The great learning

from the Phil Phillips photo archive

What used to be called The Hole

To start my dip into my archives I bring you the 7 poems of 7 stanzas of 7 lines that I was comissioned to write for The Great Learning project, based on the piece of the same name by Cornelius Cardew a couple of years ago, I then read the poems on  They are all based on pieces of writing or photos taken by my dad Phil Phillips for Taxi magazine in the 1970’s 

     Cab-lore: Quite An Argument Was Developing


The Knowledge is harder today than it was twenty years ago,

Every knowledge boy worth he’s sort will tell you that,

I’d have said the same thing when I did it,

All the extra one ways all the new offices and houses,

The Isle of Dogs was changing by the day back then,

Just keeping up with the changes was hard work,

Let alone what remained the same for all time,


Pah so the real old boys did it by Bicycle big deal,

You got seen on first come first serve at the PCO,

There was still always one guy who asked all the stoppers,

It had been Smith now it was Orme to fill you with dread,

I’m sure he has been replaced by another bastard now,

Who asks for “Any Small Gardens” to Holland Pier,

While you shake and quiver and try to think straight,


Any small gardens what can he mean what what what,

Is it Bina or Batoum or even Lowther Gardens,

As for Holland Pier nope, Is it in the docklands or what,

Blank mind and blank face quivering trying to answer,

Searching for clues not realising the mispronunciation,

Any more for Ennismore Gardens then that’s okay,

Ollie Limped here from Olympia rather than Holland Pier,


But it got harder since the ring of steel went up,

So few roads in and out the city how to keep to cotton,

10 roads onto Upper and Lower Thames St becomes 1,

4 Hiltons multiply to so many Hiltons I’ve lost count,

Hotels switching names so fast you can’t keep up,

At least the Westmoreland only changed 3 times,

When I was on the knowledge and 6 times since,


Danubius it is, or is that Danny bias,

No one says it the same way how should I know,

It’s Hungarian for Danube, no no really it is,

But there’s no river near it just a canal,

Like the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly,

Or Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith,

Just remember no sense makes sense in London,


Take me to groaner, Grosvenor what do you want,

Groaner Court! which one would that be then,

What’d you mean, well I know 5 of them which one,

The hotel one, oh that shut down already too late,

But I’m staying there it’s a huge place,

What like the Grosvenor House Hotel maybe?

Is that on Park Lane? It was last time I looked,


Confusion keeps on happening never ending,

On any day something gets confused somewhere,

On the knowledge or on the job it keeps happening,

The Kensington Hilton you know on Ken High St,

No that’s the Olympia Hilton these days keep up,

This is why you have to see the city to know the city,

Learn from the mistakes we all make and move forward.

From Phil Phillips Photo archive

Grosvenor House hotel Park Lane 1970's

    Traffic And Me – Why I Always Got It Wrong


Traffic and me where do I start to understand it,

Is it my beast of Burden or my saving grace,

Will it drive me to insanity or just another job,

Should I shout and scream and rant and rave at it,

Or accept its strange ebbs and flows that I weave through,

Does it matter how I treat the traffic thanking it or not,

Hoping it will open up for me to go straight through,


Cab driving is circular how big is my circle,

How many times today will I pass the same point,

I’ve approached the point from every angle,

I’ve seen it in the morning and at night,

Yet I keep coming back around and around,

Like a spirograph gone mad around it goes,

Is the path blocked or clear or even allowed anymore,


Should I block the road for another job to get in or out,

Or stop on a roundabout or outside lane just the same,

Who notices how I behave or what traffic I cause,

How many people do I anger with my actions,

Can I really drive all day without angering someone?

If I do will others treat me as I treat them?

