Saturday Column - Number 20 - Saturday 24th February 2001

When I want to hear a live Premier League football match, I always call my local mini cab firm. They have often considerately played the commentary for a whole game while you are on hold, before the controller finally comes on the line with “Dream on Cabs, where are you going to?”

After ninety minutes of football I have usually forgotten who I am, and where I live, let alone where I wanted to go in the first place, or why I wanted to go there. I don’t even like football, but after using ‘Dream on’ Cabs for a year, last Summer I was seriously thinking of applying for the job of England’s manager.

These days I am a mini cab veteran. Before calling for a cab, I first check I have at least a month’s supply of food and water in the flat, because I know what those words ‘It’s on its way, now’ really mean. Whenever I read in the papers that the police have found the body of a man in a flat that has been dead for 2 years, and nobody noticed he was missing, I know that man died of starvation waiting for his mini cab to arrive.

“Your car’s outside. It’s a white J Reg Honda.”

“How do I know you are telling the truth?” I ask the man known only as The Controller. “Don’t lie to me! For I am at this very moment looking out of my window through my night vision binoculars, and I’ve got CCTV at both ends of the street; and I can assure you no car has come within 100 yards of my front door all evening.”

Last Monday I was going out for dinner, so I rang The Controller, who obviously got the job as the friendly public voice of the local cab company because he was the rudest and most arrogant of all the applicants. As we have had a few little disagreements over the last year, (which resulted in my informing him that I would never use them ever again as long as I lived) I now have to book a cab using a different name and accent every time. (I keep a wall chart next to the phone of all the names, and accents, with the dates I used them, so I don’t get confused and do the same voice but with a different name two days running.) He must think there are 150 people living in my flat.

“It’s on its way.” he said. ” It’s a silver Nissan saloon.”

Forty minutes later there is still no sign of the cab. The driver had called me himself twenty minutes before, to say he was just turning into my street, and what bell should he ring. It is a long street …but not that long. I hit the last number received and call him back.

“Hallo..I am still waiting, where are you?”

“I am coming down a mountain in Switzerland” he said.

” You were meant to be in Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale over half an hour ago, to take me to Soho.”

“I am in Courcheval” he said.

“Are you driving a silver Nissan saloon?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?”

” I am sorry, I can’t wait” I said “I’ve got to be in Soho in ten minutes… and it will take you at least two days to get to Maida Vale from Courcheval. Cancel the cab.”

” It’s Alan Nixon here” the voice on the other end said. “Is that Peter Rosengard?”

I paused. Alan Nixon’s the Controller of Entertainment, not cabs…at Channel Five TV. I thought the driver’s voice had sounded familiar. Channel Five’s new audience ratings must have taken another dive if he is moonlighting as a mini cab driver.

I hung up. Why humiliate the man? It probably was not a good time to ask him what he thought of my proposal for a new Reality TV show! (You lock 10 very old people up in a room with 10 drug sniffing, drunk, chain smoking teenagers for six months and the first person to kill one of the old people or a teenager is the winner. It will be huge!)

He will never last as a mini cab driver, anyway, not unless he buys himself an A to Z. On Friday evening I was in a mini cab on the way to see Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Savoy theatre. “OK go down Park Lane. Yes, that big road ..yes it’s called Park Lane…OK good…now go round the Palace .. the big building over there..yes.. .. Nelsons Column. .. the big pole in the middle of the square over there, that’s it.”

“You are probably wondering where I got this tan aren’t you?” the driver said when we finally got onto the Strand about 30 seconds before the curtain was due to go up. “Actually.. no.” I said.

” Please guess.”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Iran.” he said as he pulled up outside The Savoy. “I was on holiday back home.”

“Had a good time did you ?”I asked, as I tried to push the window down with both hands so I could open the door using the only handle, which was on the outside.

“Oh yes, I had a very good time” he said. “I watched seven people hanged in Tehran last Tuesday.”

” I am really glad you told me that” I said, as the door suddenly flew open and I fell into the street. “Thousands of people were enjoying a good hanging I suppose?” I said as I paid him.

“Oh no …just a hundred or so of us …It was at seven in the morning, so I had to get up very early to see it” he said, beaming up at me.

“Good for you.” I said. I didn’t tip him.

The most memorable taxi ride I never took, was on my honeymoon in 1991 when we got stuck in the countryside outside Budapest. Suddenly a Mercedes taxi had come very fast over a hill. I flagged it down. “TAXI!”

It screeched to a halt.. ” Please get in.” the driver said.

I was just following my wife into the back seat when she screamed “There’s a dead body on the back seat!”

I looked. There was. It was lying under a tartan rug stretched out along the seat. I had once been a dental student for six months, so I knew a dead body when I saw one. The legs stuck out the end.

If I remember correctly it was a Macleod tartan. The driver looked at us impatiently with an expression that said ‘You English! So squeamish.’ He roared off down the road.. I still don’t know if he was an undertaker doing a bit of mini cabbing on the side.. or a taxi driver doing a bit of part time undertaking.

You can say what you like about London cabs, but I have never found a dead body in the back of one yet. Have you?

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COPYRIGHT. Peter Rosengard for Rosengardworld 2001