Black Cabs – London’s Taxis


Any visitor to London cannot fail to notice that aside from the usual array of private cars, bikes/scooters and delivery vans that the streets are punctuated with two of perhaps the World’s most recognizable and iconic vehicles. The red London Bus – see our previous post here that features the New Routemaster Bus – Thomas Heatherwick – and the Black Cabs – London’s Taxis or more properly “Hackney Carriages”.


It may be just an impression but certain parts of the West End, that are not already bus and taxi only, but fall within the Congestion Charge Zone – and a daily rate of £11.50 – have taken on a new character. They seem to flow better and are sparsely occupied by private vehicles but are dominated by well managed public transport provided by Transport for London (TfL) – see here our piece on the iconic London Transport Roundels –  London Transport roundels  – and the Carriage Office – the body responsible for the Black Cabs.

The Black Cab is undergoing a revolution. The streets are a battleground where private mini-cabs, recently licence-reprieved Uber cars and Black Cabs vie to secure a ride but they reflect a clash of cultures. The Black Cab driver knows where he/she’s going having successfully completed the Knowledge see our previous post here – London A-Z street atlas – The Knowledge  – whilst the mini-cab or Uber drivers world is linked to one of the many digital street services following pre-selected routes that guide the driver to the chosen post code. Simple but not foolproof!

Price is an issue but I tend to prefer the comfort of Black Cabs. However, with respect to those Uber drivers that I have met, the London Cabbie is often overall much better “value”. They tend to be better informed about London, its Mayor and its political life, the perils of supporting one of London’s eleven football teams, the most recent celebrity they carried and the best route to avoid congestion.

Cabbie’s opinions matter. In a recent and highly effective Twitter piece, Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, the US Ambassador to the UK – probably as a result of looking for someone to go “Sarf of the River” to the new US Embassy in Vauxhall – toured several of the thirteen remaining London’s Green Cabbie’s shelters. The driver’s opinions on Brexit and the US President seem very welcome. US Ambassador Cab Shelter Tour 

A new Black Cab appeared on the streets of London at the end of 2017 competing with the most recent diesel version of the iconic Black Cab, the TX4, that was produced between 2007 and 2017. Called the LEVC “TX” and seen below next to an older TX4, the cab is built in a new Chinese owned factory outside Coventry and combines a 1.5l petrol engine with a 110kW lithium battery driven electric motor. Conforming perfectly to the zeroing of diesel emissions and the promotion of the recharge economy.


A recent journey in the new cab, that tend to be rented by Cabbie’s for under £200 per  week on a five year deal, suggests the comfort is still very much there. The new cab’s driver explained the electric motor delivered around 70 to 80 miles on one 50p electricity recharge and whilst the TX leasing arrangement is slightly more costly, the fuel saving is expected to be around £100 per week. Will this bring cab fares more in line with Uber’s prices?


Other cities around the world have their own distinctive cabs, the canary Yellow Cabs – Medallion Taxi – that have superseded their checker forerunners – in New York, the Black Body and Yellow Doors in Barcelona but in its own right London’s iconic Black Cab – a vehicle designed and built for a single task – should be seen a beacon of security in an unfamiliar city. Just don’t try and flag on done if its yellow roof light is not illuminated – its occupied!

Images used with grateful thanks – Transport For Londons, Daily Telegraph and LEVC TX.

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Zodiac Inflatable Boats


I like boats but I have always thought that a conventional rigid hulled version was somewhat limiting. The practical reality of an inflatable boat means that it can easily be moved from one location to another and stored away from the water when not in use – thus saving a killing on mooring fees.

There are certain iconic products that through familiarity, usually based on exceptional built quality or performance, become the noun that defines the object. Hoover, Durex and Zodiac. A heritage brand.

Mrs W. spent many summers on Spain’s Costa del Sol as a teenager and when describing an inflatable boat she uses the term “Zodiac”. The boat owners she knew had their Zodiacs equipped with Mercury or Johnson outboards for use as ski boats, fun day boats or as tenders to larger vessels.


It will come as no surprise that these air filled and thermobonded tube-gunwaled boats can trace their origins to the airships of French company, Zodiac Aerospace founded in 1896. In the 1930s, Zodiac engineer, Pierre Debroutelle, developed early prototype inflatable boats for the use of the French ”Aéronavale” – the aviation arm of the French Navy. In 1934 he invented an inflatable kayak and catamaran and in 1937 Aeronavale commissioned Zodiac to produce inflatables pontoons to carry naval ordinance.

Following its development for military use, in the 1950’s French Navy officer and biologist, Alain Bombard, is credited with designing the combination of an outboard engine, a rigid floor and the boat-shaped inflatable. The resulting design was built by Zodiac. Bombard sailed a version across the Atlantic in 1952 and with his friend and fellow naval officer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, it’s excellent performance made the Zodiac the tender of choice. See our previous post on the inspirational Jacques-Yves Cousteau here – Jacques Cousteau

The 1960’s saw a growth in the recreational use of small boats and Zodiac answered this demand partly by increasing their own production and partly by licensing others, such as Humber in the UK, to produce their boats. Further, US culture was exposed to Zodiac inflatables in Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau“ – get your copy by clicking the AMAZON link below the image.


