Howard Croft column: What about the aurora borealis then, Mr Cabbie?

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, proposed that all private hire (minicab) drivers in London should in future submit to written and oral English language tests. This, by secondary intention, would reduce the number of minicabs on the road in the city by about 50%; there are currently close to 120,000 of them. The primary intention is to 'drive up standards and improve passenger safety'. Uber, the smartphone booking service, which has 30,000 drivers on the streets of London, naturally objected and took the matter to the High Court. Mr Justice Mitting dismissed their objection, including the allegation that the move was racist, naturally.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 18th March 2017, 5:30 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:52 am
A proposal has been put forward that all minicab drivers in London should in future submit to written and oral English language tests.
A proposal has been put forward that all minicab drivers in London should in future submit to written and oral English language tests.

Whichever was the primary intention and which the secondary seems to me to be beside the point as both are desirable. It is interesting to note that Mr Khan has no other way to control the number of licensed drivers – he may not cap them. But, what is interesting is the nature of the tests. The written tests include writing essays on such vital topics as river pollution and the aurora borealis. For many years I lived in London and I frequently enjoyed lively and interesting conversations with cab drivers, at that time there were only black-cab drivers. I never felt the urge to discuss the aurora borealis nor did I encounter such an urge in a driver, but there we are – things may have changed since my time. Then it was “what did you think about Arsenal’s game last night?” and “what about that Wedgie Benn then, is he a nutter or what?” Not as nourishing intellectually, but it was what was then on offer.

The oral test is more to the point, focusing on passenger/driver communication and, especially listening skills. This could include discussing a better route, understanding passengers’ instructions and “talking about medical conditions”. The last one is odd. I admit that in the past I have listened to detailed accounts of driver’s wife’s varicose veins (to which she is a martyr) and the driver’s own bladder problems, greatly helped by his detailed knowledge of the whereabouts of public conveniences, thanks to The Knowledge. The dicky bladder of a cockney cabbie and the aching legs of his “her indoors” could never be of more than marginal interest to me, and certainly did not improve my “customer experience”, so what has Mr Khan in mind? Or, more likely, his civil servants – those pointy-headed retards with fancy titles and even fancier salaries that seem to be everywhere, coming up with daft ideas.

Contrast this with the language tests that are set for overseas doctors arriving in the country with a view to practising medicine here. It is forbidden to examine them on “medical” English, formal or colloquial, but testing them on their ability to discuss bee keeping is encouraged. Provided, presumably, if we stay away from anaphylactic shock brought about by bee stings. This is an EU stipulation (and why I voted BREXIT), and I fully expect the EU to get involved in this minicab driver affair, which I am sure will go to the European Court.

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We shall finish up with a situation in which cab drivers are well versed in the complications of coeliac disease and deft in the art of differentiating between diabetic coma and alcohol induced senselessness. In the meantime, in hospital car parks we shall see German orthopaedic surgeons executing three-point turns and demonstrating their skills at parallel parking and emergency stops.

Nearer to home, North Yorkshire Police have designated misogyny (the hatred of women) a “hate crime” and will be training officers in the recognition and prosecution of this “offence”.

I have in my life met only two men who would fit this category, and it must be rare – we all have, or have had mothers and many of us sisters after all.

Sounds more like a psychiatric disorder to me.

On the other hand, I have met many more women who hate other women. I hope that training will address this.

The definition of this hate crime (NYP’s) is “any criminal offence which is perceived by the female victim or any other person (my emphasis) to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on gender”. If I were to snatch a lady’s handbag because it looked expensive and likely to a useful bit of cash, but anyone witnessing it or hearing about it could say that I did it because she was a woman I would be liable to a stiffer sentence. I freely admit that I hate cats – is this likely to make me a “person of interest” to the RSPCA?