Wednesday 16 December 2015

Further on up the road

Having slept the night in the damp Falconwood woods (see previous blog "The Open Road"), we awoke early the next morning to bird song, numerous mosquito bites peppering some of our faces and bursting for a pee. The pee bit was easily solved, as any dog will tell you, that's what trees are for. After that we were starving, apart from a packet of crisps with our beers, those ones with a little blue bag of salt in, we hadn't eaten since the previous afternoon.
So, sleeping bags rolled up and back in their dustbin bags, we emerged from the woods like four raggedy cavemen out for a day's dinosaur hunting and set off along the A2 again into increasingly built up areas. Traffic for London was building up at that time of the morning and as at times we were going faster than the traffic, lifts were out of the question and so we headed for Eltham and then down on to the Woolwich Ferry to get across the Thames. Along the way the major priority was a cafe, I had a mouth like postman's socks and needed to swill a nice cup of tea around it. Not surprisingly, rough hitch-hiking travellers such as we temporarily were, didn't carry toiletry bags with them and so personal hygiene touches such as teeth cleaning and washing tended to get overlooked. There were occasions, if we were in Central London, that we could get a wash of sorts. The Gents toilets in those days often had an attendant in them and from him for just 3d old money, you could hire a bar of soap and a towel. So there we would be, a sink each, down with the underpants and lathering up the "meat and two veg" and other bits in case we got lucky on our travels, which surprisingly did happen a few times. Though clearly, with no toothbrush, I seem to recall that we by-passed the snogging bit.

But I digress, and so with a cup of tea and a fry-up eagerly disposed of, we crossed the Thames and continued the long walk through the various boroughs of London heading for the area around Walthamstow, Leytonstone and and good old Epping Forest, which tended to be our hotel most nights. We had been there previously because the very attractive cousin of one of my best friends lived in Walthamstow and when she had been on Sheppey the previous year we had swapped addresses. So we would hang around the area by day and sometimes drink with her in her local pubs by night, retiring to the woods without her to sleep. Sometimes if we got bored with that then we would travel on into London and hang around in Trafalgar Square with other road weary travellers and listening to the various guitarists that were playing there. If we had our own guitars then we used it as an opportunity to learn new songs and better techniques. Eventually our friendship with my friends cousin, fizzled out after I upset one of my travelling mates, though he's still a best friend to this day.
It came about because on a couple of occasions later that year she invited a couple of us up to her house two weekends running and she and her mother made up a double bed for us in their front room. She then took us out with her to a couple of dances on the Saturday evenings, it was good fun and with her looking very much like Cher of Sonny and Cher, not without temptation and that's where it ended up going wrong. The first night back at her house, my friend and I had settled down in the double bed and my friend was doing his best to suck the light down from the ceiling with his snoring. Consequently, I was still awake when the door opened and to my delighted amazement, my friend's cousin, wearing very little, crept in and quickly got under the sheets alongside me. Now, despite having a girlfriend back home, there are some opportunities in life that just can't be overlooked and that was certainly one of them. Unfortunately, after a little time getting to know each other, so to speak, our movements got a little too vigorous and despite my friend seeming as tho he could sleep through WW3, he did eventually wake up to find that some form of unarmed combat was going on alongside him - he was not amused!
The second weekend I left my friend in the double bed and de-camped to our host's bedroom for a night of fun but he later made it quite clear that things were getting a tad unfair and so despite us all hitch-hiking back to that area the following Spring, we never visited her again.

One time in I believe 1967, three of us took a week off work, the fourth never worked, and we hitch-hiked first to London and then all the way down to Brighton. Apparently the place was a mecca for hitch-hiking guitarists who sat around on the beach all day playing guitar and generally having a good time. The main thing that I recall from that trip was the fact that we walked all of the way, incredibly we never got an offer of one single lift, but it was OK and the weather was fine. Like many other people around that time, I'd just finished reading Jack Kerouc's "On the Road" and so imagined myself as being of that ilk, what were a few extra miles on the road to excess and freedom.
By the time we walked into Brighton after a day and half on the road, we certainly looked like seasoned travellers, unwashed and dirty and sleeping bags and guitars over our shoulders. Unfortunately it was also a cold and windy day, there were no guitarists practising on the beach or hippy chicks anxious to throw themselves at our feet in adoration. We were deflated, the excesses and occasional obliging girls that we had found on some of our London trips were not to be found and after a cold night sleeping under boats on the beach we headed back round the South Coast for home.

Back home we spent most of the summer weekends doing what the 1960's were famous for. We wandered around Sheppey with our guitars, attended drunken and sometimes hedonistic parties and slept rough most weekends in old two-man tents along the canal bank, where our girlfriends would sometimes sneak out in the early hours and join us in our sleeping bags. And 1967 became 1968 but by the Spring of that year the winds of change were beginning to blow through our gang of four. We still spent most of our time together but two of us were paying more attention to our girlfriends and the other two were beginning to spend time with other friends.
For me, the final change came on the Whitsun Bank Holiday in 1968. A few weeks before that, on the Easter Bank Holiday, three of us had, for the third year running, resumed our hitch-hiking to London and back, a pretty boring trip that saw us walking back along the A2 one night in a storm and pouring rain. Despite that, soon after on the Whitsun Bank Holiday, the same three of us were on the road again, sleeping over night at Dartford in some bushes. The next morning we walked all the way to Leytonstone and spent a hot, sunny day lounging around in Epping Forest but something was nagging away at me. In the evening we went over to the "Green Man" pub for a drink but I soon became overwhelmed by that feeling again, I really didn't want to be there anymore, I was missing my girlfriend of two years back home. "That's it", I suddenly announced to the other two, "I'm going back home" and I was away.
I caught a bus to Victoria train station and then the last train down as far as Gillingham. I walked along the A2 to Rainham and slept there behind some bushes at a lay by - even now I can't pass that lay by without glancing towards it and remembering that night. Early the next morning I walked all the way to Kemsley and caught a train to Sheerness and went straight to my girlfriend's house.

Two years later that girl became my first wife and I wrote the following about her.

"oh the beauty of her hair
that fell in a thousand curls
down to her shoulders bare;
fired in flaming colour,
lit in reds and gold,
it fell from her shoulders
to her breasts tight folds.

oh the beauty of those breasts,
tickled by her flaming hair
and swollen by every breath,
that no one else could touch,
that fought to be free
and jostled in their cups,
like ships on a stormy sea"........................Derek Faulkner


  1. More great stuff Derek. Really loving these personal journeys back in time. I always felt that my natural place would have been the 1966-68 era, but I was too young. Oh well, I had the compensation of three day weeks, power cuts and punk to accompany my formative years!

  2. Ah, remember those days well. I had my first mortgage, married life, trying to earn a crust, listening to crap music. I yearned to turn the years back - on the road again, a drop of grass, a girl in every sleeping bag - but I stuck with it.

  3. Lovely read Derek. Not sure if that photo should be legal. I quite expect you to bang out the lyrics to 'Vienna'.

  4. I had to look that one up Marc, I assume you mean Ultravox

  5. Oh Derek, what a very boring and dull young life I lead. And, sadly there is no going back to live it all again. I just have to live vicariously.

  6. I think only hut use is a bit tame - We've found the Alpkit one fine for wild camping in UK summer, so down to somewhere under 10 degrees - maybe equivalent to a 2 + season adult bag? (Which would fit - it's about half the weight of down in half the size of bag) Kids have tended to sleep in thermals too (to cut down on clothes carried), and they always seem to be hot anyhow. But yes, unlikely to do down to zero or below without extra layers of some kind.