Trapped in a cab full of angry cliches;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
NOT FOR me a peaceful taxi ride through Glasgow to my recent Higher Still seminar. No chance to reflect on the splendid Christmas lights. Was my cab driver a plant from the Scottish Executive? It certainly seemed that way.

Where was I going, he inquired.

A course, I replied, thinking that Higher Still might sound like a celestial experience inaccessible to mere mortals. But I didn't bargain for his ravenous curiosity.

What kind of course?

I was hard pressed. Congested traffic conditions took care of Great Western Road. But I could see the quizzical look and, eventually, I heard a wavering voice attempt a feeble definition of Higher Still. Once I had started I couldn't seem to stop. Out it poured. Finally, silence. Sigh of relief.

Now he'll switch off that button which allows him to speak to me and I can look forward to the coffee and shortbread in the hotel room.

No such luck. My explanation must have been poor because he asked if I worked for the National Health Service. That sharpened up my reflexes.

No, no I'm a teacher, said I, as nonchalantly as possible. The face in the mirror darkened. This cab was turning into Room 101.

The onslaught of cliches came firing through the glass partition. Each verbal bullet was prefaced "If you ask me," which I hadn't and wouldn't and, actually, I was tired of his horrid game, thank you very much.

The meter ticking away reminded me that I was paying for this humiliation.

Then the invitation was issued. Come round to where he stays and see the evidence for myself. Kids loitering in the streets being rude to their elders and betters. Vandalising property. Telling him where to go when he had only asked them why they were skipping school. And his punchline? What was I doing about this sorry state of affairs?

Poor me. I had spent several hours travelling from Elgin for this seminar and suddenly I was getting it in the neck from a cabbie (no slight intended) who saw himself as education expert par excellence.

He had the bone in his mouth and there was no way he would put it down. And not only that but I feared the way he was building up to his piece de resistance for the final part of the journey. I was now heady and dizzy and contemplating doing a runner, but I thought that might just incite more hullabaloo.

"Your long holidays." The Exocet, when it came, hit its target, my resentment spot. Inside I seethed and fermented like the biblical prophets. But outwardly my mother would have been proud of me. I maintained my cool. No screeching tirades about workload. No hysteria about how I had spent every minute on the train beavering away at my marking, apart from when the sheer exhaustion of overwork caused me to shut my eyes briefly.

Tension though. Lots of it actually. Inner growling on a primitive scale.

Fortunately, we soon drew up outside my hotel. It wasn't an innocent beverage I needed by now, but something much stronger, for medicinal purposes, make no mistake.

Later I mused on the incident and decided that, if I had done something to provoke it, I couldn't work out what. Maybe it's just that teachers are a perfect target.

What did occur to me was that teachers themselves are very critical creatures and quite cannibalistic, too, in that we love to have a go at one another.

If you have ever in-serviced your teaching colleagues, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Reading the evaluation forms afterwards can send the strongest among us into floods of tears. "This course was a total waste of time. I could have spent the hour more meaningfully marking jotters in my room." Yes, well, jotters to you too.

I have to confess though that I am not above all of this myself. The truth is that I do a fair amount of judging of my profession. It takes my breath away when teachers don't write in sentences or when the chainsmoker lectures on the evils of nicotine or Mr Obesity fronts the fitness campaign. Inconsistency annoys me but I don't attack total strangers.

Anyway, now I'm swotting up on the pay and conditions of taxi drivers so that next time I can get him up a cul-de-sac - metaphorically speaking.

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