On The Run – Part One
A True Story Of Two Idiots
Some names and places have been changed and some incidents have been left out or marginalised for legal reasons.
The photographs in this particular chapter are for illustrative purposes only.
If you prefer, you can download the full PDF here, to read offline,
Or watch the video below.
The following events happened in and around North London in the late 1970’s.
I had just started a job in a factory, working nights, in Waltham Cross. It was a few doors away from where I used to work as a welder. It was reasonable money and It was my first job working nights. I’ve always been a night person anyway, so I thought, yeah this could be cool.
It was an easy job, just stamping out dials for telephones, you know? The old fashioned finger dials they used to have on landline telephones. I just controlled a machine that stamped them out. It wasn’t hard work, but it drove me mad, it was really noisy and boring, it was like:
PULL THEM OUT,
PULL THEM OUT,
and then I had to box them up. It was mind-numbing!
The problem for me was that it wasn’t the type of job you could do whilst day dreaming, you had to stay focused all of the time, otherwise, you could lose your hand in the machine, which made it a bit of a challenge for my restless ADHD brain and body.
What’s more, you didn’t get to change jobs every now and then, it was the same boring thing for eight hours, night in, night out. After a week of that crap, I was ready to lose it!
During breaks, I had made friends with a guy called Zack. He was about seven or more years older than me, in his mid 20’s, and it was obvious he was a bit of a head-case, but he was a good laugh.
I liked him, and we got on well. Zack lived in Waltham Abbey as well, so we used to walk to work together. One night, I think it was the summer of 1978, we were walking into work, it was about 10pm and getting dark and we were almost there when Zack said;
“I don’t fancy work tonight. Let’s nick a car and have a laugh instead!”
I was up for it, anything but that bloody stamping machine for the next eight hours! So we went looking for a car to steal in the surrounding car-parks, and we soon found an old Mini that looked nick-able.
All Zack had on him was a pair of nail scissors, I suspect when he left home that evening he fully intended on nicking a car, though I’m not sure why he would have chosen a pair of nail scissors there must have been plenty of better options in his house!
Miraculously, Zack managed to open the Minis’ driver door and we clambered in. Car locks were not very sophisticated in those days, believe me, virtually any bit of metal could get you in a cheap car, also in those days only expensive cars had alarms.
To our disappointment, we saw there was a bloody great big chain wrapped around the clutch and the steering wheel, a bit like a home-made crook-lock, but not as effective, as there was quite a bit of give if you turned the steering wheel hard enough. After seeing the look of disappointment on my face, Zack said,
“Don’t worry about that rubbish …”
started the engine with the scissors at the first attempt, and started to drive away! It wasn’t easy, or indeed quiet, with no clutch, Zack stalled it several times before he got the accelerator just right and the crunching gears made my head spin!
We were fine when the road was straight of course, but if any tight corners or roundabouts popped up in our path then we were going to have to abandon this crazy joyride!
Somehow we managed to get to some place deep in Hertfordshire and change cars using the same method. This next car was cool compared to the crazy Mini. It was an automatic four door with a good top speed and relatively luxurious.
Since it was an automatic Zack tried to teach me to drive.
So there we were, speeding along the A10 dual carriageway with not a brain cell active between us. Luckily there were no incidents or accidents and after a while, Zack took back over the driving.
Zack suggested that we drive back home to Waltham Abbey, pick up some mates, and go clubbing at the Foresters nightclub in Epping Forest.
The Foresters [I think it has gone now or changed name] was famous for top footballers drinking and shagging there, especially Spurs players, not that I was football mad then as I am now, but it seemed a plan, and being a complete sap I would have agreed to drive off a cliff if Zack suggested it at that time.
So, we picked up some friends, some of which we both knew, and headed to the Foresters. I can’t actually remember being in the club or doing anything, but we got well pissed and had a right old laugh, and I think we got ejected from the club, my only memory is of scoffing loads of peanuts from a big bowl.
By now it was probably 3 Am and the other lads wanted to get home, the problem was Zack was absolutely Paralytic, but he still insisted on driving anyway.
I can tell you that was one hairy ride back to the Abbey, what with Epping’s huge hills, tight Lanes and bends, how we didn’t get seen by the Police, or crash, I’ll never know.
Somehow we got back to the Abbey and right outside my old house in Roundhills, Zack decides to pass out at the wheel at about 60 mph and we crash head-on into a parked car!
The engine seemed to join the guys in the front seats and there was lots of steam and the horn going off, just like in the films. It was all a bit hazy, but miraculously, nobody was seriously hurt.
I was in the back seat, and half asleep when it happened, I’m glad I didn’t actually see it happen.
We all jumped out of the car and our mates ran off in different directions leaving me and Zack to rub our two brain cells together and come up with what to do next.
We decided to run like hell to a safer, quieter area where we could, you guessed it, nick another car.
When we had got our breath back and stopped panicking Zack said:
“We’re fucked, the old bill will fingerprint that car. Do you want to go to prison?”
I believed him.“
No I bloody don’t”
was my obvious reply.
