How to Hitch-hike

Terrified by the prospect of standing on the side of the road with your thumb out? Well, here are some tips on hitching.

If you’ve never hitched before, don’t panic. How hard can it be? You just stick your thumb out and smile!

The hitchwiki website has a treasure trove of tips for new-comers and old-timers alike:

For what it’s worth, here are my own All Star tips and tricks:

  • Take a large (A4 minimum) sketch pad for writing signs.
  • Take several thick black marker pens (other colours optional). And I mean several – don’t rely on only one. It will run out and you’ll be stuffed.
  • Take a small road map of the UK. Like this one. Don’t lose it, like I did.
  • Pack a mac. Preferably a bright red one with reflective tabs. Be seen!
  • By all means stand by the side of a road with your thumb out, but for real pro-hitching, try to get lifts between service stations. It might not be glamorous, but it does mean you can approach people personally, they can hear about your quest and see that you’re not a psycho. Service stations also have toilets, food and water.
  • Don’t be afraid of going in the wrong direction. If you find yourself in the doldrums, then just pick up a lift going anywhere and try from there. 
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, take your ipod or other anti-social entertainment device. For god’s sake, talk to your kind hosts!
  • Take snacks for the road. Nuts are good, so is chocolate. I wouldn’t take a hip-flask, though. Try, at least, to look respectable.
  • If you’re not confident, travel with a buddy you trust. Three really is a crowd for hitching. Lone drivers might be reluctant to pick up a crowd and three people are difficult to accommodate in lorries. 
  • Hitch in daylight. Night hitching is probably safe, but it’s much harder. No one can see you, there are less drivers on the road – and the ones that do and are, are knackered and just want to get home.

But if there’s one golden rule I’ve learnt over and over again, it is this:

Don’t, under any circumstances, ever give up.

Last weekend I hitched to the Lake District and back in 36 hours. One particularly dark moment served to illuminate this rule better than most. I was stuck in Skipton. No one was stopping for me, several young ruffians had shouted at me, sworn and given me the finger. I trudged miserably up the road, in the misting rain, for about three hours.

I’d given up. I wasn’t even sticking out my thumb.

Then a van pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me. He must be checking a map, I thought, and I trudged slowly onward. I was just walking past him, when I noticed his window was wound down. Then I saw him looking at me, but I’d still given up. He moved to speak to me. He’s probably lost, he probably wants to ask me directions, I think.

Then this happens:

“Were you the lad with a sign to Kendal earlier?”
“Er… Yeah?”
“What? Have you given up on that?”
“Er… No?”
And he jerked his thumb to the back of his van. “Hop in then.”

And he drove me all the way to Keswick: never, ever, under any circumstances, give up.


Money’s a funny thing. It seems to be the most important thing in all the world, essential to feeding and loving and living. Then, just when it seems more important than ever, you realise that it isn’t at all.

But surely money…

  • gives you power.
  • makes you feel good.
  • makes other people respect you.

Well, yeah it does. But it’s a short-cut.

It is easier to buy your power than it is to influence others by your actions. It is easier to spend on instant gratification than it is to spend your life content. It is easier to earn money than it is to earn the respect of others.

But this isn’t what I’m most concerned with. I couldn’t really care less if you want to spend money on power, happiness or respect. No: I’m worried because money is boring.

Here are some choices, with money or with imagination:

  • We could go to the cinema tonight. Or we could jump in the Serpentine and make out on the island.
  • We could go to a restaurant for dinner. Or we could rummage around the fruit and veg market after closing and cook up some free food on an open fire in the woods.
  • I could join a gym and work-out in front of a mirror. Or I could go for a run in Epping Forest, get covered in mud and see how high I can climb a tree.

Boring is the enemy and money is the friend of boring.

If you think about it, it’s obvious: money is what (stereotypical) accountants like best. Anyone who wants to live like a (stereotypical) accountant is welcome to their money, but me? Naw thanks.

