Short but not sweet

If we decide to go anywhere in Percy, I always try to remember to start him first before we go through the process of folding the spacepram and the carseat/seatbelt operation, mostly because I’m probably subconsciously expecting him not to start.

One Sunday, I got complacent and strapped Cabette in and folded the spacepram before I turned the key in the ignition. Several attempts later I gave up, with the 2.7 diesel still dormant.

I think this is the fourth time we’ve had to call out a roadside rescue service to jump start Percy but on this occasion it wasn’t down to us leaving any lights on. I realised that the majority of his journey, especially over the past few weeks, have been very short indeed.

HSBC roadside recovery was very good though and with a 2 month old ‘in the car’ (we were actually at home) they sent someone out straight away and were with us in 30 minutes.

So, thanks to Olympic Recovery, Percy was back up and running but we had to take him for a run to charge up the battery, and this time not just another 6 mile round trip in traffic.

We decided somewhere about an hours drive away should suffice and I found a suitable pub, The Chequers Inn near Aylesbury, in a village called Weston Turville.

It was a beautifully sunny day and a pleasant drive with no traffic. We didn’t stay for food but agreed we’d return to sample it at a later date, as the restaurant and menu looked good.

Stokke Xplory in Fairway Driver Taxi

After a drink and confident that the battery was fully charged we made our way back to London after a pleasant day out. However, I started to notice that Percy’s gears were slipping again, this time in 3rd (top) gear, with a sensation that the gearbox just wasn’t transferring the power to the wheels, especially uphill. We know the gearbox is on it’s last legs but it handles slow city driving and multiple gear changes just fine. I guess its achilles is full power hill climbs, which I’m sure was what killed it last time.

When we got back to London, Percy decided second gear was overrated and that going from first to third is much more fun, and I could definitely smell burnt transmission fluid. Then what he thought would be even more useful was to use third gear while performing a U-Turn. Luckily, that was to park up and we haven’t tried him again yet. Fingers crossed Percy starts next time and if he does, he uses sensible gear choices.

 

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Day Out in Marlow

Percy hadn’t been cleaned for several weeks, so it was off to the car wash round the corner, and an £8 ‘Taxi Special’ later (wash, dry and hoover inside), Percy was nice and clean.
I then applied polish and bumper cleaning gel myself back on the road outside our flat.
While I was busy polishing, a gentlemen from the block opposite ours asked if I could help move some speakers for him as he was moving flats, to which I duly obliged. Nina and I were taking my sister and brother-in-law to a farewell lunch before they emigrate and we didn’t need to leave for another 20 minutes or so. He asked lots of questions about Percy and how he doesn’t see many of them in London anymore.Speakers moved to the other side of the road and with the neighbour in need waiting for his lift to his new flat, I went back to removing the polish.

The neighbour-in-need’s father then came and asked if I could give them a lift to their new place. Now, I wasn’t sure if Daddy neighbour was asking if I was ready to go back to work (thinking I was a cabby) or he simply wanted a favour. I like to help as much as I can but everyone was ready to leave for our lunch reservation, and with a 1 hour drive to get to the pub, I had to apologetically decline. Daddy neighbour seemed very confused, so I had to explain that I wasn’t a cabby and it was a private car.

I checked all Percy’s fluid levels, which were fine and leak free, added air to the tyres (possibly too hard at 40 in front and 36 rear) and he cruised at 70mph with ease along the M4, arriving on time for our lunch reservation at The Royal Oak pub in Paley Street.

Fairway Driver Taxi Royal Oak carpark

I’m sure Percy is just being cheeky but his heating appears to have really cleared up and come back to life (just in time for Summer). Through the winter it was barely functioning… a sneeze from a mouse would be warmer than Percy’s ‘heating’… but it was like sitting inside a volcano on Saturday with the heater blaring, on one of the hottest days of the year so far. So it was windows open all the way- thank goodness I managed to fix them.
We had returned to The Royal Oak after enjoying it so much in April when we went for Nina’s birthday and they didn’t disappoint. We had rabbit lasagne (sorry Mimi) and haddock fishcakes to start, followed by pork belly all round, washed down with Fullers Summer Ale.
Paul and Nina The Royal Oak
We then drove to Marlow and had a great day out in gorgeous 25 degree sunshine. We walked along the Thames, watching barges and river boats go by and we decided we’d love to have an old wooden boat (when we win the lottery).
Thames Boat Marlow
A very clean and shiny Percy caught a lot of attention in Marlow and the M4 on the way home- my brother in law commented on how many people were looking and pointing.
Fairway Driver Taxi Marlow High Street
We were only 30 miles from central London so a black cab shouldn’t be too unusual a sight.Speaking of unusual sights, how about this…
Austin car/boat front view marlow
Austin Car/boat rear view marlow

But can it swim…?

