For me, the trip sort of resembled watching a 50 hour-long film on a tiny LCD screen called Ben Norris Walks In And Out Of Focus A Lot And Occasionally Gets Into Cars.
You may think I needed some persuading to hitchhike through the crap towns greatest hits package with a super-sized camera and a regular-sized poet but you’d be utterly mistaken. Truth is, I jumped at the chance. Forget Dubai, the Seyshells and Monte Carlo, I holiday amongst the bright lights and heady thrills of Welwyn Garden City (still there, it turns out). Thank God for the DSLR; it could sex-up the frumpiest service station foyer at a lick and did wonders for Ben’s ragged roadside complexion.
Health & safety enthusiasts, cabbies, expensive car-owners, other car-owners, the public transport sector, all those who’ve ever tried it and failed and Ray’s mate Marcus might disagree, but hitchhiking is one hell of a way to get about. Life on the road is the idle fantasy I can’t get over. I’m forever nourishing my inner traveller with a succession of romantic clichés and brazenly ignoring all the reasons why it would be a shit and lonely and loveless and futile existence if taken up full time. Five days hitching, plus friend, plus theatrical imperative, however, was exactly right. Somewhere in amongst all the Travelodge ridicule and bear-based photoshoots was a sort of point… *
I’d expected to dismiss the half-remembered anecdotes about the formative years of my friend’s father as told by distant relatives and one-time companions with ease. To me, after all, they were meaningless. Names like Rose and Terry were bandied about with abandon whilst I wrestled with such challenges as keeping the camera vaguely upright. I had no faces, nor memories to put to these oft-quoted characters, but as the trip wore on and we delved deeper into Ray’s past, the detail of their lives began to take on significance. A humdrum legend. An epic myth of everyday ordinariness. By the time we rocked up at Wickham Street in Lambeth to gaze up at what was likely Rose’s birthplace, she was as much Zeus as she was Ben’s Nan. Where were the hordes of praying pilgrims and near-empty donation boxes, I probably wondered.
Also, it’s just really nice to get out of the house and see a bit of the world isn’t it. Not a good bit in this case, but unmistakeably, a bit. England’s concrete, camera-shy backwaters are characterised by rural snobbery, urban multiculturalism, the scary prevalence of Tesco and Costa, football fever, pints, pies, meal deals and a dead badger by the road. If you’re willing to overlook the alarming chlorine stench that may well indicate a nearby Travelodge, you’ll find a land of full of friendly human people, happy to talk about their lives and their past and their communities and their dogs and the size of their long-dead mate’s dick. I’m not patriotic, but I noticed my country to an extent I’m not sure I ever have before. It’s alright really.
It wouldn’t be a blog about a show about a hitchhike about a family without some unashamed self-promotion now would it? If the hitchhike taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need a degree in Norris family history to get something out of this show, you don’t even need a family, you just need to get your ass over to mac birmingham on Saturday the 6th September. I can promise laughter, tears, an over-50 percent chance of not falling asleep, and far more integrity and structural elegance than I’ve managed in this post!
And if you’ve decided not to come, I don’t think it’s going too far to say you’re significantly less of a person. Go sit in a corner and have a bloody good think about what you’ve done.
* A critically acclaimed, sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 followed by a national tour and knighthoods for all.