Which one gets the thumbs up?

A quick glimpse is all we get to decide whether to give a lift to a hitcher. With these images of hard-shoulder hopefuls, photographer Simon Prentice asks us to examine our prejudices. Words by Michael Booth

Rutger Hauer has a great deal to answer for. Apart from inspiring an entire generation of wooden and faintly menacing big-screen Europeans, he must be at least partly to blame for the decline in the ignoble art of hitchhiking. After all, anyone who has seen his 1986 movie The Hitcher is going to think twice about standing by the roadside with their thumbs aloft. Others may blame the increased ownership of private cars or even cite the promulgation of certain urban myths; you know, the ones that typically climax with the hapless hitcher's head being held aloft on a pike. But whatever it is that's putting people off, there is no denying that fewer and fewer of us are hitching lifts.

Any judgement of the hitcher's decline must, however, remain anecdotal. I contacted motoring organisations and Government departments, but, amazingly, none of them had ever even been asked for this kind of information, let alone compiled any. All I could find was the Guinness Book of Records' claim that a German, Stephan Schlei, has hitched 501,750 miles since 1972.

However, photographer Simon Prentice has lived near the start of the M32 in Bristol for five years and during that time has watched the number of hitchers waiting there decline from around eight at any one time to a mere four or five a day. He set out to photograph them for posterity. "I chose the festival season because I thought there'd be more younger people about. Actually, half of them were car delivery men trying to save on their return train fares. They hold up their delivery plates and other delivery drivers pick them up." According to Simon, these drivers get picked up quickest, with single and especially two females together being the next most popular. Older single men can often stand around for hours: "One guy with quite a scary face had to stay overnight waiting to be picked up," says Simon, who also picked up some good tips from the hitchers he met: "Apparently if you're a girl you stand a better chance if you're carrying flowers because people think you are a harmless hippy. And one bloke swore by eating a banana while he hitched because he said it made him look like a softer, new man."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Manchester United's kit for the 2014/15 season
football
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
peopleNobel laureate was a powerful anti-Apartheid voice
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Comms / Digital Marketing Specialist

    Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role exists for a...

    Search Engine Optimisation/ SEO Executive

    £25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

    Programme Planner

    £30000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    Project Manager

    £400 - £500 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The opportunity: P...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor