On The Run
A True Story of two idiots
On The Run is the true story of how an innocent walk into work with a friend ended up with us going on the run and ending up in prison, all because of one stupid idea.
On The Run is true according to the best of my memory. Some names and places have been changed and some incidents may have been left out or marginalised for legal reasons. The photographs in this story are for illustrative purposes only
On The Run may not be suitable for children under the age of 15.
The following events happened in and around North London
& Hertfordshire area in the late 1970’s.
Table Of Contents:
- 1 On The Run
- 2 A True Story of two idiots
- 3 Concentrate, or lose a limb!
- 4 Meet Zack
- 5 Next car please
- 6 Clubbing it
- 7 Cambridge here we come!
- 8 Scary accident
- 9 Nowhere to sleep
- 10 Lucky hitch-hiker
- 11 Wits end
- 12 The last fling?
- 13 C.I.D
- 14 Chalk cells
- 15 The scrubs
- 16 Ashford remand
- 17 Sentencing
- 18 Getting home
- 19 Home, a strange set up
- 20 Share this:
- 21 Related
Concentrate, or lose a limb!
I had just started a job in a factory, in Waltham Cross. It was located just a few doors away from where I used to work as a welder. They paid reasonable wages, and It was my first job working nights. I’ve always been a night person anyway, so I thought, “yeah this will be cool.”
It was an easy job, just stamping out dials for those old telephones, you know? The old fashioned telephone finger dials they used to have on landlines. I just controlled a machine that stamped them out. It wasn’t hard work, but it drove me nuts. It was really noisy and boring, it was like;
STAMP, STAMP, PULL THEM OUT, STAMP, STAMP, PULL THEM OUT, etc. and then 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 really had to stay fully focused, otherwise, you could lose your hand in the machine. This made it quite a challenge for my restless ADD 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 this crap, I was ready to lose it!
During breaks, I made friends with a guy called Zack. He was about seven or more years older than me, in his mid to late 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 1979, we were walking into work as usual, it was about 10pm and getting dark and we were almost there, when Zack said;
“Fuck this, I don’t fancy work tonight. Let’s nick a car and have a laugh instead!”
Stupidly, 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!
Anyway, miraculously, Zack managed to open the Mini’s driver door and we clambered in. Locks were not very sophisticated on cars 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.
Zack thrust the steering wheel around several times and found there was quite a bit of give in the chain, if you turned the steering wheel hard enough. After seeing the look of disappointment on my face, Zack said,
“Don’t worry about this crap”
and started the engine with the scissors at the first attempt, and we started to drive away!
I wasn’t easy, or indeed quiet, with no clutch. Zack stalled it several times before he got the accelerator just right. The grinding and crunching gears made my head spin it was so loud!
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 Mini!
Somehow we managed to get to some place deep in Hertfordshire and change cars using the same method.
Next car please
This next car we stole 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 footballers drinking and shagging there, especially Tottenham Hotspur 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.
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 to fly down and 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! Fucking ouch!
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 see it actually 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, of course I don’t”
was my obvious reply.
“So, we are on the run then, no holds barred. OK, Let’s nick a car!”
Zack said excitedly.
Cambridge here we come!
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 a good idea as any, so we just 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, at about 5 Am. Bearing in mind that we were still half pissed 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. Best breakfast ever.
We paid like good boys and got back on the road feeling pretty good. I remember us singing “We’re on the run, we’re on the run…” to take our minds off the distance ahead of us.
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.Shocking accident
I have absolutely no idea how it could have happened, but it did. The car, doing about 70+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 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 onto 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 the fuck out of there 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.
Nowhere to sleep
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 were really friendly around there and we had quite a laugh for a few hours.
We had a problem, though, 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 trying to steal another car.
For several hours it looked like our luck was running out, we could not get in a single car that was nick-able until about 5 Am 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 lucky 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 of the car, 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.
We wondered 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 to do. We laid out our options;
Go home and take our chances or continue to somewhere like the Midlands or even up North and start a new life there.
Our final option would be to gamble and try to claim dole money. We did not know then that government computers in those days were so useless they didn’t even connect departments, so we could have easily got away with claiming and not have been flagged as “wanted” or anything.
