A Turk’s take on proper English

an evening last week. Fulham to home

My driver has a thick Turkish accent. He barely stops talking throughout the journey. My end of the conversation comprises mostly laughter, and short bursts of interested-sounding noises. His hands fly around augmenting his expression as he rapidly jumps subject and I struggle to keep up.

“I have been ice skating for 20 years. I had a gap of 12 years and then I put my skates back on. It was like I learnt only yesterday. The only thing I’m no good at is the single rollerskates, you know the single ones. Blades. It’s no good, I can’t balance on them. I think I’ve spent too many years on the ice. Ice skating is better I think, more professional”.

“When I was young I used to go to the sports centre in Finsbury Park. I loved it there. Once though I had a very bad fall and then I stopped for years. It’s a dangerous sport. Especially when they allow the young kids to skate. You have to be careful of the fingers and the kneecaps, you know. I’ll be quiet now, I’m boring you”.

I try to reassure him that I’m not bored

“Some people they say I talk to much. The thing is I don’t like it when people don’t talk. Some people they talk like a machine gun, you know prrp prrp prrp. I think this is when they don’t talk at home. I talk all the time at home, all my family does. It’s nice to talk, you know. I don’t bore people. If I see your face has changed I will go quiet. But you look interested”. I like people butting in. At home we’re like “I know more than you”, “no, you shut up and listen” it’s fun!”

“I’ve been doing this no for 11 years. Your old prime minister – the one with the eyebrows. I picked him up one day by the river by Vauxhall. We were chatting and he said, I’ve been a politician all my life and I’ve never heard an accent as good as yours. I don’t put it on. I’ve been here 28 years of my life, I can speak cockney if I want”.

“I had a wonderful teacher when I came here. She taught me English, her English was perfect. She had been to Turkey, to Istanbul and she loved Turkey very much. She taught me to speak English. You should see my son, he’s 9 years old and he started primary school in Kingston and when we go back to my mum and her friends they say “here comes the posh child!”.

“I don’t say things like d’ya-no-wha-I-mean. It’s disgusting. I’m serious, I’m not posh or anything but I don’t like to talk like that”.

“I got a slap once from a very beautiful Irish girl in Mexico. This was in 97. We were kissing and cuddling, she was a lawyer. We were kissing and everything and she had a very strong Irish accent and I ended up speaking like her and she slapped me and said “you’re taking the piss out of my accent”. I was like, please don’t go, I really want to make love. She said “you’re disgusting aren’t ya” with that beautiful Irish accent. so I try not to make any accents, because you can upset people”.

“London English is brilliant because it’s multinational. Sometimes when I go back to Turkey, they’re all speaking English like northerners. It’s because the people are serving the tourists that come from the north. I can’t believe it, these Turkish waiters are speaking in a yorkshire accent! What the hell is going on. These imbiciles are now telling me I’m not speaking English properly. Can you believe it? I’m like, I’m from London, you come over to London and speak your English with a Geordie accent and we’ll see who speaks it properly. These bouncers and these barmen are speaking in a yorkshire accent and a birmingham accent. I’m like, you learn your English from me – I’ll teach you to speak it properly!”

“I’ve lived here 36 years. I’m not English, I cannot call myself English, because I wasn’t born into this race. But I can proudly say I’m part of this society, I’m British. If people don’t accept it – they can kiss my arse. I’m here for good, if they don’t like it they know where they can go. I will not allow anyone to say anything about England or Turkey. I admire both countries. These two countries both have a huge, huge place in my heart. Because I was born in Turkey I am pure Turkish, I can’t say I’m English though my sons are. My son supports England and I hate him for that.”

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Beatles and Kiddiwinkles

Newcastle station to my hotel

– you’ve caught me there, just listening to something. I’ll turn it down.
– don’t worry
– there now. Are you up here for just the night?
– that’s right, going onto Manchester tomorrow
– very good. Mind, up here all the kiddiwinkles is on half term, so town’s full of them. It’s all the mammies and the grandmammies going ‘out of the house with youse’

We pass the Carling Acadamy Newcastle

– see that James Morrison, is he the one in the charts?
– yes that’s him. he’s playing tonight
– Tuesday, aye tonight. What’s his? Beautiful….something is beautiful?
– that’s the other one. James Blunt
– oh, what’s James Morrison then, I’ve heard of him, like. There’s not many I’ve heard of these days. I’ve seen The Beatles there you know.
– really, when was that?
– eeee, I’m going to show my age now. When I were a nipper it was a dancehall, they called it The Majestic. They all played there Beatle, Stones, you know. Then they closed it down and they turned it into a bingo hall. Now it’s a dancehall again, the Carling whatnot.

