Last week I spent a few days in Madrid. Having lived in Barcelona for a couple of years a while back, and perhaps having been influenced by all the usual moaning that goes on between the peoples of those 2 cities, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been to Madrid once before, but so many years ago. Plus, on that occasion we spent most of the time in the bar under my friend’s apartment, so I couldn’t really recall that much of it anyway…
This time round though, pulled there by fate, I got the full experience. What a city. I was lucky enough to have an amazing guide, who was kind enough to take me to some wonderful places. Strolling around the winding streets, looking up at the beautiful facades and colourful balconies, and beyond to moonlight sky, I felt myself slowing falling for the city. Drowning in it. Aided by the great company and red wine, obviously. Curiously, it appears that no matter where you are in Madrid, you can always see the moon. Or rather, she can always see you; I felt that she was silently looking down on me, radiant and benevolent. It was perfect.
So anyway, it was great. Arriving back in a freezing, wet London, and having only slept about 8 hours in 3 days, I decided, rather extravagantly, to take a taxi home. Otherwise it was take a bus, to catch a train, to get to the underground, to walk home from the station, and really, that wasn’t going to happen. Though, looking back on what the journey had in store for me, perhaps the train would have been a better option…
The driver was a huge, massive sheikh guy in a turban, who insisted in helping me with my ‘luggage equipment’ (a small holdall), before ushering me ceremoniously into the back of his black cab. Sitting inside, listening to something I can only describe as taxi jazz, I realised I was surrounded by a bizarre mix of stuffed animals and mythical beasts – dogs, bears, toucans and dragons to a few. “For the children to play”, he informed me from the rear-view mirror. “Oh, I see” I answered back, rather non-committedly. I wasn’t in the mood for talking; I just wanted to drift through the dark city, listen to the jazz and hug the biggest of the stuffed toys I could find – a large green dog, with a furry tongue lolling out on one side. The taxi driver had other ideas. He was dying to talk. I could see him, glancing eagerly into his mirror, trying to catch my eye, attempting to engage.
After about 5 minutes, he could contain it no more. He moved to attack. “So, you like Facebook?”. Hmm – hardly a Réti Opening. I paused, considering how best to deflect his assault. “No, I don’t really use it. I’m always too busy. It’s a bit of a waste of time”. I had hoped to shame this grown, hard working man into silence, but he wasn’t having any of. “Me neither” he parried, and drove on “It’s my wife, she’s always on it. Are you married? Mate”.
This was a clever move. By answering, I was accepting the moniker, ‘Mate’, thus allowing him closer. This was no ordinary conversationalist. I was dealing with a skilful opponent.
Again I paused, this time not thinking, but just letting his words hang in the air. 5 seconds, 10. Letting the ‘mate’ evaporate as much as possible, without being rude. Then, bang! A ‘No’, followed up by a slow, deliberate turning of the head to stare out of the window. I held my breath. If he was on his game, he would know I was bluffing. The window had misted up on the inside, reducing visibility to zero. And besides, we were on the M1 by Luton… hardly window gazing territory. It worked though. Perhaps he thought he’d hit a nerve, and shouldn’t have got so personal so soon, but gradually a steady silence descended on the cab. The jazz washed over me, and resting my head against ‘Vernon’ (as I had now named the giant stuffed dog) my eyes slowly began to close. My mind began to drift back to Madrid; the voices, the smell of olive oil, of weed being smoked in the street, of stupid conversations and the taste of a freshly poured copa..
“Eii, you’ve never guess who was in the back of here, just last week” my verbal assailant rasped suddenly, smashing into my revere, shaking me awake.. “Go on guess”. I sighed. I was finished. I had no energy left to stay silent. He’d played the long game, and now he had me beat. I had to join in. “Who?”
“Only bloody Nick Risby! Can you imagine?”. I had no idea who this Nick Risby was. “Nick Risby” he chuckled to himself. “Him, off the radio”. I still had no idea, but “Wow, yea, cool”. It was only when I arrived home and googled him that I saw Nick Risby was the presenter of the late show on BBC 3 Counties Radio, a station which, even if I wanted too, I couldn’t listen to at home as they don’t broadcast in London. Fair enough – I could listen to it online, but really? Anyway, having my address the taxi driver would know that 3 Counties isn’t available in London. The sick bastard was taunting me.
He continued to roll off name after name of all kinds of minor celebrity that he, or his mates, had had in their cabs. I recognised some of them, and weakly let out the occasional “Wow” or “Ohh, no way” but I couldn’t keep up – I was on the ropes, and he knew it. He just wanted the confession, the white flag. He just wanted to hear me say it. Who was I to disappoint. “Sorry, I’m really tired. You mind if I just close my eyes for a second” I pleaded pathetically, a quiet voice from behind Vernon’s green fur.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realised” he lied. “Sorry – yea, you go right ahead, just relax, I’ll have you home in no time”. “Mate”
The malicious bastard.