Lost taxi

Athens is a wonderful city.

Home to some wonderful architecture, ruins, sights, sounds and smells; generally very friendly and welcoming people (about 3 million of them) and 14,000 taxis. Yes, more than New York city which has only 13,000!

The taxis in Athens are yellow too and again like in New York it also can be an experience! On a recent work trip to Athens I decided to go to my hotel by taxi rather than train as it was already 11pm . Jumping in a taxi at the airport I got a welcoming smile but a puzzled look by the young driver as I gave him my hotel name and the street address.

Now this was a relatively well known hotel in a smart district but it was certainly a first for him. Anyway we set off but after 2 minutes he then asked me did I have GPS. I was a little surprised he had no phone of his own or was unwilling to use it. Anyway mine was put into service and balancing it on his knee, off we went. I actually had another phone with me as well (my work phone) and for good measure also put same request into that. After a while of frequent ‘recalculated journeys’ messages it became evident the ‘phone balanced on knee technique’ was not a big success in terms of navigation or road safety. So plan B was me in the back of the car telling him when to turn left, right and on one occasion STOP! This new plan worked and we shortly pulled up outside the hotel.

He then told me the fare which was duly paid by me and I asked for my receipt. Not possible he said pointing at the printer in the car (I assumed out of order)

Ok, I said how about just one of your advert cards that you can write the fare on? (This by the way is not always a good move..I did this in Italy a while back and it was presented to me on a card advertising a lap dancing establishment! Our company accountant has never quite looked at me in the same way since)

Anyway still no joy. So I made the point of no receipt, no fare can be paid as I won’t be able to reclaim. This focussed the mind and a brief phone call to his boss…it seems he did have a phone after all!

Finally Greek ingenuity then took over…he scrambled around the not so clean taxi floor until he found a receipt for that day for a similar amount (it was a few euros less) then gave me some money back to reconcile the exact amount and then handed a slightly worn and crumpled receipt over! …what could I say.

Only in Athens!

The Lighthouse family…..well that’s a misnomer

For those not encyclopedic of their musical knowledge of the 1980’s, the Lighthouse family were actually a very successful music act.

So successful that now some 30 years later they are just embarking on another tour. And for other reasons as well completely, stuck in my head.

They are however quite a misnomer. Not a family at all, just two guys who happened to be working in the same bar in Newcastle (England) and then formed a duo. To be a family it helps to be related ….just ask the Jackson’s, Osmond’s or even the Adam’s.

Oh yes one other point, they don’t live in a lighthouse either .

So what brings them to mind….well sadly the fact I just cannot get one of their songs out of my mind.

I was using my local mini-cab company to take me to the station. For the benefit of those from outside the UK, a mini-cab is a non fully regulated taxi that has to be booked in advance and cannot be hailed . Not one of these…………….

In reality sometimes these mini-cabs are often old and scruffy, and more often than not very, very old and very scruffy!

Now my local mini-cab company are in all honesty totally reliable. The only time a journey failed for me was one time when said car arrived outside my house in very good time, I jump in and immediately engaged with the driver in some weather related topic as we British people tend to do. He didn’t get a word in as I complained about the rain, sun, wind, snow and fog we had endured all in one day. After some 10 minutes I did challenge his unusual route to my destination…. oops… it seems my neighbour had booked using the same company for five minutes earlier to a very different destination! 😯😯😯…and I had hijacked his car…..

Anyway back to the journey in question…. the taxi arrives and from the driver just a mere grunt of a hello. Contrary to most trips where there is a series of standard questions. Questions? Yes, a bit in a way like hairdressers have standard questions: 1. have you been to work today ? 2. Are you going out tonight? 3. Are you going on holiday soon? In the mini cab world, there are also some old faithfuls:

1. Going to the station sir? (slightly worrying as we have already set off, and that was what was agreed when I made the booking and is actually showing on his display!)

2. Going to London sir? A very standard question and always one that leads to drivers sharing views on London traffic, the price of everything in London and the people of London.

3. Going to work sir? Again slightly of concern as I don’t normally spend my holidays wearing a suit, carrying a laptop and reading meeting agendas on the journey.

Anyway, no chat this time…just a sudden burst of music, not just any music but the Lighthouse family. Ah…the radio I thought. But after 4 minutes, no radio chatter but another 1980’s Hit from the same wonder duo, 4 minutes more and another and so on. With some traffic and roadworks on the way we managed to squeeze in a whole greatest hits cd worth of Lighthouse family..with Ocean Drive getting not one but two plays!

Now one other thing worth mentioning is that unlike a taxi in Germany where you get a smart Mercedes, Sweden where you get a Volvo…in the UK, a mini-cab invariably means a battered Skoda that is well past retirement date. This car was no exception. In fact it would be most unusual for one of these cars not to have at least one warning light showing, an unexplained rattle and threadbare seats. On this journey I hit top score with warning light bingo: Engine management warning light, oil pressure, and three others I couldn’t determine and in fact was rather glad not to.

And the “icing on the cake ” a sixth one flickering on and off in tune with the Lighthouse boys as they belted out Ocean Drive!

Anyway, journey finally over I won’t say I kissed the ground as I exited the vehicle but it was certainly a relief to be on a terra firma.

But the music lives on, staying with me. Three days later I find myself still humming the tune.

The song was actually written about the drive from Sunderland to South Shields along the English North Sea coast (yes, not an Ocean I know, but bracing wild seashore…yes) Worth a visit if you find yourself nearby.

What do I get …..no such visions of wild nature. Just permanent flashbacks of a distinctly dodgy taxi ride!

Youtube has the video..search for it if you dare but the melody will stay with you for ever.

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