Hitch-hiking hobbledehoys, ice cream and James Hunt

HERE’S a thing you don’t see at the roadside any more – hitch-hikers. There was a time when you saw people hitching everywhere you went. Now you barely see them at all.

Where have all the hitch-hikers gone?

Maybe we were more trusting back then, 40 years ago. Now we might be less likely to hop into a car with a complete stranger or, from the other perspective, to pick up some unkempt-looking hobbledehoy from the side of the road, not knowing what he might be concealing in the depths of his rucksack.

It was all the rage for a while, though.

My school mate Carl and I went to the 1977 British Grand Prix at Silverstone without spending a single penny on getting there.

We didn’t spend a single penny on getting in, either, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

You didn’t need tickets in those days. you just rocked up and paid a man with a satchel and a roll of tickets a fiver or thereabouts. That was our intention.

From Exeter we got a late-night lift in a lorry as far as Bristol. We got to Aust Services beside the Severn Bridge on the M4, then waited an age in the grinding cold before the dawn to get picked up again.

Somewhere near Aust Services…

From there we got to somewhere near Newbury, and from there we made it to Aylesbury. Then we had our biggest stroke of luck of all, being picked up by somebody who was actually going to the racing circuit for the same purpose we were.

And when we got there, he showed the chap on the gate a pass of some kind and we were in, free and gratis, driving over the bridge that used to stand between Abbey and Woodcote corners into the middle of the track itself, and parking in some kind of compound for the favoured few.

No money had changed hands since we filled our rucksacks with crisps and pop at the Tweenaway Co-op the day before, and now here we were, at the home of British motor racing, just an arm’s reach away from the action.

We didn’t have the blazers and the badges to stay inside the VIP compound, but we were inside the circuit for the weekend, and that’s where we stayed.

James Hunt in action – anoraks will note this picture is from 1978, not 1977

Hitch-hiking away from the track again after the race – won by James Hunt from Niki Lauda and Gunnar Nilsson, seeing as you ask – was somewhat easier. People with spare seats in their cars and vans were picking up loads of hitchers.

We got lucky again, getting picked up by a man in an ice cream van who was going home to Swindon. We had to climb in through his serving window.

He was playing The Who on an eight-track cartridge in the front and said we could help ourselves to anything he had left in the freezer chests, but all he had were some kind of mint chocolate chip lollies which clearly hadn’t caught the imagination of the Silverstone race-goers.

Still, they were free so we got stuck in. I haven’t liked mint chocolate chip ice cream since.

We walked through Swindon late at night and joined a line of people hitching at the slip road on to the M4.

It took us the rest of a long, cold night to get home again but we were fully fortified by sickly ice cream and had spent a grand total of about £1.50 each on the adventure.

The article first appeared in the Herald Express on 06.02.2019

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