29 January 2009

The real reason

OK. The secret’s out. The real reason I drive a cab is because I like aeroplanes. Looking at them, flying in them, reading about them.

And, being a cabbie means that not only do I get to hang out at Canberra airport where I can watch planes landing, taking off and cruising around looking for a parking slot, I can earn enough money to fly in them every now and then.

Canberra International Airport (otherwise known as CIA) is perhaps a little too grandly named for its primary function, which is being one end of seven domestic air routes, mostly to the other capital cities. There used to be an international service to Fiji some years ago, which operated during the winter months, but that got cancelled due to poor attendance. Every now and then the airport management makes optimistic noises about flights to Singapore or New Zealand or Hobart, but the truth is that with Sydney airport a couple of hours up the road, offering regular services to just about everywhere in the world, Canberra can’t compete.

However, every now and then we get some international flights. If Sydney airport is closed in by weather, we’ll get an occasional diversion, such as the time the London flight came in late at night and sat around on the tarmac for six hours before the exhausted passengers were finally released. Or there will be visiting heads of state in colorful official jets.


It’s always worth while looking over at the RAAF VIP Squadron base on the other side of the main runway. Yesterday, I spotted an aging DC-9 in United States Navy livery, and while I was snapping telephoto photographs through the heat haze, there was a tremendous noise and a USAF KC-10 tanker aircraft landed. Presumably they will fly back home together, because there is no way a DC-9 could make it back over the Pacific alone.

The other aircraft in the background of the photograph above is one of Australia’s VIP transports, a Boeing Business Jet used to fly the Prime Minister and his media staff around. I suspect that we’ve used the same aircraft livery consultant, or maybe we bought some surplus aeroplane paint from the Americans.

26 January 2009

Aussie Cabbie

Australia Day, the 26th of January, commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet at what is now Sydney in 1788. Nowadays it’s a holiday, new citizens are sworn in, lord mayors make speeches, concerts are held on outdoor stages and the day finishes with a firework display.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did his bit for political solemnity by naming an Aboriginal Australian as Australian of the year. Mick Dodson promptly bit the PM on the bum by stating that the day should be moved to another date, because Aboriginal Australians regard the date as Invasion Day, a day of mourning for the original occupants of the land.

A bit rich, considering that 95% of todays Aboriginal Australians have European or Asian ancestors and wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for their grandparents, but let’s not spoil a good Aussie whinge.

I wore my Australian flag tie, copping a few smiles and comments. Always nice to dress up a bit, at least as much as a cabbie uniform allows.

With the major Canberra celebration occurring on the weekend, in the form of a major free concert outside Parliament House, I was about as patriotic as it got today. I picked up a couple of young women with Australian flags on their cheeks, but as far as I could make out, they were Swedish tourists.

A few cars were flying Australian flags on plastic mountings, and here and there a green and gold t-shirt could be seen. But we’re not like other countries, making a meal out of national pride. You get more patriotic clothing and noises out of sporting contests than anything remotely political. Americans often have a flag flying outside their houses, but in Australia to have even a flagpole is a sign that there is something deeply wrong with the resident.

Americans make a fuss over presidential inaugurations, but in Australia, heads of state and heads of government are sworn in at private ceremonies in Government House. Maybe we’ll see a press photograph, maybe not. Nobody cares or waves a flag.

I finished my shift by taking a shortcut past Old Parliament House, now a museum. Across the road is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a motley collection of shacks and campfires, manned on a casual basis by people from the Sydney slum suburb of Redfern. The so-called embassy purports to represent the ancient sovereignty of Australia before European settlement, and the occupants want a treaty, their own state, massive reparations, freedom from taxation, rental income from ordinary Australians and special reserved seats in Parliament.

Most Aboriginal Australians live in cities, and are indistinguishable from the rest of the population, but the few who maintain a remnant of their tribal lives exist in small settlements remote from services, ridden with violence, drugs, sickness and crime. The most violent place on Earth, outside a warzone, is Palm Island in Queensland, an Aboriginal settlement with an economy almost entirely funded by government benefits.

