On a typical day, the scene that meets the eye at the head of the airport taxi rank is one of barely controlled chaos – the line of passengers snaking along into the distance, two or three cabs pulling up every few minutes to whittle away at the edgy crowd and the harried dispatcher somehow managing to maintain a semblance of sanity in the middle of it all defining the mad half hour immediately following the arrival of an inbound flight. Today there is a line of taxis and no passengers waiting. Two men – and a woman – stand at the head of the taxi rank, talking. Their conversation is deep and intense – there are hands flailing about, gesturing wildly and a few guffaws here and there – such that I have to clear my throat to attract their attention. At the second time of clearing my throat, I succeed. They split up like people surprised, maybe even a little guilty. The woman – who must be the dispatcher given her fluorescent yellow jacket – waves me in the direction of the car at the head of the line, a jet black Audi. One of the men standing and chatting turns out to be the driver, his keys remotely popping the trunk as I dump my bags and as he makes his way to the driver’s side of the car.
Traffic is light as we make our way off the taxi rank and join the road towards town. At first we ride in silence, me fiddling with my phone, he keeping his eyes trained on the road. When he speaks, his choice of ice breaker is to ask where I have come in from. He guesses London – I correct him – Manchester. I add that it was boiling hot, almost summer-ish out there. He smiles – a neither here nor there version that reeks of resignation. Through the windscreen, the sight is one of grey clouds, overcast. The road itself has the slight sheen that can only have been from a light shower.
Hasn’t really been warm up here, he says, in response to my question as to how it has been up here. Not that I would know, he adds. He goes on to explain that he is the designated carer for his 86 year old mother. Taxi driving – this gig – is his diversion, his chance to escape he says, to get air and space. Feisty woman she is though. Between her and my wife, I get all the orders I need to obey. I nod sagely through it all and laugh out loud at the gag about getting orders. We moan mutually about wives and being ordered about – my imagination standing me in good stead.
Weather gripe done, we move on to our next favourite subject – holidays. I explain Manchester wasn’t a holiday for me – exams, I add. Corrosion and Materials – when he probes further. That brings a glint to his eyes. His son works in the rust business too, or used to, before decamping to the subsea projects world. The bugger is well paid from the looks of it he says. One senses a slight element of resentment beneath the pride.
We talk a bit more as we inch forward through the traffic towards the Huadagain round about, Aberdeen’s best known traffic bottle neck. Over the course of the next ten minutes he muses about his early offshore career – pressure testing subsea modules for the Brents 30+ years ago, being involved in a few other commissioning projects before returning to the tried and tested fishing boat. I might have made a ton of money myself if I’d stayed working offshore, he says a hint of regret in his office.
I mention that the Brents are being prepared for decommissioning as we speak – end of life and such like. It’s a life time since his days. By now we are parked outside my flat. I thank him, pay the fare, £17.20 – he gives me change back unlike his compatroiot down south – and get out to grab my bags, life, death and re-birth taking centre stage in mind all over again.