The only thing we were certain of in the short term was that we had to nick another damned car. By this time, we had bought some spare car keys from a garage. This meant we could open virtually any Ford car on the road, yes I know, it was ridiculous in those days, so we had no trouble finding our next car.
The last fling?
The car was in a quiet, dark, Cul-De-Sac. Zack unlocked it and got behind the wheel, inserted the ignition key and saw the dashboard light up. As it was about 3 AM we didn’t want to start the engine until we were ready,
Zack told me to go back to the Estate car and get our belongings and wait out on the main road where he would pick me up, which I did.
We were worried that the potential owner of the car had his front door just a few feet away from the car and would hear the engine when it started, so we may have needed a quick exit.
So, I collected our belongings and I’m waiting at the end of the road for Zack to start the car.
I saw the headlamps go on and heard the rev of the engine and he was heading toward me at speed when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder,
“What’s going on here son?”
Said the really tall copper. I looked at him gormlessly as he stepped out into the path of the oncoming car Zack was driving toward us. The copper stuck out this hand as in a STOP signal at Zack.
For fucks sake Zack, don’t even think about running him over, I remember thinking.
I knew Zack would be considering it, but I also knew that he must have realised our number was up now?
I had definitely had enough of living like this and it might actually be a relief to get a good nights sleep in a Police cell! Stop Zack for god’s sake!
Thankfully Zack did stop the car and gave himself up with no fuss, and we all walked to Kings Lynn Police Station about a mile away, in total silence. I suspect the copper was a bit nervous! We could have easily made a run for it, but we were too tired, hungry and despondent to care any more, to be honest.
In the station they put us in separate cells, gave us mugs of tea, let us have a wash (that was in their interest I assure you) we had a hot meal and they even gave us a pair of slippers to wear as the floors were cold (they had taken our shoes and belts off of us.)
All the coppers in Kings Lynn nick treated us with respect, it was quite unexpected actually.
We gave our names and a short statement that we nicked a few cars and went on the run and that was it. We were banged up in the cells for the night. What a lovely sleep that was.
In the morning, our luck changed. The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) came and took us back to Royston.
The CID generally investigate serious crimes, so we couldn’t understand what was going on, this was definitely a bit odd.
When we arrived at Royston nick, they put us in separate cells and then interviewed us separately. What was going on was soon clear when they said that a pair of masked raiders had been going up and down the country doing armed robberies with shotguns on small Post Offices, bloody hell, I thought.
I was scared they were going to stitch us up with some crimes that could easily get us up to 15 years or more inside.
The CID are expert interrogators and used to dealing with scumbags like we were and had my story tied up in contradictory knots in no time, it wasn’t looking good.
They also used the well-worn chestnut that my partner in crime was confessing everything in the other room and that he laid all the blame on me.
Not being an experienced criminal and being a stupid teenager I believed every word they said but I denied the armed robberies, of course, then the copper said to me,
“OK, so If you didn’t do those robberies, tell us what you have really been doing.”
So I basically told them the story of what you are reading here. In the end, they believed me and left me to the local coppers to deal with, satisfied we weren’t the armed robbers they were looking for, if indeed that story was even true, I will never know.
Of course, from Zack’s perspective I had grassed him up! He claimed later he didn’t say a word until he was shown my statement.
Honestly, I couldn’t see any other way out of it. I still can’t! Zack should have coughed and he may have been better off.
The next morning we were dumped off at Royston Magistrates Court and put in some of the weirdest cells I’ve ever seen. They were made of chalk or something and looked and felt like something from Dick Turpin’s days back in the 1700’s.
Zack and I were put in the same cell so we could discuss what a twat I was and Zack wasn’t pleased with me. He said I had fucked him up badly, but I reasoned if I hadn’t things could have got a lot worse for both of us.
All we faced were TDA charges – Taking and Driving Away – in nick it’s jokingly called Touching Dogs Arses 🙂 Who knows, if things went well, we could be going home today?
We were allotted a brief (A standard free court lawyer) who didn’t like the look of us London types, you could tell, and was happy not to even attempt to get us bail and after the rigmarole of court proceedings (we both pleaded guilty) we were remanded in custody so that the court could study our records, determine sentences etc.
