T is for: Taxi cabs. I used to have to get taxis to and from work quite a bit as I was always loaded down with heavy books and manuscripts and the like, especially once we were all encouraged to work from home more often. I have had some of the best, funniest and most interesting conversations with taxi drivers. I have hit it off so well with some, one told me he wanted to see me back in his cab to continue our chat (it didn’t happen, though), another said I had to look out for him especially (unfortunately, I never saw him again) and another gave me his address and phone no and invited me and my partner to drop in any time to have a cuppa with him and his wife. As he lives on the far eastern side of the South Coast, it’s unlikely, but I still have the piece of paper somewhere and you never know. One kindly switched off his meter when we were stuck in a very long traffic queue and another charged me less than was on the meter and was most apologetic because he’d had to follow a diversion instead of taking the usual more straightforward route. One driver took me on a (free) detour to see some Christmas lights, after I had said how much I loved to see them. There was the one who changed from night driving to daytime, after a “final straw” hellish trip with a drunken and abusive City lawyer (who rather foolishly told him her company’s name), whose sister had to come out and rescue her and pay the driver the fare his passenger was refusing to pay (apparently, she had done this sort of thing before). There was the one who had worked “on the print” and who told me of the shenanigans they all used to get up to and how much he still missed it. And the one who, when he heard where I worked, told me of the death of the wife of a fellow taxi driver friend of his – she had worked for another dept and we used to chat in the loos sometimes. I was shocked, as I hadn’t even realised she had died – it was very recent and had been very sudden. Another driver had a cyclist punch him in the face through his open window, because he had dared to tick said cyclist off for doing something very reckless and dangerous. He punched him back straight away and floored him. Luckily for him and unluckily for the cyclist, his passenger at the time was a lawyer, who agreed he had been provoked and who gave him his card as a witness. Another took a rock star (well known for his volatile temperament) home from a shopping trip during the day and said he was polite, though he didn’t say much, and he gave him a very generous tip. The driver was hugely amused by the antics of the RS’s builders who were working on his house at the time – on spotting their employer getting out of the cab, they all suddenly became incredibly busy.
T is also for: Technology. I joined the magazine BC – before computers – in the days of T for Tippex and T for Three carbon copies of everything. We booked manuscripts in and out and noted down comments readers had made about the fiction, good or bad, in large index books and kept written records of anything and everything. Our card index files of writers we published over the years included many famous names, among them Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Philippa Gregory, John Mortimer, Edwina Currie and Jeffrey Archer. For checking facts in serials and short stories, it was my job to ring up various libraries, bookshops and societies around the country, who were incredibly patient, polite, helpful and efficient. I always felt awkward doing this, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just tell us to sod off (politely, of course), as they weren’t paid anything for this service. Thanks to new technology, I no longer had to pester them and could look things up for myself on the internet. They must all have been heartily relieved.
T is also for: Tears, tissues and trains. In the Fiction dept, we always stressed to our writers that we wanted to read stories that made us laugh or cry or struck a chord with us in some way. Many was the time I sat sobbing at my desk because I had just read a story that moved me hugely. When this happened, before passing the story on for final approval, I would write on the copy somewhere: “Do not read in public!” Or: “This is a three-tissue job!” I forgot to do this once with one particular story and the editor came in, crying: “Why didn’t you warn me? I’ve just been in floods on the train!”
Talking of trains, there was a wonderful guard on a train I used to get, who kept us entertained during many a dull journey. Once, as he was reading out the list of stations the train would be calling at, he broke off to say: “Exciting, isn’t it?” in very droll tones. Another time, on arriving at Waterloo station one morning, he announced: “Here we are, folks, home of the brave, land of the free!” I made sure I thanked him for cheering us all up whenever I could and I hope he is still out there, somewhere, entertaining the masses on their daily slog.
T is also for: Traybakes and testing. Our cookery dept’s promise was that all our recipes had been triple-tested. Luckily for us, we were frequently among the testers and one particular feature was always a surefire winner with both staff and readers: Traybakes. Flapjacks, brownies, millionaires shortbread, cornflake cakes, fruit and nut slices and the like were eagerly snaffled within seconds of the famous rallying cry of “CAKE!!!!” (See also under “C”.)