In contrast to the sad and mixed remnants of the first Australians, I cannot help but think of the refugees who came here after the end of the Vietnam War. After sailing in leaky fishing boats through pirate waters, those that made it to Australia landed with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

A feature of citizenship ceremonies ever since, they and their children are the best investment Australia ever made. Doctors, lawyers, academics, solid business owners, they have set an example of hard work, devotion to study and attention to civic responsibility.

Successive waves of immigration have made Australia a melting pot and a rich stirfry of cultures. Nowadays we eat Thai tucker with chopsticks, flock to late-night kebab takeaways, and swoon over fresh naan bread in Indian restaurants. I need only look at my fellow taxidrivers to see the direction in which Australia is heading. We’re a world in microcosm and all the better for it.

I wear my Australian flag tie with pride. The British Union Jack features prominently, but, like our British heritage, it is fading. Within a generation we’ll likely have a new flag, a constitution that doesn’t have the British monarch playing a leading role, and a stronger confidence about our place in the world.

We’ve had our unpleasant moments, to be sure, but when I look at my nation, I see a peaceful land where riots are rare, civil war unknown, and all transitions of power are peaceful. Our American cousins might have begun their nation with a revolution, but we started with a signature. They had a bloody civil war, we had the Sheffield Shield cricket competition.

And may we keep it that way.

24 January 2009

My pleasure

Last night’s shift began on a high and I kept smiling all the way through. A normal enough Friday shift, and by normal I mean rest-of-the-year normal, not month-of-Sundays-January normal. There was plenty of work, and I was well into the afternoon rush, shuttling passengers to the airport.

Once again, the airport road system has changed, so that was an added challenge. Paul, my day driver, has been telling his passengers that the new layout is a joint venture between the airport and the taxi industry to make the trip as long as possible, and honestly the roads in and out are the most appalling series of loops and zig-zags and detours.

I dropped my passenger at the terminal, and headed back into the city empty. Once I was clear of the roadworks, my phone rang. The young lady on the other end identified herself as a Qantas representative, and while I was wondering about the various reasons for Qantas to call me, she totally floored me, telling me I’d won a prize in a travel writing competition.

This was a competition I’d entered well before Christmas, and after looking at the vast quantity and quality of the other entries, displayed online, I’d given up hope that my modest little piece about Guernsey had any chance at all.

But apparently it had ranked ninth, giving me a shot at one of the twelve prizes on offer. I’ll have my choice of four weekends away at an Australian resort, and a condition of accepting the prize is that I have to write and submit a 500 word article on the weekend, with photographs and video footage shot on the Nikon camera which comes as part of the prize.

“Ooooh, with pleasure!” I sighed into the phone.

So I’ll be a guest writer for Qantas’s Travel Insider e-magazine, once I return from the weekend, which I’ll have to take in the next three months. Maybe this will be a shot at a new career - taxidriving is a job I love, but travelling the world and getting paid to do it, well it just doesn’t compete, does it?

We’ll see. Writing tight, focussed articles for professional publication is a long way from my usual rambling style.

The photograph above is of St Peter Port in Guernsey. A darling little town and it was no trouble at all to write a paragraph about it. The hard part was keeping it down to the 250 words required by the competition terms.

The Qantas lady congratulated me again, the call ended, and I pulled into a government office building to collect a public servant for her trip to the airport. She must have wondered why she had the happiest cabbie on earth as her driver!

22 January 2009


Some nights I do things I’m not proud of. But my work isn’t entirely delightful old ladies flirting with the cabbie, or returning tourists swapping travel tales. Sometimes I have to put the driver ahead of the passenger.

Thursday night. It’s what they call “Uni Night”, and the clubs in Civic cut their prices to attract customers who would otherwise stay at home. Not the after-work drinkies of Friday, nor the solid frenzy of Saturday, Thursday night is Uni Night, and it’s when the cheap drunks go out on the town.

The drinks are half price, and this means two things. First is that some people drink twice as much as normal. Second is that the cheapskates drink the regular amount. Either way, they are not necessarily the sort of people I want in my cab.

