But about my journey, because I haven’t always been a taxi driver… As I already mentioned I’m from Edinburgh and so is my Dad’s side of the family. I grew up and went to school close to the city centre so the Festival has always been a part of our lives. My high school, “St Thomas of Aquin’s”, was located on the edge of town and our school year starts in August, Festival time. Getting the bus to school took on a whole new meaning and I was fascinated even back then. Edinburgh’s always been on the tourist map but this was different – who were all these people? Where had they come from and why? The number of people milling around was intense, all the street performers at the bottom of The Mound, me and my pals paying equal attention to the other type of talent that adolescents are inevitably interested in. Perfect people-watching territory… this was my summer.
When I left school I got various jobs in sales. When you’re doing well it’s a great job. But if you’re not hitting your targets, you have to watch your back. The first time I was made redundant was at the end of 2008. I wasn’t alone, the whole country was in the midst of recession and people were losing their jobs all around us; the pressure of finding a job, and quickly, was immense. Our baby daughter was just weeks old, our savings had run out, my hugely supportive wife was already back at work then fortunately, just in the nick of time, I secured another job in sales. Yes! Safe again. Or so I thought... We were just starting to get back on track financially, I had a fab company car, my confidence was restored and bam – it happened again. I remember exactly how I felt when I was told – time slowed down, I became numb and disassociated from what my boss was telling me - I could see his lips moving but the words weren’t registering, I could feel the colour draining from my face, my mind I was screaming “noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!” and I felt like I was sinking inside. And so for the second time in a year, I had to go home with my head in my hands to tell my wife I’d lost my job again.
It hit me even harder the second time. The financial pressure was immediate – I hit a personal low when I had to ask to borrow money from my Mum & Dad to support my family. It felt horrible. I’m a grown and proud man, I wanted to support my own family, not have to grovel to family members. I was feeling low and desperate; I even asked my Dad about joining him in being an electrician with the council – if you knew how bad my DIY skills are, you’d realise why that was so bad! It was at this time my Dad suggested studying for my taxi brief. Despite working for the council all his life, my Dad actually has his taxi licence, but he only used in the early years. My Dad worked for Edinburgh council for 50 years, his last project was involvement in the city’s tram infrastructure, the bane of an Edinburgh cabby’s life, but that’s another story!
So I decided to go for it and enrolled at taxi school in April 2010 and I won’t lie, I found it tough. I was an average student back in the day at school but I never enjoyed being there. However I was determined to do this course and carried around cards with me everywhere I went, flicking through street names and highlighting routes on my Edinburgh map at every available opportunity. The exam was in December and I’d put huge pressure on myself to pass so we could buy the kids decent Christmas presents. I never revised for any school exam like I revised for this! But the hard work paid off, I passed, and to top it off, I received my taxi licence for the night shift drive the week before Christmas. It was a very happy Christmas that year.
I’ll never forget my first fare – not because it was a memorable fare but because it was my first. It was a pick-up from the Asda Chesser to Robertson’s Loan - under a mile in distance, which isn’t even a £5 fare – but I was buzzing! I’d got my first fare and taken my customer the most direct route and been paid. Success. I was so nervous I can’t remember if I even spoke to her, I’ve certainly made up for it since though…
I make a point of chatting with all my customers, or at least I try to. Some people just want to switch off when they’re in a cab - watch their iPad, make a phone call, just gaze out the window deep in their own thoughts, which is fine of course. But where possible, I chat to my customers. And for the most part, people like to chat. You’d be amazed at what is divulged to a taxi driver. We’re like an anonymous window of faceless, blameless, unquestioning opportunity where people can ‘dump’ stuff, and then we’re gone. I’ve been used as careers advisor, political advisor, holiday advisor, ‘what part of Edinburgh should I move to next’ advisor and, once, “I’ve put this red dress on but I’ve got this gold one in my bag, which do you think is best?” fashion advisor. I’ve had conversations on the benefits of renewable versus nuclear energy, should Scotland be independent, whether taking the train or plane is quicker from central London to Edinburgh, who’s going to win the Grand National this year and the random ones like “did you know the world is actually flat?”. But my favourite conversation is always when people test me on my considerable and ever-expanding knowledge of our beautiful city of Edinburgh. And during Festival season, there are plenty of opportunities to share that knowledge…
Edinburgh is a superb city, rich in heritage, culture, history and all those things which give a place real depth of character. It’s attractive, diverse, vibrant, and it plays host to twelve major festivals over the course of the year, six of which overlap in the month of August. And that’s when the city propels itself on to the global stage and its population of nearly half a million people practically doubles overnight.
Edinburgh Art Festival, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival and Edinburgh Mela all pretty much happen at the same time. The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, and is the one many of the other festivals incorrectly often get lumped under when people refer to ‘Edinburgh Festival’. Credit where it’s due though, the Fringe crams in over 3,000 shows in under 4 weeks with over 50,000 performances* (*unverified stats Wiki, 2015) so all those visitors have their work cut out deciding which shows to take in. And that’s just the Fringe. People wander around Edinburgh’s streets for hours and days at a time, soaking up the atmosphere. There’s the paid shows, free shows, street performers, impromptu performers, pop-up bars, street stalls and when people are exhausted from their day, that’s when Edinburgh’s cabbies step up to the mark. I can not only take someone where they need to go (often their hotel to refresh!) but I can recommend places to go, places they might not find in their guide book. Inevitably there’s also rain. It is Edinburgh, after all, a city famed for four seasons in one day, and rain is a taxi driver’s best friend.
If August is Edinburgh’s busiest month, then January is the quietest. I remember my first January spending a lot of time waiting at taxi ranks reflecting on the past few years. I’d spent most of my working life to that point in high pressure sales jobs and experienced highs and lows but never felt settled. And now, for the first time in a job, I felt content. I also found strange thoughts entering my head – creative thoughts. This was all new to me – I’d never given myself a chance for that side of the brain to work. Our education system steers us away from creative subjects, we’re encouraged to concentrate on ‘career’ subjects, which are rarely the subjects to get passionate about. But here I was, sat waiting on George Street in the centre of Edinburgh on a Friday at 1am and I was flooded with creativity – ideas, plots, characters and the notion to write. So I kept a notepad in my cab in order to start writing ideas down as they came to me. I decided to save all the £2 coins from my fares in a jar and when I had enough, like an excited schoolboy who’s just saved enough for his first Walkman I drove to the store, with my coins still in the jar, to buy a laptop. I used to meet up with a tutor before a Thursday nightshift and she would give me tips and steers on how to write for stage. I loved writing during those ‘waiting’ periods in my taxi, and out of that time I’ve written a play and many short films based on various crazy characters in my head. Who knows if I’ll end up doing anything with those films, I’m keeping them in my back pocket until the time’s right. It was a revelation that I could write and it gave me confidence to pursue my other creative dream, photography.