Be The Miracle Fearful sceptics have bewitched us into believing that it’s absurd to believe in humanity, their perverted tyranny twisting our minds such that a show of solidarity from a stranger is ‘a miracle’

There’s train strikes this week: 40,000 rail workers united to protect their pay and working conditions against extraction by private shareholders.

In January, rail minister Huw Merriman admitted that, not only would it have been cheaper to settle the dispute months ago, but that the negotiations were being used to suppress the pay of all public sector key workers, including teachers and nurses. Ouch.

But that’s all by the by.

For the purposes of this story, the train strike merely explains why I was in my car at Southampton Airport Parkway and why vehicle delivery driver Arthur was standing on the M27 slip road holding his red trade plates.

I checked my mirrors and thought, ‘That’s a crap place to hitch,’ before pulling over and hitting my hazards.

Arthur ran up, pulled the door and chucked himself into the passenger seat.

He’d forgotten about the strike and found himself stranded after delivering a Motorway car to their depot in Eastleigh.

‘I don’t normally hitchhike,’ he said. ‘It was only fifteen minutes, but I had a bad feeling standing there — I’m very grateful.’

Arthur’s next job was to pick up a Hyundai Ioniq from an industrial estate outside Poole and take it up to Tamworth — a 180 mile drive in an electric car with 106 miles’ charge.

‘Normally I don’t touch electrics — something always happens and you’re left sitting around for hours. I didn’t clock this one.’

Seeing as I was on my way back to Bournemouth anyway, it was easy to save Arthur any more trouble. And I got to learn a little about the vehicle delivery trade.

For Arthur, it was all about supplementing his pension and getting him out of the house. A long day for £230.

This isn’t his usual patch. He normally operates in the band of territory south of Birmingham and north of London — ‘It’s much easier when you know where you are. I haven’t been to Poole since my honeymoon, 1975.’

Arthur’s phone rang: ‘Yes, love?’

His partner, Chris, was checking in and I got to hear Arthur’s take on his morning.

‘No, thanks, love, I’m fine, it’s all good now. This chap’s picked me up and I’m on the move. Good thing too — I was feeling a bit down back there, stood on the side of the motorway. Then along comes this miracle.’

I laughed. Not a bad way to start my day, being called a miracle. But it also made me wonder how we’ve come to be ruled by sceptics.

Arthur was standing on the side of a road rushing with cars driving his way. Every single one could have picked him up. It should be no surprise — much less a miracle — that someone stopped for him inside quarter of an hour. And yet he’d been anxious.

Sceptics are those who doubt their own humanity and the humanity of others.

Sceptics are those who believe that we’re not all in it together, that we’re not all playing for the same Team Human, that, contrary to all evidence, we’re not sociable animals, our nervous systems constantly regulating to each other.

I’m currently reading David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn Of Everything. It’s a remarkable work that will transfuse into my stories over the coming years. But one idea jumped out today: we humans are only fully self-conscious when we’re talking, laughing, rolling, relating with others.

But sceptics would rather believe that we’re each autonomous and independent economic units, acting in our own self-interest to the exclusion of others, certainly others beyond our immediate genetic milieu.

They couldn’t be more blatantly, even biologically, wrong, but somehow their scepticism has cast a spell over society.

Fearful sceptics have bewitched us into believing that it’s absurd to believe in humanity, their perverted tyranny twisting our minds such that a show of solidarity from a stranger is ‘a miracle’.

The good news is that the journey from false sceptic to true believer is no more than a single step.

All you need do is pronounce the believer’s creed: ‘I believe in my own humanity and the humanity of others’ and you’re ready to perform what those ridiculous sceptics have convinced us are fantastic miracles.

Of course, we can’t be miracles to everyone we cross, not all day every day. But keep your eyes open, hold out a hand, drop a smile and, from time to time, be the miracle.

Experiments in Publishing: Success?

A month ago, I published a book. But I didn’t publish it the usual way. Oh no. ‘Usual’ doesn’t work any more. I published it in three different ways:

  1. as a paperback book (£5.99);
  2. as an e-book on Amazon and the istore (£1.99);
  3. in 152 episodes on (Now discontinued).

I called this experiment Slow Publishing, for obvious reasons (it should take about a year for the whole book to trickle onto the blog). I had very low expectations, especially as I had no time for promotion – but how is it going?

The Website

Well, I’ve been publishing three episodes a week since the 23rd of July, so we’re up to Episode 16 now (about halfway through Chapter One). I’ve had over 600 visitors in total since the start and I can count on 15-20 people reading each instalment, plus 9 people have signed up to the ‘Soles’ RSS webfeed.


In terms of conversion, I’ve sold 10 copies of the e-book on Amazon, 1 copy on the istore and 1 copy of the paperback. I’ve made about £16.43 in royalties from these sales.


The only promotion I’ve done has been one email to my good friends at the start of the project, plus notifications of new episodes sent to my twitter and Facebook accounts.

I’m hoping that some promotion will start to trickle in from my readers. I’ve already had my first 5-star review on Amazon, from which I quote here:

The Soles of My Shoes is an erudite, eloquent and warm book. A deceptively simple tale of a long weekend spent hitchhiking with an unrequited love-of-his-life, the protagonist reveals insights into love, life, class, wealth and what it is to travel… I left this book wanting (a) to climb Ben Nevis and (b) to go hitchhiking. Possibly to visit Scarp as well… Highly recommended.

Interim Conclusions

Well I don’t think £16.43 is too bad for a month’s work. True, all my friends who are likely to buy the book, probably have. But that just means that any sales from now on will have been earned. I’ll post another update here in a month or two and we’ll see.