You get a better class of drunk on Friday. People with money in their wallets. People who can handle their grog. People who can carry on a civil conversation. Mind you, as the night progresses, the drunks become increasingly ratty, but on Friday, they start from a high base, and by the time I finish up at three in the morning, they aren’t too bad.

Tonight there’s been thunderstorms hanging around. I scored at the airport early on. A young lady got in and said “Dunlop”. That’s about as far west as you can get in Canberra, with the state border only a couple of hundred metres away. Nice long fat fare and it’s freeway most of the distance. Once I dropped her off, I headed in to “Bernies From the Bay”, a fish and chip shop at Charnwood. Not healthy tucker, but they do a very good grilled fish and chips. Especially the hand-cut chips.

I ate my dinner outside, under the awning, just as a storm came through and dumped a lake full of water on Canberra. Luckily I was sheltered enough not to worry, but Lord, what a deluge!

I finished my meal and followed the storm all the way back to the airport, spectacular lightning strikes ahead of me, puddles on the road, the setting sun lighting up the landscape under the dark clouds. Spectacular.

I did a few airport jobs and when the planes stopped landing, hit the main Civic rank. By half past one, I was dubious. There was a long line of cabs on the rank and the drunks were looking very ratty.

Two young men got in and gave an address in one of the northern suburbs. The guy beside me was fine. He was almost sober, in fact, but his mate in the backseat was gibbering. Calling me names, talking at random, telling me how drunk he was.

We pulled up at the sober bloke’s apartment block and he paid me with a generous tip, while his sozzled mate got out and gave the flower beds a watering. Then he climbed back in for the second half of the trip, out to Gungahlin. The address he gave sounded implausible, he was extremely drunk, his financial status was uncertain, and he’d cranked the window down - never a good sign.

“Just pull into the servo, willya? I need some fags.”

The good old cigarette stop for the nicotine addict. Every cabbie knows it well.

Every cabbie reading this also knows what was on my mind, as I pulled in beside the service station for my passenger to get out and buy his cigarettes.

He left the cab door open, but that was no problem. I gave him maybe ten seconds and hit the gas, the door swinging shut as I peeled back out onto the road. He came back out and peered forlornly after me, but I was too far away and moving too fast.

I’m allowed to refuse people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so I was within my rights. I’ve spent far too much time and money on passengers who fall asleep, throw up, run away without paying, abuse the driver, leave rubbish in the cab or some combination of the above. I’d had a very good look at this guy, and as well as being very drunk, he was pressing all the wrong buttons with me.

I don’t feel good about leaving him stranded, but then again he was on the main shipping routes of Canberra’s cab world, and he wouldn’t have waited too long before finding a less wary cabbie.

Or walking home. I sure hope he didn’t try walking home, because about fifteen minutes after I left him, there was a second rainstorm, dropping another Sydney Harbour’s worth of water on Canberra.

Just as I was taking the cab through the carwash to remove the mud spatters from the first storm. I’d had enough of ratty drunks and I deserved an early night.

21 January 2009

The heat of heart

I ended my shift early last night, stocked up on hot dogs, sarsaparilla (another name for root beer, apparently) and Oreos, and staked out a position on the couch for the Obama inauguration. The Good Morning America coverage began with a shot of the Mall just as the first rays of the morning sun were lighting the tip of the Washington Monument, and already the space was crowded, with streams of people flowing in. By noon it was a solid mass of onlookers, all there to be a tiny part of history.

The GMA crew interviewed the spectators, asking, “Who has the most layers of clothing?” It was cold. Cold with windchill.

I’ve been there. I’ve walked through a bitter pre-dawn in Washington DC, and I’ve crunched across the Mall covered in fresh snow. That was exactly four years ago, the day after the second Bush inauguration, so I knew exactly how cold it was for the swelling crowd.

My wife and I had the city to ourselves then, and we spent a sparkling afternoon exploring the Smithsonians and marvelling at the wealth of art in the glittering halls of the National Art Gallery. But eventually the early twilight drove us outside, where we looked for a place to hail a cab. Most of the street was lined with parked cars, but outside an impressive building on Constitution Avenue, there was a clear space, albeit lined with the ugly cement barricades that have sprouted like toadstools in the years following the 9/11 attacks. I set down my heavy tote bag with a sigh of relief and in a few moments a cab drew up beside us, just as I became nervously aware of the approach of a couple of uniformed security guards. Heavily armed security guards.

