Derek Faulkner recently posted (on his excellent Letters from Sheppey blog) about his hitching days back in the mid-1960s. This is an attribute of 'folk culture' that has all but disappeared. In today's nervous climate, where every being that doesn't conform or fails to toe the acceptable line is consigned to the status of 'murderer' or 'terrorist', such activity as sticking a thumb out to solicit a lift from a passing vehicle is as rare as a Wallcreeper (couldn't resist yet another mention...). As Derek's post charmingly illustrates, it wasn't always this way.
In my brief twitching days back in the late 70s, I was not unfamiliar with the odd hitch to a twitch and the accompanying sleeping rough. Being a bit of a wimp I preferred not to do it, but circumstance forced me to do so now and again. Not all ended successfully - a Friday night attempt to get to Illfracombe to catch a ferry to Lundy (June 1979, Ruppell's Warbler) found me standing at the entrance to the M4 for so long without a lift that I decided to go back home as I was sure that I would miss the boat even if I were lucky enough to get a lift straight there.
There was one particular lift that has stayed in the memory. After a drunken lunch-time in an Epsom pub (my then art student grant was obviously stretching to such things), I decided that I needed to get to Dungeness - it was October, after all. I managed to get a lift from the M25 (at Reigate) all the way to Rye in a mini-bus full of builders. Great start! The evening was darkening fast, but the weather was dry and mild, so I opted to start walking towards Camber, a winding, desolate road, not known for much traffic - and so it proved. I was almost in Camber itself before anything stopped, that being a low black car, with blacked out windows, which pulled up beside me. A back door opened and I peered in - all the back seating was empty. Sat in the front were two men, both dressed in dark suits, white shirts, black ties, each wearing dark glasses and black homburg hats. They were illuminated by an exotically lit dashboard, the likes of which I had never seen before. I asked if they were going to Dungeness. Neither moved nor spoke a word. The door remained open, the car's engine remained idling. After maybe half a minute I decided to get in, I shut the door and the car pulled away. Silence. I tried some small talk. Silence. I then thought that I may have just made a massive mistake and might well be dead in a ditch by the morning. When we reached Lydd the car drew to a halt, with engine still running. Neither men moved. Or spoke. After a minute I asked them if this was as far as they were going. Silence. I got out of the car and before I had a chance to thank them it glided away into the darkness. I breathed a massive sigh of relief and tried to fathom out what had just happened. Another lift did not come along and I had to walk the rest of the way to the bird observatory.
When I arrived, some birder that I vaguely knew came up to me. "Was that you walking from Rye towards Camber about three hours ago?" "Yes," I replied. "Yeah, I thought it was you as I drove past..." he muttered as he walked away. My reply is not suitable for pre-watershed reading.