Saturday, 29 July 2017

The gentle art of hitch-hiking ... By R. L . Hancock

Writers block?

Oh yes I have it, but not perhaps the more usual "I don't have anything to say, and don't know how to say it variant."

If anything, it's too much in the opposite direction; so much going on; both externally and internally; its more a case of "Where to start?"

I guess its the upside / downside of a life, that is so very integrated in all its parts.

The interconnectedness of all the elements, the realisation of the citizenry of all things in the universe, all of it having validity -

It can all get a bit much sometimes.

Organic farming and growing, embedded in a place, and a community of workers from the lowliest  (but arguably most vital) soil organisms, through all the other people, and elements that work together, to produce food for a supportive, and appreciative community.

And in addition, having the privilege of working, this season alongside an anthropologist.

Who has ostensibly come here to learn from me, about practical food production, in the position of farm trainee.

But come on?

Spending most days with someone who is equally fascinated by the interrelation of food, people, place, farming methods, markets, public perceptions, and misconceptions, received wisdom, and that learnt through actual practice?

How am I, with my already feeble resistance to such matters, supposed to be able to avoid getting in even deeper to this complex subject?

And then the teaching, and practising of Yoga.

Which encourages that same integration, or uniting of the elements of mind, breath, and body so as to be, and feel more part of the whole universal scheme of things.

And to feel generally happier about, and within ones bodily frame...

All great aspirations, to work towards, isn't that what we're supposed to be going after - that becoming more 'wholesome' .

 Until perhaps, and maybe this is a very westernised conceit, or complaint, it can start to feel a little stifling.

Paralysing almost. Considering how the moving of one thing, the taking of one action, affects all the others.

"If we touch ; or do ; or change; anything; think of the possible consequences"

Of course that's all verging on histrionic, hyperbole.

We are but as fleas on the backs of an enormous  elephant.

Nothing we do as individuals, makes so very much difference.

But what of the ripples on the pond?

What if we influence other peoples actions one way or the other?

What a responsibility...

Well what luck; to be able to grumble about such a thing - after all, these 'lovely and wholesome ways of life' are mostly of ones own making.

It's not really luck, as such.  Its far more by design.

 Moreover I'd very much like to point out here, that I'm not in any way denigrating it's worth, far from it..

But I've also realised (finally!) that it is also pretty pointless, exhausting, and self destructive to try to deny ones own nature.

So I've decided to stop wasting so much energy, worrying about how what I do, affects others.

Just to mainly do my thing, let the rest of the world work out for itself, what it's up to.

The last thing I would ever want is to be a dictator - way too much responsibility - and even setting an example sounds a bit of a grandiose trap..

No I've got a much better idea... You be you, and do your thing.

I'll be me; and do mine.

How those two interface, and interrelate is for the universe in general to sort out..


So, the point of this rambling introduction is what exactly?

Well I guess it's to confess to an addiction..

No; not the caffeine in the twenty plus cups of tea that I drink everyday - That's just fairly innocuous fuel for the general enterprise.

But its a more of a need, a craving even, for a certain amount of uncertainty, change, growth, adventure, excitement, not being in control, risk even.

Maybe it is again, a luxury afforded by our relatively secure Westernised lives.

 But it cant be just that, by itself.

As I've noticed many other folks, who have far more financial, and domestic stability than me, who still appear to be pursuing getting even more of that same 'security blanket' stuff.

For me, one of lifes greatest thrills is not knowing whats round the next corner. looking back after one, or three, or five years, and saying to myself " Well I didn't think I'd find myself here"

I am long enough in the tooth to know that life is, looked at in some ways, a series of endless heartbreaks.

If you invest enough (and how much is that precisely?) time, and effort, and love, and care for any projects, or schemes, or relationships, then some of those things might not turn out as you'd hoped.

And that, if you cared enough about the project, or person in the first instance, then there's a very real risk that you're going to be dissappointed, or made a bit sad if your hopes and dreams were not fulfilled.

Kids leave home (eventually), friends move on, we get sick, or become incapacitated in some way, people even have the temerity to die, projects founder, interests wane, accidents happen, change is the only constant.

It's the risk we take, when we decide to be fully alive, and engage with the world, and all its uncertainties, we will inevitably be made sad by things or people not living up to our dreams, or expectations....

 And that's all very OK, it has to be, elsewise we won't take a chance on, or stick our necks out for anything.

 Live a 'small life', out of fear of what might, or might not happen?

No thanks, not this time round at least.

