There are times when I think; thank goodness I am older and wiser. I am less likely to get myself in the scrapes I did as a youngster. Experience counts for a lot at any age and although I owe a lot of my better judgement to age and experience I also owe a lot to my husband. Within a week of our relationship I’d been in the hospital, written off his car and been locked in a strip club, with the owner. This must have given him a fair idea of my bad luck/naivety/thirst for a good pub story. Although I can’t say the first two won’t happen again my husband has taught me some key skills to trusting people eg. that man owns a strip club, you don’t know him, don’t go to his club at 10am, that sort of thing. Here’s a story of one of my scrapes from my university days. As its Sunday you might want to get a cup of tea before starting this one, it’s longer than usual.
When I was 19 I hitchhiked for charity to Amsterdam with a bloke on acid. He’d been to Amsterdam before (of course he had) so I figured he was a good travel partner plus he was also a good friend. We were one of about 20 couples taking part for our University’s Rag Week. My partner, we’ll call him Garth, and I made it in double quick time; hitching with two rides down to Sheerness, the overnight ferry and then one very speedy ride right into the centre of a chilly early morning Amsterdam. When my friends arrived a few hours later Garth was firmly on the road to oblivion, by the time we were due to hitch back the following day he had set up camp there and was showing no signs of return.
I led him out of the city on public transport to where I thought the main highways were but as I didn’t have more than a city map it’s a mystery how I could have thought I knew where we were going. Eventually we reached a highway, Garth in his crazy-world wisdom was convinced we had to hitch from what I was convinced was the wrong side of the road. Travelling alone did not seem like a viable option and even though he was worse than useless, he was familiar, and more importantly he was a danger to himself. So I bowed to his cracked judgement (more fool me) and crossed to his side.
We made slow no progress, what with taking lifts North instead of South. Garth was chattering, arguing, chuckling, being abnormally quiet or jiggling around; behaviour which made us unpopular passengers to would be rides. 5 cold hours after leaving Amsterdam we found ourselves back on the outskirts of Amsterdam heading in the correct direction for the port. FYI It’s one hour from Amsterdam to the port in Vlissengen. By this time Garth was sober and tired and very, very grumpy.
We had a couple of hours before the last ferry of the evening when a car stopped for us with an elderly man in the backseat. Rule number 2 of hitchhiking (number 1 being, don’t hitchhike) is, don’t squeeze next to an elderly man if you are female. After a few minutes the elderly passenger started muttering in Dutch and his hands began wandering over my thighs. I hissed to Garth that it was time to get out. Garth came up trumps and was very gallant, yelling at the guy, ordering the driver to pull over. Bravo Garth! Regrettably we got out on the hard shoulder of a busy four lane highway in the dark, in sub-zero temperatures, and it was snowing. After walking for a few minutes we realised the danger we were in and called from an emergency phone to ask how to get off the highway. They told us we were breaking the law and to get off the highway. Not terribly helpful. Half an hour later at the next phone we told the police to arrest us. Eventually a police van turned up. We were overjoyed at the prospect of at least warming up on our way to the cells. But no, they had come in a dog van so no back seats just a cage. Thank goodness they didn’t make us crawl in, instead they put their headlights on full beam and we walked in the glare of the headlights down the hard shoulder – a mini chain gang – until the next slip road where they gave us directions to the nearest train station.
We had less than an hour before the ferry left. We got the next train to Vlissingen, arriving just in time to see our ferry steaming out of the harbour with all our friends on it. I clearly remember sobbing as it disappeared from view, never had I felt so desolate and cold. We went back to the train station, the only place open in Vlissengen port, and slept on a very cold stationary train with one ear cocked for the engines starting up. Suffice to say, freezing and in a state of near panic that we would miss the next morning’s ferry and would be locked in the nightmare for ever, I didn’t sleep, Garth on the other hand merrily slept off the effects of his weekend. I clearly recall the smell of his socks and sound of his snores.
We were finally met at Coventry train station 24 hours later; dirty, tired, hungry, penniless and borderline hypothermic. My mother had been on the phone, the University authorities weren’t too impressed and my friends thought it was hilarious.
My unlucky travel experiences are many and varied, that weekend just one of many, fortunately it just made me want to travel more. At a stage in my life where travelling is pretty impossible (and with Syria as a neighbour it’s also ill advised) I find myself reminiscing about the ease of living in the UK and cheaply visiting Europe. As soon as I get the chance I will resume my travels albeit on a smaller scale than in the past and look for new perhaps less risky experiences, well, what would I tell the kids?