marksimpson.com

The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Menu Close

Tag: hitchhiking

A Hitchhikers Guide to Freeloading

Mark Simpson fondly remembers when he depended on the kindness of strangers

When an ambulance rushing to Plymouth General Hospital with a man suffering from a life-threatening blood clot stopped to pick up a couple of hitchhikers, one of whom engaged the man, writhing in agony, in chit chat it made the headlines.

Probably because most people found it difficult to believe that people still hitch-hiked at all, let alone that anyone – ambulance drivers or otherwise – actually stopped to pick them up.

Likewise, the incredulity that greeted 66 year-old John Waters’ new bookCarsick, about an attempt to hitch from the East Coast of the US to the West, shocked people not just for its apparent recklessness but because he actually succeeded.

Hitchhiking seems to belong to the era of cassette players and leaded petrol. The outstretched thumb and bit of cardboard box with a hopeful destination scribbled on it in marker pen was once a staple of the driving scenery in the UK. No longer. Insurance issues, fears of crime, and probably a rise in general contempt towards ‘freeloaders’ have reduced the willingness of people to stop.

But the supply of hikers has also been stemmed by increased car ownership and by the arrival of stupendously cheap coach tickets. Megabus will get you from the North East to London for £5. And frequently stops to pick up punters in places, such as Scotch Corner Services, that would have been used by hitchhikers trying to thumb a ride. Megabus are in many ways a kind of commercial hitchhiking service.

As a freeloading layabout in the 80?s I used to do a lot of hitching. And it wasn’t entirely because I had no money and plenty of time. I used to enjoy the promiscuity of hitchhiking. And by that I don’t mean sex – the nearest I came to that was a pock-marked Frenchman near Perpignan, who was so embarrassed by my polite refusal that he drove 80 km out of his way.

No the promiscuity of hitchhiking is the casual randomness of whoever stopped to offer you a ride – which you almost never would reject unless they weren’t going your way – and the intimacy of the hour or so car journey with the ‘ride’. Who would often tell you, a complete stranger that they will never see again, more about their lives and their hopes and fears than their mates. Though admittedly quite often they would tell you mostly about their holidays. The one they’d just had or the one they were looking forwards to. ‘Only five weeks now. Can’t wait.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was always on holiday.

Many’s the time I stood at start of the M1 at Brent Cross – a spot once so popular with hitchhikers there was actually a queuing system – with my thumb outstretched to the world. And the world can answer your digital prayers in the strangest ways.

Such as the day in the Summer of 1985 when a brand new Volvo Turbo came to a precision-engineered halt in front of me. Behind the wheel wasn’t the expected sales rep (a common hitchhiking ‘john’), but a precision-groomed Max Hastings, first journalist to enter a liberated Port Stanley in the Falklands War and soon to be editor of The Daily Telegraph, on his way home to Northampton. We spent a very pleasant forty minutes together chatting, and I marvelled at his then very rare car phone, which he used to call his wife, who was disappointed because fog meant she couldn’t ride her horse that day.

Hitchhiking was a truly classless society – at least for the time you’re sharing someone’s posh car.

Probably my best hitchhiking experiences were on the Continent. I was once picked up north of Paris by a Professor of Philosophy at Lille University. Since I had just dropped out of a philosophy course at Oxford University we had a great deal to talk about – in his strained English and my much worse French. A glutton for punishment he ended up taking me for a meal with his wife at a swanky brasserie in Lille and putting me up for the night.

Gallic generosity didn’t stop there, however. The very next day I was given a lift by two young sisters on their way to a wedding dinner. They insisted on taking me along, and everyone was ridiculously kind and friendly to this sunburned, dishevelled English freeloader with very little French sat at the table gobbling their (very tasty) food and guzzling their fine wine. Afterwards they dropped me off at the ferry terminal in Calais.

Sometimes you ended up accepting lifts that you probably shouldn’t. Back in the UK, hitching to Brighton, I was picked up by a motorcyclist on a frighteningly powerful bike. We arrived, me riding pillion, breathlessly quickly. But doing a ton on a bike with no helmet can be very noisy, apart from anything else, and I was deaf for days.

