Thumbs Up

Do young people still hitchhike these days or has the practice become yet another victim of the health and safety brigade?

When I was a student (and beyond) we used to thumb lifts on a daily basis. I can barely remember ever getting on a bus, let alone buying a railway ticket.

One of my best lifts was when my college pal’s girlfriend and I decided to go and visit him in Wales during the summer break. Having been dropped off on a bleak, unpromising and increasingly rainy kerbside by a simply ghastly family in a dreadful old banger just outside London, I observed a rather flash Jaguar saloon heading our way. Now that’s the kind of lift we need I commented wryly, thinking we were far too scruffy to be picked up by such a smart vehicle.

To our surprise, the sheepskin-coated driver pulled up and ushered us into the comfy leather-lined interior. Not only was this fellow driving all the way to Wales, but it turned out he was none other than our friend’s mother’s GP!  What’s more, he took us on a side trip to the Cotswolds, bought us lunch in a quaint country pub, delivered us to mum’s door and offered to take us back to London a week or so later should we wish to take up the offer.

Which of course we did, taking our surprised pal with us.

Not all lifts were as fortuitous as that one. The same pal was hitching to Bath one day and a car pootled into sight, stopped and picked him up, but then drove off at breakneck speed.

Wishing to make conversation whilst hanging on for dear life, my friend enquired about the antique sword poking out from under a blanket on the back seat. The driver in no uncertain terms intimated that this was none of my mate’s business and pressed his foot ever harder on the accelerator. And then aimed the car directly at an oncoming double decker bus.

Why anyone who had decided to end it all would stop to give someone a lift is a mystery. Suffice to say, the bus driver took evasive action, the car crashed through a hedge, skidded across a field and overturned. The kindly driver leapt out and proceeded to run amok with said sword until the police arrived.

On medical advice, my pal remained in bed in a darkened room for a few days while we administered copious amounts of hot sweet tea!

I myself had a weird one when, late at night in thick fog the very nervous driver refused to take his hands  off the wheel and asked me to feed him a cheese sandwich which I would find in the glove compartment. I made my excuses and disembarked ASAP.

Not all hitched lifts were quite as miraculously coincidental or as dramatic as these examples. Most journeys passed without incident, one met with some great people and above all the impoverished youth of the day traveled the world absolutely gratis.

First published in Bath Chronicle as Ralph Oswick’s Column (now in its 15th year)

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