Home > Autobiography, General > Susannah and me – Part 3

Susannah and me – Part 3

With Christmas over, the problem remained as to what I was to do until my course started at the end of June. I thought that I could work for a few months and earn enough to pay for a skiing holiday in April. So in early January I went to the local cab company, which happened to be a street away from my sister’s house, and asked for a job as a driver. The owner agreed, but as I did not have a car, he would rent one to me. On top of that I had to pay a flat fee for the use of the radio and the services of the controller. This was how the company made most of its money. Any fares I collected were mine to keep, but I would have to earn a fair chunk of change before I could even think of making a profit for myself. Still, it seemed like an interesting proposition.

It was a diverse bunch of chaps that I began working with. Apart from one of the radio controllers, I was the only white person there. West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians and West Africans seemed to dominate. The owner was from Sri Lanka. It was before the East European invasion, so there were no Poles or Czechs. The irony of the situation was that despite their various races most of them were English born and their accents were certainly more local than mine. They complained good naturedly about the fact that ‘bloody foreigners’ from Africa had come to take their jobs.

My first few calls were not exactly raving successes. I completely failed to make it to the first pick up as I could not locate the address. The second I picked up but could not find the destination and nearly had an accident at a roundabout. Getting to understand the instructions given to me over the radio was tricky as well. Not only did I struggle with accents, I often had no idea where I was being sent. There were no GPS systems to help; it was the A-to-Z for me. Gradually, however, I learned the ropes and became quicker at navigating my way around London. The faster I was, the more fares I picked up. There seemed to be a steady supply of business so ultimately my earnings depended on how many hours I was prepared to work. As a driver returned from one job, he would give his name to the controller who would add it to the bottom of the list. He would get his next job when he had made it to the top. Of course if there were no drivers back at base the controller would summon us on the radio and send us on our way to pick up new business.

Most of my clients were pretty mundane. Women with shopping, kids being collected from school, travellers going to the airport or needing to be fetched from the station and so on. Most of them never talked much. But I had some interesting customers as well. One was a chap I picked up in Barnes to take to Jack Barclay in Berkley Sq where he was collecting his new Rolls Royce, or perhaps it was a Bentley. We chatted amiably along the way discussing this and that. Actually, he mostly asked about me and what I was doing and why I was driving mini cabs. Then, to my surprise, he asked if I would like to work for him as his chauffeur. It occurred to me that this might be quite an interesting occupation, for a few months anyway, and I would have seriously considered it had I the time to spare. As it was  I had every intention of returning to Zimbabwe, and I imagine he would have wanted someone to work on a permanent basis. Still I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I accepted the job. He seemed like a pleasant chap and it would have been interesting to learn how the other half lives. Though the attraction might have soon waned after a few hours spent sitting in a car late at night waiting for him to emerge from a night club.

The strangest passenger I had came from Ealing. He wanted me to drive him to Lambeth Palace, residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. When we arrived he asked me to wait while he conducted some business. After about half an hour I was getting a bit anxious that he had done a runner, but he eventually emerged and asked me to take him to Westminster Cathedral, the headquarters of the Catholic Church in England. My curiosity was beginning to be aroused but I said nothing. Again I waited as he went inside. This time when he emerged, he requested that I take him to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. I became somewhat alarmed at this as it was a long way to go and the fare would be steep. But he, sensing my concern, pulled out a wadge of £20 notes and assured me that he had more than enough cash to pay. So off we went.

Curiosity got the better of me and I asked him what was going on. He then told me this most bizarre story. A few months earlier he had, or so he told me, some how become involved in an experiment with some shadowy people that involved sophisticated electronic equipment being implanted throughout his body. The net result of this was that aliens were communicating with him directly. Initially he was not too perturbed by this state of affairs but more recently he had become troubled by their constant interference in his life. So he had decided that he voices must be got rid of and thus he had gone to the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to be exorcised. At Lambeth Palace they had told him that Anglicans did not do exorcisms but that he should go to the Catholics who specialised in this sort of thing. That, I felt, was uncharitable, not just to him, but to their rivals across the river as well. The Catholics, however, very sensibly told him that if it was electronic equipment that was the conduit for the voices, it would require electronic engineers to remove it all. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

It was difficult to know what to say to that kind of story. To laugh would have been rude and unhelpful and on a selfish note, would have probably cost me my fare. I think I made sympathetic noises, but was otherwise at a bit of a loss.

We arrived at Brize Norton and I waited another hour or so while I saw him being accompanied to various offices before finally returning to the car. I asked if he had had any luck. He replied that he had not but that he was still optimistic. I drove him home and he paid me handsomely for my time. I felt very sorry for the poor chap. He appeared perfectly rational in all other respects and seemed totally convinced that he was indeed in the thrall of alien entities. A few days later he called the cab company and asked specifically for me. I did not have the heart to take his money and so turned it down.

One of my frequent fares was a lady who lived in Chiswick. She was a film producer who had offices in Soho. She would have me take her into work fairly often and as it was a long trip we enjoyed chatting and so built up a bit of a rapport. One day, after I had dropped her off, she asked if I could take her into the West End later that evening. I replied that I could not as I was otherwise engaged. I had been in London a few months by this stage and was having a fairly active social life. I had gone on several dates with a girl whom I had met through one of my cousins. Lily worked in fashion and seemed to know lots of people around London. On that particular evening she had invited me to attend an event at the Savoy. Seeing as she liked to tease me about my Zimbabwean accent, her own was cut glass, she seemed remarkably unconcerned by the fact that I was merely a cab driver. Nevertheless, I thought that she was being very brave to take me to such a grand function. In any event I managed to get hold of a dinner jacket and we arrived at the venue amidst the splendour of somewhat more fashionable company.

At the entrance to the ballroom was a plan with the seating arrangements and we found the directions to our table.  There I was introduced to her godmother, our host, who was, as it turned out, the chairman of the charity which we were there to support. Needless to say I have forgotten its name. As we took our places at the top table, I surveyed the room to gaze up on, what had rapidly become for me, the lesser guests. My eyes came to rest on the table next to us where was seated my friend the film producer. Sitting with her were the actor Andrew Sachs (Manuel from Fawlty Towers) and the eternally beautiful Susannah York. Producer lady and I caught each others eyes. With a smile and a deferential nod by her to her cab driver, we raised our glasses in a toast.

Later that evening, Ms York awarded Lilly and me a prize for our excellent jitterbugging. Or was it some other dance?

  1. tocino
    January 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    What a great read! You have certainly done a bit and been around a bit as they say.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. January 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Toc. Thanks for reading this and for your comment. I guess it is a bit self-indulgent to write stuff like this, but I sort of feel that I want to get it down and this is just one way of doing it.

  3. tocino
    January 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm


    I don’t think for one minute that it is self-indulgent. I have done lots of stuff myself but have always hesitated putting any up on an open site.


    • January 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      I think you should write down some of your memoirs. I was always sad that my father never wrote about his experiences. To him they seemed normal, but to a different generation, or to people with a different background they would have been unusual and interesting. Many people live ‘Coronation Street’ type lives. There is nothing wrong with that, and lets face it, their goings on seem to captivate the imagination of millions of people every evening. But I am sure that those whose lives are a bit out of the ordinary are worth reading about as well. I say you should go for it.

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