Published: 06:00, 26 July 2021
| Updated: 09:40, 26 July 2021
One of the town's longest serving cab drivers is calling it a day after more than a quarter of a century ferrying passengers to their chosen destination.
When David Gladwell first started at the Gravesend ranks of Phoenix Taxis, formerly Eric's, in 1988 Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the oft-criticised "afternoon gap" forbidding the serving of alcohol in pubs between 3pm and 5pm was scrapped.
A standard cab fee from the town to Gatwick airport would have cost you £13 for what would now set you back around £70.
The times have certainly changed and so has the trade which has seen the 69-year-old earn an honest living over the last 30 or so years.
Affectionately dubbed “Docker Dave” by his cab colleagues owing to his first job working containers on the Tilbury Docks, David has been a familiar, friendly face in the town ever since.
"I'm very fortunate. I left school at 15 and never had a single day on the dole," he says.
“Round here you've got cement works, paper works… of course they all got made redundant in the 80s and consequently people took up cabbing.”
In recent years David has been gradually winding down his hours and has decided now is the opportune moment to move into the slow lane.
He said: "I’ve had a really good run out of it. I’m a people person and I hope I’m a popular driver with the clientèle.
"The time is right for me when you are my age. It is my decision – I could say in football terms I jumped before I was pushed."
Of course, you don't spend the best part of 30 years behind the wheel without seeing a thing or two.
And David cheekily quips: “I could tell stories that make Fifty Shades of Grey look like a children’s book.”
The cab driver remains tight lipped on giving away any salicious details about customers but his wry smile from across the table of Costa Coffee hints at some other tales and insights. He reveals:
"I will miss it but it is getting less and less," confesses David, who lives with his partner Alywn in an apartment on the prom overlooking the Thames.
The cabbie hasn't worked night shifts for many years now as he says they are too dangerous.
“There’s more trouble generally, especially when you get a hot day like this and they have been on the sauce all afternoon," he adds.
“I could tell stories that make Fifty Shades of Grey look like a children’s book”
“Overall I’ve had a very small amount of trouble.
“You know when you've got to shut up if there is a bit of drama, you can sense it. Your people skills tell you that."
David has also managed to keep his cab clean for the most part with just the one backseat spew to speak of.
He puts this down to his strict pick-up policy for those suffering from the effects of alcohol.
“If they sway there ain’t no way,” he says.
Besides the revolving carousel of different people he meets the other allure of cabbing for David has always been the freedom it offers.
“The beauty of it for me is I’ve always been self-employed," he says.
"I come and go when I want and if my missus says you want to go out today we will.”
It's also about work-life balance he adds: "There’s no good being on the rank seven days a week, 15 hours a day.”
But the last year has hit the trade particularly hard with the spread of Covid-19 shutting down lots of working opportunities for months at a time.
David didn't work through the first lockdown and says for those entering the profession it is getting more difficult to earn a living.
The former docker attributes this to the escalating costs associated with running a cab, including tax, petrol, insurance and licensing red tape.
Then there's Uber.
The scorn directed towards the ride-sharing app by black cab drivers and private hire vehicles is well documented.
But David has a slightly different take on the topic and says adapting to a turn in the tide is nothing new for cab drivers.
“The biggest change is there is a lot more competition and a lot more drivers," he said.
“You can’t hate them because it is the way of the world. I saw the docks change.
"I always said 25-year-olds and below won’t phone for a taxi when it’s on an app. It’s a way of life, they come out without any money in their pocket."
Traditional customers who rely on local firms are also fast disappearing.
He adds: “A lot of our customers are going one way or another. Retiring, moving away or moving up to see the big bloke in the sky.”
As a docker, David travelled on occasion behind the Iron Curtain from Finland into Russia and saw other parts of Eastern Europe during the Cold War period.
Throughout his life he has retained an aptitude for travel and prior to the pandemic would take regular day trips into France, as well as other far flung parts of the world.
His favourite place is Hong Kong although he admits even he finds the traffic and standard of driving abroad a little terrifying.
Asked if he would consider taking over the wheel of a private hire vehicle or TukTuk in Asia he belly laughs, remarking: “I don’t think I could afford the life insurance”.
Instead, as his 70th birthday looms he says his retirement plans will largely consist of spending more time with his partner at home and enjoying her cooking.
“She's is going to do a nice Salmon en Croute... I’m in seven heaven”.