The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

Increasingly from the early 1970’s the modern rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was a development of the classic – almost unsinkable – inflatable boat, enhanced by the addition of a rigid floor and solid hull – in GRP, steel, wood or aluminum. Adding a transom mounted powerful outboard engine made these craft highly manoeverable and able to cope with the roughest seas.


RIBs became a favourite with the military – Zodiac established a separate division Zodiac Milpro to service this demand – and sea rescue services. Illegal smuggling gangs, intent on landing contraband whilst avoiding detection, in a part of the world I know well, made RIBs their vessel of choice – the authorities using even more military grade versions to thwart this ambition!


Image Credits – with grateful thanks – Zodiac Nautic.

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20.07.18 – It’s been announced in Madrid, as part of Spain’s ongoing war on drug smuggling, particularly on the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar, that the Spanish Government is taking steps to ban the private use of RIBs that are longer than 8m or smaller but with a 150kW engine or bigger. Once sanctioned the ban will come into effect after six months.

Billingham 225 Camera Bag

Billingham 2

Returning to my core mission of celebrating aesthetically pleasing and classically designed icons mention must be made of the beautiful English made bags of M Billingham and Co Ltd – better known to us as “Billingham Bags”.

In 1973, Martin Billingham founded his eponymous business making fishing bags and forty years on the business is still in family ownership. Indeed the essence of the light brown canvas bags are reminiscent of a trout fishing bag my father gave me over forty years ago complete with many internal sections for reels and tackle. By 1978 it was discovered that a large number of their bags were being sold to a New York based photographer thus igniting the most important connection between these durable water-resistant canvass and rubber bonded bags, edged in finest leather and their obvious target market.

Typically a Billingham bag is full of sections divided by velcro sided foam panels that can be varied to accommodate several lenses, camera bodies, flash units and filters. The larger models also feature external straps to hold tripods.

The world of photography has undergone a revolution in its transition to digital image capture and a trend away from larger SLR type cameras – Please check out here our piece on the new Hasselblad X1D – Hasselblad X1D to the more convenient “point and shoot” or even the use of a high pixel camera like that of the new iPhone X. Yet it seems that the future of the Billingham bag, as the bag of choice for the professional or serious amateur  photographer, seems set for many years to come. The Billingham range has also evolved to offer a range of smaller bags designed for compact cameras and their accessories.

HB x1d-above

I bought my first Billingham bag, a large brown canvass 225 with chestnut leather piping, in the late 1980’s to accommodate my beloved SLR camera, a Nikon 801 body – to which I had attached a Nikon motor drive – and had a large flash unit, several Nikkor zoom and wide angled lenses, straps, boxes of Ilford and Kodachrome film – both black and white and colour – and a tripod. It was an excellent collection that I used regularly and produced some pretty decent photos. My habit of saving both boxes and receipts from my favourite camera shop “Fox Talbot” (that merged with lager rival “Jessops” in 1998 now owned by TV’s Dragon’s Den investor, Peter Jones) stood me in good stead. In the middle 1990’s, when we were away on holiday and our house was being renovated and some light fingered painter/decorator stole my entire Billingham bag and its contents. The insurance company were impressed by my proofs of purchase and refunded the entire loss allowing me to replace my favourite bag and its contents.

For me the most adaptable bag in the current Billingham range – and there are more expensive ones – and the one I have owned for several years, is the Billingham 225 – see here a live review of this bag –Billingham 225 camera bag

If you would like to enjoy the evident benefits of these most appealing icons of modern photography please click the AMAZON link below the image


Billingham 225 Canvas Camera Bag With Tan Leather Trim – Khaki

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Image credits M. Billingham & Co Ltd and Hasselblad AB

Concorde by Dominic Baker

Concorde 1

We are delighted to welcome a new Contributor to Aestheticons, Dominic Baker, who is an artist and writer based in Devon (UK) – and a massive fan of great design. This is Dominic’s first piece for us.

Concorde was an Anglo-French masterpiece that dominated the skies for 27 years after its first commercial flight in 1976. It has won many design awards even after its retirement from service in October 2003.

When I think of the two countries Great Britain and France, they have never seemed friendly, always having some sort of disagreement dating back to the 10th Century culminating in the Battle of Waterloo. In 1855 Queen Victoria bridged the gap visited Paris and signed the Entente Cordiale.

A British Minister wanted to drop the ‘e’ in “Concorde” as it sounded too French! It’s widely agreed that the ‘E’ stood for ‘Entente Cordiale’, so it was reinstated. The word ‘Concord’ meaning ‘harmonious’ or ‘to be in agreement’ was the most fitting name for such a beautiful work of art and an instantly recognisable icon and acknowledgment of two nations being joined to realise this project.

