'Explain once more to me why I've not to wear a seatbelt mate,' I asked. 'It kinda sounded like you said something about so I couldn't be strangled while I was being robbed' I nervously joked. 'Aye pal, that's exactly what I said,' was the nonchalant reply from this short guy in his 50's, stood there heavily puffing on a regal king size & sporting some classic cabbie rascal chic gear including a bum bag & multiple pocket body warmer that looked like it had come straight from the 70's Lord Anthony fashion house (and Adidas Sambas, obviously).
‘Welcome to the world of taxi driving on a Saturday night in a run of the mill Scottish town,’ I thought before he tossed me an antiquated Nokia 3310 phone and wished me luck, adding that I was ‘gaunnae fucking need it’.
How did I come to be driving a taxi? Well, months earlier things weren't looking too good at work, pay offs were looming & I wanted a plan B in place. So after a day long drugs & drink binge, I somehow decided that a hackney license to drive taxis would be the ideal back up plan. Unlike London you don't need to have ‘the knowledge’ to drive a cab in Scotland. Actually you didn't need ANY fucking knowledge at all apart from to know how to drive a car & to not be a sex offender. Both boxes ticked, I was awarded my license & put it away for a rainy day. Turns out it was going to start pissing it down less than four months later.
My incentive in all of this was my 5 year old daughter with a Christmas list longer than Pete Doherty’s criminal record. I needed to do something to avoid being the stereotypical deadbeat dad that's responsible for his kid ending up on a shrink’s sofa later in life. If the thought of putting a smile on her face come Christmas Day couldn't get me through this, then....
I'd always been led to believe through films & TV that cabbies were always controlled by some fat, balding and overly volatile Turkish guy sitting in some dingy back street office control room, but it turns out films & tv are full of shit. There was no ranting Turk, and no boss of any kind.
Apparently, this firm I'd been put in touch with through a friend of a friend of a friend were quite happy to toss the keys to the company to a complete novice just a few minutes after my ‘induction period’.
Left alone in a clapped out Proton, the phone suddenly sparked into action with the name Bev (name changed to protect the not so innocent) showing on screen.
‘Come and get me,’ a blunt Northern Irish voice barked at me. ‘And where would that be my dear?’ I asked, trying to apply a bit of charm to my first phone call of the night. 'Where the fuck do you think?' she slurred, giving me an indication that what should've been a simple 1 minute phone call was going to be anything but.
Trying to be pragmatic and sensing that this was someone who'd had a few too many (despite it only being five past six) I let this slide and tried to reason with her by letting her know that since I had no idea who she was there wasn't much of a chance of me ever knowing her whereabouts. She carried on with this farce. 'I'm where you always get me every Saturday,' she insisted. 'YES BUT SINCE I HAVE NEVER PICKED YOU UP BEFORE THIS MEANS ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL TO ME DARLING,' I said to her, sounding a bit like a British abroad. I was informed that she didn't have time for my cheek as she needed to get back in time for Britain's Got Talent and needed me to take her on a few other errands before going home.
I can only imagine that by this time she'd drawn attention to herself (wherever she was) because the next thing I know a gruff spoken old jakey I could barely understand had then taken over the phone and was now advising me 'listen pal what's your fucking problem here? Bev just wants to go home, eh?’ Now I'm not the most patient of people so regardless of who he was I found myself telling him that I'd had enough of this parlour game of guess the destination and said unless he told me what watering hole they were in (by this point at least that part was obvious) within the next 5 seconds I was hanging up and she could phone someone else.
That seemed to do the trick because he quickly blurted out the name of the place, a well known working mans club (Think Peter Kay’s Phoenix Club if the loveable comical characters were substituted for old jakeys and jakettes who have sat there doing the same thing every day of their lives. Before I hung up, the man issued the veiled threat that he'd be ‘wanting a word’ when I got there.
With this being the very first phone call I'd had to deal with in this unknown world of the taxi driver, I couldn't help but worry about what I'd got myself into as I took the short drive down to pick her up. On arrival common sense prevailed that there was no way she was going to walk out to see if her chariot had arrived. I walked into the club and was almost knocked over by the stale stench of urine & smoke (which I found strange due to the smoking ban being years into it's enforcement and not one person actually seen to be smoking in there), even weirder was despite there being no one who appeared under the age of 70 at the time Swedish House Mafia's Save The World was blaring out of the jukebox.
Without any disrespect to the taxi drivers of Great Britain, I was still coming to terms with the fact that here I was driving a taxi on a Saturday night (mainly due to me holding down a pretty decent full time job mon - thu) so cringing at the thought of me standing there in a club shouting out the stereotypical cab driver cry of ‘TAXI FOR’ (insert name) I elected to ask at the bar which one was Bev, reasoning that there wouldn't be a single person in there who didn't know who she was.
