13 Jun Taxis and connections
Years ago, my grandmother came to London to visit me. I was a newcomer, recently installed in a job that felt important, in an office on the South Bank, in a city that felt exciting but very strange.
I forget now how she travelled south – by plane or by train. She’d travelled across the Atlantic by boat four times in her life but had never been to London. She took a taxi to Shell Centre where I met her, eager to show her where I worked. By luck or coincidence, or even fate, the taxi driver was a Scot, from Ayrshire. She had travelled from home in Kilmarnock. They had much in common. Very possibly, he was quickly charmed by his passenger, a smartly dressed and elegantly shod septuagenarian, hair crimped into waves against her head, its generous length concealed in a tidy bun, a small ‘tam’ hat set on her head too, a neat Revelation suitcase by her side. Always something of the 1920s about her.
Yes, he must have been charmed for he took her on an hour-long gentle taxi tour of London, to all the famous landmarks of the West End, imparted his ‘knowledge’ of the sights, perhaps regaled her with stories of famous people he’d transported. Then he deposited her at the appointed place and charged her a tiny fare. Such a gentleman.
Such a dip into the past.
I was reminded of this recently. It’s rare for me to take a taxi. Last week, therefore, was an exception. I went to Edinburgh for the funeral of an old friend of my mother who had departed this world in all but the corporeal sense some years ago. She had been my babysitter when I was a wee bit thing. My connection was lifelong if, latterly, intermittent; Mum’s was 65 years and close and important and, until the last year of her life, frequent. Feeling so intensely now the loosening of the links that fasten me to Scotland, I had to go to the funeral, though I hardly knew the other mourners.
I arrived at Waverley Station in the early evening of a scintillating day. Emerged onto Market Street to see the city’s gracious skyline gleam against a deep blue sky. It seemed like a warm welcome laid on specially for me by the city of my birth. It gave me a lift. Just what I needed as I was tired and had an absurdly heavy suitcase for an overnight stay plus a bag over my shoulder and a handbag. I had packed the way you do when you’re not thinking clearly: papers and books that I had felt might want to read on the train; my laptop that I might want to use to write; two large notebooks that I might need; two different options to wear to the crematorium; two pairs of shoes. Luggage packed with indecision and uncertainty. And maybe anxiety too. Something about revisiting recent grief.
I climbed into the next taxi in the line. The driver seemed unimpressed with my destination, a modest hotel just a short walk from the crematorium. It seemed to rile him for some reason. It didn’t take long to work out that he wasn’t riled, he was just a thoroughly unpleasant man. Within a minute he had launched into a diatribe about this lovely city – its streets, its council, its traffic, the roadworks, the ridiculous number of events that will take place in the city at the weekend and over the summer. During the briefest of pauses while he gesticulated at another vehicle, I ventured that all these events were possibly good for business. Off he set again – no way he would do those busy times – with roads closed, terrible traffic, demanding passengers – or maybe it’s the reasonable ones that really annoy him! I wondered about suggesting, as I parted with my £10 note and some small change carefully avoiding any hint of a tip, that he might find another profession more rewarding. But I thought the better of it.
The next day, after the funeral was finished, tea drunk and sandwiches eaten, conversations had with people I’d never met and will never meet again, leave taken of an old, old friend, I took the bus to Waverley to catch my connection back to London. Feeling a little more disconnected.