Friday, December 10, 2010

The curious incident of the black ties and the fake taxi.

By Andrew Laws

A very odd thing happened to me in London last week, but this tale would be short and uninteresting if I was to tell you exactly what happened here in the opening paragraph of this story, so please indulge me for a moment and allow me set the background to this curious incident for you…

Occasionally my work takes me to places friends and associates would be most surprised where they to see me in.  Last week I was the official photographer for a prestigious Annual Dinner event in central London; it was for a client whom I have been working with for a very long time.  In fact this was the tenth time I have donned a dinner jack and Dickie bow and joined my client (and about six hundred of their guests) for a sit down slap up meal, an informative speech and some chuckles fed from a comedian.

Usually at these events nothing more is required of me than to sit, eat, nod appreciatively (regardless of my lack of comprehension of the speeches) and let loose a few barrages of belly laughter during the comedian’s spot, but this year I was asked to be the photographer.  If you know me then you’ll know this isn’t as strange as it firsts sounds – I am a professional photographer but my quarry is usually music related.  A room full of ladies in fancy dresses and gentlemen in matching black dinner jackets provided what could charitably be called a ‘new challenge’ to my photographic abilities.

After I had spent several hours capturing the ‘essence’ of the evening the meal had been devoured, the speeches had been spoken and when the assembled lubricated hoards had moved from the huge dining room to the huge bar/ drinking/ mingling area I declared my job done and took myself outside for a smoke.  Those of you who know me (in addition to knowing that I’m a photographer) will also know that I don’t smoke, well not normally, not really, not very often, at all, honest guv.

I made my way to the grand side entrance of the hotel hosting us and braved the ice and snow to shiver up a roll-up.  Because I have been associated with this particular client for more years than I care to tell you many of the guests know me, and my time outside was full of ‘hellos’ and ‘long time no sees’.  So when one middle-aged gentleman in a long jacket approached me and asked for a light I thought nothing of it.

As this long-jacketed gentleman started chatting to me a few things made me suspicious that he may not have just enjoyed the three courses, fine wines and small after-dinner chocolates the rest of the folk present had.  He wasn’t wearing a dinner jacket or black tie so you could call that the first clue that he was not ‘one of us’, and the fact that he was asking those exiting if they needed a taxi was the final and more revealing clue.

We exchanged polite nothings for a few minutes, me in my particular accent, and he in an accent originating some way ‘south of the river’.  His car was parked at the kerb and when he fetched a scarf from the boot I noted that his taxi licence plate was conspicuous by its absence.  That would go some way to explaining why guests at this dinner were not keen to take him up on his offer of a lift.  I guess there are many folk in London who try their luck at earning an additional income by offering their services as unlicensed cabbies in the evenings, and as this chap wittered on about nothing in particular my mind set itself to wondering what his day job might be.

My cigarette ran its course and as I turned to return to the warmth of the crowd indoors this man lent towards me and raised his eyebrows in a conspiratorial fashion that made it clear he much desired my attention for a moment longer.

“’Ere, are you ‘ere wiv your girlfriend?”

I replied that I was not, and went on to explain that I am happily married, but on this occasion I was not lucky enough to have my ken graced with the presence of my darling wife.

“You want company?”

I politely declined the offer and left he who made it to enjoy the night air without me.  As I wandered through the throng to the bar I smiled to myself – now I knew what this unsuccessful unlicensed cabby did for a day job; he’s obviously an accountant.  What a damning exposé of the affects of the current financial climate though; how hard are times for accountants that they are forced to approach total strangers and offer to incorporate companies for them!