Talking to taxi drivers can be difficult. Many avenues of conversation are closed to you immediately. You would be ill advised, for example, to ask “Do you come here often?”. And there is always the sneaking suspicion that they are closet members of the BNP. The BNP mayoral candidate has actually announced their traffic plan for London now, it is simply: “Fewer people”. They aren’t specifying exactly who will have to leave but I’m guessing we could figure it out. And there is a chance that your average taxi driver would agree with him.
The one thing that’s absolutely certain is that they hate Ken Livingstone. They absolutely detest him. They think that Ken wants to drive them out of business. There is an obvious question about this, what with Ken being the first mayor of London, will they end up hating all mayors of London?
But every so often you get a gem of a conversation going with a driver and it makes it all worth while. I’ve chatted to them on subjects ranging from the disappointment they are feeling in their failing marriages to the joy they feel at Saturday morning football coaching. I think a lot of their passengers focus on talking traffic, weather and politics rather than talking to them about them. Once you do though it can be rather interesting. I’m always fascinated by people who do weird jobs and taxi drivers are doubly weird because they have to face long stretches of solitude in other people’s company. I think it could easily drive one mad.
In recent years, they seem to have rather embraced the mobile phone as a solution. You often find taxi drivers talking to other taxi drivers as they’re going along. So in a way it has become more like going to the office. That coupled with this odd invention which is the TV in the back of the cab for the passengers signals the death of this great art form. Most people will love it for us British are nothing if not embarrassed by the social niceties of making polite conversation. But for those of us who enjoy playing, “see how many miles you can go without the driver saying, ‘I’m not racist but…’”, it’s the end of an era.