South Oxfordshire is one of very few district councils in the country which still allows its licensed taxi proprietors to set their own tariff. In the Vale of White Horse, the tariff is set by their district council, who limit the maximum rate which can be charged to customers.
A few times a year, we have a bank holiday, usually to commemorate a religious festival, when the rate increases from 23 pence for a tenth of a mile, to 30 pence, for the same distance, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, when it is 34 pence.
Despite the higher fares on offer, I mostly tend to have a day off on a bank holiday, other than for pre-booked work, as the level of on-demand business does not really justify sitting around all day on the taxi rank in Abingdon. It is always a difficult judgement call to make, being mostly done on a hunch and on the basis of previous experience of the same bank holiday in years gone by.
Sometimes, there is a bank holiday for an altogether different reason than a religious one, like that instituted by a Labour government in the 1970s to mark international workers day, although the origins of May Day as a point in time to mark the beginning of summer are much older, ancient even.
This year, the May Day bank holiday actually fell on the first of May itself, which meant a larger than usual turnout at the celebrations held in Oxford city centre, from 0600. For more than the fortieth time, I had awoken at the godly hour of 0430, to make my way via my customary pedestrian route along New College Lane, which still looks the same as it did in the 1970s. It even still has a slogan about the IRA graffitied on one wall.
May Morning in Oxford is an unusual, peculiar and largely happy intermingling of university and city people, with seemingly minimal levels of visible management. Random musical and dance acts, mostly traditional, appear in the streets by custom and practice and for the delectation of the crowds - and for free.
As an event, it embodies something of the very spirit of Oxford itself, tolerance and even celebration of those who are different, quirky and eccentric. There was the Jack in the Green – a person dressed as a tree – a Swordsman carrying a fertility cake impaled upon a sword, a fellow carrying a garland with a doll called Peggy May in the centre, as well as a few hundred Morris people, some brandishing their sticks like light sabres.
This occasion away from work was joyous, life affirming and a welcome respite from the incessant toil of earning a living in a small provincial town seven miles away. In the present times of trouble and uncertainty, May Morning and Morris and other vivid manifestations of our cultural identity, which bring us together as a community, are needed more than ever before.
As published in the Abingdon Herald on Wednesday, 03 May 2017