'And this was really the way that my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.'
– Jack "Oh Dear" Kerouac, On the Road
That was interesting.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...
My plan was to be at Brent Cross by 7am. Sadly, for the simple reason that I am a gargantuan oaf and spent most of the wee hours of Sunday night thinking love-thoughts about an Audrey Tautou lookalike, I didn't make it till gone noon. Well, OK, if you want the absolute truth it was probably nearer 3pm when I finally arrived at the North Circular at Staples Corner. The business end of the M1. I took out my sign.
That’s where my gran lives, you see. Sunderland. Not Drearsby or Blighton or Cockchester or any of that other nonsense, but Sunderland. That’s right – the time for playing games is over.
I actually made two signs. One super-positive and packed with good vibes – the one you see above – the other less so…
I knew I’d made the right choice to go with the upbeat one, however, when after only around ten minutes, my first lift hissed to a halt thirty seconds up the road. And when I climbed into the passenger seat, although I was very grateful that I’d got off to a good start, part of me was also a tad disappointed. Vic looked nothing like Audrey Tautou.
Vic was a trucker. Long-haired, stoat-nosed, unshaven, three pairs of knickers hanging from his rear-view mirror.
He was very friendly. Very chatty. He told me, quite without shame – rather, au contraire, he told me with a great deal of ostensible pride – that when he was in his 20s, it became his ambition to have a T-shirt printed which bore the slogan, ‘I fucked the world before the world fucked me’. He would only permit himself to get this T-shirt printed, however, once he'd actually had sexual relations (penetrative) with at least one woman from every country on the planet.
‘I did pretty well an’ all, if I do say so myself,’ he said, himself, all ruddy cheeks and beaver teeth. ‘Go on, test me.’
I didn’t understand. I don’t really think I wanted to understand.
‘Name a country,’ he said. ‘And I’ll tell you if I've been there or not. If you know what I mean.’
‘Alright, then,’ I said. ‘Lichtenstein.’
‘That’s not a country!’ he cried. Either he knew that in my head I had spelt it incorrectly, or else he was just feeble-minded.
‘Ask me a proper one.’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘England.’
‘Check,’ he said. ‘Many, many times. I live there in fact.’
‘Wales,’ I said.
‘Check,’ he said. ‘Many times.’
‘Croatia,’ I said.
‘Check,’ he said. ‘Mirna. It means “peace”. She was a piece an' all. Eh? Eh?' He winked at me. 'Ask me another.’
This went on for some time. When I grew tired, Vic explained that the only reason he had failed to complete his task was that he’d got one of his sample pregnant and decided to do the decent thing.
‘Congratulations,’ I said.
‘Thanks,’ he said.
Vic did a funny thing. When he referred to his wife, he did so using the expression ‘ball and chain’. I really didn’t think people did that in real life.
I asked him if that meant that he’d been faithful since he was married.
‘Define “faithful”,’ he said.
‘I have my answer,’ I said.
‘Nah, nah, nah,’ he insisted.
He went on to explain that although he hadn’t had penetrative intercourse with anyone but his wife since he entered, perhaps only faux grudgingly, into the bondage of matrimony, he had paid for the occasional hand-job. ‘And every now and then,' he added, 'I treat myself to a tit-roll. Twenty quid for a tit-roll. Not bad, that.’
Interestingly, Vic still maintained, apparently perfectly seriously, that he didn’t actually cheat on his wife. He respected her too much for that. In fact, the only time he would ever grant himself a pass would be if the opportunity arose to sleep with a woman from Burkina Faso. ‘It’s in Africa,’ he said.
‘So I believe,’ I said.
Turns out Burkina Faso was like the holy grail back in his ‘fuck the world’ days.
I asked him how long he’d been married.
‘Five months,’ he said.
For all his coarse boasting, casual misogyny and bravado, I think Vic was actually a really nice bloke. He was very warm and generous. He shared his sandwiches with me. And he told me stories about how great he was.
Most probably he was just seeking affirmation, validation, love. But then who isn't? Eh? Eh?
Some of us just go about it in a funny way.
Vic dropped me at Leicester Forest East services, where he couldn't resist letting me know that he'd once enjoyed sexual relations (penetrative) with a girl from Nuneaton, just down the road. Apparently it was very nice.
I said my thanks and goodbyes, wished him luck with Burkino Faso and gave a silent prayer that as he drove away, somewhere in Lancashire his wife was in rhapsodies of carnal euphoria, practically suffocating in a veritable tsunami of sausage rolls. If you know what I mean.
Tomorrow: Seize the Baguette!