TV vs Internet

Today, from the office to Kings Cross

– So where are we off to today?
– Newcastle
– Never been there, what am I missing?

My driver is quite hard to understand; he talks quietly, with short sentances delivered in a gravely snarl. At first I think he’s being off with me, but it’s just how he talks – he’s friendly enough.

I outline my favourite things about Newcastle: the regeneration of the Quayside, including the wonderful, wonderful Baltic gallery; the access to a wild and dramatic coastline; the fact that my brother is there and my grandma’s not far away; and that I generally love geordies – they tend to make fabulous research subjects.

– So what are you researching?
– Kid’s TV shows
– What like Sesame Street?
– Err not exactly…

But he’s off. Listing the Sesame Street character’s: Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, The Cookie Monster, Oscar The Grouch.

– I loved that show. It was great. All those characters, I remember them all now. Must have been 20 years since my kids watched them, but they’ve stuck with me.
– People usually tell me it’s too American
– Yeah, it was American, but my kids loved it. Great for teaching them things. There was The Count too, Ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhh. That was the other one. The Count

We pause for a while, before he asks:

– So do you watch a lot of TV?
– Depends how busy I am, I tend to like good drama series best. How about you?
– Mostly sport. On Sky. Good coverage. The best. Don’t really watch much TV these days.
– Why’s that then? Nothing on, or have you got better things to do?
– It’s the computer. Spend a lot of time on that now. Didn’t use it ’til 6 months ago. Thought I could live without it…

My driver used to fake knowledge when email or the internet was discussed. Really he didn’t have a clue, could barely switch on the computer. He couldn’t be bothered with it, didn’t really see the point. His wife was the one that used the computer, if he needed anything he’d get her to do it.

But he got found out! He was copying down an email address and wrote ‘at’ instead of ‘@’ and his mate laughed at him. He decided it was time to get up to speed and asked his daughter (more patient than his wife) to teach him.

– it’s a bit frightening at first. All this stuff out there. Can’t get your head round it

Now he’s hooked. The internet, he’s found, is great for the stuff you’re interested in, like music and travel. He’s become a dab hand at using messenger and email, chatting to a daughter in Australia.

– it’s exciting too. Getting an email. It’s nice. It’s like getting a letter. Only you don’t get letters any more, do you?

from late to mate

From home to the office this morning.

My cab arrives 25 minutes late. Worried that I might be angry, my driver starts on the offensive.

“Sorry I’m late, but it’s done me no favours either. Since I’ve taken on this job, I’ve spent 30 minutes in traffic when I could have been making money, you see I can only put £4 on the clock for a call out. The traffic’s had me right over.”

I nod, try to sound reassuring and generally listen to him letting off steam, until he realises I’m pretty sanguine about it.

“I was getting ready you see, thinking you might come out going ‘where you been’ and what have you. I would’ve turned round and gone ‘sorry I’m not taking you anywhere’.

We talk a little about why he took on my job in the first place when he was so far away and the problems of knowing which jobs to say yes to, before going on to discus how come I live in South London but work in North London. He’s a born and bred North Londoner and doesn’t get on with South London at all. He knows exactly where our office is because it’s on his home turf, and goes on to tell me about the different places he’s lived in the area. After a pause he says “I had a giggle to myself when I saw the name Spinach [the name of my company] come up”. Which leads us to chatting about what it is that I do.

He’s now worried that I’m going to be in trouble for being late, but cheers up when I tell him I’ve a finite amount of work to get done before going on a skiing holiday tomorrow and it shouldn’t be a problem. The driver seems genuinely excited for me, exclaiming “Super!”, “Fantastic!” and “No wonder you’re so laidback about things”.

He tells me his son Harry is going skiing with the school at Easter. It’s costing them a fair bit, but he doesn’t mind ‘cos he know’s the lad will love it. He does worry that he might enjoy it a bit too much and “get caught up in an avalanche or something”. I do my best to sound reassuring.

During a pause, he’s clearly thinking about his lost earnings this morning as he brings it back up. We agree that January is rubbish financially, and he lists off some of the outgoings that are bothering him. He and his wife have are taking a couple of friends out for dinner at the weekend, which is going to cost them a pretty penny.

They’re going to the Wolseley, so I tell him about my friend’s pre-Christmas meal at the Wolseley surrounded by male celebrities (Jason Donovan, David Gest, Salmon Rushdie and Don Johnson were all dining). He laughs “Well there you go, I suppose come Saturday I’ll be the star turn there!”

