In the summer of 1982 Hurl and Boff, two 19 year old English lads, set off from the Weald of Kent on a hitchhiking tour of France, Switzerland, West Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland.
Hurl, the literary one, kept a diary and photographed the trip. Boff, the artistic one, sketched various scenes and “characters” that they encountered on their travels.
Here, for the first time in thirty years, I open up the old Collins 1982 diary and judiciously peruse its contents, publishing only those parts which I feel are not entirely unfit for public consumption, videlicet, those parts which confine themselves to the surface of things, to a record of what happened, where, when and perhaps even why.
1982 was a gap year for me, having completed my “A” levels at West Kent College in 1981. The three “big events” of 1982 for me were:
1. Being given sole responsibility for running a fish stall at Grove Park market on Friday mornings (Jan-July).
2. Hitchhiking around Western Europe with Boff (July-August)
3. Commencing my first year at York University. (October)
I spent much of my gap year working “on the fish round” for my friend John the fishmonger, who was sixteen years my senior. The two big days were Friday and Saturday.
On Fridays we left the village at 4:30am and drove down to Hastings fish market. We had a trailer hitched to the van. John bought fish for Putney market, which we loaded into the van, and I bought fish for Grove Park market, which we loaded into the trailer. We then drove up to London and John dropped me off at Grove Park around 6:30am. I would then set up a market stall and start selling at around 7:30. It was usually non-stop selling until midday. Then John would come back, I’d hitch the trailer to the van and off we would go back to Sandhurst. My first job when I got into the van was to count the money!
The next day was more “leisurely” – we left for Hastings at around 5am, and were able to buy fish on the early morning auction as well as from the dealers. Then we’d drive to East Grinstead market and then on to Lamberhurst where we’d call in on one or two customers of long standing and drop orders off at some of the pubs, inevitably ending up at the Horse and Groom.
I also worked for John on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those were easier days for me as I didn’t have to go down to Hastings with John, but would turn up at 8:30 in the morning and we’d set off towards Wadhurst (Tuesdays) or Ticehurst (Thursdays), stopping here and there en-route and then selling from the back of the van in the high street.
That was how I was able to save a nice pot of cash for the summer holiday and first term at university. Those of us who’d taken a year out felt oh so much more mature than those who’d only just left school…
Boff’s family lived in Staplehurst, about ten miles north of Sandhurst. We were in the same year at secondary school (Angley School, Cranbrook), and in the same class from the third year, and after that we both went to West Kent College of FE.
Boff had just completed his first year at Bristol Polytechnic studying graphic design. when we set off on our trip with Boff’s parents…
Sunday 18th July
Now I prepare the rucksack – I think I have got it just right this year – it does not bulge at the seams, and apart from tent and sleeping mat, nothing clings to the outside.
I remember now that I had bought a new rucksack for this trip. The previous year we hitched around England and I packed far too much stuff into my old rucksack and went around with cooking pots dangling around my backside…
Monday 19th July: Dover To Écommoy
At about five past twelve (a. m.) the yellow headlights of the Bayly’s VW Camper appeared on the horizon of Sandhurst. We were among the first on the 2 o’clock ferry to Boulogne.
Patrick and I settle down in the bar for the duration. A family occupy the seats next to us. The man of the family plonks himself in an adjacent seat, puts his feet up and wraps himself in a blanket. The rest of the family depart to allow him to “sleep”. His “sleep” consisted of chatting to us about hitching and cars etc. Boff was very unsubtle on the subject of hitching, but when this friendly man of Leicester said he would take us if he if he had room, Boff, waving his hands about, waffled some garbage, amid self-conscious chortles, about not expecting a lift.
As the day grows light we doze we doze uncomfortably in the back of the VW while Mr B drives into the countryside. During an afternoon break the tapping of a typewriter disturbs us. The gendarmerie had arrived and were waving down deviators of the law. All of us found the sidearms somewhat disturbing. Drove through untidy fields of corn and sweet corn in uninspiring countryside en route to Le Mans and then Écommoy – the town where Boff had stayed 5 years ago.
Find a pleasant camp site. A pleasant, very French town despite the smell of rubbish that is thrown into open dustbins. Into a bar for vin and bar football. Two cyclists, Nigel and John, are found therein.
To be continued…