The Runaways

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Its 1966 and two thirteen year-old boys are running away from home. They'll travel south to London, then north to Scotland where they will steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway. That's the
plan, anyway.

Submitted: July 13, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 13, 2018



My name is Steve. When I was thirteen I made a plan with my friend Kenny to run away from home.

We would hitchhike to London, then make our way north to Scotland where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

In our village in Cheshire, kids our age ran away a lot. They usually came home after a few hours, cold and hungry. Not us. We had a plan.

About three weeks before the big day we stopped going to school. We went golf caddying instead. We made some money for our trip to London and then Scotland and then across the North Sea to Norway.

Caddying was hard. I knew nothing about golf. I didn’t know I was supposed to see where the ball landed. And golf clubs are heavy.

But I learned as I went, and made some money.

When people ask you why you’re not at school you can tell them anything.

“The Easter break started early this year.”

“Our school is having some repairs done.”

They believe you. They believe you because they don’t really care why you’re not at school.

So as the big day approached we started packing. There was a 13th century church in our village it’s still there. With a graveyard.

The headstones are ancient, some are leaning and fallen. You can hide things there. We hid our packed bags in the graveyard, ready to pick them up after leaving our homes for school on the big day when we would hitchhike to London then make our way north to Scotland where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

It was 1966.

The big day arrived. I said goodbye to my Mum and left for school. But I walked to the old church instead, wondering if Kenny would show up or if he would chicken out. He didn’t chicken out. He was there at the graveyard as planned. We picked up our bags from beneath the old headstones and headed for the main road where we would hitchhike to London then make our way north to Scotland where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

As we stood with our thumbs out Kenny turned on his transistor radio. Los Bravos were singing, “Black is Black”. They wanted their baby back. Then we got our first ride.

“Where are you boys going?”

“Can you get us to Chester?”

“Yes, that’s where I’m going today.”

“Great. Thanks mister!”

“Why aren’t you boys in school?”

“Easter break started early this year at our school.”

“Oh really, why is that?”

“They’re repairing the roof.”

“Oh, alright then.”

When we got to Chester we went into the public library where they had maps. We needed to plan the rest of the journey. We hadn’t thought of that until then. So we studied the maps and made notes and planned our route all the way to London and then north to Scotland where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

The route would have been shorter if we’d have gone north from Cheshire to Scotland, but we’d never been to London before and there was a lot going on in London.

The Beatles were happening, and the Stones, and Carnaby Street, and hippies and things. So we had to visit London.

It didn’t take long. Two hundred miles or so and we were sitting in Trafalgar Square by nine o’clock that night, with the big lions and pigeons and Nelson’s column.

We weren’t crawling home, cold and hungry like the other loser runaways from our village. We had made it to London in one day. Because we had a plan to see London and then go north to Scotland where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

It was getting late and we’d had a full day. We needed to get some rest, but where would we sleep? We had a pup tent, poles and all, but there was nowhere to camp in downtown London. No ground to drive the stakes in. Not a blade of grass. Not nearly as camping-friendly as we had hoped.

We needed to get back out to the countryside. After we’d eaten. So we found a cafeteria near an underground station. We got some chips to eat and we asked an old lady at the next table if she knew where we could camp. The old lady looked poor. These days we might call her a bag lady. But she was nice, and very helpful. She said if we took the tube as far as it went, all the way out to Barnet, it was countryside there. Probably a good place to camp.

It was dark by now, and cold. The old lady didn’t ask why we weren’t at school, or at home.

So we rode the tube all the way to Barnet. That was the end of the line. We got off the train in Barnet and climbed the steps up to street level. It was dark and damp and cold. There was a fog. A thick fog. A pea-souper. Not the best of circumstances when you’re trying to visit London and go north to Scotland to steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

I wondered what my Mum was thinking by now. It was late and I hadn’t come home from school. She would be upset and crying, probably. She usually cried when I went missing. I used to go missing a lot. Not because I ran away from home. I just used to go missing.

When I was about three years old I was out playing in the street in Liverpool where we lived then. I was a free-range kid like everyone in those days, and my sister usually kept an eye on me anyway. But that day she must have been looking elsewhere because I went missing. A group of nursery-school children had happened by, led by their teacher. No doubt on their way back to school from some outing or other. I joined them.

It took the teacher until nap time to realize that she had an extra kid. She eventually called the police who were looking for me by then because I was missing. And my mom was crying. Just like she cried the next time.

When I was four I had a horse and chariot. I sat in the chariot and pumped the pedals to make the horse go on its wheels. One day I wandered out of our street and onto the main road. I was playing postman. I rode from door to door and delivered the post to everyone.

Assorted litter. Abandoned ice-lolly sticks and such. Through the letterbox. You know, the Royal Mail. I travelled further and further until I reached an area of shops. I didn’t know where to go next.

Some boys and girls in leather jackets stood on the corner with their motor scooters. They must have been beatniks or something. Mods and Rockers hadn’t been invented yet. Two of the girls approached me and asked me where I lived. I didn’t know, so they took me into a cake shop. The old lady and the old man at the cake shop took me into the back where they lived and I played under their dinner table. Perhaps with cake. I think they had a cat.

Soon a policeman came with my dad. They put my horse and chariot in the boot of a police car and we went home where my Mum was crying. There was a lake behind our house. They were about to drag it.

But enough about that. It was a really thick fog in Barnet and we were tired, and cold, and getting wet. It was late. No traffic on the road, especially with the fog. Not that we could see the road. We found a field. We pitched the tent and crawled into it, shivering.

