England as a cab driver sees it

Ben Wolford

LEICESTER, United Kingdom — My friends and I called a cab Friday night to take us downtown, and because some of them don’t speak English as their first language, I put myself in the front seat next to the driver.

Lïïsa, my Finnish friend, started singing a song from Finland.

“She’s speaking gibberish, she is,” the cab driver said.

He went on to tell me that he’s one of the few white taxi drivers left in Leicester and that he doesn’t get paid enough.

I asked if he was from Leicester — he was — and told him that I liked it here. He scoffed.

“You should’a been here 30 years ago,” he said, convinced I was alive then and choosing foolishly to live somewhere other than here. “Things were happening then.”

The textiles factories were booming in the 60s and 70s. Those manufacturing jobs have left the city (“they sent them overseas”), and Leicester has tried to move toward service industries. That’s made it difficult for the middle class to earn a decent wage.

“I work 60 hours a week,” my driver said.

“But is the money worth it?”

“Not even close. It’s no living.”

We drove past Liquid, a trendy downtown nightclub lit up cool neon blue.

“Liquid, there. That used to be a printing press,” he said. Not much use for those anymore. The place was thronged with students.

I read in the Leicester Mercury last week that a new city ordinance restricted property owners about where they could establish student housing. Permanent residents were complaining about noise from parties and the difficulty of forming a neighborhood community if students lived in every other house.

I asked my driver if there was a division between the residents and students. He didn’t really answer my question, but I gleaned his opinion.

“This wasn’t always a university town. It’s only in the last 20, 30 years the kids come in here.”

The world was changing around my Leicester-born cab driver, and he didn’t like it.

I asked what he thought about the European Union, even though I knew what he’d say. It was something like, “I can’t even trust my MPs with government money; how can I trust a bunch of Europeans?”

I told him I live near Cleveland and that it has suffered the same rise and fall of the industrial town. Where I’m from and where he’s from aren’t so different.

He didn’t really respond to what I said. He pulled up to the bar we were going to, and we got out. I paid him and said goodbye. But he didn’t say anything and drove off to collect more money.

Ben Wolford is a junior newspaper journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. E-mail him at [email protected]