The Hitcher

The Hitcher

It’s a rare sight these days but in the early eighties on a Friday lunchtime it was not uncommon to see five or six clusters of people, some individuals, a few in pairs, on Princess Parkway not far from The Snooty Fox, trying to jump aboard a vehicle heading south. I must have been to London about a dozen times in such a way. Down there, it was always a case of heading for Brent Cross and that grim sliproad with the big blue sign ‘M1, Luton and The North’. It was always a bit more competitive there, very little banter was exchanged with any fellow hitchers. Having negotiated The Smoke, traffic was keen to get moving on the open road so it was a tricky business to persuade them to stop. Sometimes I made a sign. The insertion of the word ‘please’ after the destination always seemed to help but sometimes it was more fun to just stick your thumb out and take pot luck. How such a shy boy who could barely communicate with his fellow art students was happy to jump in a car or a truck with a complete stranger is beyond me. How anyone ever deigned to pick me up is even more inexplicable. For a while I had long lank hair and favoured an ensemble of hooded anorak, paint-splashed denim and doc martins. I certainly wasn’t making an effort. Though having said that, I did once hitch to an interview in Wolverhampton so I presumably put a clean shirt on for that one. Certainly I had some very pleasant journies. It was probably easier to do it alone, only a certain type of person is going to pick up a couple of lads but it was surprising how easy it was. Myself and Kerry ‘Kez’ Finnon even got a ride with a female Cambridge Professor on the way to see Man Utd at Luton. On the way back we were jammed in the back of a transit fan with about a dozen Salford lads all in varying degrees of intoxication. At Dunstable the door was pulled open by a red-faced curly-haired cherub who informed us ‘Its all goin off reet royal at train station’. The Happy Mondays all piled out and rather than wait for them we wisely decided to find another ride. Sitting high in the cab of a monster truck listening to repeated playings of Motorhead’s Overkill was another good memory as was the seven hour ride with an amiable fruitcake whose car kept overheating on the way to his sister’s place in ‘Sluff’(where they make Mars Bars). Being dropped off in an out-of-the-way spot was part of the fun. The only time I’ve ever set foot in the likes of St Albans Leek or Melton Mowbray was through breaking the journey on the way to somewhere else. It was a good way of seeing a bit of the country. Come early summer, I can’t look at a field of bright yellow rapeseed without being reminded of a blazing hot day and being dumped on the wrong side of Hilton Park services and having to wade through a field of the crop to get to the motorway. It was an almost psychedelic experience. Only once can I recall failing to get a ride and that was when I suddenly decided on a whim one Friday night at about 9 o’clock to walk out of The Royal Oak in Chorlton. My intention was to be on the terraces at Highbury the following afternoon. I dashed home to pick up my ‘London Please’ sign and trotted off down Barlow Moor Road, past Southern Cemetery to Princess Parkway. I was there for two hours before stumbling back home, starving and freezing, in desparate need of chilli scrapings. One word of advice, alcohol and hitching do not mix.

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