I’ve been asked to write a column with some anecdotal bent. This is a cruelly ill-timed request. For the past year I’ve been trying to cultivate an anecdote-free environment in my cab. To this end, I have fitted a radio/cassette player on which I play classical music throughout the day.
For the purposes of minimising exposure to anecdotes, classical music is vastly more efficient than any other kind. It is socially intimidating; the punter assumes that, because he is hearing Mozart, I must be listening to it ‘seriously’. (Sometimes I am.) It would be rude to interrupt. (Quite right too.) When I think of some of the boring questions he might ask me – unless a little discouraged – I am appalled that it took me so long to address this problem.
My answers to the following questions, which are the most frequently asked and therefore the most boring – one simply tires of repetition – are all monosyllabic: ‘Is the traffic always like this? ‘Doesn’t the traffic get on your nerves?’ ‘Do you do this full-time or part-time?’ ‘Do you always work days? ‘Is this your own cab or do you rent it?’
Contrary to popular belief, few drivers actually want to talk habitually to their fares. (The reverse, of course, is also true.) The black cab was not designed to promote the ‘classless society’; it was designed to protect the privacy of the customer. It is difficult to talk to someone in the back without raising one’s voice. This becomes stressful. One tends to give up trying. No doubt some cab drivers are boring, opinionated and fond of stringing people up. My point is that if boring and opinionated journalists did not feel obliged to talk to us, we might have kept this a trade secret.
I have another 300 words to write before discharging my obligations. I shall use this space to examine instances of journalists using stories about the cab trade in order to fill up space themselves. Let me first bring in Nicholas Coleridge.
About four years ago, Coleridge wrote in the Spectator that cab drivers were using the central-locking device fitted on newer cabs to delay passengers from opening the door until the meter had clocked up another unit. This suggestion was fatuous for three reasons. First, for the driver to know at all when the meter was about to clock up would require that he was watching the meter, rather than the road, when it last did so; second, he would need a stopwatch; third, he would necessarily have made the calculation that it was worth annoying a customer – and so forfeiting a tip – for the sake of 20 pence. This sounds to me like a load of rubbish.
I do not have space to comment on Henry Porter’s recent confessional filler-paragraph in the Independent (a cab driver complained that Porter was boring him; Porter nonetheless wrote about the incident). I just have space to comment on Donald Trelford’s recent filler-paragraph in the Observer. He suggests ‘the recession’ might have something to do with our more aggressive driving. Or is it, he asks waggishly, that we’ve ‘just caught up with the environmental arguments against the private car?’ Perhaps we perceive ourselves to be ‘morally superior road users’.
A less tortured explanation suggests itself to me. Two years ago London Taxis International decided they were losing too much business to the new Metrocab. They launched a new FX4 – to outward appearances the standard black cab – whose fancy trimmings included a 2.7 Nissan diesel engine. The London cab driver was suddenly equipped with a cab which could out-accelerate an Austin Seven. You see Donald? We was always aggressive. We just could not put our foot where our marf was.