Abingdon's least talked about tradition

When you first become a taxi driver, there is generally nothing by way of training – you are given a car, drive to the taxi rank and wait for a random member of the public to get in it. You just make it up as you go along, as best you can.

There are a whole load of practical things nobody tells you, which you have to somehow assimilate, through experience. One of these is an effective procedure for dealing with those who try to make off without paying.

This is a crime known as bilking, but the police say that it is a civil matter, if the person leaves their details with you in the event of a dispute over service, or cost; something which never happens, as a bilker usually just makes a run for it.

In the days when there was a nightclub in Abingdon town centre, Thursday night was ladies' night and it attracted a large number of squaddies.

You could drive backwards and forwards from The Camp, as Dalton Barracks is colloquially known, for £7.50 each time, much of the night until half past three in the morning and make a reasonable living from it.

Those were the good old days: they do not come into Abingdon town centre at the weekends in anything like the same kinds of numbers as before.

I know, because I have recorded the start and end points of every single taxi journey I have undertaken, in the last seven years.

When I first started driving taxis in Abingdon, I was warned not to have anything to do with a taxi driver, who could reasonably be described as a bit brash.

Rather than anyone else, though, this driver was the one who told me what you have to do, when the unscrupulous run through the gate, making off without paying.

When this happened at The Camp I would go inside the guard room and speak with the person on duty. There is a sort of chain of command, to resolve the issue: private on the gate, corporal, orderly sergeant.

The matter should have been resolved by the next day, when you have to return again to the guard room, to get your money.

If you are fortunate, you come across a corporal who gives you the money out of their own pocket instantaneously. But most common of all is for the corporal to take your details and telephone number and for them then to never get back to you.

Band of the Royal Logistic Corps march along Abingdon High Street, November 2013

Band of the Royal Logistic Corps march along Abingdon High Street, November 2013

Abingdon is a town which loves its obscure traditions. The Logistic Corps holds the freedom of the town and from time to time, you can see them parading through, sometimes with drums beating and bayonets fixed.

We have lots of quirky traditions, but rarely is the tradition of bilking ever addressed.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 10 August 2016

  1. Thames Valley Police, Making off without payment as consulted 08 August 2016
  2. Herald Series, Guildhall set for a major revamp  01 December 2011, retrieved 28 January 2018