In one of those many English towns that, like Betjeman’s Slough, is not fit for humans now, I took a taxi from the station to the court in which I was to appear as a witness. If I had been the type, I would have been panic-struck by the notices inside it directed at the poor passenger. I was taking my life in my hands by hiring it.
‘The law requires that you wear your seatbelt,’
‘This vehicle is directly linked to the Police Control Room:’
Where was I, provincial England or Afghanistan? The question of whether the journey – of about five minutes’ duration – was more hazardous for the passenger or for the driver was a moot one.
I was subject to several warnings: for example ‘Making off without payment is an offence.’ But does anyone really need to be told this? Has there ever been anyone in the history of the world who was under the impression that payment for taxi rides taken is optional, and to whom it would come as news that it was illegal to do what taxi drivers know technically as a runner.
Beside this was another notice:
Is it worth it?
To which the answer was an implicit ‘No’:
A local man has just received 5 years in prison
for committing a robbery on a taxi driver.
Quite apart from the fact that the 5 years in prison almost certainly means
2 years, this is a notice of quite dubious morality, for it suggests that, prison sentence apart, it would be worth it to rob a taxi driver and therefore that, if you were a sufficiently skiller robber, you should go ahead and rob him.
But robbery was the least of it. There was yet another notice (apart from the one informing you how much you would have to pay if you vomited in the cab):
Respect your driver
Don’t let you final destination be the police station.
Insults of a racist or religious nature will be prosecuted.
I have never seen such a plethora of warning notices in the cabs of any other country, at least of any country whose language I could make out. What would a foreigner think of all this? Either that the English were the most crude and disorderly people in the world, or that they were so polite that the smallest infraction of etiquette was illegal.
I leave it to my readers to decide which…..