December 6: London Cabs

London CabIt was on this day in 1897 that London became the first city in the world to require all taxi drivers and their cabs to be officially licensed. Nowadays, becoming a licensed cabbie in London is one of the world’s most mentally challenging tasks.

Why is it so tough to become a licensed London cab driver? Well, London cabbies are not allowed to use maps, radio controllers or GPS to find their way around the city. Instead, they must rely entirely on their own knowledge of the city’s streets. So, in order to become a licensed cab driver, you need to take a test on “The Knowledge.” Would be cab drivers spend an average of three years driving around London trying to memorize the 320 main taxi routes, 25,000 streets and the many landmarks and places of interest located within a six-mile radius of the junction of Charing Cross. There are in fact several “Knowledge Schools” in London, and it’s fairly common to see a young man or woman riding behind London cabs on a motor scooter with a clipboard affixed to their handlebars.

Potential drivers then face a rigorous test of The Knowledge, in which they will be asked to recite from memory the exact routes to and from various places all over London, often including several small and obscure streets, and identify any points of interest that would be seen on that route. It usually takes the average cabbie 12 attempts to pass The Knowledge test. Interestingly, studies have shown that on average the hippocampus (the area of the brain used for spatial memory and navigation) of London cab drivers is larger than those of the general populous, perhaps because they spend their entire lives using The Knowledge.

Conveniently, unless you’re trying to become a cabbie, the only knowledge you need is how to make today’s drink, a cocktail fittingly called the Taxi. It’s a nice twist on the Martini with touches of lime and the herbal liquor Pastis.

Taxi

  • 1 1/4 ounces Gin
  • 1 1/4 ounces Dry Vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce Pastis

Stir in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: “The piano has been drinking, not me.”

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