This piece was written in March 2012. The Robot Dance is something Peter Crouch used to do to celebrate scoring goals for England. Peter Crouch. C-R-O-U-C-H. Crouch.
Some time after Saturday night had first re-emerged shakily from the toilets slurring that it henceforth wished to be known as Sunday morning, I unexpectedly found myself slumped in the bus shelter outside Cutty Sark station staring deep into the dark heart of Wetherspoon’s. And, as I sat there on that narrow plastic bench bleakly contemplating how far Humanity had fallen since those first few happy hours in Eden – happy hours are always, always a mistake, especially when naked women and serpents are involved – a taxi pulled up. Not a black cab – not south of the river, not at that time of night – but a Renault Espace with a TfL sticker in the window.
The driver got out, looked slightly nonplussed at his surroundings, then walked round the back of the Espace to where I was sitting and held out his mobile phone.
“You know this place?” he said, tapping the screen.
The phone was plainly displaying the details of his next pick up. According to what was written beside the word to, some lucky punter wanted to go to St Ann’s Road in Seven Sisters.
“O2,” I said, reading what was written beside the word from.
“You know it?”
“The O2? The Dome?”
“It’s near Blackwall Tunnel?”
“Er, yeah, sort of.” I pointed towards the market. “You need to go round the one-way system” – I got to my feet and used my hands to illustrate how he should process around Greenwich’s central gyratory, wondering, as I turned right into King William Walk and prepared to take a left into Romney Road, if it looked as much like I was doing Peter Crouch’s robot dance as it suddenly felt like it did – “then just keep going in that direction.”
He seemed unconvinced.
“Do you know the postcode?” he said.
This threw me. I didn’t, obviously, have any idea how long he’d been driving his cab, but had he really concluded that asking random strangers standing outside random pubs in the early hours of Sunday mornings if they happened to know the postcodes of major London sporting arenas and concert venues was a more practical means of going about his people-carrying business than, say, nipping into WH Smith’s one lunchtime and buying an A-to-Z?
“The postcode of the O2?”
“Yes. I need the postcode for the SatNav.”
“No, sorry, I don’t.”
I’m not sure if I should have shown more compassion. My sympathies, to be honest, suddenly lay more with his controller, who’d presumably assumed that anyone who drove a taxi round London for a living would know where the O2 was, or at least make an effort to find out, and thus hadn’t felt the need to furnish him with full postcode, OS map reference and angular elevation above the equator, any more than Renault had felt the need to equip his Espace with an astrolabe.
I pointed at the bus map fixed to the back of the shelter.
“Along here,” I said, tracing the route of the 188 along Trafalgar Road with my fingertip, “then up here.”
He stared warily at the map, clearly suspicious that the criss-crossing diagonals might conceal a downward-pointing pentagram with Greenwich town centre a hairy frowning goat’s head in its dark five-sided heart.
“Or,” I added, suddenly realising that a brightly lit 188 was at that moment heading down Creek Road towards us, “you could follow this bus.”
We watched together as the 188 drew to a halt and a small dark-haired girl in shorts and black tights and a cream corduroy jacket got off. She too looked slightly nonplussed at finding herself in Greenwich town centre in the early hours of Sunday morning, but there was also an odd air of fatalism about her, as if it wasn’t the first time it had happened, and wouldn’t be the last.
“Oh,” she seemed to be saying to herself, “here I am again.”
The taxi driver looked at her hopefully, and held out his phone.