A barmaid with a badly blue rinsed perm answered my question with a question of her own, 'are you a new driver?’ she asked. I nodded and she cackled. She pointed over to the corner of the room before needlessly adding 'you'll not have met Bev before then will you?’ Sarcastically I asked ‘What gave that away?’
As it turned out I really didn't need to ask the barmaid as ‘Bev’ was only ever going to be the woman who looked no younger than 70, sitting slumped in the corner with a conveyer belt of whiskeys sat on her table with 3 full Lidl bags at her feet. Even worse, she was sitting there trying to see out of a pair of glasses held together by masking tape. Still not wanting to draw any attention to myself I walked over to her and told her that her taxi was outside. Tapping at my imaginary watch I joked about her having a date with Simon Cowell which was met with a confused look and an ‘Ok doesn't matter from me.’ Trying to be the gent, I made to pick up her Lidl bags and said that I'd put them in the car whilst she was getting her coat on. This would've made a lot more sense to her if she'd been sober enough to both remember that she'd phoned a taxi 5 minutes before, and realised that I was indeed the sucker who had landed the gig of taking her home.
Within seconds she's screeching in a high enough pitch to shatter her whisky glasses ‘THIS BASTARD'S STEALING MY SHOPPING' for all the regulars to turn round to see the most unlikely looking of taxi drivers looking suddenly guilty as sin, like a rabbit caught between the headlights look on his face. A few potential have a go heroes put down their quarter gills and advanced on me. I stood there holding onto the shopping bags, protesting my innocence, half confused, a quarter freaked out and the other quarter ready to piss myself laughing over the thought of getting done over by what looked like the cast of the last of the summer wine.
It was quickly sorted out in a matter of moments, how I wasn't the normal driver, with me showing them my license like I'd been pinched by the Russian KGB and had been asked to show my papers. With the situation explained and her penny now dropped that I was the man here to take her back to her house things speeded up a little and she was soon staggering out of the place in the direction of my car. Technically I probably should've helped a pensioner visibly unsteady on her feet out of the place and safely into the car but after what had gone before I was in no fucking mood for playing the good Samaritan.
The journey itself was eventful, involving her starting by asking in what appeared a deadly serious tone if I was a catholic as she didn't share cars with ‘papes’ as it would mean being too close to one for her liking. During that line of questioning I had the instant thought to tell her that my full first name was John Paul just to mix it up and see her response but no good was ever going to come of that idea so sensibly thought better of it. Next, she then sparked up a cigarette despite it being no smoking in the car, which then saw me grabbing it out of her mouth and throwing it out of the window only to see it fly back into the car again in the way I hadn't actually seen happen since seeing John Candy do the exact same thing in Planes Trains & Automobiles.
I slammed the brakes on to get rid of it properly before the back seat started to go up in flames. Following that, there was a stop off at a nearby chip shop for her to get a fish and chip supper which she proceeded to open in the car to start eating (another of the 3 commandments broken in terms of the no smoking drinking or eating rules of riding in a taxi) for a moment and telling me that the fish must've been alive when put in the wrapper as it appeared to have eaten half the chips.
As we got near to her home though it appeared that she still had the icing to put on the cake over this frankly bizarre 20 minutes of my life and baptism into the world of taxi driving. Driving down her road she announced that she'd had a ‘little accident’ and then the smell started to take hold in the car and go WAY past the smell of fish and chips, even though admittedly we were still in the ballpark of fish like smells. Either no longer in control of her bladder or indeed past caring by this point she had pissed herself, sitting there in the passenger seat without even so much as an apology or a hint of shame.
Knowing I had a full night ahead of me driving an all-star team of drunks around until 3am the next morning, I had something to say about the matter and that as you can understand is a pretty diplomatic way of putting it. Her reply to me will stay with me forever, ‘It's only a bit of piss sonny what's your problem?’
By this point she'd informed me that we were outside her house and to pull up at the next lamp post. She threw a tenner into my lap to cover the fare and, grabbing her shopping disappeared down her path leaving me with a passenger seat soaked in urine whilst still searching within me for a comeback to what she'd just said.
Moments later the phone rang again with a much more sounding sober guy asking if he could have a taxi in 10 minutes time, I replied that I needed to go to Asda for paper towels and the biggest tin of Fabreze that they had so how would 30 minutes time do for him instead? He laughed and said he's pass on that and I advised that it was probably the best decision he'd make that night before adding, 'well, apart from never agreeing to drive a taxi'.
That was only the beginning of a long long night that was to show me that Jamie Foxx had it all too easy the night he drove Tom Cruise around in the film Collateral.