Which is why I suppose that hitch hiking is one of my favourite methods of non self-propelled modes of journeying.

Although you could argue that an 'open' friendly posture, and a winning smile even (especially) if its raining is, in a way, a method of propelling oneself forward.

That, and choosing a spot where your proposed lifter can see you in good time; make a split second judgement as to whether they feel positively inclined to having your unscheduled presence in their vehicle, and be able to pull over safely enough, to let you in, to sully their upholstery...

There are certain 'rules of thumb*' (sorry) that I have found to hold true in my hitching career ( I wont bore you with my hubristic distance and speed stats, but this is definitely one 'sport' where females usually do have a speed advantage)

 *But, as we are, in reality, playing a game of random chance - they can't always be relied upon.

 (It's essential that you actually enjoy the gamble; and be able to live with some disappointments - otherwise you're really best off taking the bus)

This writing subject has been sparked by two things, the primary of which being the fact of second-born son having undertaken a self imposed hitch-hiking to the Artcic circle, mission.

(update - he just made it, and now, even further North, despite having had six stitches inserted into his thumb - but that's another story)

From somewhere so unpronounceable, and so small that it barely shows up on the map, in Sweden.

 And secondly our recent experiences in the North West of Scotland, between hill walking jaunts where i was reminded of the 'fun' of the game, and how it can open up new vistas, and encounters, and insights into other lives unimagined.

The newly minted, blow-in Ullapool Postman, returning to his lochside home and expectant wife (expecting a baby that is)

The academic translator, who spends half his year in the Highlands making music, the other half in Russia turning documents into intelligible English for scientists there.

The French environmentalist who is so pleased to pick up some hitchers because driving her car around the U.K. in its single-occupancy state is giving her eco- guilt ... I sympathised.

The originating from Essex,  stone wallers, constructing a very well paid for vanity project, because the Lairds' missus doesn't like looking at ugly deer fencing for the two weeks in Summer that the family are in residence. (They told us about the community where the translator lives)

The lawyer who is very handily going all the way (to Inverness, from the West Coast) and will fill us in on the intricacies of that area, and give us a tour of best restaurant locations before dropping us off in the town centre.

And a good few more besides. More interconnectedness.

All offering snippets of history, gossip, and most crucially, local up to date information. Including pretty reliable weather forecasts.

In return for?

Well I guess they are instinctively helpful, curious sorts themselves, as so many humans are.
It's a feel good trade, a diversion from the daily hum drum, perhaps..

They are a self selecting cohort, of trusting, open minded, person orientated, not too precious about their 'things' type people.

Of course most people are reasonably kind, although some are not so trusting, curious, or open minded as to let a couple of middle aged hikers who look like they've been sleeping rough (it's true they have been) into their cars.

The trade is, that you engage back, a brief summary of where you've been,  what you've done, a 'mild peril', or slight disaster anecdote always goes down well.

And, of course, where you are planning on going next?

But it must be a two way deal - Where are they headed? Where have they been? Both literally, and figuratively?

Hopes, dreams, family, career aspirations, life disasters averted, or not.

Its not usually too difficult to work out, with careful listening, and some judicious questioning,  what does it for them.

What lights up their life?

And of course maybe the other joy of these encounters,  is that it doesn't go on too long. A journeying equivalent of speed dating?

If it turns out that your very kind mobile host is obsessed with matters pertaining to ball sports, or house prices, or the intricacies of a particular televisual talent show, then ones plans for 'going all the way' can be modified on a whim, to escape the potential tedium.

 - Thats what us free wheeling types are like - such flibbertigibbets.

Another extra benefit of all these shortish but essential conversations, comes about if you're abroad, and trying to learn a foreign language.

 There's absolutely no point pretending to be shy; you've offered yourself up as a free loading, free-ride conversationalist, so you must at least try.

 Even if you are mangling the pronunciation, and incorrectly conjugation all the verbs, you can still give your ride the pleasure, and yourself the benefit, of being corrected.

So a few thoughts on this most convivial ways of getting about, in no particular order of importance - it will always vary with circumstance -

And in in the probably unrealistic hope of reviving this most sociable, ecological, cheap, and faith in humanity restoring way of getting about ...

Appearance -

Be a woman - hooray, at last, a true travelling advantage, that plays to our strengths for once!

I guess we are perceived as less threatening (the statistics do, bear this out), and maybe on the whole we are more naturally chatty? Or interested in gossip at least.

