/7 bombings, I believe the behaviour from the MP in question was a display of blatant arrogance ! He didn't have to wear that stuff. What's wrong with a suit and briefcase ? People will say, Why should he ? That's his country's attire! But it's not, is it ? If he's a member of parliament, his country is the UK ! We don't wear that stuff here. Its disrespectful, its dis-courteous to our British way of life and I believe he wore it to cause the reaction that he indeed got. And that's why I felt like punching him ! It was an unnecessary and rude act of defiance, disrespect to the UK and certainly disrespectful for the recent victims. He knew he had ruffled my feathers too. He wouldn't make even the smallest of conversation.
And I tell you something else whilst I am at it, he ain't on his own either ! There are too many MP's and the like that appear to go out of their way not to embrace the British way of life, and to be frank it annoys me.
I don't mind sharing my British life, British soil, British culture with other nationalities other creeds and other religions. Neither do I mind equality. But start displaying actions and shouts for supremacy and my back goes up like a venetian blind !

Damian said...

Semtex I don't disagree with you in essence. However in answer to your question 'how would I do it' I would purchase a very well tailored suit and and a large business type bag (a briefcase or one of those overnight business type suitcase things). British society at most high profile targets such as business or political premises is still 'the norm' and the best place to hide an apple is still in a tree.

Now of course my contention over simplifies the issue. As does yours if I may say so. Horses for courses and it depends on many things. If they had access to a willing and radicalised white male then my contention would surely be in pole position. If their 'mule' looked full on Muslim no matter how you dressed him/her then yes perhaps full Muslim attire and a different target might work better. So far targets have not been governmental buildings. They have been public places, soft targets. Places where all types of people fit in. Of course this could change next time, or it might not.

So far though, and as far as I know, in the terror events that we are discussing (7/7, Spanish train, Charlie Hebdo, Paris etc) none of the terrorists were wearing full Muslim attire. They may well be next time, but then again, on a Saturday night up town for instance, they could equally be wearing a fancy dress. A lot could be hidden under a Mr Blobby suit!

The point at the end of this is that whilst increased, indeed maximum vigilance should be our default state at the moment we must also be self aware and not allow those who seek to create divisions between us to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Good post Damian, and I agree with you mate.
I think they're general MO will alter very soon though. As you say, apart from maximum vigilance, there is not much more as cabbies, we can do.
Take care out there my friend, stay vigilant and be lucky.