Kenny turned on his transistor radio. The Beach Boys were getting good vibrations, and we were getting colder. Kenny fell asleep but I couldn’t. I felt lost and alone. I began to wonder if we’d make it north, to Scotland, where we would steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

And my Mum was probably crying again. Like she had when I’d been lost in Liverpool when I was seven. When I was missing yet again because I got on a bus instead of going to school.

I went downtown. I watched the boats at the Pier Head and then got lost. I wandered until I saw a bus going to Catherine Street. I thought I knew Catherine Street, it sounded familiar. I had no money but I got on the bus anyway. To nowhere. Unchallenged by the conductor, I got off the bus somewhere, still lost. I didn’t know Catherine Street after all.

I walked until after dark when I stumbled upon Stanley Street! That’s where my Granddad lived! I knocked on his door. He was shocked to see me there so late. Alone.

After speaking with the conductor, Granddad put me on another bus. The conductor told me when to get off. My dad was there at the bus stop. He smacked me across the face. We walked to the police station. A policeman shouted at me. We walked home, and there was my Mum, crying, and so happy to see me.

As I lay shivering in the pup tent in Barnet, I knew she was probably crying again. Because I’m missing again. But maybe not. I’d left her a note this time. We had planned it well, Kenny and me.

After school, our friend ralph was to deliver our notes to our parents. That would have happened by now and my Mum would know not to worry. I was just going away for a bit. I’d left out the part about London, Scotland, a stolen boat, and Norway. Not to worry, I’ll be back soon. We’re old enough to look after ourselves, Kenny and me. So no need to call the police. But she probably had called the police.

Kenny stirred and I suggested we go for a walk to warm up. He reluctantly agreed. The fog had thinned a little and turned into a light drizzle. We walked back toward the underground station. There were cars in the car park there, probably left overnight as there were no more trains. It might be warmer in a car. We went from car to car, trying the doors. Just as I found one that was unlocked, the police arrived.

Now, we had planned for this, Kenny and me. We knew the police were more than likely looking for us. Missing again. But if questioned, we had false names ready to throw them off track. My name was to be Graham Urrell, my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s name. Kenny’s name was to be something else. I forget what.

So there we were, hanging around in a parking lot at about half past one on a cold, wet foggy night.

“Hello boys, it’s a bit late to be out isn’t it?”

“We’re just camping up the road. We’re on holiday.”

“On holiday? Why aren’t you in school?”

“Easter break started early this year.”

“Then why are you wearing your school uniforms?”


There were two policemen. One of them took Kenny aside, and the other took me.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Graham Urrell.”

“Were do you live?”

“Liverpool. We’re on a holiday down here.”

“What’s your address?”

I gave him the preplanned fake address with my best Liverpool accent.

“How about your friend, what’s his name and address?”

I gave him the corresponding fake data for Kenny.

“So you’re out camping are you?”

“Yes, our tent’s in a field just up the road, I can show you if you don’t believe me.”

“Alright. Wait there a minute.”

The two policemen compared notes while we waited nervously.

“OK boys, it’s a cold night so we think you’d be better off if we took you back to the station to get warm.”

“That’s very kind, but we’ll just go back to our tent and continue on our way on the morning.”

“No. get into the car boys.”

We directed the policemen back to our campsite. The fog had lifted and there was our tent. On a grass verge. In a housing estate. Not in a field.

We packed our gear into the police car. They took us to the police station. There was food there and they fed us. Sausage and baked beans. And it was warm. After we’d eaten they put us in a cell for the night. They didn’t lock the door, they left it slightly ajar.

And there we were, with our bags, in a police cell, just outside London, on our way to Scotland where we were to steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

“It’s a good thing we gave them the false names, Kenny. They’ll probably let us get on our way in the morning.”

“I gave them our real names.”


“I gave them our real names and addresses.”

“But I gave the fake ones!”

“So now they know we were lying!”

An awkward silence. This might not end well. We had better go tell them the truth. They might still let us go in the morning if we tell them we’ll go straight home. We sheepishly leave the cell and approach the officer at his desk.

“I’m afraid I haven’t been telling the truth.” I say.

“I gave you false information. Kenny told you the truth.”

“I see, says the policeman.” as if he didn’t know.

“Well, go get some sleep boys. We’ll contact your parents and have them come and get you tomorrow.”

What? No!

“That’s alright mister, we’ll just get on our way in the morning and go home. No need to bring anyone all the way down here.”

“Come on boys, back to your room.”

We’re escorted back to the cell and the door is slammed shut. Locked. We were in prison.

And we were as good as dead. They didn’t own a car so our parents would need to come down by train and that’s expensive.

We didn’t sleep that night. Neither did anyone else at the Barnet police station. We used our tent poles as drumsticks on the metal table beating out the rock rhythms of the day to pass the time.

They fed us again in the morning. Then back to the cell. Kenny’s Mum was on her way to get us. It would be midday before she got here.

The train journey home was quiet and awkward. I think Kenny’s Mum was waiting until they got home before she killed him. My dad was no doubt waiting at home. Waiting to kill me.

It was a long walk along the path to the front door where I was to meet my fate. I walked in, and there was my Mum, crying. She held me close while my dad stormed about the kitchen making tea. He’d been instructed not to kill me yet.

And he didn’t kill me. When the crying and the storming about subsided, we talked. We discussed my life and how it could be made better. So I wouldn’t go missing. Things were better then. At least for a while, until one day I asked Ralph if he’d be interested in going down to London and then heading north to Scotland to steal a boat and cross the North Sea to Norway.

© Copyright 2018 Steven McDowell. All rights reserved.

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