Dependent upon the time of the year, there are between one hundred and two hundred people every week travelling through my taxi. Some of these are repeat customers, but it nonetheless represents a great opportunity for conversation and exchange of opinion.
In many ways, a taxi is an intimate space, especially where many of us run saloon cars as a Hackney carriage. It would be odd not to be talking when you are sat in a confined space for any significant length of time, even in England, with a complete stranger. I always wait for those I have not met before to initiate conversation. It is rare, but some sit in silence all the way to their destination, with a small conversational exchange at the end, as they pay the fare.
Many visitors to Abingdon head back to Oxford and Didcot, where the nearest mainline stations are located and often ask about local hotels, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops and other purveyors of local services, many of them small independent businesses, like me. Having to be on call for so many hours in order to earn a living and especially at weekend nights, it is rare that I would be visiting a local restaurant myself, so I am always interested to hear the views of others, especially those whose opinions I value and trust.
A insightful Baptist minister said to me several years ago "you've said several times that you're self employed, that's very important to you, isn't it?" And it still is.
Of course, I am also a consumer of the products and services of other local businesses, especially mechanics, purveyors of tyres and other car parts, which are going to wear out more often they do in a private car. In my naivety I expect the same standards of service that I provide to my own customers and it is hard to cope, when that does not happen and when people are less than straightforward about it.
This year, I collected my taxi from a garage and thought it a bit odd that the windows had been marked with little spots of dried water, as if it had been raining. Late that night, I did the checks for the next day under the bonnet and found the engine bay had been sprayed with deposits of white soapy water. It wasn't hard to work out that the taxi had been left out in the open air, close to a nearby car wash, while work had been carried out on it. But the mechanic did not own up to it, nor make any attempt to fix the problem, before handing my property back to me. He just hoped I would not look under the bonnet.
I have no idea why it should be so difficult to find a decent and trustworthy mechanic. After all, there are lots of them everywhere, even in the small towns of Oxfordshire. Though, of course, there are not as many mechanics as there are taxi drivers.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 21 September 2016