I had a new car. It was an exciting toy, a big BMW 3.3 Li, which means 3.3 litre, long wheelbase, fuel injection. It had a top speed of 129 mph and terrific acceleration. The body was pale blue. The seats inside were darker blue and they were made of leather, genuine soft leather of the finest quality. The windows were electrically operated and so was thesunroof. The radio aerial popped up when I switched on the radio, and disappeared when I switched it off. The powerful engine growled and grunted impatiently at slow speeds, but at sixty miles an hour the growling stopped and the motor began to purr with pleasure.
I was driving up to London by myself. It was a lovely June day. They were haymaking in the fields and there were buttercups along both sidesof the road. I was whispering along at 70 mph, leaning back comfortably in my seat, with no more than a couple of fingers resting lightly on the wheel to keep her steady. Ahead of me I saw a man thumbing a lift. I touched the brake and brought the car to a stop beside him. I always stopped for hitchhikers. I knew just how it used to feel to be standing on the side of a country road watching thecars go by, I hated the drivers for pretending they didn't see me, especially the ones in big cars with three empty seats. The large expensive cars seldom stopped.
It was always the smaller ones that offered you a lift, or the old rusty ones or the ones that were already crammed full of children and the driver would say, "I think we can squeeze in one more.” The hitchhiker poked his head throughthe open window and said, "Going to London, guv'nor?" "Yes," I said. "Jump in." He got in and I drove on.
He was a small ratty-faced man with grey teeth. His eyes were dark and quick and clever, like rat's eyes, and his ears were slightly pointed at the top. He had a cloth cap on his head and he was wearing a greyish-coloured jacket with enormous pockets. The grey jacket, together with the quickeyes and the pointed ears, made him look more than anything like some sort of a huge human rat.
"What part of London are you headed for?" I asked him.
"I'm goin' right through London and out the other side” he said. "I'm goin' to Epsom, for the races. It's Derby Day today." "So it is," I said. "I wish I were going with you. I love betting on horses." "I never bet on horses," he said. "I don't evenwatch 'em run. That's a stupid silly business.” "Then why do you go?" I asked.
He didn't seem to like that question. His little ratty face went absolutely blank and he sat there staring straight ahead at the road, saying nothing.
"I expect you help to work the betting machines or something like that, " I said.
"That's even sillier," he answered. "There's no fun working them lousy machines andselling tickets to mugs. Any fool could do that."
There was a long silence. I decided not to question him any more. I remembered how irritated I used to get in my hitchhiking years when drivers kept asking me questions. Where are you going? Why are you going there? What's your job? Are you married? Do you have a girl friend? What's her name? How old are you? And so forth and so forth. I used tohate it..
"I’m sorry," I said "It's none of my business what you do. The trouble is I’m a writer, and most writers are terribly nosy.” "You write books?" he asked "Yes." "Writing books is okay," he said. "It's what I call a skilled trade. I’m in a skilled trade too. The folks I despise is them that spend all their lives doin' crummy old routine jobs with no skill in 'em at all. You see what Imean?" "Yes." "The secret of life," he said "is to become very very good at somethin' that's very very 'ard to do." "Like you, " I said "Exactly. You and me both".
"What makes you think that I’m any good at my job?" I asked. "There's an awful lot of bad writers around" "You wouldn't be drivin' about in a car like this if you weren't no good at it," he answered "It must've cost a tidy packet, this...