Not having had enough of the sunshine yet, we drove on to Bray and soaked up the last of the sun in the garden of Heston Blumenthal’s Crown Inn before setting off home at 6.30pm.
Fairway Driver Taxi Bray Village Hall

That evening, we watched the first episode in the new series of Top Gear yesterday and in the series intro I think I spotted a Fairway Driver taxi and a New York yellow cab.  I’m pretty sure Richard Hammond was handling the Fairway with a wooden steering wheel and crashed it through a portacabin (naturally…) So I shall look out for future episodes.

Post Office

We arrived home to the dreaded red slip from Royal Mail on Friday (‘sorry, you were out’). So we had to go to our local delivery office (odd name given it’s a depot for UNDELIVERED post) to collect a parcel; some more crockery that Nina had bought to compliment the existing collection we have in the flat, which would rival any porcelain factory.

Royal Mail something for you red slip

It was raining and we were tired after a long day at work, and to be honest just felt plain lazy, so Percy it was. We drove 5 minutes up the road, over the dreaded Abbey Road zebra crossing where there’s always a queue of tourists re-enacting the Beatles album front cover. It’s a good job Percy’s horn doesn’t work, as he’s not very patient in his old age.

Having let a stream of wannabe Beatles perform their catwalks, and with half of London’s traffic now behind us, we were about to set off when one cheeky tourist put his hand out to stop us so that he could get Percy into his photo- two London icons in one shot.

We parked up and entered the smallest collection ‘depot’ I’ve ever seen. It was more like a confession booth. We squeezed in and Father Pat asked for our ticket, which he passed on to a hand under a tiny conveyor belt, not a moving one though mind you, so I’m not entirely sure what the point of it was.

While we waited for our parcel and refrained from confessing all our sins to Father Pat, an elderly gentlemen in a light hospital gown burst through the door and enquired ‘anything for me?’

Father Pat had clearly seen this man before as he had a resigned look on his face. ‘No, Derek, nothing for you today I’m afraid. I told you, you only need to come here if you get a red slip telling you we have a parcel for you.’

Derek was obviously disappointed and turned to leave the confession box and his parting gift was a full moon for us all. ‘He’s a regular, we can’t work out whether he’s from the care home next door or the hospital down the road.’

The hand finally came back across the stationary conveyor belt and we thanked Father Pat for our rattling parcel, which we subsequently discovered had become a porcelain puzzle set.

In any other circumstance we would probably have offered a lift to an elderly gentlemen on his way back to hospital or his care home but although Percy is very liberal with the dress-code of his passengers, Derek was perhaps a little under-dressed for Percy’s back seats to bare.

Day Out in Mickleham

On the bank holiday Saturday, we decided to go for a walk and pub lunch in the village of Mickleham in Surrey near Box Hill, which the London Olympic 2012 Road Race passed through. As my sister and her fiance are emigrating back to Hong Kong in a few months, we thought they’d enjoy a day out in the typical English countryside and some classic ‘pub grub’ before they leave, and of course the only mode of transport would be an ex London black cab.

Fairway Driver taxi and family The Running Horses

Having taken one of our regular follower’s advice on board, I checked Percy’s coolant level before we set off and as predicted he was indeed less than full, so he may have a slow leak somewhere or simply being parked on the slight slant the air has risen to the top. It didn’t take much to top him up and I’m not too worried about chasing a slow leak somewhere as we don’t use Percy everyday and having to top him up once every few weeks isn’t too much trouble. So I checked his steering fluid level, which is the other place that he has a slow leak, and topped it up only very slightly, as some steering stop-leak has really helped, as mentioned in a previous post.

We set off for the 35mile trip to Mickleham just before midday but the traffic around Putney was pretty bad and a journey which should take a little under an hour took almost one and a half.

Post Office sign Mickleham

The weather was also typically British- sunny spells scattered with intermittent showers. During one of these showers just after Putney bridge, we drove past a broken down vintage Aston Martin DB6. The gentlemen in his tailored suit and Church’s shoes had to get out and push his beloved Aston to the side of the road. It could’ve been an electrical problem as he didn’t even have his hazard lights on. I don’t know if people were in a hurry, but I didn’t see anyone getting out in the rain to help this gentlemen push his DB6. We deliberated whether it would’ve been different if it was a lady broken down in the rain in her Ford KA.

