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26 August 2017

Meet The Shuffler, Edinburgh’s strangest taxi driver

One passenger likened his experience to watching a stand-up show.

By Julia Rampen

A few years ago, a friend stumbled out of an Edinburgh pub in the wee hours of the morning.

Confronted with the prospect of a trek across the dark slopes of Arthur’s Seat, he and his drinking pals instead hailed a black cab. When they climbed in, the driver sat in the front, as usual, and revved the engine. But then a puppet appeared over his shoulder and greeted them in a hoarse voice. “From the moment we entered the cab to the moment we got out, we didn’t stop laughing,” my friend remembers.

This story might sound like it was found at the bottom of a pint glass, but he was not alone. Extraordinary reports began to circulate online, and each was unique. One fare (as passengers are known in taxi slang) was encouraged to shout: “Gie’s a tune, driver,”at which point the cabbie produced a harmonica. Another likened his experience to watching a stand-up show.

One thing all the stories had in common was the cabbie’s name. A video clip posted online by a Taiwanese tourist shows the driver turn up the music, switch on flashing lights, play maracas and brandish a rubber skull.

“I’m kind of famous in Edinburgh,” he says as he drops them off. “You can tell everyone in Taiwan you’ve been in The Shuffler’s taxi.”

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After hearing these stories, I, too, hoped to hail The Shuffler’s cab. But it never happened. Instead, I ended up with one gruff, grey driver after another. On my last visit to Edinburgh, I asked my cabbie about The Shuffler.

“Oh aye, Kenny,” he said. “All he wanted to do was make people laugh. But the council got him in the end. Revoked his licence.” It seemed The Shuffler had driven off the map.

“He’s just vanished,” one fleet manager told me.

But eventually, with the help of several cabbies, I got his mobile number.

Life had been tough for Kenny Taylor since he was forced to give up his taxi. Still, he looked back on his work with pride. Always a joker, he’d come up with the act after spotting the puppets in a shop window. “Timing is everything,” he told me. “Give the fares a wee Shuffle and they won’t forget the journey.”

Kenny got his nickname because of his “jiggy, jiggy” dance moves, but it was clear as we spoke it meant more to him than that. The Shuffler’s wise-cracking exuberance helped to battle Kenny’s depression – at least to a point. “You get people saying: ‘Hey, be The Shuffler.’ But you cannae be The Shuffler 24 hours a day.”

The way Kenny described “shuffling” was something between a shift in emotion and surprise. One time he asked a girl in the cab what she wanted to do when she grew up, and she replied smartly: “Be an adult.” He concluded: “The Shuffler had been shuffled.”

He told me he’d have to finish the conversation, because he had the dentist at 2.30. We said goodbye. It was only afterwards, when I repeated the phrase out loud, that I realised that I, too, had just been shuffled.

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia