Monday, 23 February 2009


Crushed: “Ouch. I suppose one thinks of Taxi driver, immediately.”

Paul W. was the night-controller, possibly the most thankless and gruelling job in the entire driving business. A compulsive gambler, he was one of the toughest guys you’d ever hope to meet. He was also trying hard to reduce his life-span by smoking Capstan full strength at the rate of forty a night - a brand which I thought no longer even existed. Nor was it surprising in the circumstances. The types he had to deal with confounded every expectation. It was difficult to imagine a more polyphonous lot. Paul always rose to a crisis.

Genius is an ambivalent term, but it somehow approximated his ability to do justice to everyone. Here the happy accident of being an ex-market trader stood
him in good stead. He was a veritable switchboard, capable of instant calculations and astonishing feats of memory. He was also a brilliant talker with a gift for repartee and an extraordinary semantic ability. He would
communicate in every jargon, tongue or vernacular ever devised by man. Like so
many gregarians of his type, he thrived on pressure. There was an acute cerebral
intensity in his intellectual make-up. He was one of the most alert and
perceptive men I had ever met. As a controller he was remarkable. Not just
because of his microchip memory, but because he had infinite patience with his
drivers, such as Tutu, a quiet mathematical student from Delhi with brooding
looks and tragic eyes.

There was but one stipulation: Don’t screw up!

‘There are only two things you have to remember,’ Paul W. invariably
admonished his new recruits. ‘Never fall asleep behind the wheel, and always pay
your rent on time.’

No other references required.

‘You are now a fully licensed cab-driver. God help us all!’

(Paul Wyfield now runs a fruit & veg stall in Covent


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