There were some really overblown, (in my opinion) stories doing the rounds some years back, of women hitch hikers being attacked, or of their 'wrongly' accusing others of attacking them.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it did a disproportionate amount of damage to the image of hitchhiking being a reasonable, sociable, and no more inherently dangerous than most way of getting about the place.

Two women travel fastest in my experience.

And its nice to have some supportive company for the very rare occasions for when , one is stood on the roadside for longer than fifteen minutes.

Do try to appear at least as if you might have had a close encounter with a bar of soap in the last week.

I will pick up pretty much anyone; as I have a lot of lift karma favours to repay, but smelling really bad is a bit invasive of what is in fact someone else's personal space.

At least try to freshen up your pits, and bits, if you cant get a full on shower.

Try to look friendly. Smiling doesn't actually kill you, it's nature's facelift.

No need to grin like a maniacal idiot, but at least try to look like you are doing this in part for fun, not some desperado jail breaker.

Or if you are escaping the law, perhaps it's even more important to look sweet and personable.

This isn't too hard for the first few minutes, as you may well indeed,  be enjoying yourself.
but this whole enterprise  is a very good exercise in 'letting go'...

After waiting for a bit longer you may start to get a bit narked... Why didn't the last four, visibly empty, estate cars pull onto the verge to gain the pleasure of your company.

  But any bad feeling about these folk,s must not be visibly presented to those still to come...

If I find myself falling into this trap of disgruntlement I try to invent plausible reasons for their not stopping,

This lot are just about to pick up five sticky preschoolers from a party up the road...

The next batch has heard that their aunties favourite cow has fallen in a ditch and she needs urgent help to haul her out.

So a stance of cheerful optimism is always the order of the day...

If it gets really desperate, and you're starting to feel like part of the roadside furniture, then sometimes it's best to walk on for a while...

In general, it's best to choose your spot, and commit to it, otherwise you just look like a lazy walker, and being able to see your face helps your potential ride, to make their split second decision... So definitely no sunglasses...

There are a number of interesting bodily signals that some drivers will give you, to indicate their regret at not being able to pick you up.

The sideways hand swerve - that I surmise means "Sorry, I'm turning off at the next junction" .

The vague indefinable wave, inscrutable, could be anything, but at least it acknowledges your existence - that's always nice.

The 'full up' sign.. Yup that's fairly evidential... but couldn't we put granny in the boot? she looks fairly compact...

Plus the one that amused me the most when last in Scotland...

You know those enormous white lumbering tin boxes, that holidaymakers will gamely attempt to pilot along the most unsuitable single track roads on the west-coast?

Well, I've realised that trying to get a lift from them, is akin to a fisherman offering a whale,  a tiny worm in order to lure it in..

You both know, nothing is going to come of it, but the game must be played...

You offer the tiny hook of your thumb, to the driver of what is a cavernously spacious van.

And I kid you not, more often than not, the driver will look into the back of their obscured domestic pantechnicon.

 As if to ascertain if there could possibly be room for your not enormous personage, and modestly scaled backpacking luggage.

Well it would appear,  that they are always already full. Totally stuffed to the gunwales with ladies and gentleman of the road, procured earlier...

Because they never stop.

I know that's an absolutist statement, of which I'm not generally a great fan.

But it's true, they really never do...

Small camper vans yes, you know the ones that are already full, but hey they'll squeeze you in somehow??

But not the big white tin boxes...

Nor BMW's or Audi's, containing painfully overgroomed young couples. (Go on then prove me wrong)

Apart from that, you pretty much takes your chances; its always worth a punt.

Your best hopes are with the slightly scruffy looking cars, containing one or two people.

Often a bunch of detritus has to be shoved off the back seat to make space... But that's fine; it makes it feel like home, from home.

Kids colouring books, work paraphernalia, walking kit of their own. half eaten packed lunches.

I wish more people would give it a go.

I've traveled thousands of mile this way, and met some fascinatingly friendly people along the way.

And discovered new place,s and stories, I'd have never, have encountered otherwise.

O.K. so maybe its a little riskier than taking the bus. but probably not nearly as dangerous as wandering the streets of a big city, in terms of being physically assaulted.

 And yes do sometimes end up stood in the rain for a while. But on balance I don't regret a moment of it.

It's probably a bit late in the day, to embark on the job of 'growing up' into a proper adult... This way of being will have to do, for now.

And coming soon, if I can carve out some more time, The gentle art of tramping.

Perhaps even with pictures too... Hitching a lift on someone elses broad band might be needed to attempt that one... Good to have friends already met, in the right places.


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