Perception is everything

The recent incident at the Cardiff pub which initially turned away a group of Catholic priests wanting to celebrate their colleague's ordination, mistakenly thinking they were a stag party in fancy dress, was quite interesting.  

Clerical fancy dress is a common enough sight, even on the streets of a small provincial town like Abingdon. A fellow dressed as The Pope once tried to flag me down outside the Boundary House pub, on the main Oxford Road route back into the town centre. I didn’t drive past him because of what he was wearing, but because I was already full with passengers.   

People do still try to flag me down, even when I am driving miles away from my licensed area. Someone once tried to hire me when I was parked up in Hoxton in east London - and my taxi could not look more different than the distinctive shape of the black London taxi.  

Real clerical dress is a common enough sight on the streets of Oxford, where I live and where within seventeen minutes' walk of Carfax, pretty much every style of Anglican Christian worship which a person could desire is available, including in Latin.  

About a year ago, I was travelling with a friend and regular customer on Cowley Road in Oxford when she randomly asked if a fellow walking by the side of the road was a real monk.  "Yes," I responded instinctively, "you can tell by the correctly tied rope he has around his brown habit." Someone in fancy dress would never have gone to such a level of detail.   

But you can also often tell by a person's deportment.  Some people just exude holiness in their priestly demeanour.  In October 2014, when the last bishop of Oxford retired, a motley group of us embarked on a section of his farewell walk along the route of the river Thames, through the diocese.  

One Sunday, we walked from Wolvercote through the city of Oxford, to Radley.  That day, it was obvious within a minute or so of conversation who was ordained and who was not.  

It is a constant source of frustration that I am not able to take part in these and other events as fully as I would like, due continuing to have to wait long hours in my taxi for work, especially during the dog days of the school summer holidays.   

In my work, I am often mistaken for someone who works for the district council.  We are required to wear a council issued badge on our person, at all times when "in charge of a licensed vehicle" so that it is clearly visible.  People see the badge, with its logo of the highest landmark in Oxfordshire and they make erroneous assumptions. Some hilarious conversations have eventuated, especially when I have been mistaken for an environmental health officer, or someone investigating benefits claims.  

They are always put right, of course and shown the detail, but for some people, initial perception is everything.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 30 August 2017

  1. BBC News, Apology to Cardiff priests over stag party mix-up at pub, 01 August 2017, retrieved 29 August 2017
  2. Vale of White Horse District Council, Joint Taxi Licensing Policy (PDF, 195.8 Kb), updated 26 February 2015, retrieved 29 August 2017