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Hailing the Hack Poet

Cab drivers in London are equipped with The Knowledge, which is a "detailed knowledge of roads and places of interest in London." Lately, I've found this to be ever-increasingly replaced by a good GPS device, which I really can't find fault with as I routinely use spellcheck and a calculator despite knowing fully well how to spell (or at least use a dictionary) and do arithmetic.

Anyway, for the most part they seem to do a bang-up job, especially compared to some of the medallion holders who used to chauffeur me around New York. London cabbies are usually very friendly and will often have a good story or two. That is when they're not bitching on their mobile phones about how they can't earn a decent wage, think it's criminal that the government won't give him a better pension, and "all these bastards who don't speak the language should just go back to their own feckin' country. What are they doing here anyway?" (Fair play, I didn't have to eavesdrop on his conversation, but he was a real charmer.)

I was in a taxi the other day with a driver who was carrying around what I found to be unexpected knowledge. On the dashboard was a stack of books. Two volumes of Ted Hughes. A small book of (or maybe about) Noam Chomsky. Selected works of John Ruskin. And there were a couple of pocket-sized (p)leather-bound notebooks. One of which he'd pull out when we were at a stop light, scribble a line or two into, and then have a look at one of Hughes' poems.

Several years ago, back in NY, I was taking a character development class and worked up a sketch about a would-be writer who packed in his job and decided to be a cab driver.

I had no idea he moved out of Park Slope, aged about twenty years, and was now schlepping people around London, listening to classical music on Radio 3 and telling me funny stories about "idiot wankers, like the one who can't drive that lorry over there" who shouldn't be allowed on the road.