Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player


Sunday, 23 May 2010

You’ve been out shopping in London. You’re exhausted. You’re running late. You decide to treat yourself to a comfortable ride. Taxi!

But what is wrong with the taxi that you hail?

Is the problem that the light isn’t on, signalling unavailability? No. Look again. Blank number plate? That’s not it.

Look again….

There you go! That’s what’s wrong with it! The taxi has Noel Edmonds at the wheel.

  Noel was in the paper yesterday, with the news (is it news? It was in the newspaper) that his wife has bought him a mannequin to keep in the back of his taxi, so it looks full and people don’t hail it.

  But I still don’t think it’s fair. How come people are allowed to buy taxis if they aren’t taxi drivers? It means they get to drive in the bus lane, that’s not fair! I don’t think they’re supposed to drive in the bus lane, but they do. Stephen Fry and Prince Philip have black cabs too, I wonder if they drive in bus lanes? I bet they bloody do. I would.

  I have to try not to resent people for getting to drive in the bus lane when I can’t. After all, London traffic can’t be seriously affected one way or the other by three celebrities in taxis, can it? Getting cross with people for having things you don’t, when their having it doesn’t make your life worse.. that’s a bad place to be. Next thing you know, you’re hating models for being pretty and sending death threats to pop stars. One step further into mad seething rage, and you’re posting on Comment Is Free. So I shall stop typing so crossly.

  But in all seriousness, I don’t think people should be allowed to drive taxis if they aren’t licensed taxi drivers. Isn’t that dangerous? These cars are meant to be beacons of safety on the road. If Noel Edmonds can buy one, why not a thief, or a rapist? Noel is the type of fake taxi driver who doesn’t want anybody to get in. What about the type of fake taxi driver who DOES want people to get in? Quite chilling.

  Sorry to be all tub-thumpy - but if there isn’t a law against buying a black cab without a licence, I really think there should be.

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trav at 10:32 pm on May 23rd, 2010

In your article in the Guardian 24.05.10, you write ” ‘The Labour minister and I – Power is definitely the ultimate aphrodisiac’. Fellow pedants will understand why I couldn’t bear to read on after that.” Obviously not being a fellow pedant, can you please explain why the sentence[s] irritated you so much.

Thank you.

Chris (slowthinker) at 11:08 pm on May 23rd, 2010

If this law were to lead to the arrest of Noel Edmonds then I’m all for it!  The quicker we get Deal Or No Deal off our tv the better.

Victoria Coren at 11:09 pm on May 23rd, 2010

Trav - because it should be “The Labour minister and me”. Somehow, it isn’t annoying if people say ‘me’ when it should be ‘I’, but the other way round, I find INFURIATING. It’s not just wrong, it’s somehow *pretentiously* wrong.
  Relevant column here if anyone’s curious.

Graham at 11:20 pm on May 23rd, 2010

I just wish someone had taught me at school when to use ‘I’ and when to use ‘me’.......

Victoria Coren at 11:39 pm on May 23rd, 2010

Well, it’s tricky to explain in relation to the sentence “The Labour Minister and I” because the other thing wrong with that sentence is, it doesn’t have a verb in it. All round, it’s a monstrosity of a sentence. But when there IS a verb: use I as the subject and me as the object.

  For example, if the sentence were “The Labour minister and I go for a walk” then I is correct. If the sentence were “This is a story about the Labour minister and me” then me would be right. An easy rule of thumb (if you’re not sure of the difference between subject and object) is that a second person doesn’t change anything; in both those examples, take out the words “The Labour minister and” and you’ll see why “I” is right in the first case and “me” in the second.

Graham at 11:56 pm on May 23rd, 2010

Thanks for taking the time to explain that to me, Victoria; how very kind of you.
(Try getting that sort of service from Britney Spears)

I’ve already got my mitre saw out to make a frame for your reply :)  (so I don’t forget the me/I thing)

Claud at 12:18 am on May 24th, 2010

I totally agree, pretentiously wrong is the perfect way to describe it.  But then again I use “me” when I should use “I” so I am oikishly no better.
I have recently discovered a deep passion for poker which unfortunately coincides with a complete lack of ability.  I was wondering if you wanted an apprentice?  You can teach me poker and I will make tea and bake chocolate cake.  And you will also sleep soundly with the knowledge that you have a free pass into heaven for saving me from potential bankruptcy.

