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Hitchhiking to Scotland at the Age of 16

Too young to know better than to accept a lift with a heroin addict.

I got out of the car, hauled my bag out of the back and waved a merry goodbye to the driver. It was 2pm and I was already halfway to Scotland, not bad for a day’s hitchhiking from the southern coast of England. I gobbled down a sandwich in celebration but didn’t want to miss precious moments of sticking my thumb out and in no time I was hurrying towards the exit road from the service station, wondering how much further I might get that day.

On the back of a road sign I saw some graffiti left behind by another hitchhiker.

Fuck this place. I’ve been here 5 hours now.

That certainly took the wind out of my sails. Had I entered a cursed spot for hitchhiking? Would I really have to make my bed down in the bushes? Would I ever leave this place?

But before I could get much further along that line of thought, a car pulled up, the window wound down and a clipped voice told me to ‘get in’.

The driver was a twitchy, wiry man man in his late twenties who seemed to go out of his way to pick up hitchhikers. He already had one in the front seat and made a great show of driving him all the way to his front door. Mission accomplished, I was promoted to the front seat and sizing up his 16 year old freeloader with Mancunian cunning, he began to spin out the stories.

‘I’m just back from Amsterdam with a pile full of pills in my belly. Better stop soon to get them out and cash in. Ever been to Manchester? You can stay with me tonight. I’m a DJ, I’ll get you into the club. Whatever you want, it’s yours.’

With a head full of Taoist poetry, Kerouac, Holden Caulfield and the recent introduction to the world of psychedelics, I imagined I was on cusp of a great adventure on the road. My friends in Scotland would be so impressed when they heard of my nonchalant exploits in nightclubs and VIP acquaintances made along the way.

We left the motorway and, pulling up in some council estate, my new buddy bummed 10 quid from me, promising he’d pay it back later, ‘if not double!’. He returned a moment later, drove us to a parking lot and then pulled out some foil and a lighter. The flame melted the lump of heroin so that it ran like a runaway stream down the furrows of foil and the driver sucked up the fumes through an aluminium cone.

He regarded me slyly. ‘Want to try some?’

I hesitated. I’d been given LSD in much the same way and that had proved to be a revelation. I knew heroin was dangerous – what school kid hadn’t suffered the education films? – but this was what adventure was all about, wasn’t it? Pushing oneself to extremes, rolling back personal borders?

And yet…

‘Maybe later.’ I smiled.

After that we seemed to drive in circles for a while. We stopped at another service station and I followed him in past the restaurant and into an amusement arcade. Sitting down in the seat of a driving game, my friend then gave several violent kicks at the coin slot until it came to pieces and he helped himself to around 30 pound coins.

‘Why not? I asks myself!’ he grinned.

We then got back in the car, another trip to a council estate and we were back in what looked suspiciously like the same parking lot as before as another lump of heroin went up in smoke. By now, I was beginning to feel uneasy. It had been a while since I’d seen the motorway and I hated to bring up the fact that we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to Manchester.

Conversation had largely died by now but at least we did seem to be making some progress. We headed further north and eventually arrived in a village where he claimed to live. He pulled up in a little cul-de-sac, walked into the garden of the house in front and opened the door at the side. Returning to the car he helped me get my bags out.

‘The door’s open,’ he said, ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

He got back in the car and drove off. A moment later an old couple wobbled out of the house, leaning upon one another for moral support as they approached the garden fence and asked me nervously:

‘Did you just come into our house?’

I started to explain but then the penny dropped and I realised that my friend of the last few hours didn’t live here at all. I apologised profusely, asked them very nicely not to call the police and started to walk back down towards the motorway. I got a quick lift to a roadside restaurant and while I tried to process what had just happened to me, a man in his 40’s walked up to me and put 3 quid in my hand.

‘Get yourself something to eat, son.’ he laughed, before rejoining his family.

It was too late to try and make it any further that day but I had a dry place to stay for the night. I was 7 quid down but safe. I hadn’t tried smack and had perhaps learnt an important lesson at a cheap price. I’d continue my way to Scotland tomorrow, a little bit wiser, and if it would take me another 15 years to tell the story of my naivete, well, everyone has adventures that they’re not at eager to share with the world.