When they arrived in the late afternoon, I was snoozing. Like an old person. Or a Spaniard. Actually more like an Italian, as I’d been up till 5am on a hostel-organised pub crawl with a bunch of young Sicilians, one of whom was 20 years younger than me, but on whom I had quickly developed a highly inappropriate crush. Nothing massive, you know. Just desire. Just bad, old man’s desire.
They turned on the light – if I remember correctly – and we said hello. More often than not, the second question after ‘where are you from?’ is ‘what are you doing in Valencia?’, or wherever you happen to be. (We were in Valencia.) And more often than not, when it comes to whose reasons are the more interesting, I win. George, Mike and Stephanie, however, gave me a run for my money. (But I still won.)
‘We’re hitching from Brighton to Morocco to raise money for charity,’ said one of them, probably Mike, the mouthiest.
‘Ooh, now that’s interesting,’ I said, slightly pompously, because it was, and not just because at the time I was still considering hitching from Hampshire to Chiang Mai.
George, Mike and Stephanie are studying at Sussex University. George is studying something with ‘bio’ in it, Mike and Stephanie something with ‘business’ in it. They are all 19.
I remember when I was 19. I was just beginning to get over my fear of going into shops for the first time, which more accurately, was actually a fear of all other human beings. George, Mike and Stephanie had no such fear. They were – at least on first impressions – everything you’d want your kids to be: they were bright, cheerful, adventurous and totally unintimidated by life. At least on the surface, which is where it counts. Part of me would like to say that they made me sick, but only for the cheap laugh. In reality they didn’t make me sick at all. They made me happy, and I liked them immediately. So much so that I offered them red wine and chocolate biscuits. Just like Jesus would.
The charity for which they’re raising money is Link Community Development.
‘The Hitch’ has been an annual student event since 1992 and has raised more than £2.5million for LCD’s education projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. A very worthy cause then, which Mike, who specialises in event management and also wishes to market an article of clothing called ‘the Gareth’, admits was more of an excuse to go on a bit of an adventure, culminating in a week in Morocco.
In order to take part in the Hitch, each student has to pay a £28 registration fee and must raise at least £375. When I met them, Stephanie had almost reached her target, Mike wasn’t too far behind and George had barely got going, having just been given €20 by a guy who sold energy drinks across Europe and had given them a lift to Valencia.
Stephanie – perhaps predictably (because boys are useless) – was the organised one, and the only one of the three with any languages. Stephanie speaks English, Danish, German, French and Luxembourgish, which she actually expected me to believe was a real language. She also made her bed first and went sightseeing on Friday (which was their first day off from hitching), whilst George ate paella and Mike accidentally ordered the roast chicken. (‘I thought it was roast chicken paella.’ Even in English, his language skills are lacking.)
All in all, they were really sweet kids and I thought it would be wonderful to patronise them here on my ill-read blog and maybe generate some interest in their adventure. I don’t know where they are now, however. They should really by now have arrived in Morocco and be sunning themselves in Marrakesh or what-have-you, but their Facebook status updates have dried up, so who knows….
I refuse to worry though, because LCD have lots of safety mechanisms in place and when all is said and done they are all big boys and girls with bags of charm and wherewithal….
But what if…?
No, no, no, what am I, their mother?
Speaking of which, Stephanie’s mother didn’t want her to go. Not because she feared that George and Mike are a pair of sex pests (well, not George)…
…but more likely that she feared her daughter might end up sending the kind of text that Mike received on Friday afternoon. That text was sent by another female friend who was also doing the Hitch. It said that she was currently in a lorry in which the driver, whilst driving, was taking surreptitious photographs of her with his phone.
Fingers crossed that nothing hideous has happened. Or indeed happens. To any of the young people risking their lives in the name of adventure and charity. Mostly adventure. God, I love young people, and not in that way, although on Friday night I did tell the Sicilian that I was a little bit in love with her. (It sounds much better in Italian.) A little bit cooked. I didn’t expect anything – I mean, I didn’t expect her to jump into my arms or anything. I just wanted her to know (just in case she jumped into my arms or anything). But she didn’t. Rather, she told me that… well, essentially she told me that she’d never been fancied by someone quite so old before.
(It sounds much better in Italian.)
Actually, no. It sounds the same. As Shakespeare might have said, a restraining order by any other name would smell as dodgy.
Misdirected lust aside, however, my love for young people is generally limited to those with gumption and spark and giant figurative balls. Same as old people really. Same as all people. But younger people are younger and therefore, increasingly in my opinion, worthy of some kind of special praise. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s an awful lot to be said for wisdom and experience and all the good stuff that comes with being older (and there is a lot of good stuff that comes with being older), but frankly… oh, I don’t know – maybe it just stems from the fact that in the last two months I’ve realised for the first time how old I actually am and I’ve grown misty-eyed and rose-tinted about the whole cult of youth thing. Those that waste it upset and sadden me and they always will because I see myself in them, but those that get out there and do stuff and use the gift of their youth as best they can thrill me. And you see a lot of them travelling around, and I have nothing but respect, awe and admiration for them.
Little cunts. Oops, sorry – that slipped out. Sorry about that. Cheap laugh for coarse swine. Pretend it never happened.
Now, if you would like to support George, Mike or Stephanie in their efforts to bring decent education to poor foreigners by hitching across the world not getting murdered in the process, well… you can’t I’m afraid. Not individually. That’s because Mike wrote down the wrong information for their individual pages and LCD haven’t got back to the email I sent them earlier today. Ah well. I was going to suggest you vote for George, whose fundraising abilities I suspect, are probably as bad as mine. Poor George. But now all I can suggest is that if you want to support them, you can make a donation to LCD direct, which you can do here.
If you don’t want to make a donation, however, at least join me in hoping that they’re OK.
I was kind of joking earlier, but now I’m starting to actually get worried.
I should never have kids.
Or attempt to date them.
Come back tomorrow for something about Ryanair.