St. Patrick’s Day has always been special for me, though my heritage is Welsh. That day in 1978, I hitchhiked from France to Wales to visit a friend living near Haverfordwest. There’s no Irish blood in my veins, but surely on March 17, I had the luck of the Irish. Here’s the letter I wrote home a few days later describing the adventure to my parents.
March 21, 1978
Dear Mom & Dad:
Well, as you can see by the postmark and card, I’m now in Wales. Last Friday I took the train from Paris to Le Havre on the coast of France. I had planned to take the ferry to Southampton. I arrived at 11:15 am and fiddled around the train station for a while, only to find I had missed the noon ferry. I walked to the ferry docks and saw the next ferry was at 11:30 pm. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. There was only one other person hanging around, a French boy a couple of years younger than me. I asked him where he bought his ferry ticket and he said something in broken English about hitching a ride on a truck. He asked me if I wanted to go to town so we stashed our luggage and went to town for the afternoon and early evening.
We got back about 8 pm, checked out ticket prices, played pinball and whatnot. He related that the truck (i.e. lorry) drivers were allowed to take one passenger with them in their lorries. Almost all the lorry drivers were English so I started asking them if they could give us a lift across on the ferry. The ones who were in line said they couldn’t since they already had their tickets. By this time, we were pretty despondent and figured we would have to buy tickets.
Then I decided to see if I could find someone who hadn’t been able to get his ticket yet. I found a lorry driver and he said, “Well, I suppose that would be quite alright.” He and a friend got us tickets, and onto the ferry we rode in their trucks. Then to my astonishment and good fortune, I discovered we’d have beds for the 8-hour crossing, in a room with three other truck drivers. You see truck drivers are treated royally on the ferries and since I was now a ‘truck driver’ (by virtue of my ticket) I was entitled to the same treatment. We had a huge dinner, comfortable beds in a four-man room, a shower, plus breakfast in the morning. All these lorry drivers were the friendliest people imaginable. They treated me just like one of the boys.
Well, to make a long story longer, I made it to the docks of Southampton where my lorry driver friends (John and Ted) dropped me off and found a good place for me to hitch a ride (at the exit gate from the docks). I waited there, talked to a policeman, and attempted to find Brawdy, Wales on a map I had purchased. It wasn’t on the map, so this very nice bobby (English policeman) called the U.S. Embassy in Southampton and asked them where Brawdy was. They said it was near Haverfordwest, which is in the middle of Wales on the west coast. The same policeman (who was guarding the checkout point from the docks) then proceeded to ask every exiting lorry if they were heading to South Wales. He asked for a couple of hours in the early morning cold, but no one was headed for South Wales.
One chap was headed north to the M-4 at Newberry (a major east-west thoroughfare to Wales), so I hitched a ride on his lorry. He dropped me off at the M-4 and no sooner had he left, another lorry stopped to drop off a rider and motioned me to hop in. I did and he took me to the Severn Bridge at the border of Wales, where he dropped me off. Waiting there was a car with a Welsh driver who had stopped for a cup of coffee. He motioned me over and took me about half of the distance that remained to Haverfordwest.
This time I wasn’t so lucky. I had to wait a whole five minutes before two men who looked like coal miners just getting off work, picked me up. As it turned out they were Irish and worked for the telephone company laying cable underground (which accounted for their appearance). We headed down the freeway only to come upon an accident. My Irish friends saw it would be a while. So, back onto the freeway, and back to the exit we’d previously taken, and all the way back to where they had picked me up. We then took another route.
Since they were Irish and it was March 17th (need I say more) we decided to stop off at an olde pub and celebrate a bit. We had some pints and a good talk with the bartender who used to fish off the coast of Washington. Soon enough we were back on the road and feeling a whole lot finer this Friday night. That’s when these two Irish workmen who were heading back to Ireland for the weekend decided they might just as well take me to Haverfordwest, then continue to their own destination. They did and that’s how I arrived here.
I called the U.S. Naval base at Brawdy and asked for Scott (Hamilton), but the sailor on duty said he’d gone home. He gave me Scott’s address and I took the bus to a town one mile from Scott’s house walking the rest of the way. He lives in Middle Mille, a tiny village of half a dozen homes. Scott had just received my letter three days before (even though I mailed it from Vienna nearly a month ago) so he knew I was coming.
Today’s weather is sunny, but cold. Happy first day of spring (today!). Talk to you later.
Note: Scott Hamilton was a longtime family friend, serving in the Navy and living in Wales. I stayed a month at his home. Here’s how I described it in my letter.
“Scott has a beautiful, old English house (formerly a pub) made of stone and 50 feet from a creek. It’s in the middle of a group of 5 to 6 other houses which make up the Village of Middle Mille. It is fully modernized with two upstairs bedrooms and a large front room and smaller kitchen and bathroom downstairs.”
Most days I toured the countryside often on foot or bus while Scott was at work. At night we ate dinner, watched BBC, and messed around with his Ham radio equipment, a teletype machine, and perhaps 20 different connections and components. With his knowledge of electronics, Scott devised a way to pick up wire service broadcasts and print out those news dispatches. Sometimes we’d stay up reading press releases from TASS, the Soviet Union’s new agency, the Associated French Agency (in English), as well as the Associated Press (AP). One night we “watched” (i.e. read) live new dispatches from South Lebanese Conflict involving that month’s Israeli-Lebanese- Palestinian hostilities and U.N. responses. In this tiny corner of Wales, what Scott had devised was a primitive form of the early internet. I was fascinated by the experience of it all.
One day, I walked the local countryside with two neighbor boys which I recounted in “A Walk in Wales.” A few weeks later, I crossed over to Ireland, met a bunch of guys my age, and traveled with them up the Irish Coast, relating that adventure in another letter home titled, “My Week With a Welsh Rugby Team.”