“Haldi stains on a curry-cook’s sleeves
Are all the stains splashed curries leave
F-words in the room suspended
Mark the place where a quarrel ended
Lying prophecies were the bane
Of him who defended Dunsinane…”
From Proverbs of Kala Kela by Bachchoo
At the end of a meeting of the trustees of a renowned national theatre venue in West London, I tried to figure out how to get to my next appointment in the southwest of our great and good city. I summoned the London Underground map on my mobile phone, fully aware that there were no underground stations near where I wanted to go.
My colleagues saw me perusing the map and muttering about my frustration at not being able to see connecting bus routes on the same map.
Several tech-savvy persons standing around said they would check on their own phones and soon there were five people around me clicking the apps on their mobiles to assist.
“Get off the tube at Putney and then you’ll have to change buses twice,” said the quickest.
“Take an Uber for God’s sake,” said another. “It’s not the South Pole you’re going to.”
“Of course,” I said. “Why didn’t I think of it in the first place?”
And, gentle reader, it wasn’t my way of pretending that I didn’t want to spend money on the Uber fare. It genuinely hadn’t occurred to me as the obvious way to undertake this fractured trip.
I have, in my short and happy life, taken Ubers a hundred times. I have the app on my phone and have struggled with it. And yet when my mind summons a means of getting from A-to-difficult-B it’s not the first method of conveyance that comes to mind.
On this occasion a third colleague jumped in.
“Uber? Don’t use Uber! Sadiq has just threatened them with losing their licence to operate. Great!”
He was referring to the fact that Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has announced the revocation of Uber’s licence saying that their drivers were not adequately checked and that the inadequacy had given rise to a danger to passengers.
“I don’t think they’ll want to rape Farrukh,” said the person who’d suggested calling an Uber.
The debate about Uber and its safety has weathered several storms. When Sadiq’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, was confronted with the issue of licensing Uber, he sided with the company and reaped the wrath of the traditional black-cab-drivers of London. Boris quoted freedom of trade as his persuasion, but one of the factors for licensing Uber was its popularity with the voters of London who had discovered that this IT-aided service was not only cheaper than the London cab but saved them stepping into the street and waiting to wave their arms at one that passed.
Another dispute Uber faced was from its own drivers demanding the rights that other employees had to holidays and pensions. It didn’t work. They are still classified as self-employed.
In this occasion I called an Uber which came in one minute. There could be only one topic of conversation between the driver and myself — Brexit. He was for it and said so and why. I remained diplomatically silent, recalling a ride I had in a cab from the airport to New York City with a companion. We discussed our opposition to President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The cabbie overheard our conversation, pulled up by the side of the highway and told us to get out. He wasn’t having anti-Americans in his cab. We had to thumb and beg our way into the city.
So, last week, I had a safe journey. My daughters spend huge sums of money on Ubers on weekends, going home in the early hours from their socialising. I have asked them why they don’t take London’s night buses, which they protest are unsafe and full of rapists. Or maybe they said “racists”, and I misheard.
The point is that the younger generation takes the gig economy, ordering food by mobile app, getting some wretched instrument to switch lights on and off or opening and shutting pianos, and buys almost everything on Amazon, lumbering others with retrieving the deliveries from delivery points because they are not home to intercept parcels.
And talking of Amazon, they owe me a contracted advance for a book they have commissioned. The normal procedure consists of my brilliant literary agent sending me the last page of a contract to sign and scan and e-mail back — and then in time a cheque or money in my bank arrives.
Not so with this contract. For weeks I’ve been sent different documents about this that and the other, mostly tax status, to sign. The final piece of bureaucracy was some stuff to register me as a person whom Amazon could pay. It did allow me to say where I lived and which bank I used and where I paid my taxes, but this after very many twists and turns and assumptions that I was either a US citizen or someone who was being asked which state of India I lived in. I think I successfully completed the several taxation documents and the registration as an Amazon creditor.
Time will tell if it was worth the effort.
I was asked to supply several passwords and was frequently told they were invalid. I was, time and again, referred to numbers and codes on different instruments which Amazon seemed to know I possessed — “we have sent a code message of XYZ (or some such) to your iPhone 8, please refer to it and fill it in here!”. All for tax purposes?
And as I went through the hoops, I read in British publications that Amazon pays little or no tax in the UK while earning billions from its consuming public. It may of course be that they don’t want to fill all those UK tax declarations.