Summer 1979. Polytechnic had finished weeks ago and having returned to live with parents until a new term started time was starting to drag.
For reasons numerous and complicated my head wasn’t in a great place. Wellbeing had yet to be invented and in retrospect it wasn’t surprising I was a bit depressed and anxious although the general consensus was there was very little that couldn’t be fixed by more beer.
As weeks seemingly turned into years my old friends Phil and Dunk decided that we would all go to Ireland. They had both been the previous year and reported having a great time. It would all need to be on a budget of course but at least I discovered that if you gave the benefit office a contact address (it didn’t even have to be real) they would continue to pay you while you were away. Phil and Dunc had gone to the office first and informed them they were going on holiday in Ireland, the truth didn’t pay, their benefit was stopped for the duration.
It was still a financially tight operation, travel would have to be hitching, accommodation would need to be tents. Our young person’s railcard entitled us to a greatly reduced ferry crossing. Unfortunately, I had washed mine in a pair of jeans and was left with a barely legible scrap of paper. I decided to try and disguise this by making a pass holder which would hide the worst of the damage. This was pretty unconvincing and every time I needed to produce it I felt like I was smuggling a kilo of Hashish out of Turkey, this didn’t help my general anxiety and paranoia.
First rule of hitching is that single people travel fastest. Three people stood no chance. We decided Phil would make his own way there and Dunk and me set off from the Norwich ring road in grey early light. We soon got a lift though, things were looking up. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes we came across a terrible car accident. A lifeless arm hung limply out of the window of a crushed car, as we navigated our way over broken glass. Our driver decided to relive the experience at regular intervals even inventing a back story of children waiting for daddy to come home. I was tempted to hitch back home and just go back to bed.
Things settled down a bit after that, but it was slow going. Realising it was getting dark and we had got no further than Oxfordshire we set up camp for the night in a random patch of grass. We found a pub, had a drink and fell asleep to the sound of traffic.
We got away pretty nifty the next day largely due to having nowhere to wash and no breakfast. The lifts started to arrive and on entering Wales we were picked up by the hitchers dream lift. A van driven by hippies with a mattress in the back. 40 years on this seems all rather suspect but hey, this was the crazy 70’s. Our hippy hosts had a supply of dope which they just about shared (I genuinely didn’t want any, but I was too uptight to refuse) as well as a supply of bootleg cassettes. And so, we puttered past the belching chimneys of Port Talbot to the sounds of The Tubes and a pleasant fug developing. At some point we picked up some more hitchers, female foreign students.
Now, however much we might have evoked the spirit of Flann O’Brien or James Joyce when planning the trip, the real adventure would have been to have consensual sex in the privacy of our tent with a similarly free spirit whom we had just met. Unfortunately for us this would have required a degree of personality or even charisma that neither me or Dunk possessed. As far as I remember this was the only time we spoke to a woman on the whole trip. The hippies were having such a good time they decided to drive us to Fishguard, as soon as they dropped us off on the quayside the students disappeared in seconds.
Sweating profusely in what was turning out to be a nice summer’s day we queued for ferry tickets, I was expecting to be rumbled with my dodgy travelcard which would have raised the dilemma of going into instant debt or hitching back to Norwich that same day. To my relief they sold me a ticket at a reduced price and in no time we were on our way.