When I was a young man I got quite heavily into the punk scene (we never die – our safety pins just rust). I ran a music fanzine, Aural Nightmares (later Hyena), and through this I came into contact with people from all over the country – and beyond. It was an exciting time, getting letters and jiffy bags from such far flung places as Sao Paulo, Sacramento and Sardinia, containing letters, tapes, records and even T-shirts.
It wasn’t all receiving, however; I did give things in return. I used to write to a fanzine editor from Poland called Gregor, and I felt a little sorry for him. The letters I received were written on coarse paper in biro that stopped and started, and even the envelope glue barely did its job. Gregor explained that he was not allowed to send money out of the country (this was during the Cold War), but could I please send him a copy of my fanzine. I sent him a few copies and back issues, but I also included half a dozen shiny new black Bic ‘diamond’ biros. He told me how delighted he was at this in his next letter, which was written in unbroken black ink.
I befriended some of the UK bands I wrote to and I began to hitchhike to gigs in their areas, having made arrangements for accommodation with them beforehand. I would take off alone or with friends, thumbing my way to such hitherto unexplored lands as Leeds, Bradford, Manchester and Edinburgh. Getting to Leeds and Bradford was particularly easy, as we only had to hitch straight down the A1 as far as Wetherby. Once there, we could travel anywhere within West Yorkshire on the bus for 30p at off-peak times.
Although I never once missed a gig, or even turned up late, when relying on the charity of strangers to get me to my destination, it wasn’t always plain sailing. I have not so fond memories of one return trip from Edinburgh with my mate Lee, which appeared to be turning into a disaster, until matters took an unexpected twist.
We had hitched up to see a friend’s band, Political Asylum, play in a bar called, if I remember rightly, the Tamdhu. I have little recollection of the actual gig or the sleeping arrangements, but I do remember the following morning, and setting off at 11.00 am on our 100 mile journey south with a hearty breakfast of muesli made with water inside us.
We left Edinburgh, then walked through Musselburgh, where we got a lift in a van to Dunbar. From there we tried the different technique of hitching from a fixed position at a roundabout. We were there for ages but eventually we got a lift to Berwick upon Tweed. We reverted to walking along the verge of the A1, but there hardly seemed to be a vehicle on the road that day, and we were still some seventy miles from home. There were frequent showers and the lack of food began to take its toll as our energy levels hit rock bottom. We were thoroughly miserable and starting to get a little panicky at the prospect of spending the night without shelter in the middle of nowhere. I said to Lee that if our situation didn’t improve rather sharpish, we would have to keep an eye out for somewhere to sleep. Then the most unusual thing happened.
A car that was speeding up the opposite carriageway, i.e, north, stopped and the driver’s window opened. I didn’t immediately recognise the face, but I certainly heard the voice.
“Are you going to Blyth?” he said (Blyth is my home town).
In a state of elation, we crossed the carriageway wondering if this was a hunger-induced mirage, but it was real. I recognised the driver as a man about my age from Blyth called Alan, who frequented the same bar as me on Friday nights. I only knew him as a nodding acquaintance, but I was never more pleased to see him. We climbed into the back of the car and he drove off to the next junction, where he turned around and in no time at all he had dropped me off, to my eternal gratitude, at my front door. I went into the house and ate and slept.
So what were the circumstances that led to a car stopping for us on the opposite carriageway?
In true ‘anarcho-punk’ fashion, I had modified a pair of black jeans by spattering bleach all over them in a random pattern. I wore these jeans quite a lot, including for the Edinburgh trip, and they were pretty distinctive. Alan and his mate had been up in Scotland to attend job interviews and they were returning down the A1. As they sped past these two miserable souls trudging along the roadside, Alan caught a glimpse of my jeans, which he recognised, even though I had my back to him. “I’m sure that was Joe,” he said to his passenger, who doubted it. Thankfully, their curiosity got the better of them and they made a bet. At the next junction, they turned around to investigate.
So you see, had I been a member of the square community, wearing ordinary jeans, Lee and I would probably have had to sleep rough that night, but my DIY denims saved the day. Vive le Punk, as they say.