The hitch list

Andy Smart
Opinion - Books Thursday, 25 July 2019

In a new book, Andy Smart recalls his hitchhiking adventures in the Seventies and Eighties

Back in 1977, after reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac, I hitchhiked for the first time. From then until 1983, I covered 72,000 miles in Britain, France, Germany, Holland and Spain, and I kept a list of every lift I ever caught. The reason I kept records was to ascertain the best junctions, roads, and services for sticking out my thumb. I love to travel, to meet new people and have weird and wonderful experiences. They are all documented in my book A Hitch In Time.

The biggest trip I ever did was in 1982. I was living in Liverpool, in love (unrequited). The riots and high unemployment in the city were bringing me down, and I decided it was time for a change. So I sold, or got rid of, everything I owned, and left my flat with a rucksack, a sleeping bag, a hammock, two changes of clothing, and some books. The World Cup that year was in Spain, and England were playing France in Bilbao on my birthday, 16 June. I decided I would go to the game as part of a hitchhiking tour of the continent.

My book covers everything that happened on that journey. I have also included other stories leading up to that trip, about my childhood, my family, my college years, Interrail trips, and two visits to America. There's the story of my "death" at the age of 7; my heart stopped for 3 minutes. I also talk about my first Edinburgh Festival in 1980 and the consequences of a bet that I couldn't hitch from Liverpool to the top of Ben Nevis and back in 48 hours. My stories range from meeting Samuel Beckett in London to the first ever time I ran with the bulls in Pamplona during San Fermin. There are also tales of watching football in that era. Hooliganism was at its height, and I looked into its ugly face more than once.

It is strange, but I remember those days a lot more clearly than events that happened 10 years ago. From 1990 to 2006 I worked as a standup comedian. I would often be asked to compere at a club for a number of weeks. This meant that, as there were a lot of people who went every week, I had constantly to come up with new material, and would tell stories of my travels. So, in a way, I have been writing this book for a long time! When it came to putting it down on paper, I tried to write the stories as I would tell them, perhaps in a pub to a group of friends. That is why the book is not linear but jumps forward and back when something triggers a memory.

The chapter headings are the places that I travelled through. When I was writing I had a road map of Europe so that I could follow the route as I worked. I love maps. I can happily sit for hours looking through an atlas. I have been to 62 countries in my 60 years, and I'm constantly looking for new places to go.

I hope the reader enjoys my look at growing up in 60s and 70s Britain. I hope they laugh out loud at the ridiculous scrapes I have gotten myself into over the years. This book finishes in 1983, just before I found fame as one of the Vicious Boys. I hope to write that story next.

Andy Smart is a comedian and author. His travel memoir A Hitch in Time (£9.99) is out today (25 July) from AA Publishing.

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