Eggy was, indeed, up for an adventure, and they arranged to meet at the top of the town, from whence they would walk to the road that led up to the motorway, the A46, and commence hitch-hiking. First, though, he had to call Benny the Baker and cancel his appearance in Traintown. He didn’t think he’d be missed. His act was a sort of crusty Billy Bragg, the tunes largely lifted from a group he’d been in at school, The Beginning, the lyrics amended to suit the mores of the subculture. He generally played first so that he could get drunk enough afterwards to dance to the headlining acts, a handful of people watching and applauding politely. But Benny the Baker seemed peeved, he’d already had two of the main acts cancel on him and he didn’t know what he was going to do. Penkington explained he’d already made arrangements with Eggy, thinking that he’d understand: Benny the Baker and Eggy had been at private school together, along with Squirrel. But Benny the Baker told him he was unbelievable and promptly hung up. Penkington shrugged, packed a small bag, and got the bus into town.
Eggy was late, even though he lived close by. Penkington stood waiting outside a pub called The Curfew, looking at his watch, thinking of going inside from time to time, but knowing he probably wouldn’t get out again. Then Eggy turned up, apologizing. They exchanged pleasantries and started walking along the London Road to the A46. As they passed the Longacre Hall at Snowhill, Penkington told Eggy a story about how he’d been to his first proper subcultural gig there at the beginning of 1984, to see the Smart Pils. It was supposed to be their farewell gig, although he’d see them many times after that. Penkington had enjoyed them, and he’d told the bass player he thought they sounded like Crass, which was supposed to be a compliment. The bass player had looked a little bemused, and Penkington’s new compatriots had laughed, one of them, Psychobully, calling him a fucking idiot. That was it, it wasn’t much of a story. Then they were at the bottom of the A46.
It didn’t take them long to catch a lift to the motorway. They squeezed into the back of a red wooden jeep, which the driver had built himself, almost from scratch, starting with only the chassis and the engine. What kind of car is this? Penkington asked innocently, as it shook and rattled along at top speed, 45mph. I call it Ye Shed, the driver laughed. Is that what you do then, rebuild old motors? Eggy called out above the engine noise. The driver told him he’d been in the army until last year, he’d been in The Falklands, then he’d broken his leg in County Fermanagh and he had to be invalided out, but he’d got himself a tasty pension. How Does It Feel? Penkington thought, looking down at his shoes; he didn’t know what to say to that. It went against the unwritten rules of the subculture, he was supposed to be against the military and a pacifist. Ah right, Eggy said, good one mate. Then they were at the motorway and the driver pulled over onto a verge and let them out. He was heading further north, to Herefordshire, he couldn’t tell them why. He winked and gave them the thumbs up, wished them luck, then he was gone.
The next lift took a little longer to arrive, about 45 minutes, but eventually a BMW stopped. Penkington and Eggy were surprised, they didn’t often get lifts from flash motors, they were too scruffy. Many of the lifts they did get were from ex-military types, because in the subculture they dressed all in black, which from a distance looked a little like a uniform. But they weren’t going to say no to the BMW, they weren’t proud. As they climbed into the back, the driver, a Nigerian, said, I hope you will not be smoking in the car, and they tossed their roll-ups away.
On the motorway, the driver asked them questions and they leaned forward to answer, the sun lowering in the sky as they headed west. No, they weren’t working, yes, unemployment was a terrible thing but what could you do, no, they didn’t have children, yes, they were going to be looking for work in Wales, they had heard great things about Wales and about work too. Hitch-hiking could be quite an adventure if you had an imagination. You could make up all kinds of stuff, you could really reinvent yourself. The driver nodded in agreement and answered occasionally, chuckling. At Aust Cliff Services, just shy of the Severn Bridge, he pulled off the motorway, saying that he needed refreshment. The three of them walked across the asphalt of the car park and into a deserted refectory, where he bought them a cup of tea each. They both took it black. The driver found this curious and Penkington set about explaining veganism and factory farming to him, excitedly. Eggy didn’t join in, only staring down into his cup, he wasn’t a proselytizer. You need fleesh, the driver told them, and Penkington looked at him askance. Fleesh, the driver said again, making to bite a chunk out of his own arm. Ah, flesh! Penkington said, I see. Yes, Fleesh! the driver said, you need fleesh my friend, and they all laughed. Then they drank their tea and they walked back out to the car and got back onto the motorway, and they crossed the bridge over the estuary, its waters headed for the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, all the way from its source at Plynlimon, the highest point of the Cambrian mountains, the River Severn named for Sabrina, a nymph who had drowned there. The driver dropped them a short while later at the junction for Newport East. He didn’t wish them luck.
It was all but dark now. Then, from which direction it was not clear, they heard the clatter and rumble of a small engine approaching, and they stood to attention, stuck out their thumbs, painted on their smiles. A Morris Traveller pulled up right in the centre of the junction, a middle-aged woman winding down the window and leaning out.
Where you boys headed then? she asked, as they approached the vehicle. Chickens squawked from wire cages on the back seat. Penkington did the talking, explaining the pop festival to her. Oh, that, she said, that were called off last week, the parish council banned it, you know, after what happened last year. Come on, climb in the back, I’ll take yer back to the motorway. They climbed into the back and she turned the Morris Traveller around and started driving south. Don’t mind Pinky an’ Perky, she said, they don’t bite.