This boredom can be overcome, of course it can. I’m sure you can think of a hundred interesting things to do with a hundred pounds. But how many people actually spend a hundred nicker on fitting out the local bus shelter with velcro so that all the morning commuters get their suits stuck on the sides?

Of course we don’t. That’s because money is part of a system and that system is boring. You can’t package up a sunset or a tree mud or a lake. People have tried, oh boy have they tried, but some things are beyond market forces.

Money is part of a boring system so we can only spend it on boring things. Rent, restaurants, retail. Drink it on a Saturday night, then dance it away at a club – who ever thought we’d pay to dance?

Do you think Zorba would have paid to dance?

Grow your own charitable donation

Last week I found out why a friend of mine has long hair. I’d never thought to ask before. I’d assumed he actually liked his long, luscious locks. Sure he looks like a big girl, but I thought it rude to make disparaging comments. I like to think I’m fairly non-judgemental when it comes to my friends’ hair. At least to their face.

Turns out I should have pointed and laughed, then I would have found out earlier why he has really long hair.

I like to think the conversation would have gone like this:

ME: Ha ha ha! You look like a girl! Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: What? Because I have long hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: Don’t you like my hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: What’s wrong with long hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: Seriously, Dave. I thought you’d be fairly non-judgemental when it came to hair.
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: At least to my face.
ME: Ha ha ha! Why have you got girl’s hair? It looks so stupid! Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: I’m growing it.
ME: Ha ha ha! Yeah, but WHY, man? You look like a girl!
FRIEND: I’m gonna donate it to kids with cancer.
ME: …
FRIEND: What are you doing for kids with cancer, Dave?

I am leaving civilisation for a few months soon. This seems like the perfect opportunity to grow my hair. I need 6″ of long, luscious locks, about down to my chin, for a decent wig. I currently have about 1″.

If you also want to possess the ultimate put-down response to people who take the piss out of your hair style, then why not join me? Check out for more information.

How to Write a Real Novel in 30 Days: Part 2

I’m 22 days into my ambitious plan to write a real novel, fully drafted and edited, in 30 days. Part 1 is here.

So how am I doing?

Well, this was always going to be a method-in-progress so here are some updates to how I’ve been doing it, and then I’ll come onto how I’m doing, if you see what I mean.

The method: a novel in crisis

1. Don’t get ill.

I managed to contract a cold at the beginning of last week, which knocked me out for four days or so. I only managed to squeeze out about 5,000 words over that time, about 5,000 words down on where I should have been.

More importantly for the project, however, was the ensuing loss of focus. Without focus or the feeling that I knew what I was doing and where I was going, the novel would be dead. This was a serious problem.

2. The mid-novel collapse.

It could have been a coincidence that I felt this death of the novel at the same time as I had a cold. The feeling came on at around 45,000 words, which should have been at a pivotal point in the story. It should have been just as the middle is developing and boiling up nicely for the denouement. But I just didn’t know which way to turn. I didn’t know what my fifth chapter needed to set up the ending.

3. How to resurrect a novel in crisis.

So on Thursday last week I changed focus. I did two things. Firstly, I decided that I would skip chapter five. It wasn’t going anywhere, so I’d write something that was going somewhere and then go back to chapter five later, when I’d discovered what it needed to set up. In other words: I’d write the ending.

The second thing I did was to set a new deadline and a new target and focus on that. I decided that I’d finish the sixth and final chapter in 10,000 words, on Sunday. This re-energised my writing and my focus. Suddenly I knew what I was doing again. The novel was back.

So what happened?

Well, two things happened. Firstly, I finished the sixth chapter today, on Monday. That’s one day after my deadline, but instead of writing 10,000 words, I have written nearly 17,000. So I think one day slippage is allowed. The total word count now stands at 65,000.

Secondly, by writing the last chapter (there will be a short epilogue, but this is the end of the story proper), I did find out what needed to be in chapter five.

