My Uncle Bill drove a London cab. Not a mini-cab—those were his sworn enemies—but a real black cab. Uncle Bill was a Scotsman from Glasgow who served in the army during the War, settled in London after marrying my mother’s beautiful eldest sister Bette, and retained a strong, almost undecipherable Glaswegian accent, even after having lived in England for forty years. He “did the Knowledge”—the challenging study of London’s streets and traffic patterns followed by an equally rigorous exam—drove a company-owned cab for a while, and eventually bought his own, which he kept in tip-top condition inside and out, and which became the pride of our entire extended family. Even its license plate number—YOY245G—is indelibly fixed in my memory. (When Nikhil was a baby, my Uncle Ted sent him a large Corgi model of a London cab, with that number glued to its bumper.)
Uncle Bill was the soul of generosity, giving the lie to the stereotype of the stingy Scotsman. In those days few of us owned cars, and not a single family occasion went by when he wasn’t on hand to transport us in style. Every time we returned to England from India or the States he was waiting for us at Heathrow Airport with his round beaming face and gleaming cab, enfolding us in love and warmth as he bundled us into the back, with Auntie Bette riding regally in the front beside him. When we visited them at home, he never allowed us to take public transportation back, and he offered his cab for every family wedding, arriving exactly at the appointed time, the cab glossy black and bedecked with ribbons, to drive the bride to the church.
Before his cab-driving days, Uncle Bill worked for London Transport and drove a double-decker bus. On an auspicious July morning in 1953 my parents-to-be, dressed to the nines, were making their way to a London registry office, a journey which would have necessitated at least one change of buses. As the first bus pulled up, they were amazed to discover that its driver was none other than Uncle Bill. He was overjoyed to see them and welcomed them effusively on board. He wouldn’t hear of their getting down and changing buses, all togged up in their wedding finery, not while he was there. He simply took the bus right off its route, announcing to the other passengers that his sister-in-law was getting married that morning and he was going to see her and her groom to the steps of the Town Hall. Apparently the entire bus entered into the spirit of the occasion, and gave the happy couple a rousing send-off.
Uncle Bill isn’t here in person anymore to give us the VIP treatment in his cab, but I will remember his generous spirit as long as I live. The first time I arrived at Heathrow without him there to meet me I realized how much his unfailing presence had spelt Home to me. May returning travelers and couples starting out on their lives together always be blessed by the kindness of an Uncle Bill.
*Get Me to the Church on Time, sung by the one and only Stanley Holloway