Monday 8 September 2014

Hitching a ride

A few months ago I was writing about the last time I hitch-hiked - 21st Feb 2014.  It's really gone out of fashion because one or other of those involved in the transaction is bound to be an axe-murderer and so we'd rather spend €20 on a taxi or a bus than ask somebody with a near empty car for a lift. Now I've some data on when people stopped hitching and stopped picking up people.  It's pretty weak data but it gives a date.  In a talk in the BBC series Four Thought, Jono Vernon-Powell asks his audience to help him fill in this 2x2 contingency table:

Age >45
Age <45
Ever hitch-hiked
Never hitched
So somewhere about 25 years ago, there was an abrupt switch from this being a normal or at least acceptable mode of transport to something that was only possible in an extremely local way where you-the-hitcher were likely to be known by the potential driver. There are no local buses in rural Ireland. Eighteen years ago, it was far too late for hitching and we had one car.  For the first couple of months after we bought the farrrrm, I was camping there with a couple of pals tidying up the site, while The Beloved, Dau.I and Dau.I were sleeping in beds in Dublin and coming down at weekends with supplies. I had to get up to Dublin one Wednesday to meet with an architect and said nonchalantly that I'd hitch up the day before for the 10am meeting in Dublin.  After lunch I walked down to the local road and stuck out my thumb.  2 hours later I was still there and set off for the nearest railway station on foot. After a couple of miles I was picked up and taken part of the way, another long wait got me a lift in time to catch one of the last buses into Dublin.  I'd have better luck now because local folks know where my people are buried (Saltrmills, Co Wexford; and near Birr in King's County).

The Beloved and I were recently trying to remember the last time we'd picked anybody up and soon rustled up a handful of examples in the last 12 months but all where the hitcher was trying to travel into the nearest town for an appointment or out of town to get home or visit relations. Never more than about 15km. That's a shame because it's always good to have a natter and always good to do someone a good turn.

We were talking about these things with Rissoles Hayes last week and he had a great story about a freewheeling pals of his who was hitching not so long ago when an elderly couple stopped their two-door Micra to give him a lift. The elderly lady carefully folded herself into the back seat despite the Hitcher's protestations that he should sit back there. As they drove along, it came up that a few weeks previously, on pension day, they had given a lift to a young woman who sat in the back seat and had stealthily stolen the pension money from the old chap's jacket pocket. Hitcher complimented them on continuing to trust people sufficiently that they were still picking random strangers up from the roadside.
"Ah 'tis nothing," the old lady said, "but you can see why I sit in the back-seat now".
"Nevertheless," he replied, "it's pretty brave of you to pick me up."
"Not when I have this."
. . . and craning round the Hitcher saw that she was hefting a claw-hammer in a businesslike manner.

I was reporting myself back from America to my 94 y.o mother who lives in rural England in a village where they have a request-stop railway station about 1 km from the parish church and a single bus a day to and from the nearest market town.  My mother tends to lope across the village green to catch the bus (sheltering in the last telephone box in the county if it starts raining) buys whatever she needs in town and then lashes out on a taxi home.  Last week she had just paid for her groceries at the local supermarket when a tall young man (they all look young to her) with slightly long hair approached her saying "Oh Mrs Scientist, can I give you a lift home?"  She said yes (and thank you very much).  He went off with his two boys to bring the car to the door. She racked her brains as to who this white knight might be.  By the time they set off it was far too late to ask what his name was or where his people were buried, so the four of them tootled along (nattering) the familiar lanes to the village.  Later she was talking to one of her slightly younger friends on the phone, described the family group and discovered the name, address and antecedents of her benefactor.
She then said "I wonder how he knew who I was?".
"Oh everyone knows who you are, Sue!" was the answer.
Which I suppose is possibly true, because she now the oldest person in the neighbourhood and has even been asked to open the village fête in that capacity. She also makes a famously rich chocolate biscuit cake.

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