Frank Escherbach loved to keep the path in front of his house clean and tidy and free from gratuitous greenery and weeds. He was so proud of the result of his efforts he even went to the trouble of photographing it all with his smartphone, from several angles, to create an overall impression.
The only thing that upset him more than a weed-filled pathway was to be called Eschenbach instead of Escherbach. Secretly, he had hoped that his personal name research would disclose a noble origin, but all he could find was a reference to a stream in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. He was never able to trace his family origins, and after a while just left it at that.
Despite his Germanic nomenclature, he always felt he was 100 per cent a Londoner, and had become accustomed to being called “Esherback”, as if it were a football player title like “full back” or “half back”.
Another thing that disturbed him was almost everyone’s initial assumption, admittedly understandable, that he was a German. In fact, he hailed from the East End of London, from Hoxton, to be precise.
At first a working class district – and the birthplace of the notorious East End London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray – by the end of the 20th century, the southern half of Hoxton had become a vibrant arts and entertainment district boasting a large number of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and art galleries. The new Hoxton residents – including our Frank – could be easily identified by their obscurely fashionable (or „ironically” unfashionable) clothes and their hair (the so-called „Hoxton Fin“, a variation of the well-known Mohawk hairstyle). Although Frank personally favoured a more conservative tonsorial approach (as did most of his taxicab passengers).
Over the years, he had built up an impressive repertoire of cockney rhyming slang. He spent several years working as a London taxi driver, a function in which his Cockney usage helped him gain a reputation as a real Cockney “character”. Once, on arriving at St. Thomas’ Hospital on Westminster Bridge Rd., he rolled down the taxi window and shouted to a rather well dressed man waiting at the kerbside: “Ere, are you the geezer wiv the dodgy strawberry?”, only to be met with a baffled stare. Even if he was the fare awaiting transportation, the man was obviously unfamiliar with Cockney rhyming slang: geezer = man, person; dodgy = likely to fail or cause problems; strawberry = strawberry tart = Cockney rhyming slang for “heart”. The person he was supposed to collect was a heart patient, and not only that; he was incidentally also one of the hospital governors – who was greatly displeased at being thus publicly addressed, noted his vehicle number and had him barred from ever working for the hospital again.
Thereafter, Frank always suffered a feeling of nausea and anxiety whenever he noticed a strawberry tart in a bakery, and never touched one again.
After 12 years, Frank developed a hankering for a more secure job as a driver with reasonably regular hours and a secure pension. One morning he had the idea that he might like to be a police driver. He looked forward to the thrill of a high-speed police pursuit, experiencing the hugely intense adrenaline-fuelled rush when closing in on the bad guy in a stolen Porsche.
Frank sat the test but failed. One of the examiners he knew personally told him confidentially that he was failed for being too intelligent. He learned that police deliberately exclude really smart candidates from selection, because they get bored with the job too quickly. He protested against his exclusion, telling them that it was his dream job, but couldn’t beat the system. Presumably this, thought Frank, is why the detective divisions refer to the uniformed colleagues as “The Woodentops”.
So, it was back to the taxi rank for Frank. He prided himself on having performed very well in The Knowledge, the test that all drivers of London black cabs must pass, to show that they can recall immediately and from memory the name and location of all London’s streets and the shortest or quickest route to them.
He had always stayed on the right side of the law, despite the temptations – and associated risks. For instance, a London taxi driver had recently been jailed for more than 11 years after ferrying kilo blocks of cocaine to dealers in his cab.
On one occasion, a Lufthansa air passenger he was collecting from Heathrow terminal noticed his name on his driver identification card and immediately launched into a tirade of questions in German, such as “Hey, Sie heißen Escherbach, wie kommt es, daß ein Deutscher in London andere Deutsche in einem Taxi rumkutschiert?”. “Und heißen Sie wirklich Escherbach oder sollte das nicht eher “Eschenbach” heißen? Da haben Sie sich vertan, oder?“
On hearing this, Frank slammed his foot down on the brake and screeched to a halt on the Western Perimeter Road, jumped out of the cab, opened the passenger door and deposited the passenger with his luggage on the road and drove off rapidly without a word.
Frank realized he had violated the most basic London taxi cab code of conduct, and expected to receive a message from the complaints team at the Public Carriage Office the same day.
Mysteriously, no such message ever arrived.
On the following day, however, at exactly 4 p.m., there was a ring at the door. Frank’s mouth dropped open at the sight of who was standing there. It was the Heathrow passenger from yesterday!
“Look mate”, he stammered “I’m really sorry about yesterday, I….” but his utterance was cut short by the caller. No sign of the suitcase from yesterday, today he was carrying an official looking briefcase.
“May I come in, Mr. Eschenbach?”.
Frank just managed not to start correcting him to “Escherbach” and ushered the man in.
Let me just introduce myself, Mr. Eschenbach“ he continued, a smile playing about his lips, thought Frank.
“I am a lawyer from the law firm Latham & Watkins and am here on official business, nothing to do with airline travel, incidentally, he smiled again”
“You are Mr. Frank Eschenbach of 13 Eagle Wharf Road, Hoxton, London, are you not?”
“Actually….” Frank started to reply, but was interrupted by the lawyer who said” Would you please tell me your date of birth?”
Frank duly replied “17th June, 1971”.
“Very good, and if you’d be so kind as to show me evidence of your credentials, for instance a British passport.”
Frank went away and came back two minutes later with the requested documents.
The lawyer inspected them closely, then withdrew a folder of papers from his briefcase.
“Very well, Mr. Eschenbach, because that is your real name I can inform you that you are the beneficiary of an inheritance from Dr. Heinrich Eschenbach, recently deceased German citizen and sole owner of the company Eschenbach Metall GmbH, Essen. Dr. Eschenbachs estate is estimated at a value of 52 Million Euro.”
If you wish to accept the inheritance, please sign here, here and…. here”, he continued, leafing through several sheets of paper, and then replacing the signed copies in his case.
“But…. My name is Escherbach”… stammered Frank… but the lawyer was already getting ready to leave.
“We can settle all this in due course, Mr. Eschenbach, all that is the perpetuation of a typing error made many years ago in the Town Hall.
“I’ll be in touch with you again soon… unless, of course, someone throws me out of my taxi” he added, smiling again broadly.”
With that, he left swiftly and walked off to the town centre.
In a daze, Frank inspected a copy of what he had just signed, and, in a daze, left the house thinking to himself “I gotta get down to the boozer, and tell Nancy about all this over a pint of bitter!”
He left his house, pausing only briefly to pluck a dandelion which had grown rapidly at the side of the path of his house.