‘My little town blues….’
Well they weren’t melting away exactly. It was more like they were getting the Hell kicked out of them by a Licensed Lunatic who was hammering into the speed bumps on Hornsey Lane as if each and every one of them had crapped in his shoes. The man had no respect for his taxi’s suspension system, let alone my internal organs, and I could almost hear the anti-roll bar screaming under the strain. Or was that noise coming from inside my head?
I had left home 10 minutes earlier, but it seemed like a fortnight. My suitcase was sliding like a drunken tortoise to and fro across the polished taxi floor. On its first few excursions it had chopped at my ankles and I had taken to lifting my feet at cleverly calculated intervals like the steps of some bizarre solo quickstep. Outside was pitch black and empty; inside this strange blazing ballroom the Licensed Lunatic continued to pull the strings and his hapless, exhausted puppet of a passenger danced on.
I breathed a sigh of relief as we reached Highgate Hill. The speed bumps had ended. One mile behind me, and 3,500 more to go.
‘I want to be a part of it…..’
Yes indeed. Assuming of course that the Licensed Lunatic would leave all my parts in good working order. I tightened my hold on the hand grip and peered out into the gloom. At 5.30 am traffic was almost non-existent and we must have touched 60mph as the Licensed Lunatic approached Archway roundabout. He took it as if he’d just been told it was having sex with his wife. It was all too much for my suitcase which was cowering in one corner of the cab like a beached whale. I felt its pain. Onwards we sped towards Camden Town.
It was around this time that the Licensed Lunatic switched on the cab radio. Never was the distraction of ‘Talksport’ more welcome. I fingered my crucifix in gratitude as the calls flooded in. West Ham was robbed. Even my dog could see that was offside. The ref was a disgrace. He should have gone to Specsavers. He should be shot. Or made to work in a dress shop. The Licensed Lunatic guffawed at the wit of it all. But it didn’t slow him down.
A huge covered scaffolding had been erected alongside one side of the concourse at the drop off point at Paddington station, blocking out the emerging daylight, and giving the illusion that I had arrived earlier than I’d left home. Perhaps I had. I proffered a bunch of £10 notes through the open window and chanced my luck with a peek at the Licensed Lunatic. He looked completely normal. Except for the smoke coming out of his ears.
I scurried off on rubbery legs. My suitcase followed with the minimum of effort on my part, as if it had feet of its own (and by God it was going to use them).
I hadn’t got very far when a hand-written sign stopped me in my tracks. The Heathrow Express was not running and we were to find alternative transport. Panic rose in my chest. Dear reader, I need not have feared. From behind an overflowing litter bin, a bell shaped woman enveloped in a corporate uniform and bearing the casual demeanour of a supervisor in a high security correctional institution took immediate control. Pointing her clipboard at me like a fully operational Taser she indicated that I should move no further. Black cabs were in an orderly row to the side of us; and she was organising groups of three or four to share the expense. She went on to state with absolute conviction that my journey would not be disrupted by this regrettable inconvenience.
‘Sir’ she added as an afterthought.
‘top of the heap……………..’
There was as yet no queue. I stood on my own, imagining I was in the line for a Chuck Berry gig. ‘They’re really rocking in Boston….’ Before too long my first taxi sharer appeared. Draped in an immaculate three piece suit, his shoes glistened on the concourse like ripe figs floating on freshly made porridge. His suitcase whispered softly that it had cost more than my entire wardrobe. Refusing to make eye contact, he stood alongside me and began to leaf absently through a copy of the Financial Times. Glancing this way and that he conveyed the impression of a man who had very recently mislaid his chauffeur. Presently travelmate number two appeared. Overweight, perspiring and chewing aggressively he tugged a trunk that had more space than my bathroom. ‘How ya doin?’ he ventured amiably to no one in particular. All my instincts told me it was going to me a fun ride.
