22 May 2015

Hitchhiking

In my salad days, I travelled many hundreds of miles free of charge. I stuck out my thumb and almost magically, vehicles pulled in to pick me up. Actually, it was rarely as simple as that. Often I would have to wait ages for a "ride" like the desperate chap in the picture above.

Hitchhiking out of London back to the fair land of UpNorth was always a challenge but my late and much missed brother Paul taught me what to do. You had to catch the tube to Finchley North and then jump on a particular London bus that took you very close to Junction 1 of the M1 motorway. Then after waiting on the slip road for a short while you'd be on your way out of The Smoke and back to reality.

I hitchhiked long distances - up to Inverness and to The Isle of Mull, all the way round Ireland and across to Wales. Being at university in Scotland meant I would often hitchhike up and down from Yorkshire - saving train fares and making a little money at the same time for in those days students could claim back from the local council the equivalent of three return rail fares a year.

You never knew who would pick you up. It was all so beautifully random. Lorry drivers were a favourite. Their employers hadn't thought about anti-hitchhiker regulations or insurance restrictions and many men liked to have somebody to chat with  to help the tedious miles pass by.

I could tell you a lot about hitchhiking techniques and share stories of especially kind drivers who bought me meals or went out of their way to drop me off at more convenient places or about "rides" I had in America, Iceland, France and even Easter Island where some drunken Rapa Nui natives took me across the island in a battered old Toyota that had no seats in the back - just a big brown dog called Felix who stared at me as if I were a tasty carcass. And there was that single woman by the roadside in Glencoe, Scotland with a cardboard sign that said "No Fleas!" where you might have expected "Edinburgh" or "John o' Groats".

In contrast, my son Ian has had virtually no experience of hitchhiking. It is a different world these days and you just don't see anything like the number of hitchhikers you used to do. Apart from anything else, drivers have become afraid of strangers. Hitchhikers might rob you, steal your car, engage you in unwanted sexual activity or grab the steering wheel and force the vehicle off the road. Such is the mythology. Stranger danger. As a society, we used to be so much more open and trusting.

Anyway, in the summer of 2004 Ian and I flew over to Ireland to see Paul and his family in County Clare. I had a hire car and one sunny afternoon after a trip to Galway City, just outside the village of Kilcolgan we saw an older man with his thumb out by the side of the road. I quickly assessed him -as you do - and he looked fine - a good candidate for a free lift . I guess I thought it would show Ian some of the beauty of hitchhiking - people helping one another out. Random strangers.

As soon as this grey-haired fellow got in the car I whispered "Oh no!" to myself. He was as drunk as a Tory MP after day of  grouse shooting. Pissed as a newt and angry with it. Coming from deep in the bogland of western Ireland his speech would have been hard enough to decipher at the best of times but now it was all slurred so it sounded like a foreign language. He was speaking Guinnessish.

We were just taking him back to his home on the outskirts of Ballyvaughan - ten mile away. It should have been easy but he wanted to make an argument of it and the fact that we were English seemed to wind him up no end. But this wasn't the worst of it. 

The fellow's non-hitchhiking hand was bleeding. It was wrapped in reams of toilet paper and through his jumble of indecipherable utterances I worked out that he had been in a fight in a pub in Kilcolgan. He kept putting his bloody left mitt on Ian's front seat and the head rest too. Ian was leaning forward, slightly petrified by the beer monster in the back. I think he was called Paddy.

It was an enormous relief when we dropped Paddy off and drove away. There was so much blood on Ian's seat that he got in the back. Fortunately, when we got back to Paul's house we were able to clean the blood off. The upholstery must have been protected with some kind of spray guard. I think the incident will have put Ian off ever picking up a hitchhiker in the future. Not quite what my spur of the moment act of kindness as meant to achieve.

20 comments:

  1. It brings back many happy days. I once hitched from Derbyshire to the Cairngorms with a pair of skis. I made it in twenty hours and two of those were spent digging my skis out of the back of a lorry full of gravel. The driver thought it was hilarious or f...ing braming as I remember him expressing it.

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    1. You never saw moments like that on "Ski Sunday"!

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  2. I've never hitched. In my tender youth (i.e. nearly half a century ago) I gave a couple of students a lift and discovered the one in the back had played noughts and crosses with a knife in the back of the car seat. That was the first and last time I picked up a hitchhiker in the UK.

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    1. What a sheltered life you have lived Graham! I wonder if the noughts won or the crosses.

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  3. Gosh! How come you didn't spot the bloody, toilet-paper wrapped hand and the drunkenness (in posture or grin or whatever) before you let "Paddy" in?

