Sun Tzu and the Art of Taxi Driving

I am currently writing a blog post a day, some kind of pointless exercise to create something or other. No less than 800 words, no more than 1200. Hopefully you may find some interest in it and you will certainly find grammatical errors and punctuation that may sicken you. Each one comes from something I’ve seen or read that day, so may lead nowhere or backwards. Continue you at your own risk.


As we turned onto the M4, the taxi driver decided now was the time to start telling me the story of his Actual Bodily Harm charge. I was caught in one of those hard to hear, illusion of interest situations where I had to use all my instincts to judge whether I was meant to smile or look sad or angry at the end of his sentences. Exhausted from insomnia and a heavy bout of showing off, I knew the moment I got in the cab this would be a chatty journey. Well, not chatting, but listening and hoping that any bursts of passion in the monologue would not lead to a moment of distraction propelling us into the back of a milk lorry. Death by drowning in milk, it would be the ultimate in enforced lactose intolerance. 

So, he justified his use of martial arts in a fairground fight and I nodded as if I too had much experience of trying to repress my karate urges while quarreling near the dodgems. 

I don’t know if everyone gets the same routine, which included the ABH, family concerns, childhood rebellion and romantic mistakes, or whether the monologue is chosen depending on the journey length; a staccato flurry of one-liners for the brief trip to a railway station, a Homeric epic for a journey to the seaside. Does the genre of anecdote depend on the age, gender and appearance of the passenger? Was it my lack of any football knowledge at the first few traffic light stops that led to him digging further into his story bank and deciding that, having picked me up from an art centre and believing I was in musical theatre, he would give me a tale with a hint of West Side Story. 

Edinburgh has a few of my favourite taxi drivers. There was the one who spoke passionately about a recent Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition (judging me far better, I know more about Mapplethorpe’s obscenity charges and life with Patti Smith than I do about Crystal Palace’s current abilities). Then there was the taxi driver who handed his Best Man speech to any comic who picked up in August to see if they could gag it up for him. 

Listening to the driver’s life story excerpts, I thought of how most of us have routines and favourite stories for the right occasion. Just like TV panel shows, many of our impromptu conversations are rehearsed over time, but not necessarily with quite such a bloated writing team. It’s not just stand ups and actors who attempt the illusion of spontaneity, we all have schtick in our armour. How many conversations involved being attentive to what is said only because the listener is waiting for the best prompt for their funniest, saddest or neediest story? Some people don’t listen at all, their violent head nodding nothing to do with agreement, merely a method to try and avoid hearing anything whatsoever by creating a constant series of concussions. They don’t want their anecdotes sullied by other people’s words distracting them. 

I hear myself tell the same story again. I wonder, have they heard it before? We all have certain favourites, safety blanket tales. When I was little, I was in a car accident. I think I remember all the details, 41 years on, even though there was a long period of time when i told no one and barely thought of it. When it came back to me, when I started to think it might have been one of those Jesuit moments in my life that made me the man, what was real and what was changed. Did I really look at my concussed mother, then turn to my bleeding sister and say, “why’s mummy’s eyes closed”, or is that a Hollywood rewrite of my mind? Is that me played by Henry Thomas? I remember the toy machine gun I was looking for, that’s why I blamed myself for the crash. Somehow the act of reaching for the toy beneath the seat had triggered the events, that is the negative, self-obsession of a child’s mind, the ability to find your guilt, however unrelated (it wasn’t my fault by the way). 

So I’ve told it again.

What of the tale of when Alex ate all those fig rolls. Then, his stomach in revolt, he ran to the hanging bin by London zoo and spewed into it, sadly there was no bottom, so it merely acted as a vomit megaphone, projecting the fig and pastry bits across his suede shoes. Were they as suede as I see them now?

Did the heckling Klingon who attacked me at Glastonbury really run weeping when his spiny cranium fell off?

Did that conga line of inebriates really tip toe off at Watford Junction to ensure the racist drunk remained asleep and missed his stop?

Well, they’re all true now because I can see them in my head. If I squeeze my brain, I might have enough stories to be a taxi driver, now all I need is a driving licence. 

I am off on tour – Eastbourne, Aldershot, Shoreham, Northampton and Croydon are imminent, another 50 dates from Edinburgh to Exeter are here

Cosmic Genome has a new update with Richard Dawkins and Dave Gorman (plus all that is already there, Brian Cox, Helen Czerski and 52 more) details here  

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One Response to Sun Tzu and the Art of Taxi Driving

  1. sam says:

    Strange you never learnt to drive, JG Ballards Crash inspired me to pass driving test. I would be happy to teach you the ways of the road.

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