Big-hearted cabbies put on the glitz for deserving youngsters

Monk Steve Gunnell with Cameron Blakey, 5, from Oxgangs. Picture: JULIE BULL

Monk Steve Gunnell with Cameron Blakey, 5, from Oxgangs. Picture: JULIE BULL

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THERE was at least one man dressed as a tiger, a pair of dancing pandas, Olympic rings on wheels, and enough balloons and water pistols to, if not to sink a battleship, then certainly dent a black cab.

And there were, of course, children. More than 120 of them, who, for a day at least, were able to put their troubles behind them and have great fun.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse with Melissa Wilkins, 8. Picture: JULIE BULL

Mickey and Minnie Mouse with Melissa Wilkins, 8. Picture: JULIE BULL

They rolled through Edinburgh yesterday on a black cab trip to the coast that has become a memorable part of city life for 65 years, a precious and in some cases rare day out for some of our most vulnerable and fragile children.

Taxis took time off negotiating tram works and idling their engines in endless traffic jams to collect dozens of special needs children and whizz them to Yellowcraigs in East Lothian for a busy afternoon of music, magic, entertainment and just good old-fashioned fun.

On the way there were water pistol fights – more than one police officer and passing traffic warden found themselves on the receiving end of a drenching – pumping music, singing and an awful lot of waving.

The convoy of taxis, most decorated from bonnet to boot in everything from balloons to the one driver who had turned his cab into an elephant for the day, set off from Murrayfield Stadium.

The cabs made their way into town, passing the smart suited office workers in Charlotte Square, bemused shoppers on Princes Street and eventually trundling past tourists down the Royal Mile, merrily squirting passers-by on the way.

The black cabs, accompanied by music from Chaplin’s mobile disco, then wound their way to Musselburgh to stock up on supplies of Luca’s ice-cream and sorbets before following the coast to Yellowcraigs for an afternoon of pony rides, funfair rides, a magic show and, for those able to take part, sports.

The cabbies were following a well-established custom of treating some of the area’s most deserving children, which began in 1947 and has continued, without a break, ever since.

According to organiser Keith Bell, the annual trip to the coast is looked forward to every bit as much by the taxi drivers as by their passengers.

“The drivers are happy to give up a day’s work for this. When you see the problems that some of the children have to face, it makes day-to-day moans about the traffic and the trams fairly insignificant.

“Some of the children arrive for the trip with oxygen, feeding lines and suction equipment.

“Giving up a day’s work compared to what they and their families go through is absolutely nothing.”

Among the youngsters was nine-year-old Braidburn Primary pupil Emma Dobbin, of Shore Place, Leith.

Her aunt Lindsay Muir, who accompanied Emma for the day along with her daughter Erin, 15, says the trip was a chance to escape for a rare treat. “Emma has cerebral palsy, she uses sign language to communicate and is in a wheelchair, so it’s often very difficult to get out and about with her. To do something like this is absolutely brilliant,” she says.

“This is the third time she’s come on the outing and the whole family really appreciates everything the drivers do. It’s lovely to see the children’s faces and see how much they are enjoying it.”

For five-year-old Cameron Blakey, who is autistic and has learning difficulties, the trip was particularly thrilling – his cab arrived to pick him up at his Oxgangs home, with driver Rick Weightman at the wheel, decorated to look like an elephant.

Mum Maria, who joined Cameron and husband Charles on the trip, said: “Cameron doesn’t have any speech, so we go by his expression and it looked like he was having a great time. We can’t thank the drivers enough.”

HAPPY DOWN THE YEARS

TAXI drivers have been taking Edinburgh’s most special children on a trip to the coast every year since 1947. The event was launched in the aftermath of the Second World War to give a treat to children who might otherwise never enjoy a day out.

Since then, drivers have given up their time and vehicles for the free day out, and children from special schools and others with various debilitating conditions are chosen to take part.

Taxi drivers raise funds throughout the year to cover the costs of the fun day, usually around £7000. Local businesses and services also chip in.

This year’s event, the 66th Edinburgh Taxi Trade Outing, involved around 60 decorated cabs, some adorned with scores of balloons and streamers, others given full fancy dress treatment.

Before setting off, judges including Lord Provost Donald Wilson singled out three taxis for special prizes – top prize this year going to an Olympics designed taxi operated by drivers Duncan Reilly, 73, and Alex McTaggart, 68.