Tuesday 5th July 2011

AGED thirteen, I was granted parental permission to become a hitchhiker.

There was this girl, see, from primary school days in Batley and we’d moved to Hull and even though she and I had been writing to each other, well, obviously, I was deeply in love with her and what else could I do?

I went via York: sixty-odd miles. I recall a long walk past the race course and the relief of being picked up by somebody going to Tadcaster, but have no idea where I stayed or how I got back.

Diane. Or was it Sadie? I wonder if she’s on Facebook.

Thumbed lifts everywhere after that. Learned pavement deportment, best distances from roundabouts and traffic lights, the essential half-smile. Caprice was more exciting than arrival time. Signwriting came much later.

There were lorry drivers with unintelligible accents; transport caffs; the odd sports car or motorbike; downpours of rain leading to a worry that nobody would pick up a bedraggled wetness.

Flippant arrogance continued into adult years. Even in my late twenties I’d hitch to important meetings, once setting out before dawn in March snow to attempt to reach a school where I was to moderate the day’s drama exam. Took six lifts and four hours. Arrived with only five minutes to spare.

My son caught the bug too, his wider ambition encompassing Europe, including a highlight single lift from Spain to Gloucestershire. I must dig out his Rucksack and Thumb poem.

We shared several summers thumbing around, leaving motorways for the canals, where the traffic’s slow pace permitted conversation between towpath and cabin, often leading to refreshment in return for assistance with the windlass and shoulders to lock gates.

I last hitchhiked for the short trip to Stroud. A scruffy, middle-aged man in a scruffy car obliged. On his way home from Fairford. Having been there on an anti-war protest a week previously, I asked about the peace camp.

“Dunno, mate. Been to watch the B-52s take off. Amazing birds.”

It wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys.



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