As we get close to our destination, he starts pointing out places that have relevance to him. The pub that used to be a Lyon’s Tea House (not that he remembers it, his dad used to tell him”, the market stall he worked on when he was 14, the house where his parents used to live.

Once we’re at the office he says “there you go, my little spinach. Have a good day and a great holiday, mind how you go” leaving me with a grin on my face.

Driver blogs

As 2007 is only just getting going, I’ve not been taking many cabs. I thought about writing up some memories of past cab conversations – I may still resort to this if the drought continues – but then I had a better idea…

I thought ‘I bet there are cab drivers out there that blog’ and set out to find some. A quick search of Technorati uncovered tonnes of them and I’ve just lost the best part of two hours reading a few – plundering blogrolls and jumping from link to link. It’s great, there are drivers all over the world telling their tales and boy-oh-boy do they have some stories! There’s too many to take in all at once, so I’ve started with links to 10 that just took my fancy. I’ll add some more at a later date.

It was interesting to observe how many drivers have plumped for black blog-themes. I guess black is the ultimate cab colour – though being a Londoner I would say that, NYC drivers may beg to differ!

Family in Afghanistan

Late night minicab from friend’s home in Earlsfied last night

We start by agreeing how quiet the roads are. My driver tells me “before Christmas it’s all busy, busy, busy. Now it is like ghost town”.

He asks how my Christmas was and I tell him it was “good, thanks” before enquiring about his. Christmas, he feels, is a time for family so it always makes him sad that only a small amount of his family are with him in the UK – just his wife, children and one brother. The rest are all in Afghanistan, a very big family with many, many people.

I confess my ignorance of Afghanistan, I only really know where Kabul is. He tells me his family all live in a village 60Km north of Kabul, so if I know where Kabul is I can imagine where his family live. We go quiet for a moment as I try (unsuccessfully) to do exactly that.

Next I ask whether his family have been affected by war in recent years. “Not so much” he replies, most of the fighting is elsewhere in the country, nobody is bothered with little villages like his.

I ask whether he misses his country and he says “I miss my family but not so much the place”. He has been in London for nearly 10 years, life is good here, but so busy. He will never get used to how busy this city is.

Banksie and his fire escape ladders

Cab taken on Thursday 7th December from home to Barnes.

We started off debating the likely journey length then quickly got onto the weather. The day had seen unusual and dramatic weather but my driver had missed the worst of it as he’d been in a meeting with his web designer. Curious, I asked what he needed a web designer for and was very glad I did. It turns out my driver was the inventor of a successful product and now found himself reluctantly having to take on the role of entrepreneur. These aren’t his words but this is his story:

Banksie had been in a merchant fireman in his youth and had personally been touched by the tragic consequences of fire. When his daughters were young he’d bought fire escape ladders to keep them safe. As an ex-fireman, he knew that without instinctive knowledge on how to use them, just owning the ladders wouldn’t be enough to save lives, so he set about drilling his daughters in how to use them. The drills were less successful than hoped and soon provoked tears of frustration, the ladders were too heavy and cumbersome for the young girls to manoeuver – making them worse than useless should fire break out.

Banksie quickly realised that the problem was the design and saw what was needed – a ladder in a box that could be wall-mounted with a straightforward mechanism for quick and easy release in an emergancy. He was certain someone must make such a thing and set about sourcing them. He contacted manufacturers directly but was repeatedly told that no such thing existed, the maufacturers kept trying to sell him the same kind of ladder as he already owned.

One day, he drove past an sign for a patent office asking for novel patent ideas and on a whim decided to see if a patent existed for wall-mounted fire escape ladders. A few days later the patent office called him in excitement to say no such patent existed and they felt he was onto a good idea. So Banksie took out the patent and set about developing his ladder.

It took 5 years, a lot of money (Banksie and his family moved into a smaller house to finance it) and masses of work. Luckily he was working as a courier, so had pleanty of driving time to puzzle over it. The biggest problem was making them light enough to go on the wall but strong enough to hold someone’s weight. There were lots of small victories and setbacks, but he got there in the end.

The ladders were both popular and profitable. Banksie wasn’t bothered about running a company himself, so he put the patent up for lease and let someone else manage it. Things had been going well, but just recently Banksie felt he had started to get a rough deal – the people looking after his business weren’t doing it justice. what irked him the most was the fact that they kept putting up the price; making the cost of the ladders out of reach for the low-earning household – the people Banksie had always imagined selling to. He had decided to take back control.