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London cabbies shun satnav

'I had that TomTom in the back once...'

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London's highly-respected Hackney carriage operators have dismally failed to embrace satnav technology, preferring instead to rely on "The Knowledge" by which they are required to memorise the shortest route between any two points in the capital and then add a five mile detour to it "cos there's a right roadworks palaver up Edgware Road, mate".

This heartening rejection of technology in favour of good old Cockney brainpower means that, although cabbies have been allowed to avail themselves of satnav since earlier this year, just four or five per cent allow the tech to do the donkey work while they get down to the serious business of bending passengers' ears with a pre-season analysis of West Ham's 2006-7 prospects.

The general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers' Association, Bob Oddy, admitted to Reuters that satnav was more widely deployed among cabbies "doing the airport runs and those doing jobs in the London suburbs", but declared: "Regardless of the salesmen's hype about these machines they cannot match the knowledge and experience of a good cabbie."

And no wonder. The Knowledge involves learning 320 standard routes, pretty well all of the streets in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross and the location of theatres and public buildings.

Cabbie David Jacobs - who spent three years acquiring the sacred information, often while astride the obligatory moped - chipped in: "I expect lots of drivers would accept satnavs in their cabs if the machines were really easy to use - but to be honest if you have been cabbing for a few years you are not really thinking about what route to take, it's more like second nature.

"It's a source of pride that we know every short-cut, hotel or whatever. It always amazes tourists, especially American businessmen."

Rather splendidly, Reuters adds that studies have demonstrated that those select few who have officially earned the right to use the phrase "I had that [insert name of celebrity] in the back of the cab once" (roughly 25,000, the news agency says) actually have a larger hippocampus, "the part of the brain associated with navigation", than mere mortals. ®

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