Monday, 31 March 2014

Crossrail workers dig up plague victims

Yes, the Crossrail is being built across London. This is an underground tunnel that will combine East and West London without having to stop at various tube stations and make changes along the way. Now, some people would claim this massively convenient way of getting across town will be bad for business, but actually we don't think it will be. You see, most of our work is contracted and involves driving various important foreign guests around London. Their hosts would never put them on a train and, more importantly, they are rarely crossing London, mostly they are going from Heathrow into town. Actually, what we're anticipating is actually it should ease (if only slightly) congestion on London's roads.

Anyway, back to the title, one of the more peculiar stories to come out of the construction of these tunnels is the various things that get dug up along the way, in this case it's victims of the Black Death. For those who don't know, the bubonic plague spread across Europe in the 1350s and wiped out millions as it spread. Nowadays, outbreaks can be treated with antibiotics that weren't available at the time.

Crossrail excavations at Charterhouse Square

During the "great pestilence" there were two mass graves set up outside the City walls at East Smithfield and Farringdon, some a further out in Blackheath (hence the name) and stretch as far as Gravesend (hence the name). In March 2013, Crossrail workers uncovered 25 skeletons along with 14th Century pottery.

Tests on 12 of these Skeletons have been returned now and apparently they can tell all sorts from skeletons that are 500 years old. The first thing is that most of them were malnourished and had rickets. Some had bad spinal injuries consistent with heavy labour and the strangest conclusion was that some were from as far north as Scotland, indicating London was as attractive to others as far back as 1450.

The digging is only about half way through so who knows what else they'll unearth along the way, probably some of the victims of the Krays as they enter East London. What we do know is, London has a rich and vibrant history and we're learning more about it every day.

To book a car in London instead of being underground with the plague, click here

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Changes to the Private Hire Law in the UK

Ok, so a blog about the law that us chauffeurs face isn't massively interesting, but it is. You see, in Britain there are some antiquated laws that just never got changed. In theory, black cab drivers should still carry a bale of hay at all times for their horse!

One of these laws, relates to Private Hire Cars, like us as chauffeurs but also for private hire taxi's and involves something called cross border trading. To paint the picture, each council has it's own licensing department that deals with taxi and chauffeur licenses. What happens is you register with a council and you operate there, we're registered with Medway Council. Now, if you take a booking from a client that means you work in another councils licensing area, you currently have to send one of your licensed cars to do the job. This isn't a problem if like us you're registered in Medway but the job comes up in London, it's only a half hour journey.

The problem occurs when you have a client in Manchester or Glasgow that wants to use you. Under the current law, you can't just sub-contract the job to a local company, you have to send a car all the way to Scotland, do the job, then bring the car back. Not exactly green you'll agree, but that's the way it is.

Until now.

Last year the Law Commission were looking into the Private Hire Law and published recommendations to amend the law. One of their main areas of concern was the cross border trading, in that they knew people were sub-contracting to other areas, understood why they were doing it, and recommended the law change to allow it. However, as with most government operations, it was held up for three months with administrative delays and finally it was announced this week that the changes won't be made this side of the general election. Huzzah!

However, when whatever deity you prefer closes a window, they also open a door. In Mr. Cameron's attempts to cut "red tape" around small businesses, there is currently a "Deregulation bill" going through Parliament. This bill covers just about everything, from Sikhs not wearing helmets on building sites to the need to gain the secretary of states approval for pelican crossings. As of yesterday it also includes the amendment to the law on Private Hire Vehicles cross border trading to allow it as long as both vehicles are legally operating in their boroughs. There are other amendments too which involve my wife being able to drive my car when it's not being used as a private hire vehicle and applying for my license less often.

I guess, what I'm trying to say, through gritted teeth, is well done Coalition. You've taken 4 years but you've finally called something right. And there's an election next year...

To book a Private Hire Vehicle anywhere in the UK, click here

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Springtime in London: What to do?

Well according to the little animations that Google does, it's Spring now. As I sit here in the office writing this blog, I cast many an envious eye to the sunshine outside and I'm already planning my weekend.

A quick flick through Google and I've now planned the next three months of activities! London is a massive sprawling, vibrant City of traditions, customs, markets, fairs and a melting pot of cultures and (weather permitting) there's plenty of action to be found!

Kew Gardens

Open all year of course, but spring sees the flowers start to bloom and should see ideal temperatures for walking around the gardens in between the stifling heat of summer and the stifling cold of winter. There's plenty for the kids with nature trails and a large badger sett! If the rain does come, there's plenty of massive greenhouses to hide in too!