We hustled inside the cab and sped off.

“Crikey,” I said to the cabbie, a silver haired gent, “What’s the story there?”

“That the Department of Justice,” he replied. “They antsy over Gitmo.”

Guantanamo Bay, where terrorist suspects were detained, had been the subject of some fairly high-level protesting in the weeks before our visit, so I guess that anybody carrying a bulky bag might arouse suspicions. After all, Washington itself had been attacked in 2001, and there were good reasons to be antsy.

The cab itself was an old model. Beautifully clean and tidy, but definitely showing the signs of a long life as a hack. I learnt later that the tax regime made it uneconomical to buy new vehicles, so cabs were operated until they fell apart, and this one didn’t have long to go.

We rattled through an intersection and I nudged my wife. “Look, the White House!”

“Yeah,” said the cabbie, “they got the wrong guy in there.”

We chatted the rest of the way to the hotel. He was interested in Australia, and we told him about the wildlife and the climate, stressing that we didn’t see much snow there. In fact it was summer right now, and we’d come straight from 30 degree heat to this snowy, subzero environment.

“Might move there,” he mused. “Might marry up one of them native girls, hey?”

We assured him that there was always room for taxidrivers in Australia, and gave him a small tip when he dropped us off at our hotel.

So when I saw Washington DC last night, looking frosty in the winter air, and joyous in the atmosphere of celebration, I remembered my own first fond impressions. Compared to Canberra, it’s a very different city, but there are similarities - the broad ceremonial avenues, the grand public institutions, the monuments and memorials. It’s a place where I can feel at home on the far side of the world.

“Aren’t you cold?” asked the television interviewer of one lovely old black woman, showing all her teeth in a fabulous smile.

“No, honey, I got my heart to keep me warm.”

There were a lot of happy hearts in Washington. A million strong, they thumped away and surged with excitement when Obama came out to take the oath. The sight of that sea of flags waving in a joyous tumult was unforgettable. I wish I was there, to share the excitement, to wave a flag, to feel the warmth of history and a glorious new dawn.

And somewhere, maybe in that crowd, maybe parked on a side street, listening on his cab radio, I am sure that there was one very happy cabdriver.

20 January 2009

Time for change

I’ll be giving myself an early mark tonight, ending my shift before midnight to drive home for the broadcast from Washington. I’ve got some hot dogs, buns, onions, American mustard and for dessert, Oreos. I’ll see if I can find a bottle or two of root beer, but it’s hard to come by in Australia. I can always fall back on Pepsi, I guess.

Four years I got into Washington just after the second Bush inauguration, and it was a cold old town. Bleak in the snow, ice covering the Potomac, and homeless finding shelter amongst the grand monuments. But there were shops chock full of unsold red white and blue caps, buttons, scarves and nosewarmers. In the days afterwards I virtually had the place to myself, examining the Hope Diamond at leisure, and sharing the “Rotunda of the Charters of Freedom” with only a handful of other visitors, despite the fact that all of the grand institutions in which I rattled around were clearly set up for thousands.

This time around, there are going to be millions of visitors. Whole communities are hiring buses for the drive in. They want their piece of history. Washington will be a city buzzing with excitement, and I wish the local cabbies, creaky old black gentlemen every one of them, a windfall profit.

In Canberra, it’s hot and quiet. You could fire a cannon down any main road and not hit anybody except maybe a lonely cabbie looking for pedestrians.

There’s a bit of work available, but what is it with everybody in January? Does nobody have anything smaller than a fifty dollar note?

I start out with a float in my money bag. Two twenties, two tens, two fives and whatever coins I can cram into my dispenser, usually heavier on the silver than the gold one and two dollar pieces. I might have a few notes as a reserve in my wallet.

