The tabloid editor liked the article proposal. Then I mentioned the word "taxi". "The thing is, Lauren . . . the thing is, Lauren" ( sometimes he repeats himself when we talk, as if he's addressing a slightly backward child) ". . . not everyone uses minicabs like you do. Do you understand what I'm saying? Our readers won't be able to relate to an article about taxis and the like . . ."
I wanted to tut and say, "Well, I'm not stupid, you know. I realise most people don't rely on cabs like I do . . ." But I was having a political moment; I had completely forgotten that some people live outside the cab range of London WC1. As he carried on explaining just how out of touch my cab fixation made me, I was trying to think of examples of times when villagers or poorer city-dwellers would call a taxi: outside Tesco with bags of shopping and the kids on their way home from school and . . . that was all I could come up with.
On Sunday, for the first time ever, I was driven home from work by a woman. She was Nigerian and we grumbled exhaustedly about "men". We were both working nightmare hours on a Sunday morning having left partners snoring in bed. When we got home we would be making the family breakfast. I described the various underhand ways I had exacted revenge on snoring partners in the past (including grinding rabbit droppings on a meal). She laughed and said she was jealous of my nerve because being African meant becoming "a slave" to whomever she married. Her man is not too bad, apparently, since he looks after the children when she works and even plays with them from time to time.
One of my favourite drivers was a local guy. We've talked for hours this past year. I know about his children (all of them now grown-up) and his wife (lovely - "puts up with me"). We've even shared stories from our "errant" pasts. Mine included running away with a group of lads when I was 14. His included "a stint inside that made me look at life differently". He told me about prison; how he was now a different person, a devoted family man who doted on his girls and worked hard to support his large family.
He never once mentioned having been a rapist.
I felt sick when I saw him in the paper under the heading "Scandal of the rapist cab driver". The man who looked like a hippy and spoke sadly about "sinking morals" and "men who behave like animals" had dragged a teenager from a phone box not far from where I live. He had put her through enough of an ordeal to earn himself a jail sentence of four years for the ruthless, bloody attack. The article said that he had slipped through the net after a new law aimed at banning rogue cabbies came in earlier this year.
He was given a temporary minicab licence thanks to a backlog of police checks on drivers. When new checks put in place by Ken Livingstone's transport authority finally unearthed his criminal record, he was immediately sacked.
Then his face was splashed on the front page of the local rag. All the companies he had driven for were listed. Everyone in three boroughs would now recognise him. I've been wondering ever since about justice, and about his family. Had they known about his past or had he invented a crime that wouldn't repulse them? The rape had been committed in 1982. His eldest child is now 19, I think. Perhaps they knew nothing at all about their dad's past. I feel sorry for them and sick at my own lack of judgement. Why didn't I spot that there was something wrong with the man?
Deep down, women always think that rapists and murderers must look evil. That they can recognise them as such because they are dirty or repulsive, and that they won't have nice families or be good dads.