To book a car for a day at Kew, click here

The London Wetland Centre

Located in Barnes near Richmond, the London Wetland Centre has been voted the UK's Favourite Nature Reserve in 2012. It has over 105 acres which are perfect for spotting birds, otters and whatever other wildlife lurks in the reservoirs and marshes around it. There's also a café for a spot of lunch!

To book a car for a day at the Wetland Centre, click here

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race

We'll talk more about this in the coming weeks but on the 6th April is the 160th annual boat race between Oxford University and Cambridge University. The race starts at the Putney Bridge and takes in Craven Cottage (home of Fulham FC) before finishing at Chiswick Bridge. The first race was won in 1829 and has only been missed for the two World Wars since then. There aren't many free sports events in London so the boat race is undoubtedly one of the most popular.

To book a car for a day on the River Thames, click here

London Marathon

Ok, so being chauffeur driven the 26.2 miles is cheating but if you're competing, you probably won't want to jump on the tube home after completing the gruelling course. Every year, millions of people come out to see the athletes and ordinary folk competing and the day turns in to a massive party. Since the beginning in 1981, participants have raised over £500m for charity. The race is run on the 13th April 2014, hopefully there's no rain!

To book a car to meet you at the finish line, click here

St George's Day

On March 17th, the UK turns green for St Patrick's day for some reason. However, the 23rd April is St George's Day and more and more people every year are celebrating the day dedicated to patron saint of England. Perhaps even more significant over the coming years given the possible separation from Scotland, there's nothing more English than taking Tea at the Ritz followed by a few pints of London Pride and a Roast Dinner!

To book a car as your trusty steed, click here

Vaisakhi Celebrations

Vaisakhi is the Sikh New Year and given the massive melting pot of cultures in London, one of the best places to celebrate in the UK will be our capital. Vaisakhi is celebrated every year in London at Trafalgar Square with over 30,000 participants, DJ Sets, Asian foods activities for children and dances.

To book a car for Vaisakhi, click here

FA Cup Final

Despite being accused of losing it's appeal over the last few years, the FA Cup is back with vengeance this year. Sheffield United from the third tier have already dumped two Premiership teams and once Championship team out in reaching the semi-finals. Wigan from the Championship beat Champions League side Manchester City and Hull from the Premier Leagues lower half have found themselves in the semi finals. Arsenal, without a trophy since 2005 find themselves in with their best chance of having an open topped bus parade this year.

No open topped cars, but transport for the day, click here

Covent Garden May Fayre

The May Fayre at Covent Garden on May 11th is a nod to the British traditions of puppet shows at seaside towns. Puppeteers travel from all over the country to take part in a day of special street shows at the Actor's Church in Covent Garden. You should recognise the church's portico from its appearance in the Audrey Hepburn film My Fair Lady.

For a car to ferry you about Covent Garden or the day, click here

As you can see there's plenty in London to keep you busy over the next two months. Our drivers have expert knowledge of London and the surrounding areas so give us a call or visit our website to make an enquiry.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Woodstock: Edge of Oxford or Beginning of the Cotswolds?

Lying just 8 miles north of Oxford and a mere 20 (albeit slow) miles from Stow on the Wold, I am declaring the town of Woodstock as the epicentre of England. The busy A44 is the only drawback to the tranquillity of the town but the road makes up for its intrusion by allowing you only a 10-20 minutes car journey from Oxford.

You wouldn't want to stay for more than 3 nights in Woodstock as it is more of a base to visit either Blenheim Palace, which is so close you can walk in, or Bicester village (20 minutes away by car). The experience of Woodstock is to get that City grime or airport jet lag off you. It has the quiet, laid back ambiance you are looking for, enough eating places and good hotels to recharge your batteries before heading into the Cotswolds.

By the way, most of what I experience is by car as I work as a chauffeur which enables me to experience these places. Other modes of transport are available but bad for my business ;0)

From the glare and noise of London, Woodstock is the first deep breath of Cotswold stone cottages, of village halls, tea rooms and antique shops. Bijou restaurants vie for your business against traditional pubs, where the crackle of log fires is a welcome change to the sound of fruit machines and pool tables. You'll need to adjust quickly to the smell though, for the record it is called fresh air with just a hint of smoky oak, wonderful, but be warned it will have you yawning into your Real Ale before 10pm

