Monday, 30 November -0001

How I became Madame Cabbie

A series of calamities with the family car gifted Sarah-Jane Lovett a whole new life – as a black taxi driver

Written by Sarah-Jane Lovett

Hughie, for that was cab number one, came our way quite by default after a man (of course) wrote off the family car and several others to boot, which left us vehicle-less and pondering future means of transport. And within about five minutes it was all so obvious. An epiphanic moment.

To heck with the Saab, or a clapped-out German number. We would get a black taxi. Not for the fainthearted, I’ll grant you, and I was quite gung-ho about the possibility; apart from worrying about proper taxis. Would they squash me off the road and scream at me in rhyming slang, I pondered… Would I be able to manage?

We got our lovely cab through a small ad and having been handed the keys, had to try it out on the spot and then drive it home. Not easy, but it is solid and steady and you really do feel that you are driving a special car. The fact that ours came with advertising for Greek holidays on the side was particularly cheering in the winter gloom, though sadly this did little to salvage that country from its juddering fate. No matter. I was smitten.

Simply getting behind the wheel of the cab is fun in itself, as is the lovely high little cabin with its partition you can close if someone is boring you. It has a marvellous view of the road from every angle, and even more marvellous is that everyone gets out of your way, possibly due to the fact they don’t want to get into a tight spot with a redhead in a two-tonne banger. Other taxi drivers treat you simply as if you are in their club, and you are always favoured over other drivers; let’s call them civilians.

I have overstepped the mark on occasions and got slightly cocky by parking in a taxi space. This did not go down well with the proper cabbies. They perused the vehicle for the taxi licence plate, which allows you such a luxury. I also avoid those tantalising green huts that sell tea – until I get an invitation, that is.

I am pretty sure, however, of being the only taxi in London to allow smoking. A boon, particularly for my mother, whom I pick up at King’s Cross station and she immediately sparks up. To be honest, I could drive anyone who wants to smoke as I have a partition, and it’s not really my concern what they do. My mother was never going to give up; she would happily drive 30k in France to buy the strange brown cigs she smokes and which go on for hours.

The luxury of driving a cab can only be possible with the five-star assistance and general hilarity of the gorgeous George Jackson taxi cabs garage in West London. The A and E of cabs, they look after my leaky washers and droopy oil valves with a wry smile, cool efficiency and more than a which of a quintessentially English modus operandi that is fast disappearing.

My teenagers, as they were at the time, were naturally thrilled by the novelty. You can be very popular taking a gaggle of teens to a party in a cab, and really no one can ever believe that they don’t have to pay at the end of it. In fact that is the key factor that no one can ever get over – NO FARE. We even went to a festival in Ireland, which was very long and a bit hairy, not least because driving up through Ireland, we forgot initially that the IRA had used the black taxis to run bombs and folk looked duly wary. Plus it was a jolly long way. But all the fun of the fair once we got there.

I do ponder the jazzing up of the jalopy but have a horror of it looking like a festooned charabanc, so stick with some good music and tartan rugs. Music is a marvellous addition to the taxi experience, due to the fact you only usually ever hear something ghastly like Radio 2. I have vague longings for Phil Mitchell-style wallpaper, though have never really understood why the EastEnders hardman has such avantgarde grass wallpaper in the € rst place. And should this
man be any kind of benchmark at all? No. Let’s leave it pulled together and taxi like it should be. And as we go to press I find I have been seduced by Julien Temple to drive my cab in his seminal documentary on London, coming out in July. That, however, is another story.

Dangerous Women: A Guide To Modern Life by Sarah-Jane Lovett, Clare Conville and Liz Hoggard is published by Orion, priced £14.99.

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