A Hitch In Time by Andy Smart | Book review by Steve Bennett

A Hitch In Time by Andy Smart

Book review by Steve Bennett

Andy Smart is these days best known as one of the Comedy Store Players. But it’s not just on stage twice a week that he’s improvising. He seems to have spent much of his life playing things by ear, going ‘yes and…’ to the universe, without much of a plan.

This book details his freewheeling younger days in the 1970s and early 1980s, before he fell into comedy. He spent six years on the road, sleeping rough and hitchhiking around Western Europe. Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, he reckons he covered 72,000 miles in that time.

His wanderlust started modestly, thumbing lifts across the UK to see a girlfriend, only to be heartbroken to find her with a different boy. But the bug really bit when he was challenged to hitch from Liverpool, where he was a student, to the summit of Ben Nevis and back within the space of 48 hours.

It seems like a different era, when being a drifter seemed like a viable option as a lifestyle choice – romantic, even, given the extra sense of adventure in an age before mobile phones. 

By his entertaining account, Smart has always been slightly unconventional, beginning from the time he ran a mini-porn empire in school, lending copies of Penthouse and the like to fellow pupils at 25p a time. Living in Toxteth at the height of the anti-police riots in his youth, and being part of a socialist Theatre In Education troupe all helped establish him on the fringes of society. 

A Hitch In Time enables the reader to live vicariously through his adventures, with none of the accompanying perils. Smart has had his share of brushes with death, which he shrugs off with the same nonchalance as his perennial money troubles, scraping together readies from being in police line-ups, juggling oranges, or out-and-out begging on the streets of London when the rough sleeping became less than voluntary.

He has a remarkable memory for every peculiar situation he found himself in all those decades ago and, even more impressively, every lift he ever got offered.

So he shares gripping anecdotes about his run-ins with Moroccan border officials, cow-hunting in a blizzard, becoming a fake druid, an unlikely encounter with Lib Dem grandee Lord Steel, drugging nuns, and relentlessly playing cat-and-mouse with the police chief at Biarritz in Southern France who was perpetually vexed by Smart and his pals sleeping rough on the beach.

Eventually, his hitching through Europe take him to Pamplona for the running of the bulls festival, and his urgent prose perfectly captures the adrenaline-pumping dread and excitement of the event, whatever you think of the animal-rights ethics. He clearly got hooked – despite having his passport and wallet nicked that first time – and has gone on to take part in 61 runs. 

Save for the occasional gig or unplanned Edinburgh Fringe appearance, as haphazardly occurring as everything else in his semi-chaotic life, this book is not about his comedy escapades. It ends as he stumbles on the London street entertainment scene, forming his double act The Oblivion Boys, and running into others who would later move on to the indoors comedy circuit such as Andre Vincent, Suki Webster and John Lenehan. 

Hopefully there will be another instalment that details that transition into comedy – for Smart is a hugely engaging writer with a simple but effective style. Though it surely helps that he has stories aplenty from such a life full of escapades.

• A Hitch In Time by Andy Smart has been published by AA Media Limited, priced £9.99. Click here to order from Amazon for £6.60

Published: 2 Sep 2019

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