I DECIDED to get a taxi. I don’t know why. Perhaps I wished to see how the other half lives, flush as I was on payday. Perhaps I wanted to be like somebody on The Apprentice.
Or perhaps it was because of my reluctance to walk across town with a stinking cold, through rain so fine it could have been lazy fog.
In any case, I hailed a taxi and stepped inside. That was my first mistake.
Bent double, I explained where I wanted to go, ie home, where there is tea and always-disappointing Lemsip, and the cab leapt forward, like a sufficiently wound Evel Knievel toy.
It was at this point that I became suddenly grateful that I am not a smaller man. A smaller man, with shorter legs, would have been deposited on the floor of the cab.
But, luckily, I am a taller man, and I was merely flung into my seat with the force of a gangster’s henchman, insistent that I sit down. I hit my head on a speaker.
This was going to be an interesting journey, I thought. I did not want an interesting journey. I wanted a journey I could introduce to my mother.
He rounded a corner with a certain gusto. I can’t swear he didn’t do it on two wheels.
And so I did something I rarely do in taxis. I weighed up the risks and put my seatbelt on.
I looked around the cab, trying to keep calm as it nipped through a gap between two moving buses so tight that if it were any narrower it would have required the application of Vaseline.
That was no good. I noticed that the driver had a satnav and I am always uncomfortable when a taxi driver has a satnav, especially a Hackney cab driver.
Cab drivers are supposed to know where everywhere is. They just are. That is supposed to be part of their skillset, along with being able to listen to TalkSport radio for hours on end without climbing into a clock tower with a sniper’s rifle.
When I see a satnav in a Hackney cab, it’s as if Sir Chris Hoy has fetched up to the velodrome with his bike sporting a bell and stabilisers.
But the most unnerving thing was the silence, the constant silence. The driver did not speak. He had no radio on. He neither took nor made a phone call. He was driving like this and he wasn’t even distracted.
This was turning into a horror film. He was some sort of silent assassin. I didn’t even know if he had a face.
I didn’t want to die alone. I started tweeting.
– “My taxi driver is taking a broad brush, big picture approach to traffic laws.”
I received little sympathy. I might have died and people were just being sarcastic.
– “Remember that bit in Planes, Trains & Automobiles where Steve Martin hallucinates John Candy is the devil? That’s me and this driver.”
Still no sympathy. I put my phone away. I was on my own.
It was so bad, I was actually starting to wish I’d got the bus. It was my own fault for having ideas above my station.
If this is how the other half lives, they are welcome to it.
The driver ripped through a just-red light. Through the window I could see pedestrians pointing, probably at the twin trails of flames licking at the Tarmac behind the taxi.
My life started to flash before my eyes. I had to snap out of it – I needed my wits about me, this was no time to be bored.
I was close to home. “I might just make it,” I thought. My grip loosened slightly on the door moulding.
“Can you take the next left?” I asked. Could he? Oh, yes, and without even slowing down.
He stopped outside my house, as abruptly as he had started the journey; my seatbelt was the only thing that prevented me from being attached to the driver’s security screen like a Garfield toy.
I gave him the money, and ran my fingers through my even greyer hair. (I say I have grey hair, I prefer to think of it as platinum brown.)
He handed me my change. He wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t going to let me go. I was safe, uninjured, apart, perhaps, from some seatbelt strap welts and the time I bit my cheek.
I’d made it. I was so relieved I flung open the door and leapt from the car.
And I twisted my ankle in the gutter.