Mr Pristine slid into the cab, with his suitcase resting delicately at his feet. I hesitated before entering but I had little choice. Enormoman was engaged in a meaty argument with our cabbie who was adamant (logically so) that the trunk had to go in the front alongside of him. How our sweaty companion heaved and hawed to manoeuvre the brute into place! After several attempts, he slammed the cab door, and with a final huff, climbed into the back, ramming me with not inconsiderable force into Mr Pristine. There I sat, the air being squashed out of me by mounds of flesh on one side and bespoke tailoring on the other.
‘start spreading the news……………..’
I eyed the fold-down seat opposite us, and was about to make my move when there was a tap on the window. An unshaven face grinned inanely at us. Between the cracks of his dry lips were little folds of blood, and his pupils were worryingly dilated. A homeless person maybe? Enormoman wound down the window and I gagged as a strange, foetid odour pervaded our cabin.
’Room for one more?’ the idiot grinned.
‘We’re going to Heathrow not Rehab’ I felt like saying, but didn’t, confident that one of my travel mates would come up with a wittier response. But Enormoman simply opened the door.
‘All helps the cost’ he said as Wildman pulled down the fold-up set and sat facing us, tugging distractedly at his seat belt. He carried no luggage save for an orange Sainsbury’s carrier bag from which protruded a broken umbrella. He was dressed in a shabby tweed jacket, even shabbier trousers, and filthy brown brogues that must have walked straight out of a crime scene. This all topped off with a T shirt that displayed evidence of at least two previous meals and which proclaimed ‘Also Available Sober’.
‘if I can make it there…………….. ’
Off we went. After several minutes of silence I felt emboldened enough to attempt some conversation.
’ Where are you heading’ I asked lightly in the direction of Mr Pristine.
‘Chicago’ he spat.
At least I think that’s what he said. Could have been ‘Go boil your private parts, you bothersome insect’. Undeterred I asked the same of Enormoman.
‘Detroit’ he replied. He made it sound like a military operation that would inevitably incur some collateral damage.
Wasn’t this great! I wasn’t even there and I was already having conversations with real Americans. I looked across to Wildman and prepared my spiel:
‘And you sir, what holds today for you? Gator wrestling in the Everglades? High-rolling in Vegas? Shifting quantities of Class A substances to…………’
Just then a suicidal walker attempted to cross Ranelagh Bridge and the cab swerved 90 degrees into the middle of the road before shuddering to a halt. The trunk rammed itself into the side door and somehow hit the handle causing it fly open and the side of it to poke out like a sort of alien barnacle. Enormoman exited the cab, uttering a range of surprisingly imaginative and truly unpleasant oaths, and attempted to shove it back in. The driver cursed right back but frankly it was a non-contest. Behind us and ahead of us, streams of traffic honked and hooted. Wildman smiled idiotically.
‘I’m leaving today……………..’
We finally set off again with a huge lurch. A quarter bottle of whisky dropped from Wildman’s pocket and slid across the floor. Unperturbed he picked it up and pointed it in my direction.
‘And where are you heading mister?
‘New York’ I said
‘New York! The hell you are!’
I liked this! Boy did I like this!
‘The hell you are’. I would certainly use this. On arrival maybe, with the yellow cab:
‘You going to Manhattan sir?’
‘The Hell I am’
But why wait? I could use it before that, on the plane. Or even as I checked in:
‘You’re flying to JFK today sir’
‘The hell I am lady’
Yes it was all good.
We pulled up outside Terminal Five without much further incident. Mr Pristine, Enormoman and myself all knew we could have picked up the tab and justifiably claimed it as expenses. Wildman was having none of it.
‘You boys run along, I’ll take care of this’.
We nodded our goodbyes and peeled off in different directions. As I stood in line for check- in I saw Wildman sprinting furiously across the concourse heading for passport control, dropping his carrier bag in the process. I was going to the city that doesn’t sleep. And London was waking up with a fellow who hadn’t gone to bed.
A keen chronicler of London life, the Hornsey Hound takes particular pleasure in exploring the capital’s musical connections as well as his neighborhood and the city’s parks and open spaces; and will often document his ramblings. He is also an enthusiastic guitarist, and, at the wag of a tail, will happily engage in lengthy discourse on the brilliance of Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer, Bert Jansch and many, many more.