Black Cabs – London’s Taxis

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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”.

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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?

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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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Brompton Bicyclesm

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I really like to cycle. There’s a “wind in your hair” moment – obviously beneath your safety helmet – when you appreciate the liberty of your pace but also the penny drops that you are actually doing yourself some good. Stamina and a general feeling of wellbeing improve immensely from bike riding.

If you are a City commuter then the idea of riding to work may be somewhat daunting. Aside from the perils of other road users, including the crazy antics of cycle messengers/couriers – who are very time poor – and the inconsideration often shown to pedal power by motorists there are distinct health and wealth benefits. Provided the weather holds, many Cities now have dedicated bike routes offering the cyclists a reasonably direct line between home, through parks and tunnels to emerge close to their work place.

Once you arrive at work – what on earth do you do with your prized bike? You can park it in a designated cycle rack with all manner of heavy “U” locks or chains seeking to prevent theft or why not carry it and place it under your desk!

Yes, armed with an engineering degree from Cambridge University and a somewhat thwarted career in computer science, Andrew Richie’s City Analysist father introduced him to those seeking to commercialize the Bickerton Bike. A patented model of collapseable bike produced entirely from aluminum profiles with no welding and reasonably light.

After extensive modification of the earlier idea to ensure that the dirtiest parts of the bike – primarily the chain – were central to the folded vehicle and named after the Brompton Oratory that could be seen from his flat, in Egerton Gardens, where he developed the first prototypes, James filed his second patent in 1979 for his folding bike. The Patent was granted on the 30th May 1984.

I am very relieved to hear that James Ritchie appears to be in that rare group of perhaps eccentric British inventors, that would logically include James Dyson and Clive Sinclair and Trevor Baylis, that are truely obsessed by their design and live and breath the prospect for their invention. Mr Richie certainly believed in his invention and spent an inordinate amount of time bringing it to market. He readily admits to being a perfectionist for whom all the design and manufacturing details needed to be just right. His belief has proved to be correct.

The Brompton is an iconic and memorable site on the street of London, New York and San Francisco.

His modesty as to his design talents is disarming. He quite rightly notes that he combined the elements of a bicycle that have been around since the Victorian era. He credits Alex Moulton – who we first heard of in relation to his design work on the suspension of Sir Alec Issigonnis’ Mini – see our pervious post here – Mini – the best selling car in Britain  who popularized the smaller wheeled bicycle and without this Mr Richie believes that he would not have conceived the idea of the Brompton.

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It appears that a favourite pastime for the legions of fans of the Brompton folding bike – aside from selecting your preferred vehicle from the company’s wide range of options, alternative parts and accessories that may be tailored to your individual needs – is to add a Brooks saddle, perhaps giving the bike a slightly more noble look. We have celebrated the iconic saddles made by Brooks in Smethwick (West Midlands) – please see our earlier post here – Brooks bicycle saddle

The cleaver team at Brompton based at their production facility in West London have devised and recently launched a Brompton bike that is powered by human and battery! See their video here Brompton’s First Electric Bike

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Can I interest you in a Brompton? The ever popular M6L model is available in either blue or black – please click on the Amazon link below the image of each bike

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BROMPTON M6L 2017 Tempest Blue Folding Bike

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BROMPTON M6L 2017 Black Folding Bike

Or perhaps you’d prefer the same look in a lighter Brompton bike – the H6L – please click the link below the image

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Brompton H6L Superlight 2017 Folding Bike Black Titanium

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The Independent, one of the UK’s more objective newspapers, in June 2018, carried a very well reasoned piece concerning electric bikes – including Brompton’s very own version. Read the piece By David Phelan here Best Electric Bikes

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks Brompton Bicycles and James Richie

Billingham 225 Camera Bag

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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.

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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

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Billingham 225 Canvas Camera Bag With Tan Leather Trim – Khaki

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Image credits M. Billingham & Co Ltd and Hasselblad AB

VéloSolex moped

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Increasingly dependent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible I have noticed a rise in commuters using electrically operated bicycles and small motorized scooters. They seem to offer limited comfort and even less protection for the rider who, for an inexplicable reason, think they have the power of a large Harley, BMW or Honda at their fingertips and get themselves into precarious positions on the road causing much frustration to others.

In a far gentler era the predecessor of these street demons was VéloSoleX or more frequently referred to as a Solex which was moped – or motorised bicycle – originally produced by Solex who were based in Paris (France) and founded by engineering friends, Maurice Goudard and Marcel Mennesson.

Designed by Mennesson during World War II, the Solex was produced between 1946 and 1988 in a variety of versions largely utilising the same technology of a motor with roller resting on and driving the front wheel of the bicycle.

