Orient-Express Magazine

Volume 21 No. 1 2004


Driving around the metropolis in a privately owned black cab may not win you many friends, says The Truffleman, but being able to use the bus lane more than makes up for the odd fit of rage.

As a young boy, I yearned to an exquisite motorcar when I grew up. But, unlike other tender-age petrol heads, my dream was not to own an Aston Martin, Ferrari Porsche. I daydreamed about seriously quirky vehicles – my ultimate fantasy being a London taxi. My father thought it might be due to the fact that I grew up on a farm far away from London. In fact, when I was six, my mother was horrified when having breakfast on the porch of our farmhouse. she saw what appeared to be the tractor driving along all by itself from the cowshed. It was only when it drew closer that she noticed my little head bobbing up and down, barely visible behind the big steering wheel.

My wife maintains that I still have not progressed beyond the age of six when it comes to cars. Recently, a lifelong dream was realized when a friend put me in touch with a London taxi company that was willing to sell one of its old cabs to a fanatic such as myself. Always interested in a challenge. I had to jump through several legal hoops to have the cab decommissioned, modified (meter taken out, taxi sign light permanently disconnected), and legalized for private use.

Extremely conscious of my enormous good luck, I promised myself on the first day in my new cab/car that I would not be tempted to stray into the beckoning, but technically off-limits, bus lane. As I stopped at the first intersection with a bus lane, a genuine cab driver signaled to let me into the bus lane before him. In order not to hold up traffic, I had to take him up on his offer, of course!

The very next morning at the same intersection, a London bus stopped to let me in. I reasoned that I could not possibly get out of the cab and explain to the bus driver that I wasn’t really driving a London cab. Well, since that moment, I have made many similar forays into the bus lane and have yet to be caught and fired despite the fact that I recently hurtled down the bus lane after fetching my mother-in-law from Heathrow. This was during the morning rush hour and I had the dubious pleasure of passing a more senior, chauffeur-driven work colleague, who waved to me meekly when I sped past.

But, the fun doesn’t stop there, as I discovered. Despite the fact that my taxi light is permanently switched off, I constantly have to wave off people on the street who are attempting to flag me down. In sport a sign in the front window which reads: “Permanently Off Duty”. This only seems to baffle those who bother to read it. On my way to work through.

That the dubious Chelsea a few days ago, a man in a three-piece suit shouted at me the pleasure of for not stopping – when I dared to pass more continue driving, he jumped up senior, chauffeur and down in the middle of the road in a rage.

My most memorable driven colleague experience, though, was during a who waved tome tube strike. On my way, home on meekly when! On a hot summer’s day, a leggy blonde waved at me in Berkeley Square. I sped past, waved back furiously to come nicely that I was “off duty”. She then promptly clasped her hands together in a begging gesture. Being an (albeit stupid) gentleman, I drove up to her, politely rolled down my window, and said: “I am so sorry, I am not available,” all the while thinking to myself – “you idiot!” Proud of my restraint, of course, the first thing I did when I arrived home told my wife how I managed to resist temptation. To which she retorted furiously. “The poor woman, why didn’t you pick her up?”

Similuty amusing situations arise all the time. I have had people in a hurry jump into the back of my cab when I have stopped at traffic lights. A tourist, who no doubt thought he was taking a photograph of a typical London Soane, snapped a picture of me while I was waiting for the lights to change one winter’s evening at Hyde Park Corner, and cabbies flick their headlights to let in their mate. While I respond in kindly to uphold the code of honor. And it goes without saying that execute u-turn all the time and can non confidently vouch for the famous tiny turning circle of London’s black cabs.

Initially, my wife was not too happy with the cab. She pointed out that aside from not being able to sit in the front with the driver, she did not find it amusing that I closed the window behind my head when she was in the middle of complaining about something. To make amends, I have attached huge, full-length signs along both sides of the cab advertising her books (she is an author of suspense thrillers). The cab non-sports the catchy slogan: “Even the dead have secrets.”
After all this fun, I can only conclude that there is no better dream to fulfill than the one you had at the age of six.

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