We were promptly shoved into a meat wagon (prisoner transport) where there were individual cages for up to 10 prisoners, not a nice experience. Each cage had a heavily tinted small window so you could see out into the real world, a place you were no longer wanted, or allowed.
What seemed about two hours or so later we pulled into Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London.
The famous entrance was quite scary to a first-timer like me, but when we drove inside those gates I really felt like freaking out. It’s as Victorian as it comes and was designed to look and feel scary and dangerous, to be honest, I was bricking it. I did not want to be there, the place looked and felt vile.
The wagon doors opened and they un-caged five prisoners, including Zack, and slammed the doors shut again. I assumed they took us out in fives for security reasons or something, but suddenly the engine started and we were out of the Scrubs and to my great relief back on the road. Poor old Zack must have been well sick!
I found out later that Zack had done time in prisons before and had a long criminal record, so maybe he wasn’t as bothered by it as I had been?
My destination turned out to be Ashford Remand Centre in Hounslow Middlesex, near Heathrow airport. I think It was previously Feltham Borstal.
The usual HMP procedure ensued. Straight in to see the Governor. He told me to behave and said I that could be here from two weeks to a year, depending on how long my case would take.
There were no visits (not that I had anyone that would have wanted to visit me anyway) I wasn’t offered letter writing facilities or a phone call and was not offered access to the library, assuming they had one. I thought these things were basic human rights, even in the 1970’s and even for a scumbag!
I was asked by the Governor if I wanted to work, or do 23-hour lock-up? I took the 23-hour lock-up, much to the Governor’s disgust 🙂
Then it was down to the showers, strip off in front of everyone and into the shower for the guards to have a good look!
Then it was a quick “medical” which meant a so called doctor looking up your arsehole for some reason (probably looking for concealed drugs etc.)
We were then issued a prison uniform (I think, I can’t actually remember to be honest) and we were being marched down to the prison shop where we were to collect 1\2 ounce (12.5grams) of tobacco and Rizla papers that had to last a week, some soap, shampoo and a Mars bar.
However, on the way to the shop, some prick thought it was funny to keep hitting the light switches on. The screw barked a warning to stop it, twice, the third time he warned us that if it happened again then we would not get our goodies and have to go without for a week.
To my utter dismay the idiot did it again and sure enough, we were taken to our cells and locked in.
I only know what we lost out on as we did finally make it to the shop the following week!
One nice thing they did do at Ashford, which I really appreciated, was the last thing before lights out everyone got half a mug of tea (no sugar of course) and a piece of (cheap) Lardy cake for supper.
As I was always a tea addict from an early age and needed something in my belly to sleep properly, this really cheered me up and was the highlight of my day!
Luckily, I was put in a cell with a decent young bloke. He just read the Bible all the time, didn’t talk too much and was generous with his tobacco which meant I didn’t have to go completely without a smoke for a week after all. I honestly can’t remember what I did to pass the time. There was the Bible to read, that’s all.
I got 30 minutes in the yard a day, slop out, a shower, and dinner in the “dining hall” which was a bit hairy at times, the food I mean ha-ha!
I did this for about 3 weeks before my case came to court. Luckily I avoided any trouble and eventually the day came where I was picked up by some prison guards in a “normal” car and driven back to court in Royston.
Zack was sentenced first. The poor sod got two years. I remember the judge saying something about his long history of crime and how he had influenced a younger man to do his bidding blah, blah, blah.
Although I felt well sorry for Zack I couldn’t help feel this was a good sign for my chances of staying out of prison. It hadn’t even occurred to me to claim that Zack had led me on, which in reality he did of course. I couldn’t even drive, so none of this would have happened without Zack taking the lead and I reckon that’s how the court saw it.
The screws took Zack away, it was the last time we would see each other again.
Now it was my turn for sentencing. The judge noted my juvenile crimes but also noted I had been out of trouble for some years until now and that I did have a job before this all started.
The court was willing to give me one more chance as I was still young and impressionable and there was still a spark of hope for my future, if I kept out of trouble, blah, blah blah etc.