This highlights one of the problems with the NaNoWriMo style of plotting. How can your setup work smoothly if you haven’t written the ending yet? That might sound perverse, but, by reversing the writing order, my ending will be far more believable because I know exactly what my ending (i.e. chapter six) requires in its setup (i.e. chapter five). This should save me a lot of time in the editing process.

So what now?

Tomorrow I am going to write the epilogue and then I am going to spend the last week of my 30 days editing the beast down. This will include the writing of chapter five. Again, I am going to edit the ending before the setup, so that the passage of the novel is seamless.

The final word count is going to be about 80,000 words. I am finding, as I edit the earlier chapters, that the pre-edit word count grows about 20%. This is because I have to write in extra scenes to keep the novel flowing logically. Plus there’s chapter five to be written, almost in its entirety.

Stay tuned for Part 3. Will I really have a fully drafted and edited novel after only 30 days?

Bob Dylan live at London Feis 18 June 2011

Quite simply: the best Dylan show I’ve ever heard. Okay so that’s only out of two, but it was also right up there with all the live recordings I’ve heard: The Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975, the Halloween Show in 1964, 1965 at the BBC, and even the infamous 1966 tour of England.

Honestly. Every time you hear Dylan live there’s a moment’s hesitation before you realise what the hell he’s playing and then – bear grins. He’s not content with being a Dylan jukebox on stage; he played a couple of songs straight, but most of them were twisted and refracted in ways that threw new meaning on the lyrics.

Even the ones he did straight featured extensive carnivalesque organ solos. Seriously, I’ve never seen Dylan looking so relaxed. He was having a ball up there. Compared to 2003, when I last saw him, there was so much energy, so much playful creativity, so much identity up there on stage. And the old boy’s 70!

Forget the sunshades, forget the pixie boots and the skinny jeans, forget everything; the reason Bob Dylan is an inspiration was embodied last night. He has been working professionally for about 50 years, he has published 34 studio albums, he tours constantly (102 shows last year) and yet still he is innovating every night. I mean, I don’t know if he ever actually said this, but it sums up just about the best lesson anyone can learn from the man:

I write ten songs a day and throw nine of them away.

If you can do that, then surely, whatever you do, you’ll be set up. Forget the fashion, hard work is where it’s at.

And please listen to this before it gets pulled off the internet for copyright infringement. It is a gut-twisting rendition of ‘Forgetful Heart’, from ‘Together Through Life’, only Dylan’s 33rd studio album. He still got it:


1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard): Totally baffled 90% of the crowd. Gleefully mischievous.
2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob center stage on harp)
3. Things Have Changed (Bob on guitar): I can’t remember why this was so good, but so good it was.
4. Tangled Up In Blue (Bob center stage on harp): Ballad style, stretched out, languid and missing a number of verses. No Italian poets that I noticed.
5. Summer Days (Bob on keyboard): Guitar lick twisted with a sour note that could have been ironic, given the weather up above.
6. Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob on guitar): Yes it was beautiful. Done as a straight-faced romantic ballad.
7. Cold Irons Bound (Bob center stage on harp)
8. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob center stage without harp then keyboard): Slowed down to a contemplative funereal march. More sorrowful than apocalyptic vision.
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
10. Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on viola): Drenched in pathos. See essential-viewing video above.
11. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
12. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)

13. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard): Bob’s sop to the singalong crowd – and how we loved it.
14. All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard): Recaptured from Jimi Hendrix, thank goodness!
15. Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob on guitar, Donnie on violin): In a nursery rhyme style. All the patronising preaching gone, replaced by whimsical wisdom. Thank you and good night.

For those who like to keep an eye on these things, we had:

  • 1963 x 2
  • 1965 x 4
  • 1967
  • 1975 x 2
  • 1979
  • 1997
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • 2006
  • 2009

Which shows you what he thinks of his 80s production…