Day One: Getting our Bear-ings

Rest easy, dear readers, for we are not dead. We are, however, in something like death’s waiting room, known to the internet and the locals as Bedford Travelodge. We expected to blog tonight, if we were able to blog at all (and not stranded somewhere, freezing and ravenous), in a mood of triumph, having defied the odds and battled the indifference of the British motoring public to arrive at our first night stopover. But actually it was hella easy. Or at least hella lovely, and only occasionally worrying.

The sound of silence

The day began in the worst possible way (exaggeration for the sake of dramatic tension), with a pretty annoying technological glitch: our microphone (a really expensive one) didn’t work. Like, at all. We rang some people. They were as confused as we were. Or more confused, even, because they’d rented us the gear, and the gear was good! So we just had an apple, each, a pot of tea, between us, and went on our way. To the pub. Over a therapeutic sausage cob (and a less than therapeutic episode of me explaining to Oscar what a cob is (it’s a bread roll, you racists)), we drew up a hitchhiking sign in big black marker – it simply read ‘M1’ – and hit the road.

3 white vans and the christening of a bear

After being shouted at for correctly and responsibly using a pelican crossing by an angry young male motorcyclist who was clearly denied his mother’s breast, we walked along the Valley Road and eventually got our first lift! Oscar was bundled into the back, like the hostage in every Channel 5 drama you’ve mercifully never seen, and we surfed the ring road out towards Junction 26. The driver’s name was (and probably still is) Paul, and his passenger’s Dean. The bear, as promised this morning, was thus named Paul Dean the Bear, and is male. He is now just Dean to his friends. Try saying ‘Paul Dean’. It’s like ‘Pauline’ gone wrong. It’s like a poet being sick backwards. No no no.
We added a ‘SOUTH’ sign to our ‘M1’ and took up soon-to-be familiar residence by the side of the road.
Next was Andy, a renewable energy guru with dreads and patience aplenty, who took us right to the M1 slip before sadly heading north, no longer of use to us.
No sooner had Andy cast us aside because he inexplicably wanted to go to ‘Bradford’, were we picked up by Eddie, an arthritic Scotsman who really did not give a shit about why we were doing this, but was kind enough to take us to Trowell Services as long as we didn’t tell his boss he had picked us up because he would definitely lose his job. He works for Debenhams and his registration number is- nah nah nah, just jokin init.

Wet Trowell

We stopped at Trowell thinking we had made excellent progress after our frustrating start to the day, but thinking also that we were only going to get lifts from white men in white vans, to whom Oscar and I posed no greater a sexual threat than an injured daffodil would Ian McKellan.
However, this all changed when NO ONE PICKED US UP. We assumed that a service station on the south side of the motorway would be the easiest place to hitch a lift south on the motorway, but apparently not. Blank face after bald smug Range Rover owning blank face sailed past for what seemed like hours because it literally was hours. But as soon as Oscar took a picture of Dean looking forlorn, his beary head in his beary hands, seemingly never to get picked up, Lucy came to our rescue. Lucy is originally from New Zealand, where hitchhiking is a much more prevalent means of travel, and so had no qualms picking us up, throwing our bags in the boot of her car (not white van), and taking us all the way to Watford Gap, riding high on a sea of euphoria at having been rescued from Trowell, and a sea of mild interest at what she had to say regarding consumer science and her imminent holiday in Iceland.

Watford Gap, or Dante’s Greenhouse

It was hot. Really hot. Oscar’s Kit-Kat gracefully retired from solidity. So we got ourselves some innocent smoothies (other smoothies are available, although crucially they weren’t), and we set to work on making another sign: ‘BEDFORD’, undoubtedly our most aesthetically pleasing to date. I did special lines on it and everything. As Oscar rounded the Costa Corner (as the BBC Formula 1 commentators call it) I proudly showed him the sign, only to have the wind taken out of my sweaty sails when Susan of the Land of the Adjacent Table went ‘oh, Bedford, I’m going near there’. Sorted.
Susan’s wheels were our poshest of the day – her saloon BMW feeling inappropriately clean, the leather inappropriately sticky – but they did the job, in that they were wheels and they were driving towards somewhere near Bedford. She unceremoniously dumped us in a layby just off Junction 13, I went for a wee in a bush, and we set about sourcing what we hoped would be our final ride of the day.

Bedford

Then Simon stopped, as if he knew his bit would come at the end of a long blog post of which we’re all growing tired, and dutifully drove us to our destination. He said some lovely things about Luton Town and Arsenal, and we had a lovely conversation about our respective fathers, which you’ll have to pay £5 to hear in September! Indeed, all our lift-givers today, with the possible exception of Eddie who genuinely did not give a shit, had gorgeous stories to share about their own families, their own hitchhiking stories, and all seemed to really invest in our story too. An earnest thank you to them (we gave them the blog address, so they could be reading this. Eddie won’t be).

See you tomorrow, for what we hope will be a tale of one less technical glitch, and many more a successful hitch. And that’s all the poetry you’re getting right now.

Show me the honey, or at least where the loos are
Show me the honey, or at least where the loos are
To Bedford Please Thanks
To Bedford Please Thanks
That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it.
That’s the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it
Paul and Dean (the men, not the bear)
Paul and Dean (the men, not the bear)

Day Zero

Hello! I’m Ben, and this is Oscar (hello, says Oscar). Welcome to a blog about a hitchhike about a family, which will become a show about a hitchhike about a family, specifically The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family! What a convoluted way to start…but convoluted is the name of the game. Why do things the easy way – getting a train to London – when you could hitchhike to Watford Gap, and Bedford, and Hitchin, and many more of your favourite home counties market towns, on a meandering journey taking you far away from home, but hopefully delivering you to some home truths.

Tomorrow morning, we will set off from Mapperley, Nottingham (famous for being Ben’s childhood suburb) on a 6-day adventure into the unknown. Anything could happen. We could (and hope to) meet some wonderful, generous and interesting people, who will offer us lifts and stories and help us on our way. We could, however, meet some utter bastards, who will rob us of our camera equipment, lunch money and carefully laundered clothes, leaving us naked and lost in the unforgiving wetlands of middle England. Only our semi-official looking lanyards can save us. One thing is certain: come rain, shine, or near-death (heavy rain), we will be blogging about it here each evening, and tweeting pictures and terrible jokes throughout the day. Please come with us (digitally; there isn’t any actual room for you), and share in this ridiculous, wonderful escapade.

WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? says everyone, quite understandably. Erm, read this.

WHO ARE YOU? How rude. Read this.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE NORTH MIDLANDS INDEPENDENT BAKERY? Good, important question. Not for here.

See you tomorrow!

Lanyard Pic 2