The first passenger offering a fifty I welcome with a smile. But the average fare is fifteen dollars and giving change for that wipes out half my float. Still, it can’t be helped, and I tuck away the golden yellow bill, known as a “pineapple” for its colour.

The second is greeted with a groan and the third pineapple just reams me out completely. I’m reduced to making change in handfuls of coins.

My wife doesn’t help. She raids my wallet for cash before departing for work, and at the rustle of notes I’ll wake from a sound sleep, muttering “take the fifties, take ‘em all, just leave me the little ones!”

Yes, it’s true - I love the little five and ten dollar notes with a passion. Give me a thick wad of the small notes and I’m the happiest cabbie that lived, but if I have a fistful of fifties, I’m haggard and wary, looking suspiciously over at my passengers as we near the end of the ride.

Which, of course, brings me to the classic old taxidriver story.

A late night cabbie, much like myself, was cruising the streets when he spotted someone flagging him down. Just an arm frantically waving, and a desperate face peering around the corner of a hedge.

He drew up to the curb and a stark naked woman raced across the footpath, flung open the door and dived into the back seat.

“Thank god you stopped,” she said. “The wife came home at the wrong time and I didn’t have a moment to...”

She stops as she realises the cabbie hasn’t driven off yet, and in fact is staring at her through the rear vision mirror.

“What’s the matter?” she snaps. “Haven’t you ever seen a woman before?”

“Well, yes,” the cabbie says slowly, “but I was just wondering how you intended to pay the fare.”

She leans back and opens her legs. “Will that do?”

“Awww, geez lady, don’t you have anything smaller?”

18 January 2009

A month of Sundays

January is the month Canberra cabbies hate. It's the middle of summer and it seems that everyone but the taxidrivers are off on holiday. Long days and nights waiting on motionless cab ranks, reading newspapers.

"It's great for passengers," I tell people more used to long delays, "and that's the main thing, isn't it?"

Happy passengers equals happy cabbie, I say to myself, but there are limits. Much as I enjoy taxidriving, when I check the meter and it comes out to something like five dollars an hour after tax for a job with no leave or benefits, I have to wonder.

Come February, it will all change. Schools start up again after the break, the defence academies will be loaded up with cadets, the public service returns to life, and then Parliament will resume, overloading the taxi system once again.

It’s boom or bust in Canberra, and January is bust. The morning and afternoon peaks have disappeared. Normally there’s a period of a two or three hours where I’ll be offered more work than I can possibly take, usually taking people to the airport to catch the evening flights out. For two hours I’ll be running a shuttle service to and from the airport, and I won’t have a moment to scratch myself. Then it dies down and I’ll find somewhere around six o’clock to have my dinner.

January, I sign on and look at the statistics screen. There’s a flood of taxis booked solid into every despatch area, and a scattered few fares or upcoming jobs. From the moment I book into an area, I’m competing with other hungry cabbies. I’m eating my dinner at four, contemplating a long wait for my next fare.

Lately, I’ve been watching movies on my iPhone during the slow times. Movies and books and newspapers - January cabbies have to be patient.

15 January 2009

Sleeping on the job

People ask me about the worst parts of the job. “Picking up the drunks on Fridays and Saturdays?” they suggest, but no, it’s the kangaroos that give me the most stress. They jump out in front of you without warning, and can do a great deal of damage. Occasionally they kill people, especially if they go through the windscreen.

“But don’t you have trouble with drunks?” they ask. Well, yes, but not in the way one might think. The chap above is a textbook example of the sort of drunk that gives me the most trouble.

I spotted him in the early hours of Thursday morning, dozing on one of the bus shelter benches at the main Civic rank. These benches are designed to deter sleepers, having low armrests which make it impossible to stretch out. This chap would doze off, wobble left and right until his head was dangling like a ripe plum, and then the discomfort would jerk him upright again. Amusing to watch, and as I had a moment to spare, I pulled out my camera to take a couple of photographs.

A couple of reasons why he wouldn’t make a good passenger. First, he was obviously very drunk. When people don’t feel comfortable staying upright, they are a good chance to throw up in the cab. Secondly, he was obviously sleepy, and when a passenger goes to sleep in the cab, it can be very hard work indeed to wake them up again. Thirdly, he was hanging around the cab rank on a quiet night. If he wanted to get home, why didn’t he just get in a cab and go home?

