Column: June 11, 2009

I am archiving my old Liverpool Daily Post columns here. This is one from June 11, 2009, before I had my regular slot. I was obsessed with public transport even then…

TAXIS are cool. They just are. Planes are cool. Bad for the environment, but cool. Trains are definitely cool. But buses? Buses aren’t cool.

Let’s look at the evidence. Taxi! With Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufman! Taxi Driver! Robert flipping De Niro directed by Martin Scorsese! Luc Besson’s Taxi! With some French bloke!

And buses? Reg Varney. Blakey shouting “I ’ate you, Butler.” Olive.

But then I’m comfortable on buses. Taxis are too much pressure for me, they involve too much work. For a start, there’s the conversation anxiety.

Now I like a chinwag as much as the next man – probably more so if the next man is Bruce Forsyth; it must be a terrible effort for him towag a chin like that at his age – but taxi conversations are a test. And one which I usually fail.

I’m not the only person who has this trouble with basic human interaction with taxi drivers, but the problem is more acute for journalists.

One of the joys of being a journalist is that you are never more than 10 feet away from somebody who wants to punch your face in.

So when it gets to the bit where the driver asks me what I do for a living, I have a dilemma. Do I tell the truth and get 20 minutes on what’s wrong with newspapers, or do I tell a bare-faced lie and say I’m a quantity surveyor? Well, I’m a proud journalist, aren’t I? A hack in a hack, so to speak. So I do the lying thing.

The beauty about telling anybody that you’re a quantity surveyor is that it is completely neutral. Nobody has an opinion about quantity surveying.

The sentence “You know what the trouble with quantity surveying is?” has never been uttered, apart from just then. And then only if you’re one of those people whose lips move when they read.

Then there’s the pressure to put yourself at risk of death just to appear cool in the back of the taxi. Why is it that people eschew seatbelts in taxis, when they wouldn’t dream of leaving them off in the back seats of other cars?

Of course, the entire public transport system is very confused when it comes to belting up. Apart from the harnesses in taxis which nobody uses, there are no seatbelts on buses or trains.

The only form of public transport which insists on seatbelts is one in which they are essentially of no use.

The sole way I can imagine a seat belt would be of help in the event of a plane crash would be if one ripped it into strands and used them to tether a parachute made of 400 sick bags Sellotaped together. Although I suspect the pressures of time in the event of a plane crash would mitigate against the production of such a device.

I hope neither of us ever has to test this theory.

So, imagine, like Indiana Jones, one has not only got through the conversation with the taxi driver, but also managed not to be killed through seatbelt neglect, what is the final test, the big rolling boulder, if you will? That’s right. The tip.

I wonder if I’m the only person who gets out of a taxi before he needs to, just so he can give the driver a pound instead of 80p? I suspect I am not.

One is certainly not shelling out any more money. No. One is thinking “I’m walking a bit further than I need to for the sake of 20p,” so the taxi driver can pay for 40% of a Mars bar. Human nature being what it is, one pushes one’s luck by waiting for that little clock thing to get to the next to last light and then saying, “Here’s fine, mate.” And then one gets flung against the window as the driver screeches to a halt. Because he knows.

I should stick to buses.


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