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Rear View Mirror: In the midnight hour

Cabbie Tony Schumacher with a poignant New Year tale - and he won't charge clock-and-a-half for it

Written by . Published on January 6th 2011.


Rear View Mirror: In the midnight hour
 

IT had been one of those traditional Christmases we used to have, you know, the sort we all wanted this year. Wet and raining with grey clouds and warm muggy temperatures of about 7 degrees.

When she was very ill, years later, she whispered that resolution to me again. And once more she kept it. She made it through New Year into the new millennium, and I was proud of her for doing it

Christmas Day was long in the past: all that was left to remember it was a few glimpses of ripped wrapping paper when you opened the bin and that stain on the carpet where someone kicked a glass of wine over.

“Why did you leave that there?”

“Open your eyes!”

“Get a cloth, it’ll stain!”

“I told you we should have got the brown carpet.”

“Pour salt on it.”

“We’ve only got those little ones from KFC. I’ve got vinegar?”

“It’s a carpet, not a bag of chips.”

The world had limped back to work for a few days, rubbing its forehead, buses full of mumbles about “going abroad next year” and how the carpets were ruined.

Bank holidays had blurred into the normal seven-day rota of the taxi driver's calendar. I was glad that I no longer had to listen to Slade and that Shane McGowan had earned enough money to cover his bar bill for another year, only one more night of madness to go... New Year's Eve.

The keener readers among you may have noticed, after my last column, that I am not particularly fond of Christmas and its glistening balls of doom. But standby, I am about to go out on a limb... I quite like New Year's Eve.

Many years ago, as a boy, I spent a Saturday night watching The Outlaw Josie Wales on BBC One. I’d had a long day fighting Indians and Nazis and as I sat on the couch with a slice of Madeira cake my final battle was one with tiredness. But I loved westerns and it was Saturday so my mum turned a blind eye and I saddled up with Clint (in my pyjamas) and off we rode to avenge our way through Missouri and beyond.

Some may recall that on his mission he was accompanied by an old Cherokee chief, they meet for the first time at the end of Clint’s pistol (steady ladies).

The Indian is embarrassed that he’s let a white man sneak up on him, and, to hide his shame, he tells a story. It’s a wonderful, moving moment played to perfection by Chief Dan George. But as a boy it wasn’t just the story that entranced me, there was also a line that jumped out of that old Indian's speech that made our D.E.R. rented television larger than an IMAX: “Endeavour to persevere.”

That line popped into my head just now because my mum once repeated it back to me down a crackly phone line one New Year's Eve many years ago.

I was standing in a phone booth in St Thomas a little worse for wear after drinking all day at the beach with some friends before we went back to the cruise ship we worked on. It had been a glorious day but at the back of my mind I remembered that my mum was facing another New Year's Eve without the love of her life in a lonely old house with nothing but the Daily Mail TV guide, a glass of Snowball and Stanley Baxter for company.

“Why don’t you go to Denise’s or Phillip's for the night?”

“I don’t want to bother them.”

“They are your son and daughter for God’s sake! They won’t mind!”

“No, I’m going to watch the telly and go to bed, I’ll be okay. Anyway what’s your New Year’s resolution?” she said, changing the subject.

“To buy some Alka-Seltzer, I’m going to a party. What’s yours?”

“To endeavour to persevere.”

We laughed at our joke. I’d told her about that line, and what it meant to me a couple of years before, when she’d fallen apart after my dad had died and we had sat talking in her room one night. She had understood that it didn’t mean to change your life, win a gold medal or find a cure for cancer. It just meant you would keep trying to keep going.

When she was very ill, years later, she whispered that resolution to me again. And once more she kept it. She made it through New Year into the new millennium, and I was proud of her for doing it.

But back to the New Year I mentioned at the beginning of the piece, it was about ten to twelve, I sat in the car waiting for the post midnight rush, bracing myself for the countless “all the bests”, I’d have to hear. Then, out of the blue, I got a job.

I was surprised, who goes anywhere at midnight on New Year’s Eve? If you aren’t kissing or shaking hands you are texting. No one is travelling. I pulled up at the tiny terraced house in Bootle, and an old lady came out and sat in the passenger seat.

I’ve written in my pad that her coat smelt of damp wool, like a sheep in a shower, and that she was wearing a headscarf. She clutched a bank card and asked me to take her the cash point. Of we set through the silent, shiny streets. The rain had stopped falling and the year was inching to a close as I waited for her to draw whatever cash she needed. She entered her numbers with the slow deliberate taps of a pensioner and eventually returned to the car with a ten-pound note clutched in her hand.

“Back to mine please, lad.”

And off we set; she fended my conversation with a couple of nods and a shake of her head so the journey was mostly silent except for Big Ben giving it large on Five Live.

“Happy New Year.”

“Same to you, lad.”

“That’s five-fifty please, love.”

She got out and swiftly pecked me on the cheek.

“Keep the change.”

And she was gone.

I looked at the tenner she had placed in my hand - and her fast closing front door. She hadn’t wanted to let in the new year on her own.

Happy New Year everyone, and please, spare a thought and raise a glass for those who are, well, endeavouring to persevere.

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Bra HumbugDecember 31st 2010.

It is overrated this new year lark. I haven't been out since the pubs started charging people to get in every year since the millenium. Greedy bastards have all largely closed down since then. Good

recovering alcoholicJanuary 2nd 2011.

I was struggling with the amount of festive drinking going on until I read this. Now I am looking at that bottle of Old Spice aftershave under the Christmas tree and wondering if it goes with lemonade.

Mrs HewittJanuary 5th 2011.

So anyway, I was on me own feeling a bit lonely and you know how it is, I wanted to let the new year in, so I called a taxi to whizz me round the corner and back. I get in his cab and he seemed a nice enough young man, next thing you know I see him writing something in a little pad, well you can't help looking so I glanced over and you know what he'd written? He wrote "her coat stinks" !!!
Bloody Swine!

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