I moved up to the head of the rank and picked up a fare. Just a short one, but that’s the chance you take. Sometimes you get a fare to a distant suburb, sometimes to a hotel a few blocks away. It all evens out.

When I got back to the rank, it was after two in the morning and I was starting to think about getting the car gassed up, cleaned out and home for the day driver. One more fare would make my night.

A couple of young women headed towards me, but were intercepted just shy of the cab by a friend and after some discussion, they disappeared. Half past two and I was on the verge of giving up for the night when the door opened and the sleepy subject of my photograph above slipped in beside me.

He named a suburb near Woden, and then must have keyed off the expression on my face. “I’ve got money to pay,” he assured me.

I generally find that when passengers have the money to pay the fare they don’t bother to tell me up front. It’s just assumed.

Anyway, he was in my cab and the fare was a reasonable one, so I headed off.

“Bit cold in here.”

I cranked the heat up. Big mistake. A few minutes into the ride and he was nodding again. I asked him for his address, just to make sure.

A minute later he was fast asleep, but I figured that I could wake him up on arrival. Usually turning the airconditioning on full blast and putting the sound up to extreme is enough.

It wasn’t, not this time. He was out for the count. Shouting at him didn’t produce so much as the flicker of an eyelid.

At that point my chance of a good result dropped to zero. I’m not going to touch a sleeping passenger. Not if they are an attractive young lady, and not if they are a tattooed young man in football kit.

I put the car into gear and headed for the police station, luckily only a few minutes away. It took me a bit of time to stir the police on duty into action, but eventually they came out to me, pulling on gloves.

It took them a few minutes, pushing on my passenger’s chest and speaking very loudly to him, before he came around. They found his wallet - empty - and looked at me.

“I’ve got to be on the northside in five minutes,” I said. “He’s got no money, and he’ll just fall asleep again.”

“We’ll get him home,” they promised.

So they took him off my hands, and I cleared the meter of the thirty three dollar fare. That’s sixteen-fifty straight out of my pocket, not to mention half an hour of my time.

Luckily I’ve got an understanding day driver, who merely smiled at my story when I delivered the car late and unwashed.

09 January 2009

Taxi TV

If there’s one thing I like about cabdriving, it’s listening to other cabbies. Every cabbie has a stock of stories about life in the city, late night people, love and lust and all of the other sins. It’s a never-ending drama full of bit players and the occasional star.

“Every single shift is different,” said Gerard Donaghy, one of three cabbies invited onto an evening talk show a couple of years back. The host, no slouch at telling stories, just sits back and lets them go at it. It’s marvellous reading, and it must have been great television. The transcript is full of marvellous phrases, pungent and provocative.

...being a cabbie is, kind of like, you don't have to travel the world, the world comes to me...
...you become, like, a Liberal Socialist Communist Buddhist...
...late at night you get a bit aroused...
...I thought I'd turn on the interior light. Well after that, I turned it on, there was a massive loud scream. Very loud scream....
.... it went off in the back seat and it was all up the side of my ears and down the back of my shirt. It was on the windscreen...

Marvellous material. I wish that I could record some of the stuff that goes on in my cab. Have a button I could push to save the last half hour of security camera footage. Most of the time it’s talking about the weather, or listening to girls talk about boys, or boys talk about the footy, but every now and then there’s a few moments you’d like to bottle up and keep forever.

Which is why I keep a blog, I guess.

04 January 2009

Cabbie fun

A guy in a taxi wanted to speak to the driver so he leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder.
The driver screamed, jumped up in the air and yanked the wheel over. The car mounted the curb, demolished a lamppost and came to a stop millimetres from a shop window.
The startled passenger said “I didn’t mean to frighten you, just wanted to ask you something.”
Taxi driver says “Not your fault Sir. It’s my first day as a cab driver; I’ve been driving a hearse for the past 25 years”.