Waiting times in the 80?s varied, and sometimes you could end up a bit stuck at a windswept roundabout, as the paranoia and the rain soaked into your soul. But the wait was generally a lot shorter if you were hitching with a young woman: one of the pair e given a lift by the Plymouth ambulance driver was a woman – reportedly dressed in a short skirt and blouse ‘despite the foggy weather’.

I once hitched back from Cambridge with a female friend. Although she wasn’t wearing a short skirt and blouse, I don’t mind admitting that I hid in the bushes while she stood by the side of the road. We waited all of two minutes before a Ford Sierra screeched to a halt. I can still see the crestfallen look on the driver’s face when he saw me scrambling out of the hedgerow. ‘Oh, and this is my mate,’ she said, smiling sweetly. ‘You don’t mind giving him a ride too, do you?’

Now that I’m a car owner myself do I stop to give lifts to hitchhikers? Well, no, not really. Largely because they’re so few and far between these days that the sight of one by the side of the road is so surprising that by the time you’ve got over the shock they’ve disappeared into the distance.

Plus I hate freeloaders. Unless they’re John Waters. Or cute.

Originally appeared on easiertoleaseplean

Hot Hitchhiker

Mark Simpson picks up more than he bargained for

A couple of miles past Newark, bored and hot and top down, I zoom past a crop-haired sexy young lout in a T-shirt and jeans with his thumb out. I eye him in the rear-view mirror as he shrinks into the distance.

I don’t give lifts to hitchhikers. It’s asking for trouble.

OK, so I used to hitchhike everywhere myself years ago when I didn’t have the price of a bus ticket to my name. But now I have my own car, things have changed. I now realise the Daily Mail was right: hitchhikers are layabouts and bad news. Only loonies, drug addicts and convicts hitch-hike these days. Letting a complete stranger into your car and your nicely ordered life is a bad idea. It’s dangerous. It’s messy. It’s daft. Unless of course, they’re cute.

I brake. Hard.

In the rear-view mirror the lad sees me pull over but seems hesitant. I twist around and shout: “Well, c’mon then mate! Do you want a lift or not?” He finally runs up to the passenger-side window.

“Where are you headed?” I ask.

“London, mate,” he says.

I look him up and down. In his mid-twenties, he’s not bad looking, but he isn’t as cute as he was at 75mph. But then, who is? He could do with a bath. And he definitely looks like trouble.

“Get in,” I say, leaning across and opening the door. “I’m headed for Cambridge,” I lie. “I can take you another thirty miles.”

“Nice one!” he says with a wide grin, jumping in.

Rejoining the flow of cars headed south, we chat the casually polite chat of hitchhikers and drivers. I introduce myself; he introduces himself as “John, but me mates call me Jonno”. He tells me he was in Newark “visiting relatives” and now he’s on his way back home to Dover: “I’ll catch the train in London”.

He tells me about his wife and his three-year-old daughter in Dover: “I love that kid to bits – I live for her mate”. We pass a sign:

London: 60 miles

“I’m really glad you stopped mate,” he says for the third time.

“Yeah?” I say. “S’funny. You seemed a bit reluctant at first. Thought you were going to run away.”

Jonno looks a bit sheepish. “Well, thing is mate, to be totally honest wiv you, there are some people after me. I owe money to some geezers in Newark. I thought you might have been sent by them – not being funny, but you look a bit of a bruiser mate!”

“Don’t worry,” I reassure him. “It’s just for show. What do you owe them money for?’

“Oh. This and that.”

“Drugs?”

Jonno shifts in his seat and shakes his head. ‘No – no way mate!’

“Look, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Jonno looks down at his hands. “Well, to be totally honest wiv you mate, it was drugs. But only speed, and a bit of hash. Nothing hard. I’m trying to get off the shit, you know? I’m trying to get clean. I’ve gotta think of the kid, man. I can’t be fucked up around her, can I?”

“No, mate. Not a good idea.”

