Charles put up a spirited defence on our behalf but the air was irretrievably poisoned before their holiday had really started. There were some very nasty personal exchanges and stakes driven through each other’s hearts. All this happened because of us and a magnanimous gesture. We were mortified and conscious of making an enemy for life in Angry Angus who was a sort of red headed psycho who took on the persona of Charles Manson in my mind the more he spoke. His genes were surely programmed at birth to wreak terrible revenge on anything that got up his nose.
There was a resounding silence - white sound for an age until Angus, a nervous but fiery character spoke fervently, clearly reflecting what some of the others thought. He was brutally frank and had clearly taken a dislike to us.
How could they fit two more souls into the knackered old vehicle without unbalancing the unity of the party or destroying the suspension of the vehicle itself? We were interlopers and he wanted us out, no question.
With hindsight he was probably right but at the time all I could see was a God sent ride evaporating before our very eyes.
With a goodbye to Blighty and a bonjour to France we stepped onto the continent in optimistic mood.
Much to our surprise a cronky overloaded orange Bedford Dormobile disgorged itself from the ferry’s jaws with a familiar grinning face at the window and a cheery wave.
It was Charles, a friend from home, and a band of fellow students who had formed a mini-crowd to fund the jaloppy for an expedition.
This called for Stella’s and a Gitane or two at the secondhand clothes shop that doubled as a bar and a round of handshakes and introductions all round.
Allegra, for that was her name, whilst on the ferry, had repaired the damage to her mascara inflicted by the poodle’s facial cleansing in the back seat of the Morris Minor.
She reappeared looking radiant like a young Audrey Hepburn in jeans and t-shirt. I didn’t see her as a trophy broad - only as a young girl on the brink of womanhood displaying delicate confidence interspersed with captivating innocence.
She made me feel 6 feet tall and I was growing to love her - ‘twas more than a crush or sexual attraction, something I hadn’t experienced before in any woman.......
Two salmon’ I requested.
‘Rock?’ came the reply. Sounded cool and he looked like Elvis Presley with big sideburns, a quiff and a sneer. Being a fan I said ‘Yes.’
It was disgusting - dogfish in the Mirror - prime slime that brings up the bile even at the mere thought today.
We hadn’t intended to cheat but had to escape this well-meaning dystopia. A red double decker staged a rescue and put us on the Old Kent Road.
A succession of kind old ladies, one in a Morris 1000 with an amorous poodle in the back, saw us to Dover.
We left him at the gates of Poplar Dock to join the queue of lorries waiting for the dockers to finish yet another tea break to offload.
Don’t ask me how we got to Dover as getting out of London was an alien experience; filthy air, tatty markets, and interminable rows of run down terraced houses sprawling in every direction. Feeling ravenous we bypassed the eel and pie house in Deptford after just a glimpse of the slimy beast and vomit inducing green liquor. Drawn by the sign ‘bargain salmon’ we ventured into the fish and chip shop next door.
‘Where you going mate?’ said the driver in broad cockney. ‘I’m going to the hickory dickory docks. Will that help?’
‘Fine it’s in the right direction -not precisely sure where we’re going as we’ve never been there before -we’ll go with the flow, you know drift along so long as it’s South. That’s our plan if you can call it one.’
Climbing through the gears we were off, little knowing that this journey was going to last much longer than we had bargained for.
As our truck crossed the River Lea it made me think of Laurie Lee - tee hee!
I can still picture my girl then, fresh and youthful, innocent but naughty, mini-skirted with beautiful sea blue eyes, an uneasy contrast to my dark bearded, frizzy headed, some would think intimidating frame.
I was very conscious that a cardinal rule for a successful hitchhiker is not to look like a serial killer. My girl was the perfect antidote to allay such fears.
And so within minutes of taking up our station on the kerb of the old Roman road facing south we squeezed into a cab, my bird perched on the engine cover next to the burly driver.
After the anxiety of wondering whether we would receive family approval for our voyage of a lifetime we could hardly believe our luck that this was for real - the heavy backpacks seemed to float on air like our spirits on that beautiful summer’s morning. Our boots were going to take a pounding but our hearts were carefree.
My cute companion, I must admit, would undoubtedly be an asset - putting it crudely, an enticing piece of bait for all those bored drivers between here and our distant destination. Keeping it to myself, I hoped I wouldn’t have to fight them off.
We walked out one summer’s morning, leaving the wicket gate behind us and trooped off towards the main road itching to hit the highway, thumb extended, praying for the first ride. My 17 year old companion had joined me with her mother’s tentative blessing after a delicate conversation more about my behaviour than her safety. Her father however seemed relaxed about the consequences, even slightly jealous in fact, as flogging insurance for a onetime air ace had worn down his latent sense of adventure.
We were free now - oh what a feeling - beginning the first big adventure of our lives.