How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

The month of May, with its two bank holiday Mondays breaking up the routine of term time contract work, is not especially welcome, when it rolls around mid-way between Easter and the overly long six weeks of school Summer holidays.  

However, this bank holiday coincided with payday weekend and with a significant end of season football match being shown on the big screens in the local pubs.  

These two events made all the difference to what would otherwise have been just another mediocre weekend in a small provincial Oxfordshire town, with a declining night time economy.   

In the old days, prior to Easter 2012, there was a renowned nightclub in the town centre, which operated Thursday to Sunday until three o'clock in the morning, after which a couple of hundred people would be disgorged onto the streets, most of whom needed transport home.  

That is all gone now and those who do work weekend nights stay out for a longer period of time, in order to earn less money, with the increased level of risk that brings. On Friday night, the open window of my taxi was approached by a young man known to me, from nine years' taxi driving in and around Abingdon, though he did not show any signs of recognising me. He asked for a destination only £4.60 away, the minimum fare for distances of up to one mile.  

As we journeyed along a road in the town centre, he asked me to stop adjacent to an alley, from where he was going to retrieve his girlfriend's bag, in order to pay me. He had stashed it there earlier, after taking it off her during an argument.  It sounds preposterous, because it is. He never returned to the taxi. There is nothing quite like the mendacity of a fellow human being who is about to steal from you, trying to justify themselves in advance of the act.  

After several successive low-quality encounters with customers, instinct told me to call it a night. But the following night was to be completely different, full of happy customers, like the group collected from Oxford, who talked excitedly of their day at the Common People festival and spoke of names of classic artistes from my childhood, like Boney M. "Did they do Rivers of Babylon?" I asked, whereupon the passenger in the back struck up a chorus of "Mary's boy child Jesus Christ, was born in Christmas Day..."  

On the journey back to Abingdon to get the next passenger, down the prolifically potholed Hanney Road in the expected storm, the rain came down like something out of the Scottish play and there was a veritable heavenly light show of lightning, while I played Rivers of Babylon at the maximum available volume in my taxi of 64.  

'How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?' -  a question I ask myself often, as I ply for hire on the highways and byways of southern Oxfordshire. 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 30 May 2018

  1. Psalm 137:4