Celtic Illumination, part 345, When enough is enough.
I hope none of you were too upset with the image I left you with yesterday of the local crime boss trying to snog the face off me. Needless to say I managed to get him out of the vehicle with my honour remaining intact. As I have said many times before, my life was always planned out, everything I did was for a reason and I suppose you want to know the reason that the double top secret cabal, who were preparing me to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and therefore the true King of Ireland would have me driving a private hire taxi in Skelmersdale. As always the answer was very simple, I thought I was testing myself, and I was to an extent, but the real reason was to learn not to judge people on first impressions.
Perhaps the one example of this that I remember the most was when a group of us were waiting in a rank, I was the next cab away and a fellow approached. He was mid-twenties, fairly average, apart from the fact that he wore a very brightly coloured bandana. This was at a time when illegal raves were all the fashion. As he climbed in to my vehicle the other drivers made comments about drug use and ravers to which my passengers asked, “What are they saying?” I explained that because of his bandana they all thought he was off for a weekend of illegal raving. He smiled a sad smile and said, “No. I’ve got terminal cancer and the chemotherapy made all my hair fall out.”
One factor that had encouraged me to put myself to the test was that Christmas and New Year were fast approaching, regarded as the best times of the year for driving taxis. Fares were raised on public holidays and mostly doubled but sometimes trebled. The theory of applying yourself, working as hard as you could for as long as you wanted was good, but you needed the tools to do the job. The vehicles we had were not exactly the best on the road. They had probably scraped through some form of test months before but after a period of abuse and bad maintenance they would fall apart. I found it embarrassing at times but the owner of the company couldn’t have cared less. Every month or two he would attend some local car auction where he would buy three or four vehicles, have them tested and licensed and replace the cars in his fleet that might not see the end of the week.
I think everyone was always secretly hoping for a new vehicle. I know I was. One evening I picked a group of four people up from a remote country restaurant. My car wasn’t that big so there was a bit of a tight squeeze on the rear seat but the engine had been so poorly maintained the car would not go up a hill with all of us in. I had to ask two people to get out and walk to the top, where I waited for them to get back in and complete the journey. Of course the boss of the taxi firm responsible for the debacle is not there so I have to deal with the customers who were not exactly best pleased. I found myself moving away from the daytime work and concentrating on the night time driving. Apart from the Friday and Saturday nights there would only be three people working, myself and one other driver plus a controller. I covered everything from Skelmersdale into Liverpool and the other fellow went from Skelmersdale into Wigan.
I suppose the one thing you fear most when driving a taxi is someone being sick in your vehicle. With the amount of drunks that you ferried about the incidence of this happening may have been quite high but thankfully it never happened to me. It was certainly a good place to work on your people skills. I pickled one fellow up from a pub one Saturday evening. He was drunk and chatted away about the usual rubbish that most drunk men talk about. Horse racing, football and how much he hated his job. I had learned to nod and agree with people as I knew almost as much about horse racing as I did about football. But I had learned one trick from my old friend Tim Lort that helped me enormously with drunks.
Tim said that he would occasionally work up in the Artic, especially up around Norway. He would fly small groups of men out on survival courses meant to test their suitability for Special Forces. After three or four weeks being beaten and chased, the participants would be exhausted. When he went to extract them he would have them loaded into his helicopter, with the main door closed Tim would take off and gradually increase the heat in the passenger cabin until the men passed out. This was not some evil manoeuvre on Tim’s part, in fact he had been ordered to do it as the men, when landing, would be woken and find themselves disorientated. The reason for this is that the course was not over and they would now be ‘captured‘and interrogated. Tim said that as he climbed away, having dropped them off, he would look down to the ground to see this massive fist fight erupting.
I always felt that being in a drunk state was very similar to being exhausted so I too would gradually increase the heat and it was amazing to see the passengers relax and slow down. Too hot too soon and they would be complaining but by bringing the temperature up gradually usually worked and gave you a certain amount of control, for the last thing you wanted was some drunk kicking off. I began to increase the temperature and the fellow did slow down but kept on talking, then asked if I wouldn’t mind stopping off at a chip shop, which we would reach before we got to his house. I did, as I didn’t mind and refused his kind offer of a bag of chips. I was parked directly outside the chip shop and watched him. It didn’t take long and as he came out he seemed to be more interested in his bag of chips than in me. He stuffed a clutch of chips into his mouth, began to chew and looked up. His eyes met mine and he stopped, recognised me and then took off as if he were in the one hundred meter final at the Olympics. Not bad for someone who had almost been fast asleep five minutes before.
I had what was known in the trade as a ’runner’. He knew the area and made for the back entries so I had to try to guess where he was and try to match his movements out on the main road. Needless to say I lost him and could do no more than call in to say I had been ripped off. They had a very effective way of dealing with this as the fellow had ordered me from a public house. The taxi firm boss called the publican and explained that because this fellow had done a runner, any customer in his pub would not be allowed to order any more taxis from our firm. The next time I came to work I was asked to report to the pub where the fare I was owed was handed over, with a generous tip, and an apology, although to tell the truth I could have done without the experience in the first place.
There were good times of course, like the night I came out of Liverpool through Kirby. Kirby was similar development to Skelmersdale and quite a rough area. As I left the built up area and entered the fields of Lancashire, heading for the motorway, my headlights picked up what I thought was a series of brightly coloured boxes in a field. It really was the middle of nowhere and about two o clock in the morning so I had to turn around and come back and have a look. What I found was six boxes of Christmas crackers, real good quality. They ended up in the boot of my car and we were not short of a cracker or two that Christmas. I have no idea how they got there, they could have been stolen and flung from a car being pursued by the police or they could have flown off an insecure load on a lorry, who knows.
Despite all the pit falls and dangers of the job our worst enemy was the owner of the company. He was straight from a Charles Dickens novel. He was one of those people who thought he knew everything but everyone knew that he knew absolutely nothing. On New Year’s Eve, I waited at the main office with my vehicle sagging and smoking as it had decided to give up being a taxi and instead become a wreck. It was supposed to be the best night of the year for earning money and he was out on the spare car enjoying himself while I waited and waited for a replacement vehicle that I had paid for. When he eventually came back, with the bulk of the evening over and gone, I decided that, perhaps, sometimes it was acceptable to judge a book by its cover. I had passed my test, I had actually been a taxi driver and if it had not been for the owner of the firm and his selfish and ignorant outlook on life I may have enjoyed it. It was time to move on.