“So, we are on the run then, OK, Let’s go nick a car!”
Zack said excitedly.
So we stole another car, and started driving towards Cambridge on the A10, the opposite direction to London.
Our big plan was to eventually end up in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. We thought we would be able to get jobs on the side at the coastal amusement arcades or something like that, Zack’s idea.
It seemed as good an idea as any, so we started driving.
Our destination was about 100 miles away, but more importantly, it was in a different county with a different Police force.
We ran out of petrol just outside Royston I think it was, it was now about 5 Am, and baring in mind we were still half drunk and probably in shock from the accident, we fell asleep in the car, parked up illegally, on a main road.
When we woke up a few hours later we were a bit bemused that we hadn’t been pulled by the Police, but we weren’t complaining and so started hitch-hiking to the next town, whilst looking for a car to nick of course.
We got a ride pretty quickly and got dropped off at the top of a big hill with a beautiful Transport Cafe’ plonked right on top of it! We nearly ran in there we were so hungry.
We porked out on a mega fry-up breakfast, and mugs of tea. It tasted like the best breakfast we ever had. We finished up and paid for our meal like good boys and got back on the road, feeling pretty good.
The next decent sized town was Huntingdon, but the road we were on was mostly dual carriageway and nowhere we could feasibly steal a car in daylight, So we just kept on walking.
We were walking along the A10 and the cars were whizzing by at top speed, at least 70 mph, maybe faster and we witnessed the scariest accident I’ve ever seen in my life.
Somehow a car managed to just flip onto its roof.
I have absolutely no idea how it could have happened, but it did.
The car, doing about 70 plus MPH at the time, flipped over head-first and then skidded on its roof for what must have been 500 yards, and then crashed down an embankment.
The noise of metal scraping on the road was terrifying, there were sparks and I swear I heard screaming, this all happened a few yards from me and Zack.
We just stood there, shocked, for a good minute or so I guess.
Our first intuition was to go and help, but we could see plenty of cars had stopped and people were running down the slope to the crashed and mangled car.
When we snapped out of the shock we were in we realised the Police would soon be here and we were witnesses, the last thing we needed was to talk to coppers, so we quickly continued on to Huntingdon.
We also wondered if we were going to get blamed for the accident in some way, maybe other motorists would mention us in their statements?
Maybe they would think we threw something in the road or some such? We concluded that the best course of action to take was to get as far away as soon as possible.
We never found out what happened to the poor sods in the car.
We later reflected that had we been a few yards further back down the road than we were we could well have ended up dead or badly injured. We were pretty well shaken up by the whole incident.
When we eventually arrived in Huntingdon we went in the Bookies, lost some money, and then into the local pub for a pint or two and played pool with some local lads.
They seemed really friendly around there and we had quite a laugh for a few hours, maybe they wouldn’t have been so friendly to us if they knew what we were there for.
We soon realised that it was going to be dark soon and we had nowhere to sleep and no transport.
Kings Lynn was a long way off, maybe forty or fifty miles away, we didn’t fancy hitch-hiking again so we waited around until about midnight and started looking for another car to nick.
For several hours it looked like our luck was running out, we could not get in a single car that was steal-able until about 5Am, and by then we were soaking wet from the rain, frozen solid and totally knackered out.
The car we did eventually get was an estate model, which was great for sleeping in the back, you could lay down and nearly stretch out and get some good rest.
So we continued on our journey to Kings Lynn and on the way we gave a young girl hitch-hiker a lift, and dropped her off where she wanted to go, safely. The girl was surely lucky that we weren’t the type of desperado’s to take advantage of a lone female.
About half-way to Kings Lynn, we pulled up in a lay-by for some serious kip in the back, and boy did we need it.
After a nice sleep, we hit the road for the last leg of our journey. At around midday we arrived in town and spent our last bit of money on something to eat.
We discussed how the hell we were going to survive with no money if we couldn’t find work quickly. If that turned out to be the case we would have no option other than to go shoplifting in the day and robbing places like shops at night, we hoped it wouldn’t come to that. There was also the worry of where to sleep.
How long would it be before our stolen car’s registration was spread around to the county Police? We didn’t know, and Just to add to our concerns our car was all but out of fuel too. Being on the run wasn’t quite working out to be the exciting, romanticised version we had seen on TV after all!
For the next 2 or 3 days we hunted for work in the amusement arcades, we walked up and down the coastline for many miles looking for work on-the-side (i.e. start work straight away, get paid daily and pay no tax, no I.D required) but it was to no avail, we were definitely in deep shit now.
We stank badly. We had not been able to wash properly and we had no changes of clothes. Add that to sleeping rough in cars for a week, and well, you can imagine.
The days passed and we didn’t even manage to break into a single food shop at night, neither of us had any experience in burglary, and our shoplifting was at best, pathetic, mainly because we didn’t want to attract attention to ourselves and getting caught would mean the end to our “adventure”.
We were at our wits end on what we should do now.
Check out my other memoir: A Short, Sharp, Shock!