Chris left the bar leaving nearly half a pint sat looking lonely and abandoned at the table. Den and I had no interest in the drink but if he’d left for good then we could command the table and sit down. We did. Den and I were in The Bluebell with our wives. Needless to say we were apart from the ladies discussing gripping things such as plastering, taps and the mysteries of insurance claims.
Chris, however, returned but was happy to share his table. Like us he was enjoying a summer pint on Fossgate. Chris was around 70, thick set, a ridiculous shock of thick grey hair and a Van Dyke beard.
If I was to tell you anything useful about folk then they usually like to talk about themselves. (It was quite a useful skill in a former life selling things). I took the opportunity to find out about my new drinking partner. He was an interesting chap.
At this ‘interview’ we learned that Chris was a retired publican and taxi driver. Such was his eventual disenchantment with driving for a living that he sold his car and today relies on the bus. Clearly a pensioner adopting a 21st Century strategy. Asked how he spent his time nowadays he said he was researching the history of one of his former pubs, Ye Olde Starre Inne on Stonegate. So far his research has got him back to 1580. A surprising start to our conversation. However, he couldn’t make a living running it and found another pub before that proved financially ruinous and hence his time behind the wheel.
Taxi driving in York has always been a decent job. With tourists arriving 12 months of the year there is always a good demand. New challenges are arriving for the old guard with Uber. I expect that they will prevail. If you’ve used Uber then it is a very uncomplicated and cost effective process.
I couldn’t resist asking about celebrities he had in his cab. After I refilled his glass he gave it some thought and offered up some people. The most interesting thing was how they’d behaved and how in reality it might be different to their public persona.
Ruby Wax clambered in but didn’t engage with him. All communication and transactions were done through the ‘assistant’ who was along side to ‘fetch and carry’ for the comedienne. Why trouble yourself with the proletariat? Richard Todd was another customer. For any schoolboy of the 1960s then a ‘go to’ epic film was The Dam Busters. He played Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Chris was thrilled (like me!) and not offended when the actor reached his destination and declared that he couldn’t afford a tip. However, he was prepared to give an autograph; this was more than enough for the driver.
Spike Milligan was collected from an event and Chris was directed, again by his minder, to take him to York District Hospital (YDH). Spike was visiting convicted firebomber, Barry Horne. Horne was imprisoned for 18 years after a series of life threatening attacks over several years. He was motivated by animal rights. Horne was at YDH as he regularly became ill due to hunger strikes whilst incarcerated. (Chris privately didn’t think Horne was worth the visit). Milligan refused an autograph request by saying that this could be done if he visited London to see him there. Maybe animals matter more than people?
Lastly I learned why David Lloyd, the former England and Lancashire opening batsman and now cricket TV commentator is called ‘Bumble’. This originates from someone thinking Lloyd looked like a character from The Bumblies, that is, a small creature from outer space devised by another passenger - Michael Bentine in the early 1950s.
Chris finished his Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, thanked me for the drink and departed no doubt to catch the bus back to Fulford.