It all started in 1986, Simon and I had gone to school together and had remained friends ever since, he worked in his uncles fish factory in Essex and the whole family were suitable well off. For years I had associated that pink fish with money and so when the phone rang and Simon announced that he had signed up for the ‘knowledge’ and did I want to join him, I didn’t hesitate. Before Google we all made calculated guesses based mainly on something very unscientific called ‘gut instinct’ and I of course decided to believe Simons assertion that it would be a doddle. Well my gut and Simon were wrong, it wasn’t but more of that later.
Looking back I felt quite lighthearted as I closed my front door and made my way over to the minivan we had decided to start in just in case we got cold and wet. I climbed inside and the salmon smell hit me, I grinned, Simon switched on the radio and off we went. I held the map and the blue book runs Simon had photocopied for me and he did the driving. We made numerous stops for tea, coffee and sandwiches, in fact those journeys felt more like a day out at the seaside than a serious attempt to start the knowledge. However, it soon became compulsive, I took the sheets everywhere, even the toilet and would bore anyone anyone who would listen to my parrot like repetition of the runs. The blue book, which is actually pink, consists of 26 pages and each page has 18 runs printed very neatly. The first run in the book is Manor House Station to Gibson Square. The aim is to learn all the runs both ways and the points of interest around them. Impossible ?
I wondered about the impossibility of the knowledge many times during my self-imposed sentence. I tried to console myself with the fact that there were many thousands of cabbies in London to prove it wasn’t. We quickly graduated from the van to mopeds, I bought mine from Southend and rather than take the treacherous journey back to the east end on the A13 I took the train or, to be precise I stood in the guards compartment with my new moped, contemplating life on two wheels on the streets of London. I was in a much more serious mood when we arrived at Liverpool Street Station and I wobbled off towards Bethnal Green to compose myself for the next mornings start.
The moped proved to be far better than the van in terms economy and vision but being on two wheels during that winter was a scary experience, I slipped and slid a few times and being caught in a snow blizzard in Hampstead made me question the sanity of being on two skinny wheels in the dark miles from home.
Simon was joined by Mark another friend and the three of us would meet up every couple of days to obsess and argue about details like whether you could turn right into College Place from Plender Street or not, you can’t by the way. We agonised over straight lines across London and consoled each other over appearances that had gone wrong. I lived in a very Victorian Peabody trust flat in Bethnal Green in the east end, it was on the top floor and had a balcony facing Horatio Street. As Nelson proudly surveyed London from his lofty perch I took this as a sign that I would indeed the conquer London and get my hands on a pretty green badge and a black cab.