London: 30 miles

“Mark mate, haven’t we passed the sign for Cambridge?”

“Yeah. To be totally honest with you, I’m going to London, not Cambridge. I usually don’t tell hitchers how far I’m going in case we, er… don’t get on.”

“Oh, right mate. I understand.” Jonno grins at me. “So you’re going to London? Sorted!”

“So…” I probe, “what were you really doing in Newark?”

“You’re not stupid, are you? Well, to be totally honest wiv you I was on remand there for a week.”

“Really?” I say casually, trying not to look too interested.

“Yeah. Nothing serious though. Just non-payment of a fine, like. Never again. It was disgusting in there mate. Hottest week of the year in a shithole with no showers or change of clothes. I fucking stink mate.”

“Yeah, I noticed! So what was the fine you didn’t pay?”

“Well, to be totally honest wiv you mate, I was done for breach of the peace and criminal damage. I kicked my ex-wife’s door down because she wouldn’t let me see my kid. I was really drunk at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“So, you’re not with your wife any more?”

“No mate. We separated a couple of years back, and she lets me see my kid once a week. But she wouldn’t that night coz I was steaming. I ‘ate prison. I was sent to borstal when I was thirteen and had the shit kicked out of me. It was that bad I tried to top meself.” He holds out his hands, wrists uppermost, revealing a pair of ropy white scars across his dirty wrists.

Jonno continues: “I only ended up in borstal coz me stepdad used to knock me about. He used to kick the shit out of me mum and I tried to stop ‘im, and so he turned on me. The worst of it was, she was egging ‘im on! Didn’t spend much time at home after that. Fell in wiv a bad crowd.”

London: 20 miles

“I’ve got some mates who live in London,” Jonno announces, as the sun lowers itself into a red bath on the Western horizon. “They live in Soho. Is that anywhere near you?”

“No,” I say. ‘I live a very long way from Soho – as far as you can get without actually leaving London. Your friends must pay a lot of rent to live there.”

“Yeah, but they don’t care. They make a packet.” Pause. “To be totally honest wiv you, they’re on the game, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“They’re gay,’ he adds, driving the point home. He looks at me anxiously. “You don’t mind gay people do you?”

“No, I don’t mind gay people,” I lie. “Actually, some of my best friends are gay.”

“Really? Sorted. I was a bit worried there, coz some people really hate gays.”

“Terrible isn’t it?” I say.

London: 10 miles

“Are you sure you don’t mind gay people?”

“Sure.”

“OK. Well, to be totally honest wiv you, right, I swing both ways.” Jonno steals a sideways look at me.

“Yeah?” I say.

“Yeah. That’s not a problem is it?”

“Nah,” I say. “Not at all. Everyone’s thought about it, at least once, haven’t they?”

“I like women and that, but I also like, y’know a really good seeing to by someone who takes control. Well,” he laughs, “in the bedroom, not in real life like me mum does!”

Like your true destination, you don’t tell a hitch-hiker your real orientation until you’re certain you want to go all the way with him. But I can see that this lad has the measure of me and where this car journey is headed. It’s a balmy evening; it’s sort of spontaneous. He’s rough, he’s certainly ready.

But I’m not. And not just because he’s not washed for a week. I’ve heard much too much for it to be casual. We’ve come too far.

It’s dark when we arrive in London – without any unplanned stops at bushy lay-bys. I drop him off. He shakes my hand firmly looking me in the eye: “Cheers, Mark, thanks for the lift,” he says, a faint flicker of disappointment in his face. “It was good talking to you.”

And he’s gone.

I drive off. A minute later I suddenly feel I have to speak to him again. I turn the car around. Maybe to lend him some money – I’m sure he hasn’t got any for the train to Dover. Maybe to be ‘totally honest’ with him. Maybe to offer him a place to crash. Or have a bath.

But there’s no trace of Jonno. He’s dissolved into the warm, unfriendly London night.

Like I said, it’s a bad idea letting a complete stranger into your life.

 

Some details have been changed to protect the innocent.

(Originally appeared in Attitude, 2000. Collected in Sex Terror)