We are missing Percy’s horn a little since I accidentally cut the wiring. You soon realise that it’s vital equipment for driving in London, perhaps not as much as Delhi but you’d be surprised the number of people who don’t move when the lights are green because they’re using their mobile phone, or those who start straying into your lane randomly, or just cut you up. Flashing Percy’s lights at them just doesn’t have the same effect as a beeping horn. I even had to resort to shouting out of the window when a Renault started to veer into us (again, driver was using his mobile phone). To be fair the chap was quite apologetic, but then he probably thought annoying a London cabbie wasn’t a good idea…that’s until we drove past and he saw the daisy garden in the back shelf.

We arrived at the Running Horses pub in Mickleham (Surrey Dining Pub of the Year 2013) around 1.15pm. We were lucky enough to get the last table for lunch, which was perfectly cooked pub favourites – fish and chips, sausage and mash, braised lamb shank and pork belly.

Fairway Driver Taxi The Running Horses Mickleham

Percy attracting attention from drinkers

We walked off that over-stuffed feeling with a stroll over the rambling hills and picturesque village of Mickleham, before returning to the pub for some well-earned liquid refreshments.

Boxhill view looking towards Mickleham

Nina drove us home and the journey was much quicker, even around Knightsbridge, which was a surprise, as it usually passes for a giant carpark in the middle of a shopping mall rather well.

Fairway Tour Guide

Nina and I invited 2 of my colleagues and their husbands to ours for supper a couple of weeks ago. This presented me with the opportunity to make use of the cocktail shaker (Christmas present from my Step Father a million years ago) with some Cosmopolitans, and I also made a few Gin and Tonics for our guests. Nobody collapsed so it can’t have been that bad.

While Nina was warming the lovely Boeuf Bourguignon cooked the previous evening, adding the mushrooms and Chantenay carrots, I thought I’d show them Percy and take them for a quick tour of the local area.

At their requests, I also put the taxi meter on. Believe it or not, I hadn’t actually run with the meter on since we bought Percy, so it was new for me too, and I must say I really enjoyed watching it go up, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if I could actually charge for it!
Everybody got in, and they loved the cushions, rear shelf garden and daisy lights. They asked how much it was per mile, and I directed them to the price list still in the right hand passenger door.

I started the engine and turned onto St. John’s Wood Road to our first stop at Lords, the home of Cricket. One of my colleague’s husband is a huge cricket fan so he got out to take some pictures, as did I.

Fairway Driver Taxi outside Lord's Cricket Ground

We then continued down St. John’s Wood Road onto Lord’s roundabout and down Park Road, turning left onto Regent’s Park outer circle, admiring the huge white houses and the Regent’s Park lake, before turning into the inner circle past the tennis courts, briefly stopping at Chester Gate where Nina and I held the drinks reception for our wedding a few years ago.

Next stop was ZSL London Zoo, where again we stopped for pictures.

Fairway Driver Taxi London Zoo

The final stop was St. John’s Wood High Street, past the ‘Pavillion’ Cab Shelter, before we headed back home. The final ‘price’ on the meter was £18. Who said black cabs were expensive?! Especially considering there were 4 of them in the back. We went back to the flat for bread and olives, and scallops with pancetta and pea puree for starters, all lovingly prepared by Nina while we’d been on our tour. Followed by Boeuf Bourguignon with mash potato for mains, and lemon posset with strawberries and rabbit shaped shortbread (in honour of Mimi) for dessert.

Easter Themed Lemon Posset

The next day, Percy and I were called upon to collect Nina from Russell Square, it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with crisp blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Like Batman and his Batmobile, Percy and I slung shot round Regent’s Park outer circle, past the hoards of waving members of the public to rescue my damsel in distress…. actually, it wasn’t quite like that. I took Mimi with us and put her in her soft travel ‘house’ in the passenger seats, put my flat cap and sunglasses on and we pootled along past I think what must have been 5 different groups of people trying to hail us along Regent’s park (they clearly didn’t see that I already had a passenger! Mind you she doesn’t pay, unless you count 270 rabbit droppings per day… yes we’ve counted), before getting stuck in a queue at the lights to cross Marylebone Road for what felt like an eternity before being told (on the hands free of course) that Nina was having a great time at the pub and pick her up from there please. But the first version sounded better in my head, so I’ll stick with that.