I was banned from driving for two years. This seemed odd and silly to me at the time as I didn’t have a licence. For the car we smashed up in the accident I had to pay the full cost of compensation to the owner. I think it was £550. OK, fair enough I thought, £1 a week. And that was it! I was free.
I went to my brief to thank him for getting me off, though I wasn’t quite sure if he had actually done anything much apart from a very short mitigation speech on my behalf, nevertheless, I thanked him and asked what happens next.
“Go home and stay out of trouble”
was his bored reply to that question.
OK, but I’m like, 50 miles from home and don’t have a penny to my name. Unlike “real” prison you don’t get any money on leaving remand (well, I didn’t anyway)
All that my great brief said was
“Don’t nick a car!”
and with that, he fucked off, leaving me staring at his back as he got away from me as fast as his fat,heavy wallet would allow.
Outside, I saw a sign for Royston train station and went to try my luck there. I knew I could probably bunk on a train for a free ride but I felt I had used up every ounce of luck that I had available and did not want to get nicked again before I even got home from court.
As if to prove that point, I was unlucky enough to have the most arrogant shit-bag of a train guard on duty. I explained my situation to him and showed as proof the only item I had on me, my release form, but it cut no ice with him and he asked me to leave the station.
I couldn’t be arsed to argue with him, I was just so happy to be free, so I headed for the A10, started walking and stuck my thumb out.
It was still fairly early, about 11Am I think, and I had been thumbing for a lift for about 30 minutes I guess when I hit gold. A VW camper van picked me up and it was a family of hippy type people.
The Mum and Dad up front and two teenage boys and a young girl in the back, where I was. They
were really nice and friendly and said they were going all the way to Waltham Cross, I couldn’t believe my luck, I lived about 3 or 4 miles from there.
The family shared food and drink with me and were singing songs and laughing and shit all the way to the Cross where they dropped me off. I thanked them and waved goodbye, I was almost home and free.
It was quite a walk to the Abbey from the Cross, but it was a pleasure compared to the 50 miles I had faced earlier.
I was home by early afternoon.
Home, a strange set up
Where I was living at the time was a little unusual, to say the least. I was shacked up with the headmistress of my old school. Mrs. Grant. There was nothing kinky going on, she was in her sixties and I was a teenager, get a grip ffs! 🙂
This unusual situation came about because I was homeless at the time and she had bumped into me one day in Waltham Abbey and asked how I was getting on.
she had known me since I was 11 years old and I was always in trouble at school so she already knew I was a troubled kid. I guess she tried to help me by giving me a room in her cottage, and yes it felt a little weird.
I think she regretted it fairly quickly as I was untidy and basically a pain in the arse.
We hadn’t actually seen that much of each other really as I worked nights.
So, there I was knocking at the door, I think I had lost the key somewhere in my previous adventures, and luckily she was at home, marking exams or something.
She didn’t seem that surprised to see me, considering I had just disappeared for nearly a month without a word. I thought she might have been a little surprised! I suspect, though, the look on her face was more of a heart-sinking look, the poor woman.
So, I explained the whole story to her about being on the run and being in nick and I think she just said something like;
“There’s a parcel arrived for you!”
It was naughty, I had been ordering stuff from catalogues with little or no intention of paying. I had been doing that for years wherever I lived. This parcel was a pair of jeans and a pair of fabulous Doc Marten Boots, (I loved DM’s) both would last me years.
It was awesome because I looked like a tramp and it felt like I was getting a fresh start with my new boots and jeans. Poor Mrs.Grant would get the bill, though, I think we both knew that.
I know, I was a horrible little shit.
I left Mrs.Grants soon after, almost certainly to her great relief. I can’t remember why or exactly where I went but I felt I had taken too many liberties with her good nature, and I let the poor woman be.
If you love DM Boots as much as I do you ca get keen prices and lots of different styles on these Amazon links:
On The Run is dedicated to my friend Silvana, who inspired and cajoled me to convert my story to text from audio, without her I wouldn't of even attempted this, so blame her :-)
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On The Run is © Steve Bale 2016 and cannot be reproduced in part or in full without express written permission from the author
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