Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Towards the end of the last century, undertaking the knowledge was an opaque exercise, knowledge boys really didn't know their score after each appearance and getting a drop from say 56- to 28-days often came as a shock.
Intimidating stories emerged about the examiners from fellow knowledge boys and each tale made them seem more and more like a caricature – and none more so than the legendary Mr Ormes – who soon became mine, and everybody else’s, nemesis.
A lugubrious fellow with a dry delivery, he gave the impression that he’d seen it all before and heard all of the excuses. He once asked me to plot the route between The Royal Society of Arts and the Adelphi Building. After a little nervous thought, I told him that, in my view, they were both located in the same spot, on the not very long John Adam Street (I have since discovered they are directly opposite). Mr Ormes, without a hint of irony, replied: “That’s right. It’s raining. I’m pregnant. And I’ve got a wooden leg”.
A favourite ploy of examiners to test the mettle of candidates would be to adopt the old good cop/bad cop routine (well, they were ex-cops, good and bad). Mr Lippit would be civility itself: “Is your father in the trade?”/”Have you come far?” before giving you some apparently easy questions. Mr Ormes, by stark contrast, would joyfully tell you that your previous answers were not up to his high standard.
“Who hunts in the middle of a crowd but is unseen by all?”
A riddle posed by Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes, in BBC TV's Sherlock. The answer was, a London cab driver, hidden in plain sight, they navigate the capital but little is known of the journey to becoming a London cabbie.
My memoir Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion gets behind the now lost, intimidating byzantine world of training and testing to qualify, and the unique life of a qualified London cabbie. The narrative about becoming a London cabbie is interspaced by subchapters which include Memory: 'We have water below moving soft London turds'; Maps: 'Either you make it up or put in an elephant '; and my interview with Boris Johnson.