Concorde was only the second of two commercial airliners ever to be ‘supersonic’ – being Mach 2, over 1500 miles an hour. The first was the less successful Soviet built, Tupolev Tu-144, which looked like a carbon copy of the Anglo – French invention yet only completed fifty-five passenger flights. It was slower and less reliable than Concorde. It also beat Concorde in being the first commercial aircraft to break Mach 2 in June 1969, Concorde only achieving the same on 1st October 1969.

Concorde was made primarily of aluminum for lightness and strength. It was restricted to Mach 2.4 as any faster and the metal would become pliable and deform as it heated up in the fast flowing air around it. The aircraft would expand from anything from 5 to 10 inches in places during flight due to the heat. Concorde had over 5000 hours of testing before it was certified for passenger flight. It flew at 60,000 feet (over 11 miles) and the passengers could see the curvature of the earth. It flew around the World in just under 30 hours.

From 21st January 1976 Concorde undertook its first commercial flights with a capacity for 100 passengers. First passengers on the inaugural flight to Bahrain paid £356 for a single which price had risen for a round trip to New York (typically, a three and a half hour journey) by the late 1990’s to over £8200. During its lifetime of more than 50,000 flights Concorde carried over 2.5 m passengers.

It wasn’t all roses for the partnership, after the last New York flight had landed in 2003 figures pointed towards that they had run at a loss. Also not forgetting the horrendous Air France crash of 2000 to New York which killed everyone a board – partly contributing to its demise – also 9/11 attacks in 2001 also made numbers dwindle from fear of flying to New York.

As a child I can still remember standing in my garden hearing the Sonic Booms as they broke the sound barrier not once but twice over head and feeling a little twinge of pride mixed with awe that there was such a fantastic mode of transport out there. Exotic and romantic destinations such as New York & Paris were only a couple of clicks away.

Only the rock star jet set super elite used Concorde. It really was the ultimate commercial supersonic flying machine, not bad for an old bird designed in the 50s !

Rumour has it, that Club Concorde, a collective of aviation enthusiasts and former Concorde pilots have the funding to return Concorde to supersonic service by 2019.

Ed – my two clear recollections of this magnificent plane are watching test flights in the late 1960’s over the Thames at Lechlade in Gloucestershire. When my family moved to Surrey in the late 1970’s sitting in the garden – pre the building of the M25 – around 9.30 pm there would be an amazing rumble and light show of the New York Concorde preparing to land at Heathrow.


Featured Image by British Airways

Globe-Trotter suitcases


They may give you the appearance of an extra from a 1950’s spy movie or that you are about to embark on a trip by luxury train from a smoked filled station to some exotic destination Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits – Travel posters but Globe-Trotter suitcase, in their trade mark navy or brown, have been an essential part of British kit and an iconic design for more than a hundred years.

Founded by David Nelken in Lower Saxony (Germany) in 1897, the company’s core product range consists of strong but light-weight suitcases made from vulcanised fibreboard – multiple layers of bonded paper. Heroically strong and, unlike many new items, they age very well gaining an added patina from clumsy baggage handlers.

In 1932 the company moved to the UK. Today’s products are made and repaired in Broxbourne, (Hertfordshire UK) using original manufacturing methods and some machinery dating from Victorian times.

The core Globe-Trotter range is now complemented by the addition of a hand-crafted leather collection.

It’s not surprising that Globe-Trotter has become the luggage of choice for explorers including Captain Robert Scott and Sir Edmund Hilary. Globe-Trotter has also made its appearances alongside James Bond in ‘Spectre’. Aston Martin DB4/DB5


Driza-Bone coat


The company who manufacture Driza-Bone (trademark first registered in 1933) – “dry as a bone” – was established in 1898. It is Australian owned and is manufactured in Australia.

The Driza-Bone derives from traditional Australian stockman coats with a tough cotton construction and an oilskin coating. Used primarily for riding, they are long in the body and tied at the legs for protection for horse and rider against the rain.

See also Piaggio Vespa ET2 –  as they are also perfect as coats for riding scooters in all manner of wet London conditions.

Oilskin manufacturer, Emilius Le Roy, emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in the late 1880’s and recycled clothes for sailors from lightweight sails that were waterproofed by the application of linseed oil. T.E. Pearson took Leroy Coats to Australia where they sold well to stockmen, he also developed a new means on sealing the coats to reduce their flammability. He and Leroy entered a partnership to make the coats.

Steve Bennett, the Australian who founded Country Road  in 1974 – “creating simply beautiful merchandise designed to reflect an authentically Australian way of life” – purchased the company in late 2008 and relocated the business to Melbourne, (Victoria).

Aside from its classic design and hard wearing qualities, in my experience of many years of wearing, Driza-Bone coats are very comfortable and hugely durable even in the worst weather. They are not a fashion item – they sit above that – but they are an iconic symbol of their Australian heritage.

Photo from Driza-Bone