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Being very competitively priced and hugely economical to run, the Soles was a massive success. In total it sold in excess of 7m units. In 1947 even BP created “Solexine”, a pre-mixed  oil and petrol mix for the Solex’s two stroke engine and sold in a 2L can. By the late 1940’s Solex was selling 100 units a day rising to 1500 a day by the mid-1960’s – when it was blessed with a new maximum – though limited – speed of 30 km.

The company now makes a range of electrically powered bicycles. An early version, designed by Pininfarina, was launched in 2005 as the E-Solex.

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By 2014 the Solexity Infinity was launched, again from the pen of Pininfarina – with capacity to travel up to 80 km on one charge – at the costs of around €2,000 – keeping the brand alive!

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As French as the Beret, Brie and Baguette, the Solex, a classic French icon of the mid-20th century, has a very special place in my psyche as I explored the opportunity in the 1980’s of importing them into the UK. It was perhaps my first brush with the ever increasing dominance of the words “Health & Safety” in our national idiom.

I was required to deliver details to the Ministry of Transport who after some consideration and lots of teeth sucking, decided that the fuel tank, which was then made of a reasonable durable plastic was too feeble to withstand any front-end impact and the risks of fire were too great.

Solex also commissioned various evocative advertising posters, which in their own right are increasingly collectable.

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For our French speaking friend’s – we know who you are – the equivalent of a an Owner’s Manual for a Vélosolex is a must – Le Guide du Vélosolex click the Amazon link below the image to get yours!

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Le guide du Vélosolex

Why not pick up a classic French VeloSolex enamel sign that will look at home in your Gite in La Gironde, on the wall of your Flat in Fulham or your Man-cave in Manchester! Click the AMAZON link below the image

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX LE VRAI BICYCLESD2C56E9B-03F2-4C9E-AF3A-13C55668EEA2

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX REFERENDUM 2

I love VeloSolex – and all this little motor cycle represents – you can too with this iconic T Shirt! Please click the Amazon link below the image 

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Velosolex Moped T-Shirt. Gents Ladies Kids Sizes. Bike Cycling France Motorcycle:X Large – 48″

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks – Solex SA

Melton Mowbray pork pies

My next sentence is likely to cause a furore. In my view there are not more than ten regional dishes – even if you count “cheese” as one dish – coming from the UK that are worthy of export and promotion on an international scale. Somewhere high in the ranking of my top 10 you’ll find the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie.

As we approach Christmas I am on the hunt for a large Melton Mowbray pork pie that we have along with other cold meats, turkey ham and beef on Boxing Day with salads and heaps of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and Maille Dijon Mustard (see our previous posts on these two iconic dressings)

Melton Mowbray sounds like a mythical town from an Enid Blyton novel but its a charming town in Leicestershire where in 1998 a local association of pork pie manufactures was set up to help to protect the town’s eponymous pork pie recipe. With an application to the European Union in 1999 under the Protected Geographical Indication rules protection was sought to ensure that products only from the immediate area could benefit from carrying this iconic brand.

After some legal wrangling with a competitor who sought to muddy the waters PGI status was granted and came into effect in July 2009 with the Melton Mowbray name now only being available for pork pies made within 10.8 square miles of the town. With the PGI denomination, Melton Mowbray pork pies join the ranks of other great European foods including Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta, Camembert, Herefordshire Cider, Cognac, Champagne and the Mustards of Burgundy (that includes Dijon mustard).

Why did Melton Mowbray become home to world’s the best pork pies? As a bi-product of the Stilton cheese making business that had dominated the Melton Mowbray economy for several centuries “whey” was great pig fodder ensuring that pork was a regular meat for the local consumers. Developed over many years from its original of a pastry topped clay pot, the wrapped pastry case was originally merely intended as packaging and was not eaten.

Spending some time in a local hardware store – an Aladdin’s cave of fantastically antiquated but all still newly available kitchen utensils – I came across a sort of door stopper device with a turned handle on top and a solid cylindrical body about 12 cms high and with a girth of  8 cms – it was called “a dolly” and in researching this review I have now discovered that it was designed to take the now familiar hot water crust pastry that is used as the case of the Melton Mowbray pork pie.

The dolly is covered by pastry that is hand worked until it covers most of the body of the dolly. Once the dolly is removed the deep pie casing is ready for filling with the pork-pie mixture. The completed and baked pie warm and fresh from the oven – with its distinctive bowed sides – is topped up with bone-stock jelly to fill the air gaps in the pies and increase the preservative quality of the pastry.

How do you know the pie you are eating is truly a Melton Mowbray pork pie? The pie must consist of at least 30% fresh pork, shortening (usually lard), pork gelatine or stock, wheat flour, water, salt and spices (primarily pepper). The use of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives is prohibited.

Image by http://www.MMPA.co.uk