Taxi Noir: Solitary Man
For a good proportion of my adult life I worked alone as a London taxi driver. Not everyone who comes into the cab trade is naturally a loner though. Some people spend three years studying for the Knowledge of London exams, and then find they don’t like the job. Not everyone is fully prepared for the practicalities of solitary working. Some people can’t bear being alone; particularly those who have come from a more sociable job and have enjoyed having people around them for support and companionship.
When I was on the Knowledge over thirty years ago, a cab driver told me that “when something goes wrong, you have to sort it out yourself.” It’s certainly true that you have ultimate responsibility on a job to job basis, but there is usually someone to call on for help when you get into sticky situations. It’s not always face-to-face contact, but there are motoring organisations and garages when the cab breaks down; the police if you pick up a dodgy passenger; the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association to protect your rights and offer advice; and the support of radio circuit staff, cafes and accountants. You can of course strike up friendships with fellow drivers in the cafes and on the ranks. Some drivers seem to spend as much time socialising as they do driving. That’s fine. It was all right for me as I’m comfortable with my own company. Even so, there were times where I needed someone to talk to.
I’ve never experienced the garrulous cab driver of popular imagination, though I’m sure some lonely souls deprived of human contact seek out conversations with their passengers. I was never comfortable with people shouting at my neck through a tiny gap in the partition. Cabs now have an intercom, but in a diesel cab it’s woefully ineffective with the soundtrack of London going on outside. Many passengers plug themselves in to a mobile phone as soon as they enter a cab anyway.
It’s nice to hear a human voice though. Drivers older than me will remember times when cabs couldn’t even be fitted with a radio. Listening to talk radio for eight hours a day was a comfort to me. Even having James O’Brien constantly telling me I was wrong to vote Brexit made the day go quicker.
Whatever job we do, it’s useful to get feedback on our performance. Accept the feedback but use your own judgement. When I was driving a cab I’d know when I’d run a good route; and if I delivered my passengers safely and swiftly to their destination I’d know I’d excelled. An employee would have supervision, appraisal meetings; and you’d have to reach performance targets. With the self-employed, supervision comes from within. I was my own boss, so relied on myself for appraisal on my performance.
The Writer’s Life
The life of a writer is even more solitary. These days everything is emailed and contact with editors and other production staff is rare. You can network with others, but writers are a funny lot – I think most people who live a solitary existence are odd, me included. The best thing about writing is the ability to work while sitting in a pub. Morning drinking is shamefully under-rated in my opinion.
If you can combine work with pleasure over a breakfast at Wetherspoons you are living the dream.
But how do you know if you are producing anything worthwhile? I have a feeling when I’ve written a good piece, but it’s impossible to be objective about your own work. Top authors have their work validated by massive book sales. The majority have to rely on comments from the public. Friends and family won’t give an objective assessment: you have to rely on the opinions of strangers on the far reaches of the internet. We both rely on, and dread, reviews and feedback. In my humble opinion, most writers are vain and sensitive. Anonymous comments can be scary. A bad review can be devastating. I don’t even ask my friends what they think of my book. If they don’t like it, I don’t want to see their face register panic as they struggle to find something positive to say. I’d rather not know.
I stopped driving a cab in March and I’m now looking for gainful employment – preferably not in London. Should any potential employers be reading this, I can assure you that I’m a young and dynamic team player, constantly exceeding targets in a highly pressured environment. If I don’t hear back next week I assume I’ve been unsuccessful on this occasion. Thanks for your interest.