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Taxi drivers are the best sources of stories about the Arab community in London. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg News
Taxi drivers are the best sources of stories about the Arab community in London. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg News

Cab drivers praise generous passengers with cash to splash

The London taxi driver is well-known for his gritty integrity, salt of the earth and honest as the day is long persona. So who better to go to for a view on the Arab community in London than the man in the Hackney cab?

The London taxi driver is well-known for his salt of the earth and honest as the day is long persona. So who better to go to for a view on the Arab community in London than the man in the Hackney cab?

On each taxi ride over the past week I've made it a point to conduct a mini straw poll, asking each driver what he thought of his Arab passengers. The results were amusing, and overwhelmingly positive.

"I like 'em, good punters," said one, as cockney as they come. "They're polite and well-behaved - not like some of the English - always pay cash and are good tippers. Plus they usually only want short journeys - Harrods to Selfridges, jobs like that. It's Ramadan soon isn't it? So I expect they'll all go back home to be with their families. I'll be sorry to see the back of them, they're good customers," he said.

Another told of how he picked up an Arab man outside the Porsche dealership in posh Mayfair and was asked to take him to the Ferrari dealer in nearby South Kensington.

At Ferrari he asked the driver to wait, went inside for 30 minutes, then came out again and asked to go back to the Porsche showroom, where again the driver was asked to wait. This trip, to and fro between Porsche and Ferrari, with the driver waiting each time, happened a few more times and the bill was running high.

"The meter was running at 76 [Dh416] when he finished, and he gave me 100 and told me to keep the change. He apologised for taking up so much of my time and keeping me waiting, which I didn't mind at all, and explained he couldn't make his mind up which car to buy." So the driver asked which one he had finally chosen. "Both of them," was the reply.

The numbers of visitors to London from the Middle East and North Africa always rise in summer months, especially around the time of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which was in full swing last week.

But one sizeable party of Gulf Arabs was here for a different competition altogether: the bizarre court case between the Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal and Daad Sharab, a Jordanian who is trying get US$10 million out of the prince for her role in brokering the sale of a plane to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

The two sides, each with a considerable entourage of friends and family, packed Court 31 at the Rolls Building in London's Fetter Lane.

The new building is part of the initiative to attract big legal cases to the capital, but if so they will have to do better than Court 31. It reminded me of a lecture hall in one of Britain's new, soulless universities.

There was none of the grandeur of British justice, as proclaimed in the Victorian extravagance of the High Court, just around the corner. Prince Al Waleed looked decidedly out of place in the spartan surroundings, and uncomfortable when being asked details of his various yachts and private planes.

At one stage, he was asked to confirm that a picture shown to the court was indeed of him and Ms Sharab on board a yacht in Cannes.

"Is that a yacht or a plane?" asked the judge, Peter Smith, squinting at the photograph. "Oh it must be a boat because there's water in the background. Unless the plane's ditched, of course," the judge mused.

fkane@thenational.ae

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