LC at 12:38 am on May 24th, 2010

I’d only drive a British taxi somewhere other than the UK.  Like Stephen Fry did in America.

There’s a small chance it could make me up to 14% cooler.

Wildride at 4:52 am on May 24th, 2010

>Getting cross with people for having things you don’t,
>you’re hating models for being pretty

Remember, you aren’t allowed to do that because you’re very pretty.  It’s a rule, or something.


Edward at 7:18 am on May 24th, 2010

It’s called hypercorrection but, sadly, does not mean you’re hypercorrect.

Brian at 8:09 am on May 24th, 2010

Nothing necessarily wrong with a sentence without a main verb. For example: “Relevant column here if anyone’s curious”. (Cheeky-face-emoticon).

RomanticRecluse at 11:18 am on May 24th, 2010

Taxis and drivers are heavily regulated (drivers and vehicles are tested and licensed, fares are set using tariffs, ranks are marked etc.,) and running a taxi and complying with the regulations is costly.  Taxi drivers are self-employed, have no guarantees of income and own or rent their vehicles but now you want laws on the buying (and therefore selling) of vehicles to prevent them falling into the wrong hands so what happens to vehicles which no longer comply with the regulations or have become too costly to maintain or to drivers who want to leave the market?

You can have those new laws if you want but that may have cost consequences.  Are you prepared to pay, perhaps by giving taxi drivers guarantees of income or by nationalising all taxis?

brian t at 11:36 am on May 24th, 2010

IIRC Stephen was asked about using bus lanes last time he was on Top Gear, and he did the “who, me?” response. He’d be a twit if he didn’t, if you ask me…

Here in Dublin, the MD of Ryanair (Michael O’Leary) does it too: he owns a taxi, with a registered taxi driver as his driver - so he gets to use the lanes legally. Just don’t try hailing him - he might charge you to bring your handbag on board.

Victoria Coren at 11:58 am on May 24th, 2010

RR - taxi drivers could simply sell their vehicles, if they didn’t want them any more, to other taxi drivers. In a world where I don’t think anyone argues there are too few cars, it would be a good piece of recycling. If they are safe to drive, I’m sure many colleagues would be delighted to get a cheaper second-hand one. And if they aren’t safe to drive, they shouldn’t be on the road.

Darren R at 12:26 pm on May 24th, 2010

hi vicky, i work in ‘London’s leading taxi insurance broker’ and the amount of old cabs that are insured for Social Domestic & Pleasure use only, by non cab drivers, is amazing. there are always those retired drivers who like to keep their working vehicle as a runaround but you would be shocked at the amount of people willing to buy an unplated cab, i’m sure it something to do with the bus lanes/turning circle/congestion charge. otherwise the question is WHY?!

RomanticRecluse at 12:27 pm on May 24th, 2010

Vicky, taxi drivers do sell their vehicles to other taxi drivers, albeit sometimes via third party firms.  One firm selling used London taxis says “they go to work in the provinces for the last few years of their working lives” and the “testing regime in London is more thorough than around the UK”.  However, what happens if demand for taxi rides falls (perhaps due to a recession) and there is then a surplus of safe vehicles and/or drivers on reduced incomes?  If no other taxi drivers (who are self-employed) want the surplus vehicles, what happens to the even poorer driver who may want to cut their losses and recoup some of their expenditure?

Simple?  I wish life was but it never has been.  It’s not as simple as poker.

There are more questions than answers…

John at 1:34 pm on May 24th, 2010

Come on,VC: can we be certain it isn’t you in the back of the taxi?  Drive on, cabby, let’s do this; bus lane and I… or should it be bus lane and me?

MelissaJacobsisnextTSEliot at 2:08 pm on May 24th, 2010

I’m still not convinced by the problem of using ‘I’... Since the phrase is without a verb there is no cause to assume that the first person narrator would be the object. Rather, by joining the noun and pronoun with the conjunction ‘and’ the suggestion is that both parties are the subject. The sentence understood is:

‘The labour Minister and I… met in a suburb’ or something.

Actually, I, as a enthusiast for Melissa Jacobs- a victim of an ugly patriarchy and audacious pioneer of literary genre, applaud her use of the pronoun ‘I’. She is clearly drawing (like her forefather T.S. Eliot) on a cultural reference to the musical ‘The King and I’ in order to weave the themes she explores into a broader cultural tradition to emphasise their persistence in a masculine society.

Imaginary Hubby at 4:00 pm on May 24th, 2010

Yes dear, there should be a law against it. Can I switch the light off now and go to sleep?

someone at 4:33 pm on May 24th, 2010

A good thing about the English language is that the misuse of it is what has allowed it to evolve and flourish. Half these “rules” were devised for Latin anyway, and look what happened to that long dead language. If it had been left to pedants then we would still be speaking Old English.

Daniel at 4:53 pm on May 24th, 2010

It raises the question, can I buy a fire engine or an ambulance? I’m kind of assuming that I can’t, but if F***face Edmonds can drive a cab, I’d quite like to run a fire engine. Driving in taxi lanes is so 2006 when you can jump red lights.

Steve Brecher at 5:47 pm on May 24th, 2010

It’s not clear to me that “I” is wrong.  I haven’t seen the original text,  a blog that you mention.  But you say it’s a headline.  (For reference, you quote “The Labour minister and I – Power is definitely the ultimate aphrodisiac”.)  Suppose you and I went to dinner, which would send my girlfriend into a paroxysm of worry as she knows how much I admire you, and I subsequently described the occasion in a blog entry or article.  Would not “Vicky and I” rather than “Vicky and Me” be a correct headline?  The headline describes the subject of the ensuing prose.  (Not sure why this comes to mind, but) Is the title of the mid-century book and movie “The Egg and I” a grammatical error?

RomanticRecluse at 7:34 pm on May 24th, 2010

Daniel, you can buy a used fire engine or ambulance or even police car, although the equipment and signage is usually removed first and you can’t jump red lights.

When I was a student some new age travellers camped near the university had an old ambulance in their convoy.  Some firms offer fire engines as an alternative to the stretch limo for the more discerning school prom, stag/hen night or wedding goer (available in red or pink).  Have you never heard of or seen these things? Some people lead such sheltered lives.

Rog at 9:22 pm on May 24th, 2010

Hey, Vicky. I understand what you’re saying..  I mean what exactly are the chances of waiting for a taxi, in London and the first one that turns up has Noel Edmonds in…...

Just wondering in the following sentence, however, should I say (or would I say ?), the taxi, Vicky and me… or in the taxi, with me and Vicky or indeed Vicky in the taxi with me?! or I..

Looking forward to the next episode of Hearsay..x

MarkP at 11:04 pm on May 24th, 2010

My one regret is that I had to suffer a 1970’s ‘bog standard’ comprehensive school education. The rules of English grammar were never explained to me. I remember seeing you in a documentary about Lynne Truss’ book ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ which I went and bought immediately. In fact, almost the whole sum of my knowledge on the subject comes from Lynne, you and maybe Stephen Fry who can explain it so beautifully. Long may your pedantry continue.
And Noel Edmonds wouldn’t buy a licence for his TV, there’s no chance he’ll buy one for the cab.

Mark at 1:30 am on May 25th, 2010

“x and I” is the more popular usage among pedants, as an object historically requires a verb (“et in arcadia ego”).

However, we so often use ‘me’ instead of the weak ‘I’ (“it’s me”, “moi aussi”*) that we’ve reversed the rule, especially when ‘me’ comes first (“Me and My Spoon”).

So the awkwardness in the title is just the anticipation of a following verb… which turns out to be “is”.


Phil at 11:15 am on May 25th, 2010

Hi Vicky
I applied for tickets to tomorrow’s Heresy recording (26th May) a while back and didn’t receive confirmation of them from until today(26th). It’s a little late notice for me to make it, so apologies if there’s a gap in the audience. Bit gutted to miss it as I am a big fan. Hope the recording goes well anyways. :)

Rob King at 12:58 pm on May 25th, 2010

Ok, I have a lot of friends who are cabbies, so I think I can try to explain why anyone can buy a black cab.

Firstly, in most cities, any car (within certain guidlines) can be a Hackney Carriage (normal cab), and doesn’t need to be a traditional black cab. So, legally, a black cab is just a car. The thing that makes it, or any other car for that matter, a Hackney Carriage is the addition of a “Plate”, which is in essence a Licence for the car to be a cab.

You can’t legislate for a model of car, just because it’s mainly used as a hackney carriage. Not only is it a big silly, it probably falls foul of the anti-competition laws as well.