Mimi pet rabbit in Fairway Driver taxi

Once we collected the distressed damsel from the evil clutches of the College Arms on Store Street, we all went to the Secret Garden in Regent’s Park and Mimi in particular enjoyed the evening sunshine.

Day out in Medmenham

We decided to visit The Royal Oak pub in Paley Street near Windsor for a belated birthday meal for Nina.

It was a relatively warm day, well for the UK anyway, given the unseasonably cold weather we’ve had recently. Percy’s black paint really does help absorb the heat. So, on the way, Nina decided she wanted some window open in the passenger compartment. However, on a slightly bumpy stretch of the A4 leading onto the M4, Percy decided that he wants the windows closed instead and promptly shut them himself! A very neat trick indeed. However, from this we did find out that you can’t lock the windows open in our Fairway, only lock them shut. And I use the term ‘lock’ loosely. So, we’ll have to put up with self shutting windows over bumpy roads.

The Royal Oak is a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by the famous TV personality Sir Michael Parkinson and his son. In fact, we saw Sir Michael Parkinson in the restaurant while we were waiting for our main courses. He looked like a very cheerful and happy man. We did wonder whether he’d have a photo with Percy, but thought against asking.

As Mimi the rabbit didn’t come with us to the Cabalcade and we’d just gone to visit Nina’s parents for the weekend without her, we thought we’d bring her along with us on this trip. One of the advantages of a huge passenger compartment in a Fairway Driver is that it could be used as a temporary rabbit pen!

Mimi was given her toys, litter tray, water and food in Percy and waited very patiently for us to have our lunch. I checked on her every now and then and she looked very happy in Percy’s spacious passenger compartment.

Rabbit in Fairway Driver passenger compartment

The food was scrumptious…

Nina had the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork belly with mushy peas (a surprisingly perfect match) and I had the lamb cutlet and braised shoulder with cabbage, broadbeans and mash. We finished with a baked Alaska and an apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream.

The service was also impeccable. They remembered that I had booked the meal for Nina’s birthday lunch and they served us petits fours with our coffee with ‘Happy Birthday’ hand piped in chocolate on the plate, which was a nice touch.

Happy Birthday Petit Fours

We can highly recommend the pub, with its sunny garden and comfortable interior. It offers top class food without any pretense or pomp. After lunch we decided to go for a walk along the Thames in the village of Medmenham. Mimi came with us this time and looked like she thoroughly enjoyed exploring, after a cautious start.

We took the opportunity to take a few photos of Mimi and Percy together.

Rabbit on bridge with Fairway Driver background

Rabbit on Fairway Driver bumper

By early evening, the wind started to pick up and the temperature dropped so we decided to set off home at 5.30pm. I thought we’d be stuck in rush hour traffic, but of course they were all heading out of London, so we had a very easy run back home. Nina was sound asleep laying across the back seat, with Mimi perched on her shoulder. It was a rather funny view from the rear view mirror. Not sure many drivers of a Fairway taxi see that very often!

Percy drove very smoothly. His temperature gauge did show he was a little warm (slightly over half way) on the climb up the steeper sections of the M40, but he soon cooled down. I may just top him up with coolant over the weekend to make sure he doesn’t over heat.

Cabalcade 2013

The day began with the alarm sounding at 7am, a slice of toast and a large mug of tea on a beautiful Sunday morning. Then I was off outside to Percy with some Super Resin Polish from our Auto Glym cleaning kit. He had been washed, dried and vacuumed inside on Saturday evening at the local hand car wash, but I thought he deserved an extra polish for his big day.

At 8.30am, a very shiny Percy set off to Chelsea Harbour for the start of the Cabalcade. We first drove into the area reserved for only the eldest and shiniest Austin FX4s, so we quickly u-turned to find our spot amongst the more ‘modern’ Fairways.

We received our goody bag and breakfast voucher before checking out the other taxis taking part. I was glad I got up early to give Percy a polish, so he could hold his head high amongst his Fairway friends.

Fairway Drivers Chelsea Harbour

-Percy and friend

We were delighted with the goody bag, containing a special commemorative number plate, mug, key ring and briefing pack.

Commemorative Cabalcade Licence Plate

We were then given our briefing. Must obey usual traffic rules, drive with your headlights on, try to stick to the planned route… this was made a lot easier by the incredibly clear and detailed maps and instructions provided in our pack… organiser Gary had obviously put a lot of effort into planning the day.