Woodstock has plenty of places to stay. My client was guest of the and spoke very highly of her stay in the Blenheim Suite. Hope House only has 3 bedrooms and 1 apartment. The Hope House owner warmly welcomed my client into his establishment which is beautifully decorated with four poster beds, adorned with Italian sheets and silk duvet covers. No sign of prices in the foyer (which was as far as this below stairs worker got) or on the website so with the old adage of 'if you have to ask then you can't afford it', I pushed off to my more humble abode for the night. Five minutes' drive later and I arrive at and it was a damn site easier to find than Hope House was (which doesn't want people to know it is a hotel, apparently). My sleeping needs when working, are simple and always carefully orchestrated by my wife/PA. I must be close to clients hotel, have parking, it must be clean and, financially, within our overnight allowance. Nicola very rarely lets me down but tonight she has surpassed her own high standards. Although I had to do one 'kerb crawlers' lap of the car park before finding a space, there is ample parking, and, to be fair, I arrive at 8pm on a Saturday night so I'm out of step with 'ordinary people' and their sensible jobs. The restaurant and bar are heaving and I stand at the small reception fully expecting to be way down on the priority list. Then one of the barmaids appears and spots me, sets a pint of Guinness in flow while asking, 'checking in?' Then, with a 'sign here and here' I am scuttling behind her towards my room, (yes, she even took me to my room) and still saw her back in time to scribe the clover onto the Black stuff. Ok, I exaggerate but she was as impressive as the room, which may have lacked Italian bed linen admittedly but was a large, fresh and clean bedroom and en suite. With the flat screen TV and free Wifi, I have all I need. I didn't eat in the restaurant that night but plenty of others did which suggests the food is good. Breakfast was large and served well and all that at £63.00 I will definitely be back...........and I can bring the dog if I pay the tenner.

Blenheim Palace is the main attraction in this area. Set back from Woodstock, the Duke of Marlborough's 'des res' sits within its manicured grounds overlooking the lake, perfect for history buffs to discover the bygone ages and family secrets up and down the marble staircases. Winston Churchill was born and raised right here in Tory opulence (he is buried not one mile away in at St Martin's Church, Bladon) and if you pay for the day, you can upgrade free to a yearly pass. The weather today is gloriously sunny and 18 degrees, unheard of but welcome in March, so hundreds have dug out the pass to enjoy, if not the house again, then the gardens, lake and country walk up to the imposing statue of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. Dogs panting and kids on scooters make for a busy thrum around the grounds. The new restaurant annexe quenches thirst and hunger by serving up meals, hot soup and fantastic cakes for it's now weary visitors (after you have passed through the ubiquitous souvenir shop of course).

Now I am not a lover of shopping, and indeed walked through and past Blenheim's wares without any pang of guilt that I'd not purchased a paper-topped jar of marmalade or a book on the fish that stock the estates lake but must point out that one of the best Outlet Centres in the country is 20 minutes from Woodstock but fear not gentlemen, I have a cunning plan....

Bicester Village has everything a lady (I may come over slightly sexist and generalising for this part) needs for her retail therapy, every high street and Bond Street label/ designer is positioned ready to warm the credit card with, let's face it, last year's fashions. The discounts are healthy and genuine and blaze out across the faux High Street that from the car park look ordinary but, rather like the set of a Hollywood Cowboy movie, once on the 'strip' things change and come to life. Bicester has everything you'll need and a few things you didn't know you needed. The shops, of course, but add in High Street coffee and sandwich stops and a couple of good restaurants and I'm afraid the ladies of the group have little reason to leave. There is even a 'contemplation room' which has all the multi faith reading material for you to sit and think about what you've done. May your God help you. Ahh! My plan though! Gentlemen, we all know if the lady in your life is happy then we too are happy so here's what you do. Drop off your brood with arrangements to meet later, she really doesn't want you with her anyway with your tutting and 'yeah, it looks fine' mutterings. Park the car in their free spaces then look over the road from whence you came, you'll see a couple of rugby pitches and a huge sports ground. There is a walk-way between the rugby club and football pitches that leads into the real Bicester. Strolling towards and through the church yard is peaceful and takes no more than 5 minutes and then, behold, pubs, restaurants and coffee shops that are devoid of the queues your good lady has to endure. Go on a Saturday or Sunday, as I did, and watch Bicester Rugby club play while sipping your tea. More importantly, my plan is the only way to avoid coming into contact with the 'type' of person that the designer shops attract. People who have no more disposable income than you or I but, with their 70% discount, think they are Victoria Beckham or Joey are welcome. If you really can't put yourself through actually going then Bicester Village run a coach from London (several venues) in the morning with a return at 17.00pm for £25

Written by Kevin Willis who owns and works for For all your chauffeur requirements from cars to people movers to coaches. All views are my own and I speak as I find so please check all facts