By Richard Cudlip, Taxi Driver, London
Or, in a slightly less obscure way, my top ten favourite cabbie moments from the last 3 years…..
10 – Cab as changing room. Nice young lady hails me on Piccadilly and needs to get to Covent Garden pronto. Dressed in nice smart business suit carrying briefcase and holdall. I concentrate on getting her there when all of a sudden I can’t see her in the rear view mirror. What the? I then notice that she is lying on the floor of the cab trying to fit herself into some pretty tight jeans. Concentrate on the road cabbie, concentrate. 2 minutes later we reach her destination, she gives me a decent tip looking very glam and, I’ve just noticed, wearing a completely different top. When did she do that? Gutted, a nice old couple hail me and I take them to Victoria. Did that just happen?
9 – Brighton & back. The most recent of the top 10, this happened on Monday this week. About 11:30pm, I’d just done one of the most pointless jobs (Grosvenor House Hotel to Cumberland Hotel) of recent times, when I was round the back of Shepards Market thinking about going home. 3 blokes hail me. “How much to Brighton & back mate?”. Long pause from me, then short conversation along the lines of “you mean the town” and “I’ve no idea what to charge” and “it’ll have to be money up front” and “I’ll need some more diesel” and “thanks, £??? will do nicely” (you never know when the Revenue might be listening). And off we go. It’s only one of them that needs to go, he is Dutch (I think) and needs to drop some money & documents at his “cousins” then get back to the Hilton Tower Bridge before heading home early Tuesday morning. We chat, a bit, and 4 hours later I am home considerably better off than I had been at 11pm. Nice.
8 – Green St James Park. First day in the job, unbelievably nervous. Have done my first job ever (Sth Kensington tube to Bonhams, Montpelier St), the one that you give away for free. (Cabbie tradition) Now in Drury Lane, get hailed and chap wants Green Park tube. Easy. Off I toddle and show my extensive knowledge of London, then as we get close I ask standard cabbie question no 1 “Do you need the station itself mate?”, “Yeah, that’ll do” comes the reply. Excellent I think. “Anywhere here then?” (standard cabbie question no 2) I ask. “Er, no” come the reply. “Well the station is just there” I point out. “It is”, says punter, ” but that’s St James Park station”. Oops. Explain it’s my first day etc.. and then the punter needs a different destination (Ciprianis) because he’s now running late. But I definitely know this place and slightly redeem myself in punters eyes. I offer all sorts of discounts off the fare but he takes pity and pays the full amount plus a tip. I am mortified.
7 – Steven Berkhoff. I haven’t had loads of celebs in the cab and certainly no A listers. But Mr Berkhoff is by far my favourite. Picked him up in Covent Garden, or rather nearly didn’t because he looked a bit like a tramp. But I quickly worked out who he was, as that voice is so distinctive. Took him home to Limehouse and he was very good humoured all the way, despite getting caught in shite traffic down Lower Thames St. Kept going on about how he’d just come from the dole office and entertained me with a brilliantly foul mouthed rant against four wheel drive motors. Top man.
6 – Scottish notes. Group of 4 20 somethings taken from Waterloo to Covent Garden. Not a big fare. On arrival one of the group asks if I will accept Scottish notes. I say, as you’ve asked, no (mostly I do as my local Post Office accepts them no problem). But you have to they say. Well a) no I don’t (here is the proof) and b) why ask me in the first place? But I work in Scotland all the time and use Scottish notes here all the time, one pipes up. And? Just because some people choose to accept them, doesn’t mean I have to. Discussion continues until I get bored and one of them finds some English money. I tell them to google it when they get home and they can have my phone number if they want to tell me they were wrong. They decline. If they hadn’t asked I wouldn’t have worried. When they’ve gone I suddenly have doubts about my position on this and google it on my phone. I’m right. Scottish notes aren’t even “legal tender” in Scotland. Muppets.
5 – Being called a crook. Now let me put his to bed once and for all. It is NOT in the interests of a cab driver to deliberately prolong any journey, either by going “the long way round” or being happy to sit in traffic. As acabbie , you earn your money quickest by turning over your punters quickly, the £2.20 footfall helps with that. When sitting in traffic the meter does not tick over as quickly as when on the move. Cabbies getting lost or not quite knowing where they are going is a whole different subject however. So with that in mind I can tell you the story of being called a crook. I can take a bit of banter with punters and the odd bit of stick for not quite knowing where I’m going etc… but this chap just took the biscuit. Taking him fromMecklenburgh Sq to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital on a Sunday (always bad for traffic, not helped by Trafalgar Sq & Whitehall being closed) is not an easy journey. On this day the traffic was pretty hellish everywhere. I tried a few cutbacks & shortcuts to no avail but eventually got the punter to the Fulham Rd. It was only when we got within half a mile of his destination that he started complaining about the route that I had taken and, a brilliant touch I thought, that I had “deliberately chosen the route with the most traffic”. Jesus wept. I tried to explain that traffic everywhere was a nightmare but he wasn’t interested. He thought the fare should have been less than £20, the meter was over £30 by this point. He wasn’t going to pay me more than £20 he said, “you’re a crook” he added. Now outside the hospital we are at a standoff. But his position is weakened when he pulls out a large wad of £50 notes. He hasn’t got a £20 note to give, he’s got to give me a £50. Did he really expect me to give him £30 change? Silly billy, the meter now was well over £30 so I just gavehim £20 change and told him that was the best he could hope for. And off I drove, leaving him with his £20 change and low opinion of cab drivers.
4- “I’ve lost my car”. Near the Sanderson Hotel, worried looking chap hails me with that opening line. “I parked it round here somewhere but can’t remember exactly where” he moans. “And you want me to do what exactly?” I ask. “Well, drive around a bit and hopefully it’ll jog my memory” he says. Er, okay. To cut a long story short, this idiot thinks he parked his near close to Oxford Circus, or was it Totttenham Court Road or, maybe Belgium. I can’t see us finding the car as he is clueless. Eventually we are going up Tottenham Court Road (with £15+ on the meter) when something twigs. “Left here!” he cries. And there, in Stephen St is his car. Hallefarkinglujah.
3 – “When you go to a restaurant, do you go into the kitchen and cook your own meal?” The only time I’ve really shouted at a punter and that’s what I said to her. I’d been working on that line for ages and was delighted to use it, just a pity I hadn’t been a bit more controlled with the delivery. But she deserved it. Only going from Mayfair to Brompton Cross (the junction of Fulham Rd where the Michelin Building is), 3 times she had a go at me about the route. “Why are you going through the park?” (answer; to farking annoy you), “Just go down Knightsbridge” (genius, let’s sit in the traffic caused by No 1 Knightsbridge), “Why don’t you go that back route?” (said at Hyde Park Corner, 2 mins after insisting I go down Knightsbridge). And that’s when I lose it. Just let me do the driving, that’s why I get to charge you for the journey. If you want to go a certain way, tell me when you first get in. WHEN YOU GO TO A RESTAURANT, DO YOU GO INTO THE KITCHEN AND COOK THE MEAL YOURSELF? We go the “back route” (Pont St, Walton St) and the traffic is rubbish. She hasn’t spoken since my tirade and then gets out 500 yards from the destination, slamming the door harder than anyone before or since. No tip. Bitch.
2 – “I need some cakes”. Marylebone Station rank. Early-ish evening. First words said to me by nice lady. Well there’s an M&S Simply Food right behind you love. No, no she needs “proper” cakes, for a party. That’s nice, try a patisserie, I’m running a bit low on posh cakes. Just take me somewhere I can get decent cakes she insists. France springs to mind, but after a little bit of thinking I take her to Marylebone High St, there must be something there. Luckily for her, there is, and she thinks I’m jolly clever into the bargain. It’s a win/win situation, cake crisis resolved.
1 – Glasshouse St to Haymarket. Those of you with a passing knowledge of London will know that these 2 streets are, how can I put this, bleedin’ close together. In fact you can say (because it’s true) that one (more or less) leads into the other. So there I was at the lights at the bottom of Glasshouse St. Hassled looking chap jumps in and say New Zealand House please. Being the clever git that I am I tell him that’s it literally round the corner, no more than a couple of hundred yards. He doesn’t mind; he’s having a bad day; needs to get a visa for NZ; he’s going out there to work on an oil rig; his company are paying anyway; will I take Scottish notes?. All this from Piccadilly Circus to the bottom of Haymarket. Think the meter hadn’t even got past £2.80. I wonder about refusing the Scottish tenner he offers, when he says, just give me a receipt for £10. Now Scottish notes are legal.
Reprinted with permission from The Cabbies Capital.