Not much chance in the dog eat dog world of traffic,


However calm I may remain, will my passengers too,

Will they start ranting at something I didn’t even see,

Anger boiling almost exploding over normal behaviour,

Heads out of windows shouting and screaming fingers waving,

Threats of violence real and imagined over what,

Another blocked junction or liberty taken for what,

To gain a few yards or to save a few seconds of time,


I keep going back to the Inti travelling through,

Out through the echo chamber of engines and fumes,

Often anger and horns at the exit fighting for space,

Parliament Square bringing guys with megaphones,

The wedding cakes coppers whistling at the traffic,

Tourist cameras clicking away while horses bray,

Traffic hooting and hollering at Hyde Park Corner,


The solid yet amorphous mass moving on Knightsbridge,

Dropping in numbers and noise by the scotch house,

Air rushing by as I rush for the next traffic jam along,

Then I am returning going back for some more,

Never the same and always the same,

The ebbs and flows controlled by mysterious machines,

New schemes like old schemes like any scheme will do,


One ways reverse and reverse again,

Cabs are allowed and then they are banned,

Traffic stands still or starts moving again,

I go and I come back and I go again and again,

Over and over this circle continues year after year,

However I look at it the circles continue on and on,

Just once I’ll be lucky enough to travel in straight lines.

From The Phil Phillips Photo Archive

The Church Of St Mary Le Strand looking west.

   Know Your London The Church of St Mary Le Strand


St Mary Le Strand is where it all started back in 1644,

Just two cabs could sit by the Maypole back then,

Sitting on London’s first cab rank pioneers,

How would there journeys mirror ours today,

Not that the rank has survived till today,

Still it was there in the 1970’s but not today,

Victim to the road planners of the 1980’s,


A bit of history destroyed for a one way system,

No more could you sit on London’s original rank,

Imagining feeding your horses before setting off,

The hooves getting up to a gallop down the Strand,

Where now it’s only revving engines stuck in traffic,

Hand Squeezed horns instead of pushing horns,

No more ladies calling there talents on the ‘dilly,


Traffic streaming ever westward from the church,

The Church acting as a wedge to divide you in two,

To the left of the church and your going south,

To the right and your going straight on or right,

Just as congested as ever we sit ignoring it,

Never quite taking in this grand old church,

1723 marching to a different throng for sure,


Puritans consecrating the Pagans maypole site,

Duke of Somerset paying his dues for all to see,

How pure and noble while sitting in his house,

The house he demolished a church to build,

Pushing those puritans across the road,

So the young pretender could claim the throne,

Echoes obliterated by the incessant traffic,


Echoes obliterated like the Gaiety Theatre,

Long since bombed into oblivion in World War 2,

Citybank house rising from its ashes,

More destruction as Citybank house disappears,

A gaping hole where once were various neighbours,

Construction yet to begin changing the view once more,

Will it echo the past or rage towards the future,


Can I interrupt my journey and venture within,

To see inside this grand old church,

I’ve passed on by thousands of times,

But still have never gone inside the open door,

Is it a peaceful haven from the madness without,

Can you really sit in silence on a traffic island,

Contemplating while London marches around you,


Dreaming of dancing around that old maypole,

100 feet high a magnificent sight in my mind,

With a shining Hansom Cab plying for hire,

Whisking us off to destinations unknown,

From the original centre of London,

The cab trade spread all over the city,

Yet somehow the starting point was lost.

from the phil phillips photo archive

Is this The Bell & Horns shelter?