A cabbie classic that one. The cartoon is closer to home. Things go wrong with cabs all the time. Especially with some of the older cabs, a million kilometres on the clock and years of life left in them. Bits rattle loose, one speed bump too many, passengers tinkering with the moving parts, or just old age sneaking up on cab and cabbie alike.

And what’s a night driver to do when the workshop is closed, the defect isn’t serious, and there’s people lined up to be driven home? Naturally, the 24-hour servo is the handy-dandy patchit shop, and a roll of duct tape is just the thing to hold a wobbling wing mirror straight. Next time you load your bags into a taxi boot, check out the corners. Like as not there’ll be a couple of elastic straps, the kind with hooks on the ends, tucked away somewhere. You can hold a cab together with octo straps, and if there’s more luggage than the boot can easily contain, just pile it in and use the straps to hold the boot lid down on the trip.

Had to laugh the other day. Driving up Commonwealth Avenue towards Parliament House, and there’s a ratty old Holden Commodore parked on the median strip, a gaggle of young guys standing glumly around. The car had obviously been in a recent shunt, because the front end was slightly bent, bonnet buckled, bumper missing. But obviously drivable, because the bonnet was held on by about a kilometre of duct tape. Checking under the hood would be a major (and expensive) exercise.

My guess is that the lads had come to Canberra to attend the annual Summernats car festival, a three day event where young men spend all their money on petrol, junk food, beer and birds. They head back home on the Sunday, sunburnt a blistering red and running on the last fumes of their credit cards.

Naturally, the local police call in all their reserves for this weekend, which they spend cruising up and down looking for galahs. They haul them over by the dozens, breath-testing drivers, issuing defect notices, speeding tickets. This car held together by tape wouldn’t have lasted long.

I would have stopped to take a photograph, but I had a passenger beside me, and so the opportunity was mist.

My cab’s safe for the weekend. The owner called in my day driver last week, giving us three new tyres and replacing some burnt-out lights. We’re street-legal again.

The cartoon and joke above courtesy of the Irish Taxi website, though I suspect that the cartoon was borrowed from somewhere else. Africa, Ireland, Australia, cabs and cabbies are pretty much the same the world over.

03 January 2009

Happy cappie

There I was in St Malo, fresh off the boat from Guernsey, where I'd bought a fair dinkum guernsey. A thick blue woolen jumper as worn by Guernsey fishermen for centuries, and now sold to tourists. A lovely warm garment, but I was feeling very self-conscious, so when Kerri suggested I buy one of the Breton fisherman caps, as sold in every single one of St Malo's many souvenir shops along with the chocolate fish and the wooden lighthouses, I declined.

Since then, I've gone through a Canberra winter loving my guernsey. If there's a nip in the air, I snuggle into its baggy blue comfort.

So happy am I with it, that I'm sorry I didn't buy a Breton fisherman cap to go with it. Next time, I told myself. Brittany is a long way to go for an item of headwear, but well worth the trip.

Williamstown last week, and we (Ken and his charmant parents) had just finished lunch, settling it down with a walk along the Gem Pier. While the older two ventured aboard the museum ship HMAS Castlemaine - "They served aboard during the battle of Jutland!" I yelled from the pier, hoping to score them a discount and maybe a quick spin around the bay - and Ken remained perforce ashore in his wheelchair, I went back to move the car to a better position.

On the way, I noticed that the maritime historical society was having a sale and of course, I stuck my nose in. A half price brass divers helmet us still enough to put a dent in even the boldest credit card, but amongst the t-shirts and compasses I noticed a pile of dark blue caps. Breton fisherfolk caps. Half price!

I'm sorry now that I didn't buy two, but I guess I can always go back.

It will go well with my guernsey, but I also had my Silver Service uniform in mind. I like a cap or hat to cover my bald spot in sun and cold and the official wide brimmed uniform slouch hat is quite impractical in a car. Other drivers wear non- uniform baseball or flat caps, but I hadn't seen anything that I truly loved.

Until now.

I felt a little self-conscious at first, especially when other drivers pulled up alongside and peered curiously in at me, but all my worries evaporated when on of the older drivers smiled and said, "That is one righteous cap!"