For the first leg of the tour we managed to stay in convoy with the 47-or-so others, following the last ever Fairway to be licensed. I received a text message from a friend whose flat we passed en route, saying he had seen some vintage taxis passing that we would have liked… he was amused by my reply that we were one of those passing taxis! Our first stop was at a taxi shelter in Grosvenor Gardens, Victoria. It was quite a privilege to be able to go inside the shelter, which is normally for cabbies only. It was rather cosy inside, but I was assured 12 men can squeeze in comfortably. After some pastries and tea over chats to other cabalcaders about the highs (and lows) of Fairway ownership, we set off for the next part of the drive.

Fairway Drivers outside Grosvenor Gardens Cab Shelter

-Now, where did I park Percy?

We battled past the hoards of tourists outside Buckingham Palace and crossed the river Thames via Lambeth Bridge to our next stop at the Public Carriage Office on Lambeth Road. Here a slight mishap occurred, when an over-zealous driver reversed into Percy and their bumpers became attached. Three grown men standing on Percy’s bumper and jumping a little managed to dislodge him unscathed. We then had the treat of an informative talk from taxi historian, the authority on Percy’s past, Bill Munro…author of The FX4 Enthusiast’s Manual and The Full History of London Taxis.

Back on the road, we made our way to another Public Carriage Office in Penton Street. Snap-happy tourists on Westminster Bridge seemed please to be treated to a whole convoy of the iconic taxi, probably for the last time.

Fairway Drivers crossing Westminster Bridge

At the Penton Street Public Carriage Office, we were given an interesting and entertaining insight into a cab driver’s life by Alexander Kennedy.

Three Fairway Drivers Penton Street

-Percy and friends waiting patiently…don’t mind the double yellows, its Cabalcade!

The final stop-off was at the London Taxi Company showroom (previously Mann and Overton) on Brewery Road, Camden. After some welcome refreshments we enjoyed two great talks. The first was from Lord Jamie Borwick, who spoke about the history of the now defunct factory and rightly pointed out that it is the Fairway model that is the enduring icon of London taxis, despite now being outnumbered by the TX models. For media appearances it is always the Fairway that is in demand… it was the model used for the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony after all. The final talk of the day was from John Mason, who rightly said that whoever manufactures the next London taxi would be unwise not to look to the past for inspiration.

London Taxi Company Brewery Road Showroom

Nina took the wheel for the final part of our journey, in which we got slightly separated from the convoy due to heavy traffic. We made our way down Marylebone Road and circled Marble Arch three times before being beckoned in to park up alongside the others. Nearly 50 FX4 and Fairway taxis made quite a sight parked up under the imposing archway.

Fairway Driver Bronze Advantage parked Marble Arch

We had the most pleasant of surprises that Nina’s parents had come to see us at Marble Arch, but Percy also had his own special guest, all the way from France. It was ‘khabi2011’, a regular follower of Percy’s blog. Thank you so much for coming by to see us, we hope you enjoyed the day half as much as we did, and good luck with your two Fairway Drivers!

Percy actually ended up being quite an attraction as he was parked right at the front, where people were walking through from Hyde Park. I lost count of how many photos he was in, and it gave Nina and I huge pleasure seeing so many smiling faces, from toddlers to the elderly, next to Percy in photos that will be in their memories for years to come. It was great to see so much appreciation for the taxi model that we love so much.

Fairway Drivers parked in Marble Arch

It was an exciting moment when the last ever Fairway off the production line arrived, on the back of a tow-truck as it isn’t driven (proven by the 11 miles on its speedometer, making Percy’s 458,000 seem rather impressive, enough to make it to the moon and back).

Last Fairway Driver produced

-Spot the appropriate number plate of the last Fairway produced

After presentations and speeches we were left with mixed feelings, of sadness that the iconic Fairway will no longer be licensed, but also of pride that we and the other members of the LVTA are dedicated to keeping their legacy alive. The care and love invested in their upkeep was evident from the immaculate examples on display at the Cabalcade. It was a fantastic day, thanks to the hard work and vision of Gary Zylberszac, and we felt proud to have been a part of it.

Two Fairway Drivers in Marble Arch

Fairway friends

Seeing Percy parked at Marble Arch with so many ex-cabbies, some of whom just came to see these old cabs and share their stories with us, really made us appreciate the history not just of these Fairways and FX4s, but of Percy’s own life in London and the stories he must have from his 20 years of working life. It only confirms that there was no other car we could possibly own whilst living in central London… this is where Percy belongs.