   Cab-Lore; One Of The Public’s More Annoying Habits


One of the public’s more annoying habits,

Is wanting to go somewhere you don’t,

I’m not going south of the water Guv,

I don’t care what you say I’m not going there,

I told you already I’m not going there no matter what,

But why won’t you go there tell me that,

So many reasons some of them are even true,


I’m in going home mode so North West only is the cry,

Is Waterloo North west, only if I’m totally lost,

I’m just stopping for the toilet or lunch,

But I don’t need to go very far then you can go,

Have you ever held on longer than is safe,

Or starved for the sake of another fiver,

The pain eating away at your concentration,


But I’ve got to get wherever like your life depends on it,

But my life doesn’t so give me a reason to help you,

Almost no one ever has a real reason to beg my help,

Not even at 4 in the morning wanting to get home,

When I’m done I’m done light out off I go,

The odd interview on the way just in case,

Otherwise work could be a 24-7 life sentence,


Never try to figure out what cab drivers want,

20000 answers at any one time is no answer,

We want what we want it changes during the day,

It changes during the night it always changes,

A job to the airport or the football or home,

A job to dinner or coffee or the toilet,

A job out of the traffic or into the traffic,


I work John Barnes for the last tenner or so,

Almost never fails up the hill they go around the corner,

Wrong-uns into town almost never appear,

Not diverting me from getting home soon,

After all we are only their for our benefit,

Take our money and get on with our lives,

Not for the publics benefit at all,


Sometimes it’s both our benefits,

That’s when the game works like a dream,

You need to be somewhere on time and get off there,

Or at least get off in the right direction,

No stalking or skulduggery involved,

No brooming wronguns or acting dumb,

Just the game coming up trumps again,


But it don’t happen often enough for some of us,

You have to sort one out every now and again,

Load the dice in your own favour again,

Make sure the palms get greased to achieve your aim,

Strange how some ranks don’t quite go in order,

Unless it is the order of favoured faces,

Faces giving the Connaught’s the treatment again.

From phil phillips photo archives

The Gasworks from Albert Embankment.

      Paddy Haddocks Next Move Sideways


Paddy Haddock was seen outside the Fishcoteque,

Stumbling from his cab carrying a chessboard,

In to the Fishcoteque looking for a willing victim,

Walking like he’s drunk fish cake and chips ordered,

Sitting at Farmer Giles table places a paper on the seat,

Foot on paper and tying the shoe on the floor he asks,

I smell diesel in the air do you smell it too,


Farmer shakes his head and takes a deep breath,

No Paddy I only smell the haddock and cod,

Sure you didn’t spray yourself when you filled up,

Why would I do a thing like that,

I haven’t pulled in ages no need for the disguise,

What like the chessboard isn’t a disguise,

Since when did a cabbie like you play chess?


I’ll have you know I’d give Bobby Fisher a run for his money,

What the Orient defender Bobby Fisher about your mark,

I’ll skin you any day sober or not,

But you know I have to get back in the saddle,

Yeah you always were a leather arsed farmer,

What you looking for out there on a night like this,

Someone smoking on a bridge like a tourist by the gasworks,


That’ll do I’ve got 2000 different ways to take ‘em,

Don’t care what they want when they get in me,

They’ll be getting the next move sideways,

I ain’t taking them down the pipe that’s certain,

You’ll go blind from overwork sit here and give me a game,

And get the teas in while I set ‘em up,

No I can’t play a drunk like you it’s not fair,


Besides they need the tables for the mush’s,

I have to get back out there for the rush you know,

Go on then go rob your public once more,

They’re waiting for you upstairs as usual I’m sure,

Paddy looks round for a victim before staggering out,

Staggering to his cab dropping his keys,

A copper watches this drunk try to saddle up,


Have you been drinking,

Yes three cup of tea and two coffees sir,

Don’t you come the funny with me now your drunk,

Paddy smiled and looked at the copper as he shook his head,

Blow into this before you lose you licence,

What for three cups of tea are you sure,

Just blow will you, of course it was clean,


But your drunk you are you can’t drive like that,

No no officer I only look like I’m drunk,

The punters prefer drunk drivers at night you see,

No problem what way I go like this is there,

Just so long as I don’t hit anything there happy,

I’m reporting you anyway for your behaviour,

What con will you guys think of next.

