I’m going to be poet in residence in a cab firm in Canterbury. Cabco. One of my laureateship duties. What fun! The idea is I spend a couple of Saturdays hanging out at their base, talk to drivers, collect stories and make poems out of them. I need seven more Canterbury tales cos only 23 out of Chaucer’s 30 pilgrims get to tell their story. The Canterbury Tales is an unfinished symphony – the effort killed Chaucer, whose original plan was for each pilgrim to tell 2 tales on the way to Canterbury and 2 on the way back to London. A total of 120 stories. Well, Boccacio did it, why couldn’t he? I’m already behind schedule in trying to write 30 poems in two years and I think it’s about time to go into 5th gear and take on some urban rather than classical myths. The weight of literary tradition can be both liberating and stifling. Having had some brilliant but uncomfortable feedback about my version of The Knight’s Tale, I think it’s time to let my hair down a bit and return to the complete rewrite exploding with creativity.
Anyway, yesterday I spent several hours hanging out at Cabco to get an idea about how I’d get ideas. It wasn’t difficult to get stories. The manager, Rob Jones, could have given me all the tales I need. (He’s currently making a DVD series about how to successfully run a cab business). I also spoke to a couple of cabbies who told me stuff, not just what happened to them but what happened to their fellow cabbies. Some extracts from my notes (haven’t yet listened to interview recordings so a bit sketchy on the details). Not bad for a ‘planning day’:
- Women are worse than men. In what way? Cab sat No 1 in queue (use terminology). Two pretty girls turn up and one asks how much to Faversham (where was it). Cabbie quotes the price. Then she says well how about I suck and she blows and you take us to Faversham. Cabbie says no. She punches him in the mouth and draws blood. Then moves on to No 2 in the queue. Cabbie never finds out what happened but guesses that someone took them on.
- Lots of laughter when asked for stories. They’re not repeatable. Only been doing it five months and there’s so many stories. You wouldn’t believe what people get up to, it’s like a film. *People waking up the wrong bed and having to get a cab quickly. Why, cos they’re having an affair? People not knowing where they are cos they’re so drunk. They might end up in a strange bed and not remember getting there* or fall asleep on the train and miss the last one back. Do you take a drunk fare? Depends how drunk they are. You assess them. If they’re zig sagging they’re very likely to be sick so you don’t take them but if they’re a bit wobbly but reasonably coherent you take them.
- Another cabbie says in eight years he’s only had two people do a runner. No, he wouldn’t bother running after them, not for a small fare. What if it was £100? He’d run them over.
- Couple of cabbies tell of a cabbie chasing after Father Christmas and catching him and sitting on him till the police arrived. (Or am I mixing this one up with the recent one of the cabbie chasing a fare dodger?) Anyway, the father Christmas one is quite funny.
- Another one about doing a runner I might call one in ten. According to Rob about one in thirty try to do a runner (check facts as that seems like quite a lot – wonder what book says). Maybe one in ten are a story. This cabbie, everything happens to him. Or he’s the only one who’d admit it. Anyway, within weeks it happens to him twice: people doing a ‘runner’ in a wheelchair. Or trying to. Both were drunk. The first one had such trouble trying to get up onto the pavement the cabbie gave him a hand and then demanded the fare. The second tried to ‘leg it’ up a steep hill. Got some of the way up then rolled all the way back down. Cabbie was waiting at the bottem for his fare. The hill could be a 1 in 10.