Hextol reflects back on memories of childhood.

ISN’T it odd the number of things you did as a youngster which are no longer deemed normal?

Children going out after breakfast and not coming back home until the street lights come on; family groups collecting frogspawn in spring and blackberries in the autumn; and every motorway access road and service station being thronged by hitchhikers.

Hitchhiking was a perfectly acceptable way of getting about during my teens, before every driver with a spare seat in his vehicle was perceived as a kidnapper, pervert, or a serial killer.

People standing at the roadside waving a jaunty thumb are now scarcer than raisins in our school spotted dick, but as a regular giver and receiver of impromptu lifts, I rethink that’s a great shame.

Nowadays, youngsters are in the habit of “taking a year out” after their A levels to wander the world, spending months in far off lands I barely knew existed when I was their age, while I was struggling to get beyond the outskirts of Macclesfield.

When I was about 15, a school friend and I decided we would like to go to the August Bank Holiday motorcycle race meeting at Oulton Park circuit, some 30 miles away. Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini were both due to appear when in their pomp.

We had about £5 between us, and on a gloriously sunny set off in good heart, waving our thumbs at passing cars on the main road out of town.

After less than five minutes, a flash car driven by a young chap pulled up and we were ushered into the back seat.

He asked us where we were going, and to our delight he announced that he was going right past the road end leading to the circuit.

He added that his final destination was the Welsh seaside resort of Colwyn Bay - so Hailwood and Agostini were instantly forgotten, as our new friend agreed we could accompany him all the way.

We had a wonderful time, plodging in the sea and generally enjoying ourselves, and it was only around 5pm that we realised we had no idea how we were going to negotiate the 77 miles back home.

We set off walking with thumbs extended but this was bank holiday, and there was no way holiday drivers with cars full of fractious kids were going to stop for two rubicund and slightly dishevelled teenagers.

When darkness was falling, we had trudged seven miles to a place called Abergele where we accepted we were not going to get a lift and headed for the railway station. It was closed, but we managed to climb over a wall, and made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the waiting room.

It should be remembered that these were the days before mobile phones, and our parents had no idea where we were, but no police search was instigated.

I fell asleep, but was woken in the half light by a panting and roaring demon that was trying to kill me - until I realised it was just a steam train going about its business.

Having broken into the station, we broke out again about 6-30am, and resumed our thumbing, managing to get back home via a couple of lifts before dinner.

Neither set of parents had really missed us proving what delightfully naive times the 1960s were.

In the following years, I travelled the length and breadth of the country by thumb, including to journalism college in Preston, where I was never late for a lecture. I found that wagon drivers in particular were glad of the company as they pounded the motorways, and never once felt threatened

And when I did pass my driving test, I would never pass a hitchhiker without stopping to offer them a ride.

It was my way of paying the driving fraternity back for helping me out over the years, but my motives were not entirely altruistic - squeezing an anoraked and heavy booted stranger with a vast rucksack into the car was a surefire way of stopping the kids arguing.

Only once did I regret heeding a thumb. I picked a respectable looking fellow up just outside Hexham, and it was only when he was in the car that I realised he was beastly drunk and spoiling for a fight.

There is no-one more truculent than a drunken Glaswegian, and this one had lost all his money at Hexham Races.

He ranted incomprehensibly for some five minutes, before demanding to be let out for a pee as we approached Acomb. I duly obliged, and gleefully accelerated away.

I never did find out where he wanted to go.