Have you ever noticed how seldom taxi drivers look at their map book?
The reason is, of course, not may of them now how to use it. And using it is an art form or, at the very least, a science.
All those grids and numbers in strange places on the page, blow me down they are actually there for a reason.
Now one of the anomalies of taxi driving is that only one in three trainees has to pass a test proving that he can use a map book.
And I can assure you, having been one of the ‘one in three’ randomly chosen by computer to take the test, there would be even fewer taxis on the ranks if everyone had to do so.
You’d think it a simple exercise to look up a destination in the book, work out the best route there and drive to it. Not when your throat is dry, you’re forehead wet and your hands shaking, it isn’t,
Mind you, things weren’t helped much by my examiner.
“What car will I be driving” I asked him as we were walking down to the DOT garage to collect the Test car, “I don’t f****ing know” he replied.
A good start to the day, I thought.
“Well f*****ing get in”, he enjoined me as I waited politely to be invited in.
Having driven to an anonymous looking road, he asked : “Did you notice what road we’re in?” “No”, I replied quite honestly, after all why should I know I’d never been there before. “Well you f*****ing well should ‘cos this is where we’re starting from. Wigram St, got it, Wigram St.”.
Now I must confess I was tempted to defend myself with a quick “up yours” but decided that as I was here (although I didn’t know where) I’d best make the most of it.
“OK, take me to Merrylands Swimming Pool”.
“Merrylands Swimming Pool, eh” I thought, “he’s obviously noticed how much I’m sweating”.
After some fumbling through the pages of the Sydways I managed to find where I was going but still wasn’t sure where I was going from until I got a “Wigram , not f****ing Wigwan” reminder.
Having decided on the route I suggested it to my friendly examiner “Take all f**ing day going that way” was the reply.
I suggested another route, “that’s f**king worse than the first one .”
Fortubnately, a third suggestion seemed to be to his liking so off we set.
“You’re driving too f****ing fast” was the next bit of friendly advice, “and stop revving the f***ing engine” soon followed.
Neither of these comments, however, were as bad as the next “you’ve missed the f***ing turning, I told you that you were going too f***ing fast”
Now by this time, as you can imagine, I was ready to throw in the towel; ready to say to my eloquent companion, “Mate, up your bum” and then it dawned on me, my examiner was doing all this on purpose.
He was trying to bait me, to get me to respond to his rudeness by being rude back and, of course, being a taxi driver this is something you simply can’t allow to happen. If I said anything back I’d be immediately failed.
“Crafty bastard”, I thought, “Sorry, sir, my mistake I’ll turn off the meter”, I replied quite cooly. (The car didn’t have a meter, of course, but it was what I should have said in a real, live situation).
After the expected “should f****ing well think so” I went on driving, quite successfully as it turned out, to the pool.
“OK, now to Mays Hill Cemetery”, was the amount of praise I got.
Well I’d got the hang of it now, hadn’t I, and I knew the swearing was all a front, so with much confidence I looked up Mays Hill in the Sydways and made my suggestion on how best to get there.
“What are you, some kind of c**t” was the reply, “look again”.
Well I did but the sweat pouring from every pore didn’t make it easy. I did manage, however, to discover that the cemetery was, indeed, much easier to get to than I had first suggested, it was straight down the road, in fact, and drove there without too much trouble.
“What a surprise” I said in my most amusing voice “I thought it would have been a dead end”.
“Pull over” said my new found friend with absolutely no acknowledgement of my little joke, “I’ll f****ing pass you but I don’t f***ing know why”.
“Thank you” I said with great relief. I didn’t know why he was passing me either ‘cos I really had been dreadful. A five minute trip to the pool had turned into a half hour journey to hell and the only thing to my credit was that I hadn’t risen to the baiting and bullying.
Having passed me, though, I thought the DOT’s answer to Oscar Wilde would chill out somewhat, not a bit of it. “If you ever see me hail your cab” he said “do me a f***ing favour and ignore me. Life’s too f****ing short to have to go through that again”.
“Likewise” I said under my breath “f****ing likewise”.