    The first and last hitchhiking experience I've ever had goes as follows:
    My sister and our two best friends (also sisters) had been out clubbing in Stuttgart and were tired enough to go home early one Sunday morning. This was decades before trains were running between our town and Stuttgart all night, so we choose to hitchhike, thinking that we'd be safe - there were four of us, after all, enough to fight off any potential rapist (we never thought of weapons).
    So there we are in the middle of the dark and relatively quiet city, holding out our thumbs along the road we knew leading towards our home town. Car stops, two youngish guys in the front. The four of us squeeze in the back. (We were skinny teenagers back then, the youngest of us being 12, two 15-year-olds and one at 16.)
    Guys ask us where we want to go, we tell them Ludwigsburg. As we start the ride, my friend makes a cheeky remark about the rather unclean state of the car. Guys chuckle and say: "It's not our car, so we don't clean it." - "What do you mean, not your car, whose is it then?" Guys say: "It's our office's car." - "Erm... what office...?" Guys chuckle some more and finally let out they are plain clothes police officers and the car is really a police car in disguise. What follows is a stern lecture about the dangers of hitchhiking and our promise to never-ever do it again if they just won't tell our parents. Both parties have kept their promise... (and the guys never found out that one of us was only 12 - that may have changed their mind about not telling our parents).
    Now I sincerely hope my Mum won't go and have a look at your blog, Neil!

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    1. Regarding Paddy, he had his bloody hand behind his back when we pulled up and when he climbed in the car it was too late to tell him to get lost.
      CALLING THE MEIKE MUM! CALLING MEIKE MUM! NAUGHTY DAUGHTER ALERT! NO MORE WURST OR SAUERKRAUT FOR HER!

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  4. I dontthink ive ever done it!ever!
    I think i am full of those urban myth stories you used to hear as a kid....the one about the female hitchhiker with hairy hands and an axe in the boot

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    1. You gotta live life! Stand at the side of the main road with all your animals and I am sure you'll get a lift down to Rhyl in a jiffy... A Datsun Jiffy.

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  5. I was a hitch hiker but not nearly as experienced as you. Like you I had all those interesting encounters. I wish it was still the same today.

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    1. So... hitch hiking is less common in Canada too these days? Nothing stays the same.

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  6. It's such a shame that the world has come to be the place that it is today. Back in the Sixties my girlfriends and I hitched rides a few times...to the coast and at the coast...even at night going from where we were staying to attend record hops at another beach a couple or few miles/kms away...without a problem. There is no way I would do so today (and not just because of my age nowadays); and there is no way I'd pick up a stranger and give him/her a lift.

    It's sad that our world has come to this...but we only have humans to blame. They're the ones who caused it to be this way.

    (I'm catching up on a lot that has been happening between last Wednesday morning...and Friday afternoon...during that period I was unable to connect to the Net...and I can assure you it was very frustrating!) lol

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    1. Couldn't connect to the net? Are you a fish or a fisherwoman Lee?

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  7. Ah, that photo! Where is it Mr Pudding? I'll avoid that place.
    As for hitch-hiking I've only hitched a ride once and I've given rides to hitch-hikers, but only when in the company of friends and when I was young and silly.

    Now that I'm old and still silly, I would have no chance of being given a ride and there is no way I would pick up a hitch-hiker.

    Ms Soup

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    1. I would happily give you a ride Ms Soup.

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  8. You rarely see hitchhikers here these days. Many years ago we had a serial killer murdering hitch-hikers in NSW and it put people off a bit !! Then there was the fellow who murdered that English traveler in the Northern Territory . Luckily his girlfriend escaped but they never found his body. Too many weirdos out there these days to take the risk.

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    1. If I saw you and Tony sweating by the roadside in The Peak District with big rucksacks on your backs and little Aussie flags sewn upon them, I would gladly pick you up.... or are you weirdos? Mmmm....maybe it would be safer not to risk it.

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  9. I think you were very lucky indeed, Mr. Pudding, to have never had any bad experiences along the miles of road that you road with strangers.

    I have just finished reading a study that suggests that we should not, as parents, teach our children never to speak to strangers or engage with them in any way. The study shows that doing so avoids teaching children how to spot good or bad people or how to develop the sense or acquire the ability to judge character.

    Ahhhhh. Another thing I did wrong as a parent, I guess.

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    1. As parents there is no right or wrong. We do what we think is best and I am sure that you and The Big Bear did it all with love. That's what matters Mama Thyme.

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  10. You have brought back some memories of my youth with your post, I have hitch extensively around much of Australia as well as all around Ireland, the UK and Europe, one ride I remember was being given a lufe by a nun out of Killarney in Ireland on St. Stephens day, nice lady, also you do get a few lifts drivers who are bit suspect and the relief you get when you finally are able to get out. By far the majority of lifts were with some great people.

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    1. To me those many lifts underlined how kind most people are (or were?) Thanks for dropping by again Craig.

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