Taxi drivers, a talkative breed

I’ve been taking a lot of taxis lately, shuttling between the hotel, the train station and the client office. And barring one ride the other day that was conducted in complete silence, there’s always been some chatting with the driver. It’s just what you do, and apparently taxi drivers are particularly good at it. Add my natural inclination to chat into the mix, and it’s hardly surprising that sometimes we get on like a house on fire.

My driver today was a case in point. As I discovered later, he is a born-again Christian, and (surprise, surprise) I got into a conversation with him, although this time I had nothing to do with it – I was quietly sitting in my seat reading the Grauniad on my phone when he caught my eye in the mirror and said, without any preliminaries whatsoever, “I learnt something interesting the other day – we’re both related”.

Naturally I was intrigued, because that’s a fairly unusual opening to a conversation, and I said “Do you mean related if we go back far enough in history?” and then we had a chat about mitochondrial DNA and the surprisingly recent existence of Mitochondrial Eve, which was all great fun.

By a happy coincidence, I’m currently reading “The Ancestor’s Tale” by Richard Dawkins, so of course I mentioned that, but I don’t think he was very impressed by my bringing other species into the “we’re all related” fold. (It wasn’t until this point that he mentioned that he was a recently re-converted Christian, so I wasn’t being deliberately antagonistic by bringing Dawkins into the discussion.) However, when I saw his eyebrows go up at the thought of being united with chimpanzees in one merry family, I decided to let it go. Apparently I’m worthy of being related to him, but he draws the line at hairy apes.

There was another trip with another driver, where I took a chance (well, not really much of a chance, given that his name was Mohammed) and wished him “Eid Mubarak”. That became a discussion about creation and evolution, and perhaps I should have just shut up before admitting I was non-religious, which rather shocked him. The conversation then swung around to the existence of God, and the hoary old story of how the universe was too complex to have come into existence spontaneously, but I only had time to slide in a riposte about how equally unlikely it was that God came into existence spontaneously, so that didn’t really solve the problem, but he nodded sagely and said “Ah, but God is eternal and all-powerful!” As I didn’t really have much desire to get into a long theological argument, and more pertinently, since we were at the station, I had to let that one go.

There have been the philosophical ones – the driver who, when I asked him why he had moved to Swindon, sighed heavily and replied “The peaks and troughs of life, mate. The peaks and troughs of life” – the heartwarming ones, the sarcastic ones, the bitter few, the horrific stories about head-on collisions with tractors at night, the tattooed driver who spends her spare time knitting sweaters for her grandchildren, even though “Their mother won’t even bother to dress them in the sweaters, the bitch, excuse my language”, the man who is hoping to give this up and become a train despatcher at Reading, the Polish network engineer who is only doing this until his CCNA is complete, the ex-factory worker who gave up his job to become a stay-at-home dad and bring up his three daughters; each one a different story.

Some taxi rides have been amusing, some dull, some so entertaining that I was sorry to see them come to an end. I’ve discussed cricket, biology, politics, immigration, football, the decline of Swindon as an industrial town, linguistics, sexism, The Eagles, religion and a whole lot of other things I’ve forgotten. I’ve met several taxi drivers repeatedly now, and picked up conversations from a week ago. The discussion are wide-ranging and full of excellent banter, and they certainly make shuttling around Swindon a lot more entertaining than it would otherwise have been.

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