James Whitham Column - Jun 2009

Mr Whitham makes the trek down from ‘Uddersfield to London to not win a literary prize for his fine book, and is completely aghast at the price Southerners pay for a cab ride...

I don’t know if I actually believe in global warming or not. Loads of clever people these days do nothing else but bang on about how we’ll all soon be under water unless we start cycling to work, erecting windmills on our roofs and turning our heating down by two degrees. I recently read somewhere that we’ve just had the driest winter for more than a 100 years - so that one must have been an even drier dry winter. And yet the world didn’t end after that, so why is this one a harbinger of impending doom? I’m willing to bet scholars back then didn’t take the fact that their daffodils had come out a bit early as a sure sign that the end of the world was nigh.

I must admit though, we’ve had some weird weather lately. In February the whole country grinds to a halt under 2ft of snow. And yet by March we’re able to do the best road test I’ve ever been involved with, without going abroad. The conditions we got for the day on the Welsh roads and the day at the Angelsey circuit were stunning.

And speaking of Angelsey, don’t miss it. The facilities are a bit primitive, but the track itself is great fun. Flowing and undulating with a smooth surface and plenty grip. It’s a bit like a smaller version of Phillip Island.

My book was up for a literary award recently. So I bought a new suit and went off to London for the posh awards ceremony with Andrea. With the calibre of the people I was up against, especially Sir Bobby Charlton, I was just honoured to have been nominated, and never gave the idea of winning a second thought, preferring to practice my “gracious defeat” face instead of coming up with an acceptance speech.

As we walked into the hall though and saw what a prestigious do it was, it struck me that if, by some fluke I did win, I was totally unprepared. I would have to stumble up on stage with nothing to say and end up looking like the stammering northern nugget that I am. By the time we sat down for the pre-awards grub I was so nervous I found it impossible to take advantage of the free champagne sloshing about the place. Even Andrea only managed a bottle and a half.

Anyway, a bloke I’d never heard of won the thing. Turns out he’s an ex-Chelsea player who had to endure a lot throughout his career, including racial abuse and cancer. His book came out a clear winner with the judges and I have to say, if it’s as good as his acceptance speech it’ll be a right good read.

The biggest shocker of our trip down to the Smoke was the price of the cab to get us back to Kings Cross station. I tell you, he wouldn’t have got away with it in Huddersfield! In the same way that during the war, if captured, it was every officers duty to try and escape, if you were coming home after an alcohol fuelled night out in town and you thought the cab driver was trying to rip you off, it was every young mans duty to bale out and run away. And the drivers knew this. It was like unwritten law. And make no mistake, doing a runner from a Huddersfield cabbie in the 1980s was more dangerous than tunnelling your way out of Stalag Luft 3.

They soon got used to the ruse of telling them you had no money and would nip into your house for your wallet, only to sprint off into the shadows as soon as the car door was opened. Likewise the “stop the car, I’m gonna be sick” ploy didn’t work for too long.

This was long before the days of central locking so the drivers used to pull up with the nearside rear passenger door next to a lamppost or wall, forcing all potential runners out of one door directly into the street. Consequently the incentive to jump out even if the cab had started moving off again was strong. I once saw a bloke leap from a cab that was doing about 20mph. He went down pretty heavy but with the cocktail of adrenalin and cheap lager surging through his veins he had no problem springing to his feet and limping off into the night to make good his escape. As well as the usual brawlers and alcoholics, the casualty department on a Friday night always contained at least one bloke sat in the corner with friction burns and one shoe missing.

Compared with this, bike racing always seemed dead safe to me.

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