Probably the third most common question from taxi passengers in conversation is “Do you do a lot of airport runs?” Somewhat surprisingly to most, it is more profitable to do as many £5 to £20 jobs as possible in and around Abingdon, than it is to go to and from the airport. Those jobs to Heathrow and Gatwick are ałways either going there or coming back, empty.
Nonetheless, I rarely turn down any work, unless I am already booked and even then, it is usually possible to arrange for somebody else who is reliable to cover the fares. Journeys for people who are going to and from the airports and the cruise terminals at Avonmouth, Tilbury - or most frequently from Abingdon, to Southampton - are always welcome.
These jobs offer an opportunity for quality conversation about subjects of mutual interest and far off places, many of which I have travelled to myself, in the days before taxi driving, when my horizons were extended that much farther than they are these days, in the small provincial Oxfordshire town in which I work.
Late on Friday, I had a call to Oxford Services on the M40, to meet two retired people from a coach trip, which had commenced in central Europe at 0500. We spoke of places which have lived happily in my memory for years: Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Archangel and Starý Smokovec.
Then they asked “do you know what happened in the election?" It was astonishing that in this technological age, where information is constantly at our thumb tips, that neither of them possessed an internet connected mobile telephone.
And they had been travelling all day, nobody else had told them the result of the election and furthermore, they did not want to know, until their return to England. So it fell to me to communicate the news that there had been a change from one party to another in the constituency and they now had a new member of Parliament. It was impossible to gauge their reaction, due having to keep my eyes on the road ahead.
We discussed further what a confidence and supply agreement actually is and other aspects of the national political situation. Many taxi drivers will not discuss politics nor religion – as in a lot of other workplaces, but my workplace is also my personal space and if the customer wants, I will happily discuss anything. Faith and politics are invariably the most interesting conversational subjects of all.
Friday was a happy reminder that not everybody is a part of the constantly connected internet age. The majority of my day time customers are of senior years and for them quality of information is perhaps more important than a constant flow of it. Moreover, they will tend not to book by Twitter Direct Message, SMS or email but by telephone, or even in one case, by letter, with the neatest handwriting I have ever seen.
That is both surprising, but it is also reassuring and charming.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 14 June 2017