Taxi drivers call January the ‘Kipper Season’, ‘cos it’s the time of year when folks are broke and work levels fall flat (although another school of thought speculates the fishy moniker relates to the fact that kippers make a cheap meal when times are tough). Here are some more examples of London cabbie slang to listen out for:
This is one of the many one-to-one verbal exams that aspiring cabbies must undergo while studying ‘the Knowledge of London’ (the gruelling training process required to become a black taxi driver that the Conservatives want to scrap). Personally, I had to sit 27 appearances – and they were all terrifying.
This is a naughty passenger who doesn’t pay their fare. A few spin an elaborate sob story, some vanish into anonymous buildings never to be seen again, while others are simply content to hot-foot it.
This is a common expression used when cabbies part company with each other. It’s an apt phrase too – luck plays a big part in our game (see ‘Roader’).
The moment audiences exit a venue en-masse and pour into the streets, with programmes and screwed up packets of Revels in hand as they seek a ride home is ‘the burst’. London’s main burst occurs just after 10pm when the West End theatre shows draw to a close.
A taxi driver who is new to the job having recently passed the Knowledge (see ‘appearance’), is known as a Butter boy or girl. There are numerous theories as to where the term originates, but the most popular one suggests older cabbies used to accuse the keen new entrants of pinching their ‘bread and butter’ work.
A ‘flyer’ is a job to the airport – which usually involves battling through traffic with a knee jangling, anxious clock watcher.
The gas works
This is the Houses of Parliament. Read into that what you will…
Kojak with a Kodak
In other words, a policeman brandishing a speed gun. If they’re being particularly sneaky about it the KWAK in question can also be dubbed a ‘blue tree’.
If you’re a cabbie working exceptionally long hours, you’re a ‘leather arse’. In the Kipper season, the time spent behind the wheel turns most of us into leather arses (although I tend to find my knee joints suffer more than my derriere). Also known as a ‘copper bottom’.
Little apples grow quickly please
This is a handy mnemonic for remembering the order of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue – Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queens and Palace. There are a few other of these little phrases, but I can’t be giving all of our tricks away now, can I?
Nothing to do with cuddly huskies, sadly. This term refers to a cabbie who owns their own taxi. Drivers on the other hand who opt to rent their ‘sherbet’ (see below) from a garage are known as ‘Journeymen’.
Oranges and lemons
These are London’s main roads – so called because they’re coloured orange and yellow on the A-Z map.
Otherwise known as the Blackwall Tunnel. Often clogged, of course.
A long journey, usually out towards the suburbs and beyond. Once or twice in their career, a driver will snag a golden roader that can later be used as an ace when playing cabbie Top Trumps. My best roader? Now that would be telling… but it wasn’t too far from Alan Partridge’s home town.
Slang for cab. It derives from the Cockney rhyming term, ‘sherbet dab’ (the sugary tooth-dissolving treat that you chow down with a lollipop).
London’s main line terminals have all manner of handles. Some are pretty obvious – ‘The Loo’ for Waterloo, ‘Padders’ for Paddington, ’The Bone’ for Marylebone (where, if there’s work, we say there’s ‘meat on the bone’). Some are more obscure, though, like ‘Royal Lobster’. Answers on a postcard if you can work that one out.