Sparkly at 4:30 pm on May 25th, 2010

Yep, I’m with you on this one. Also, Wedding “buses” in bus lanes – it’s just not on.  I know it’s a special day but it doesn’t mean you should be able to skip traffic, and somehow, they always end up in the best seats in the house at the Derby; I always stood at the back for my school photos.

MDW at 4:56 pm on May 25th, 2010

That’s not a mannequin that’s my ex, I’d recognise that bowler hat and far away stare anywhere.

Can we not just clear this up quickly by having Edmonds arrested, not sure on what charge but we can fit him up once he is in the cells - no sane jury would let him off.

James at 8:40 pm on May 25th, 2010

Ms Coren, thank you for teaching a thick northerner like myself correct english. Easy to understand with that explanation.

As for the black cab issue, fair point, but surely life is too short to care.

(and apologies in advance for my poor use of english)

Yoda's Pal at 9:42 pm on May 25th, 2010

OMG (as the kids say) tonight’s episode of Luther is about a murderer who drives around in a second hand unlicensed black hack cab picking up his victims - it’s like you knew….spooky!?!  They too are bemoaning the dangers of these rogue cabs on the streets of London Town (or is it town? You’ve got me paranoid).
(Apologies to all if due to the vaguries of BBC Scotland’s scheduling we’re seeing Luther at a different time from it being shown in other parts of the country and I’ve ruined an episode for you).

PS - not normally prone to leaving comments on blogs but felt strangely compelled due to your seemingly uncanny ability to tap in to the televisual zeitgeist (or possibly just procrastinating as I’ve got a report to write).

Subshrub at 12:14 am on May 26th, 2010

Dear Vicky,

Unrelated, but: please may I write you a letter? Or an email? And it will be nice, honestly, and it will have jokes in it, like, have you heard that Dave Chapelle joke about how black people are different to white people? Obviously he’s genuinely funny so it’s not perfect. Maybe I’ll just use some of his jokes. Anyway I’m only 18, bless him, but I’ve read a lot of your writing and actually even watch only connect even though it all seems to verge on requiring autistic levels of intelligence. But you’re lovely so it doesn’t matter. So please? Really this is a gamble, and I’m only making it because I know what I’d like to achieve from it (GEDDIT?!? Like what you said..), which is simply to make you grin. So please?

Phil at 8:17 am on May 26th, 2010

I know what you mean. If someone uses the word ‘whom’ instead of ‘who’, I normally find myself correcting them. Trouble is, nobody likes a smart arse do they?

In this case, it was clearly a reference to ‘the King and I’ wasn’t it? Changing it would completely ruin an otherwise reasonable headline. I mean, it’s not as if she ended the article on an un-stressed syllable!

Fiona at 10:55 am on May 26th, 2010

I think you’re absolutely right about the risk of criminals buying black cabs.  Black cabs are supposed to be a safe option. When I watched Luther last night I was amazed anyone can get their hands on one.  It is telling that the people saying here there is nothing to worry about are mainly men who don’t feel anywhere near the same sense of fear and vulnerability as women do when alone at night.

Victoria Coren at 11:33 am on May 26th, 2010

Dear Subshrub,
  You have written me a letter! That’s the joy of a website, so much more efficient than the post. Sometimes people write to the newspaper if they have something to say about a particular article, but for general things it’s much better here - anything longer than 800 characters would be wasted on me, and anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in a public space is probably better not said anyway. So I’d say, save on the stamp costs; at 18 you must have far better uses for the money!
  Best wishes,

KlooRhee at 2:02 pm on May 26th, 2010

Only flicked through all the comments but spreading information of actual council license plates, which are by the back number plate and in the drivers “compartment”, or making them bigger or flashier could help?

Heresy 1 recorded for later….me is probably gonna end up with anthology :)

01965 Taxi Cab at 8:34 pm on March 9th, 2011

Really excited to get a taxi ride in Britain.

Lisa at 9:01 pm on March 17th, 2012

Hi, I am a mom of 4 year old twins and own a London Black Cab, I do not use any bus lanes and all personal black cabs have to have the licence place removed at the rear to indicate not a “working” black cab, also really the taxi sign should be blacked out.  It is a great asset to me as trying to get twins in car seats on main roads is now no longer a prob.

Victoria Coren

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