I can still see that day clearly, it was morning time. I think from memory about 9AM. I had been living in London for a while and I had many ambitions, hopes for the future. In those days I lived in Queensgate nr 197, in South Kensington. Right around the corner from the Royal Albert Hall. I lived in this cool hostel. Well, I had a bed, in a shared room, I had a shower, loo. I had breakfast thrown in which kind of got me started for the day.
It was sun shining, a bright blue sky and all of London came alive. It was June, coming up to my birthday. I walked out of Queensgate, I turned right, walked up to the Royal Albert Hall, I crossed the street in front of the Royal Albert Hall, into Kensington Gardens, and started to walk, diagonally, across Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, towards Marble Arch.
I remember getting to Marble Arch and checking out who was busking around there, that was cool. And I walked down Oxford Street, flirting with numerous pretty young ladies, en route. I got to Bond Street and suddenly reality hit. I had this part time job to help pay my rent, cleaning toilets. My hours were 10 AM to 1 PM. I remember my Welsh supervisor. “You’re late Johnson, if you don’t watch it, you are out of here”. Having had such a good morning, you know, London, warm sunshine, pretty girls, I replied to the effect of “Fuck you, you Welsh cunt”, took my wages for the day out of the till and left.
So, I walked up Bond Street, back down Oxford Street, across to Marble Arch, and sat down in Hyde Park on a lovely bench, and ate my sandwiches… An hour later I went back to my room in South Kensington, retrieved my Fender acoustic guitar and went busking at Marble Arch. Well, I think I made 15 quid. Considering my rent was 8 pounds a day plus breakfast, I was happy.
I don’t know what happened that day but in a fit of madness, I said to the manager of the hostel that I would be back in a month or 2. She said “OK, I’ll see you then”. It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon by this time. I walked around to Victoria Coach Station. From memory I had about 50 pounds to my name. I learned that the bus to Brussels was full and purchased a ticket to Amsterdam, leaving that night, at 11 o’clock. I walked back to South Kensington, picked up my old green duffel bag and I walked across to nr 22, Craven Terrace, in Paddington.
Having got somebody to look after my bag in storage, I got my acoustic guitar, a tooth brush, some soap, a razor, a towel, a spare change of clothing and a big warm flying jacket, and I walked back and jumped on my bus to Amsterdam. I still remember the bus driver’s name was Paul. He had fair hair, he was very Dutch looking. I remember sitting on the bus, looking out the window, watching London go by, Elephant & Castle, New Cross, Catford, then further the bus went through Canterbury that night, down to Dover.
I remember after we landed in Ostend, as the bus proceeded to drive to Amsterdam, putting my small rugzak on my lap, and getting my head down, knowing I had to sleep. I vaguely remember opening my eyes; “Breda, Utrecht, Amsterdam”. So I was here, in Amsterdam. It took a bit of getting used to. 24 hours earlier, there I was, in London, with a part time job and playing street music. 24 hours later I am in a strange country, not knowing a word of the language, and literally thinking “Oh shit, what am I going to do now”.
Well this is how the day in Amsterdam began. A French Canadian guy, who spoke a little Dutch, bought me and another guy a cup of coffee. I remember him saying “Bedankt”, as the coffees came, and me asking him, does that mean “Thank you” ? After we drank a coffee, we made our way to a nearby hostel, where we shared a room. I can recall being tired. Well, my new landlord was American, a polite well-spoken Midwesterner. I asked him “Where can you play street music around here” ? He pointed me in the right direction and I set out to make 20 gulden that day. I achieved the goal.
I had been playing guitar for years and knew enough songs to play, so I played them. Didn’t know what the hell else to do. Well, after a quick trip to the local supermarket, got talking to this Canadian guy. He said “Have you ever hitchhiked” ? I said “No”. I said “How exactly do you do it” ? He told me “Just go out to a liftplaats and you’ll see other people holding up signs”. I took a deep breath and on the spur of a moment said “Why not, I’ll give it a go”.
Well, got on the tram in Amsterdam and I can still recall knowing that Germany was to the east but that’s about all. His name was Rolf, he was a hippie. He was Dutch and he had a blue van, strong American accented English. This voice said “Hop in man ! Where do you want to go man.” ? I said “Towards Germany”. He said “Cool man …Do you want to smoke some shit.” ? I said “No man”.
Well, we Drove about 90 km/hour to somewhere in the middle of Holland. I forgot where long ago .( haha)
I suddenly started to enjoy hitchhiking. It was freedom. It was a freedom that I didn’t know existed. Of course, as a young teenager, there was all sorts of stories about the hippie trail and this freedom, it infected me. Well, I remember coming back to reality, being somewhere in the middle of Holland, thinking, “So, what now.” ?
Well, I had 20 gulden in my pocket, it was 4 o’clock on a June afternoon. I had bread, cheese, fluids, and the warmth of a nice set of pine trees a kilometer away looked very nice. So, walking along the road, a car suddenly stopped. A voice said in German “Guten Tag. Sind Sie eine trempe.” ? “Ja”. He said “Would you like a lift to Germany.” ? Two hours later, we found ourselves in the beautiful little village of Rekken.
I learned that this man was a friendly pastor of a small Church in this general area. Not wanting to overstay my welcome, he drove me the 37 km to Essen. Giving me his card and phone number, he made me promise to call him. “If you ever need any help in Germany, please call me”. My next lift was to Cologne, in Germany. Then to Bonn. It was late at this time, about 9.30 at night and I was a little bit lost.
Walking through a small but prosperous looking village, there was a man and a woman and 3 teenage girls, talking to someone else. I asked them directions. They said to me “What is it you really need.” ? I said “Somewhere to sleep”. Don’t know why I was so direct but I just said it. They asked me for identification. I can remember showing them my passport. Two minutes later, the tall distinguished looking man that I asked for directions, introduced himself to me as a judge with one of the Courts in Germany. 3 minutes later, I found myself invited for dinner and to spend the night in a spare room.