There wasn't much traffic about. The first car came by after I'd been there about 10 minutes. I must have been an unusual sight for the time and place because the driver laughed at me as he gunned his B reg Metro around the bend and on up the hill.
After Laughing Boy there was nothing else for ages. I was cold. I was sober. I was desperately tired. And to be honest I was a bit embarrassed to be begging at the side of the road. Which is sad because there was a time when I thought I was Essex's answer to the great Jack Kerouac, and believed that hitch-hiking was good for my soul. There was no pavement or grass verge, just a cemetery wall running beside the road. I leaned against this wall with my collar up waiting and listening for the next one.
I didn't hear the bird to begin with. Approaching car engines were what I was listening out for, not birds. Birds were irrelevant. But then my tired, asinine brain was suddenly infiltrated by a beautiful piping sound. Though it still felt like the middle of the night, this bird (I couldn't see it - some sort of a thrush, I think ) was wide awake and had taken it upon itself to announce to the locality the dawning of the new day.
It was a solitary, inspired, ecstatic voice - a voice, not an instrument - and it sang its song in short, unpredictable, exquisitely beautiful phrases. It was so loud it seemed incredible to me that it was being produced without the help of hidden microphones and amplifiers.
After a while another bird of the same species also began interpolating melodious phrases of its own into the musical pauses of its mate. I've heard birds singing early in the morning before, but I don't think I've ever heard anything to match those two. Someone ought to go along there and make a recording.
So I was standing there, in my suit, beside the road, listening to these birds flinging their souls into the darkness. And I got to thinking about another time I was wearing a suit and trying to get home at four o'clock in the morning. Unlike my present four-button Yves St Laurent job, that suit was an off-the-peg Oxfam shop number. Not the smartest of suits, I remember, but might have looked all right to somebody galloping by on a horse.
I'd been to a friend's wedding reception in a pub and I'd run out of money. So I went outside and lobbed a breeze block through the window of the off licence next door. Reaching in to make my selection, I cut my face, arms and legs quite badly on the broken glass. Blood everywhere. Best Oxfam suit in ribbons.
I chose four cans of light ale worth pounds 3.99, drank one, and lost the other three. A trail of bloody footprints led the policemen directly from the scene of the crime to the dance floor of the pub. "Think yourself fortunate," said the desk sergeant. "Not long ago, this bloke had his head sliced off by falling plate glass, doing what you just did."
"One year's imprisonment, suspended for three years," said the stipendary magistrate three weeks later. "Oh you are a nit, Jel," said the bride, the next time I saw her. The window cost me pounds 700, which I paid off at pounds 5 a week.
As I stood beside a country road at four-thirty in the morning listening to two birds heralding the dawning of yet another new day, I remembered these things. I can't say I felt ashamed. If anything, I think I was a better person in those days.
After about an hour, headlights of a milk lorry hove into view. Instead of showing the driver my thumb, I leaned against the wall and folded my arms as if I had no intention of going anywhere. I was tired, cold, and miles from home, but I thought perhaps I'd stay and listen to the birds for a bit longer.