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At appearances, knowledge boys (or girls) must, without looking at the map, identify the quickest and most sensible route between any two points in metropolitan London that their examiner chooses.

For each route the applicants must recite the names of the roads used and when they cross junctions, use roundabouts, make turns, and what is 'alongside' them at each point. How many of the routes (runs) and places of interest you need to know will depend on whether you want to be an All London or a Suburban driver.

Once prospective cabbies make it though all the hard-core training and pass the final exam, they receive the coveted green and gold medallion, which grants them with a licence to work - to pick up hailing punters in the street.

A cabbie navigation trick: “Little apples grow quickly” gives you the order of the theatres on the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue: Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queen's.

Although ‘the Knowledge’ is probably one the most testing and brain-straining times a potential cabbie will ever go through, the rewards to be reaped are not to be sniffed at. Black cabbies are self-employed and can earn significantly more than minicab drivers. A black cab fare from Shepherd's Bush to Heathrow for example, might cost £50, compared with £28 for a minicab.

Furthermore, wannabe cabbies' brains will grow. Yes indeed, by learning (and then regularly using) ‘the Knowledge’, the part of the brain associated with navigation (which is associated with navigation in birds and animals) will grow. Upon hearing that taxi drivers’ grey matter literally enlarges and adapts to create a mental map of the city, taxi driver David Cohen, joke when interviewed by the BBC:

“I never noticed part of my brain growing - it makes you wonder what happened to the rest of it.”

A humorous 1979 film about this learning experience, called The Knowledge, was written by Jack Rosenthal for ITV, and was in 2000 voted number 83 in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute. And if you fancy seeing how well you would do at passing ‘the Knowledge’, visit the London Transport Museum and have a go on their version of the infamously tricky test.



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