Which of you have ever hitch-hiked? I have. And loved it. But that was way back when. When The Faces had not long lost their Small, flowers were still in our hair and I spent my summers picking strawberries to save for a Transistor Radio with – wait for it – EARPHONES! so I could listen to Radio Luxembourg under my sheets. Kim and I would walk along Topsham road; look at the road signs and think, Torquay today? With no map or any idea where it was, we would sit on the edge of the road with our thumbs out wearing hotpants that barely covered our whatsits, and surprise, we never had to wait long for a ride. We saw a lot of Torbay that year and it certainly beat walking the ten miles to Exmouth as we’d done the year before, desperately aiming for Pink House Corner, the landmark where we had broken the back of it.
Most often our lifts were lorry drivers who happily shared their sarnies, Spam or cheese with red sauce on white bread with margarine. Better though were the couple of times where we struck gold with travelling salesmen, who took us to roadside cafes in flashy cars. Any car was flash to Kim and I though, neither of our homes had vehicles. Torquay’s sea front stretched a mile or so to the harbour and then just a choice of two streets up the town via the dazzlingly tacky amusement arcades, ice cream parlours and chip shops. It hasn’t changed much, apologies to any Torquastas reading, but apart from the gloriously expensive Ilsham Marine it’s all a bit predictable isn’t it?
A couple of years later I saw an article on what was then Westward TV about a tiny place in Dorset – Whitchurch Canonicorum, telling the tale of a shrine to St Wite http://www.darkdorset.co.uk/st_wite Why this particular tale pushed buttons I can’t think but I just had to go and see it for myself. My chosen victim, no companion, on this saintly search was my best friend of the time, Sue Leichman, who disappeared from my life shortly after, possibly with a morbid fear of what I’d drag her into next. We got a ride on the A35 but must have walked a good way from there into murky Dorset. I vaguely remember a tiny church and trying to find a way of stretching the time we spent there to justify the effort involved. I have no idea how we got home again. To be honest I can’t ever remember how we got home from any of our adventures, I ‘m just grateful.
I don’t think I went hitching many more times after that, but back then it was exciting to see how far we could get for free. It was commonplace then to see people on the side of the road looking hopeful and it’s sad that the majority no longer feel safe to try.
In the late 1990’s I was driving towards Southampton and ten miles out on a grim, damp morning I saw a young woman on the side of the road with a sign saying London. I slowed to check her out. She looked about seventeen and really cold and scruffy, of course I had to pick her up to make sure no-one worse did so. She threw her backpack in the boot and before she touched the seat I could smell her! I opened my window wide and put the heat on full. Her hair was matted, her clothes raggy and she looked malnourished. She walked from Fairmile to the main road. The old A30 that is, and she had spent a month in the trees with Swampy and the other environmental protestors trying to prevent the construction of the new A30 bypass. We parted company before too long, I took the low road and she the high for London, but it was an interesting experience and insight into their treehouse and tunnel life.
A friend told me recently that she picked up a man hitching to near her home town, a total stranger and she a lone woman. Others had criticized her and questioned her sanity but she said she could tell that he was okay. How did you know? I’d asked. She couldn’t give a precise answer, she just did, ‘Sometimes you just instinctively know.’ Apparently it was an enriching journey where the stranger shared all sorts of anecdotes of his travels around the UK, always by thumb and cardboard. Hitching is largely gone, but not forgotten.