It was Royger’s fourth attempt at The Knowledge. He knew he might come a cropper when he saw that his examiner was Stoneface Cavendish, the dean of London cabbies.
“Streatham A-2 to Stour Road, if you please,” said Cavendish.
Royger took a deep breath and fixed his eyes to a spot on the table. “I come out the tunnel and on into Yorkshire Road. Hard right into Salmon Lane, the left into Rhodeswell Road, right into Turners Road. Go right into St. Paul’s Way, left into Burdett Road, right into Mile End Road. Left Tredegar Square, then angle right on Morgan Street. Follow left up Coborn Road, right into Tredegar Road and on into Wick Lane. I go right into Monier Road, right into Smeed Road, turn left into Stour Road and we’re there.”
Cavendish gave the slightest of nods. He held no map but the one in his head. “Quite right,” he said. “Now call me a line from Nigel Rayment Haberdasher to Archie street. Avoid all traffic lights, if you please.”
The official examination for a London cabbie has been called the hardest test in the world. To ace it, a prospective hack must memorize all of the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and every business or landmark on them.
The rigors of The Knowledge have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine. It is without question a unique intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, demanding unnumbered thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies undertake the task of committing to memory the entirety of London, and demonstrating that mastery through a progressively more difficult sequence of oral examinations — a process which, on average, takes four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that.