But, for now, I like the idea that the internet is never closed for business and people are stumbling upon my book while I sleep. ‘The Soles of My Shoes’ will never be out of print and, who knows, perhaps in fifty years I’ll be drawing my pension from between its e-pages.

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.

MacAulay & Co: The Programme

For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to ME, live on BBC Radio Scotland with MacAulay & Co:
David Charles on BBC Radio Scotland


RG: “Did anyone stop who looked like Rutger Hauer?”
DC: Who the f*** is Rutger Hauer? “Ha ha ha…”

DC: “I’ve met squaddies, religious fanatics, mine investors, hydroelectric dam insurers…”
FM: “Perverts?”

FM: “Is there a passing wind policy? What’s the protocol?”

FM: “Thanks very much for joining us this morning.”
DC: “Plea…”

Me & Hitch-hiking on BBC Radio Scotland – Tomorrow!

I always knew fame would come some day, but I never imagined it would come like this. After two very countable feature appearances on Iranian PressTV and Singaporean StarSports, and after countless featureless appearances in the background of Midsomer Murders, I’ve finally made it. The BBC has called.

Tomorrow, at approximately 10:30am, I shall haul my heavily medicated vocal chords into the BBC studios to pass down some authoritative tips on how to hitch-hike to Fred MacAulay of BBC Radio Scotland.

But enough! Here is the link to the programme:

It is on air from 10:30 on the 15th of June 2011, but you can always listen again, up to 7 days after.

So if you ever wondered how to get from London to Ben Nevis and back for free, or what to do when you’re stranded 150 miles away from your hotel in a foreign country, or how to raise loads of money for charity this summer – then now’s your chance!

Hitchhiking: London to Oxfordshire (and Back)

26 September 2010
Distance: 55 miles (one way)

Lesson: The Right Reasons

I got a train out to Gunnersbury to hitch from the side of the road onto the M4. It didn’t work. I stood near a bus-stop with my sign, people looked at me and accelerated up the slip-road. So I took a bus from that bus-stop to Hounslow West and walked to Heston Services. Unfortunately the M4 was half closed and going at a crawl past a traffic accident (I believe). But still, I got a lift no problems, from a travelling solar panel salesman. It took us an hour to get past the accident site, by which time there was nothing left and all lanes were open. But it was a great conversation, he told me all about his dad who was the first military pilot for Abu Dhabi and his brother who was a commercial diver up in Aberdeen. He dropped me in Reading and I walked across town to the railway station. I could have hitched from there to my destination, but time was short and the bus was only £2.90. So I caught a bus.

The next day, I caught a cold. No one would want to pick me up like that and I didn’t fancy standing on the road side in the sharp Autumn. So I caught a train from Reading back to London. It cost me £13, about what it would have cost if I’d bought a return ticket from London to Goring the previous day. My hitch had saved me nothing. So was it a waste of time? No chance. I’d know a lot less about solar panel sales, underwater oil rig repairs and the Abu Dhabi air force if I’d just caught the train.

Don’t hitch for financial reasons, hitch for the right reasons.

Hitchhiking: London to Winchester and Back

19 – 20 September 2010
Distance: 190 miles (including detours)
My first solo hitch in the UK.

Lesson: The Right Question

I picked up my first ride from the side of the road. A man drove past me, stuck in traffic, went to the end of the road, turned around at the roundabout and came back, pulled up and waved at me from the other side of the road. I assumed he must always pick up hitchers, but, no, he’d never done it before. I would have just driven past. My second lift was from Fleet Services. I asked my usual demographic, an older, single male: able to look after himself, unlikely to want to rape me and likely to drive safely. He accepted me, but then revealed he had a wife and a five year-old daughter in the car as well. It was a joy. I just played around in the back with the daughter, watching a DVD with her, admiring her spelling homework, laughing. They dropped me in Winchester. It couldn’t have been a simpler journey. It took me an hour and a half from London to Winchester, 70 miles. There was no need to ask any questions: I stuck my thumb out, I asked people nicely and they all said yes.

But then there was the journey home. I was dropped off at Chieveley Services by my friend. No problem, it was just off the M4, perfect for heading East to London. Or not. I asked and asked and asked for two hours or more. No one was heading East from Chieveley Services. I was bashing my head against a brick wall. I was asking the wrong question. No one stops at Chieveley and then goes East, it is actually just off the A34, which goes North-South and is on the South-side of the M4, convenient for people heading West, not East. After three hours, I changed my approach. I would head West, go with the flow and then try to hitch back from the next Service Station along. The first man I asked took me. The service station was full of people only too glad to help me, but I was asking them the wrong question. I asked the right question and was back in London within three hours.

Ask the right question. Always think of the people you are asking, where are they going?

Hitchhiking: London to Scotland and Back

25 – 29 August 2010
Distance: 1125 miles (approximately)
My first hitching journey in the UK.

Lesson: Optimism

This was a spectacular introduction to what is possible with hitchhiking. It took us a day to get up from London to Edinburgh, only an hour longer than the National Express bus and a whole lot cheaper. We had no idea where we were going to end up when we started – we even discussed what we would do if we failed to get out of London (try again tomorrow) – but the elation of that first lift, and then the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, pushing ever further North, was indescribable. Meeting the friendly and helpful people of this island was joyous and an education in itself. Walking from the Tube station back to my house, I felt the barriers to limitless travel falling away. Impossible situations ‘worked out’. Stuck in the outskirts of Edinburgh for a couple of hours, tired, failing, something turns up and three hours later we were in Lancaster. Optimism.