from phil phillips photo archive

Flower and Dean Street just prior to demolition

                 The most Forgettable Street In London


Was it really the most forgettable street in London,

A street with more names than most surely not,

Is it The Flowery or Floradine street,

Or just simply Flower and Dean Street,

Those old tenement blocks blackened bricks,

Survivors of Jack the ripper and the blitz,

Defeated by the tides of 1970’s regeneration,


That last nostalgic trip to my father’s birthplace,

Hillman Minx parked half on the pavement,

The street deserted of life awaiting destruction,

Ready for the bright new dawn and better housing,

Making The Flowery somewhere you want to live,

But failing miserably all the time,

Instead building 1970’s fall apart slums,


The elegance of the tenement buildings was apparent,

The tawdriness of there replacement more so,

The flowery was slum cleared anew for the millennium,

Sweeping away the hope turned to despair enclave,

Rising anew yet another socially engineered estate,

Will it last as long as the first flowery,

Or be a short lived bloom like the second one,


How forgettable is a street that keeps changing,

Total reinvention every 30 years,

Yet still most people can’t find it,

Tucked away in the heart of the old East End,

Yet no longer looking like the old East End,

But more like a social engineers vision,

Of some future less squalid than before,


Will the current denizens have such fond memories,

Telling tales of the magic of surviving the blitz here,

Children begging to be let out to collect the shrapnel,

Needing to get the best pieces while still hot,

Playing football in the street so safely,

Or drinking coke from a straw in a bottle,

Handed to me by old man Garfinkel,


Why were my grandmothers so in Thrawl to the place,

Forever telling stories of what went on there,

Making it sound like such a great place,

Even while dad tried to claim he didn’t know the place,

Dreaming of the revolution the residents help inspire,

Paying in to the collections to help the struggle,

Come on now help overthrow the Tsar,


Come to the meeting in Toynbee Hall,

It’s just around the corner don’t miss the chance,

Come the revolution our comrades will win,

A penny a week to help the revolution,

Marx and Engels preaching on the corner,

Trying to make sure you don’t forget,

Just where it is you came from.

from phil phillips photo archive

This Is all that remains of the original statue

     This Is All that Remains of the original Statue


This is all that remains of the original statue,

Truly it seems like even less of it remains now,

All I can find is Phil’s photos of this mythical statue,

And Sigmar Polkes abstract impression in 1974,

Other than that it seems like it’s gone,

Disappeared into London myth of distant memories,

A broken statue no longer holding any appeal,


Appeals for its location falling on deaf ears,

But the ears had already gone,

As had almost all the statue,

As all that remained were those feet,

Right foot slightly raised almost ballerina like,

Left foot facing front asking the questions,

So many unanswered questions these feet ask,


Who damaged this statue and when,

Who did the feet belong to in the first place,

The feet are bare was the rest of the statue,

Who would sculpt feet like that,

Was this a great work of art or not,

Where in London was this attraction to be found,

Where on earth is this statue now,


Did the rest of the statue get bombed and broken,

Or did the statue get sawn and stolen,

Or was it melted down for munitions,

Has it been replaced or repaired,

Re-configured the scars on the ankles a sign,

The only sign of the former state of the statue,

The remains whole once again or not,


Memories of seeing the statue for real,

Like a ghost in my childhood,

A day trip with dad taking photos,

A column to write for Taxi again,

Know your London indeed I hope I do,

But this lost London landmark is a mystery,

The article has vanished and so has the landmark,


Perhaps the statue was slowly vanishing all along,

Slowly disintegrating back into the London soil,

The article certainly vanished from where I sought it,

Sigmar Polkes painting hasn’t been seen since 1997,

Vanished into an art gallery who knows where,

So others can ponder if the feet are real or not,

With a bottle opener for a head in a field of red,


So on this quest has to go,

Searching all through London for the lost point,

All leads gratefully investigated,

Searching for a lost and lonely pair of feet,

Standing on a plinth who knows where,

Bearing that mysterious yet legendary inscription,

This is all that remains of the original statue.


About simonovitch

Writer poet music freak etc etc based in London you'll find out more by reading my blogs.
This entry was posted in Poetry and the Taxi trade and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The great learning

  1. simonovitch says:

    The latest on what I found out about the missing statue is that it was stolen at least twice from Embankment gardens first time in the 1970’s and then they replaced it and it was swiped again in the early 80’s along with several other statues from the same park, its not been replaced and I can’t find out the name of the sculptor or the statue.

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