The drive of my life

Mercury Taxis's Dermott Griffiths.
Mercury Taxis's Dermott Griffiths.
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Dermot Griffiths, age 47, general manager of Sheffield’s Mercury taxis, has been a taxi driver for 16 years and reckons he has clocked up over 900,000 miles. But the drive he will never forget is the 918-mile mercy dash he made in 2009 from Barcelona to Saffron Walden in Cambridgeshire, all to help his former partner and her dying friend.

“It all started with a phone call from my ex wife Sarah.

We divorced 18 years ago after 12 years together, but remain the best of friends. She calls me her ‘go-to’ man in a crisis and, sadly, at that moment she was having to deal with one of tragic proportions.

Sarah desperately needed help. She and her husband were in Spain and about to embark on the journey back with their closest friend Mick, who was dying of cancer.

I knew Mick. He had served in the armed police response unit for over twenty years. He was a bull of a man, 6 foot tall and 14 stone, a non-smoker, energetic, athletic.

But a lump in his throat turned out to be cancer. After it went to his spine and he was given six months to live at the age of 48, he had gone to his villa in Spain with his wife Carol, plus Sarah and her husband Andrew, to spend his last weeks. But when he became severely ill, Macmillan nurses advised it was time to go home to Britain.

Mick’s wife decided to fly home to get everything ready for his arrival, but Mick was too ill to travel on the plane. Andrew volunteered to make a bed for Mick in the back of his Citroen Picasso and drive him on the long journey home. But he needed back-up. If anything happened to Mick on that 15-hour drive, he would need support. It was to me Sarah turned. She asked if I would go over to Spain and drive back with her as the support car for Mick, on what was likely to be a harrowing journey. I flew out to Gerona the next day.

We decided to make the twelve-hour journey to the Eurotunnel at Calais in three shifts of four hours. Fortunately, driving is second nature to me. I started taxi-driving in 1990 and the best piece of advice I ever got was from a traffic policeman who told me always to look at the road far ahead as well as near. That way you can spot potential accidents before they happen.

But I had never driven abroad for so long at high speed, under such emotional conditions. It must have been an adrenaline thing because I didn’t feel tired at all.

It was such a nerve-wracking journey. None of us could be sure Mick would make it. The Macmillan nurses had warned us if his liver failed, he could bleed to death. In my worst moments, I imagined us being stopped by police and them finding a dead body in the back of the car. But all that seemed to matter was getting him home.

Despite the circumstances, the breath-taking scenery was a real eye-opener. I was driving through places I had only heard of, like Perpignan, Mont Pelier and the Pyrenees. I’d have loved to be able to stop, but we were on a mission and there was simply no time.

We drove around the outskirts of Paris and arrived at Calais at midnight, got the Eurostar and at 4am, after a 15-hour drive, we pulled up at Mick’s house in Saffron Walden, where his wife Carol was waiting.

It was such a relief. I will never forget the neighbours lining the street. They had all got out of bed to welcome him home. It was like some kind of guard of honour.

Mick died two weeks later. He was given a police funeral ; officers lined the streets of his village in uniform.

In retrospect, I’m happy that I was called upon. Despite the tragic circumstances, I felt we achieved something worthwhile and it certainly put my years of driving to the ultimate test.

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