The van had been in the workshop at Devizes HQ for the past few days. The mechanics there did a great job of servicing, greasing and giving it a thorough check over. They gave it a clean bill of health and one fine sunny morning Eric and I set off for Wales heading for Llanddewi Brefi.
We had false driver’s licences and a fabricated criminal record. It seemed only right and proper that the van joined us in our grand deception. Lee again pulled some dark and mysterious strings. The van now bore a completely different ghost licence plate than the one it ought to display. The records were also changed at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) in Swansea. We were now safe with the van. The official DVLA record showed Eric Walker as the owner with a fake address in Southampton. That is what any corrupt police officer would see. That would be the report back to his criminal paymaster. That is what we wanted.
The summer of 1976 proved to be one of the hottest and most glorious summers on record in Britain. The morning we set off typified that summer. The temperature in the morning was about 23C and rose hour by hour to a high of about 33C later in the day. The skies were crystal blue clear with not a cloud. These days went on for months. The only rain came with the odd thunderstorm, which was a welcome relief to the heat of the day. We cooled the van on the journey by the simple expedience of winding down both the front windows. The wind blew through one side straight out the other. Both driver and passenger then had to flick long hair away from the eyes time and again. Surely a price worth paying for the cooling effects of the breeze.
We both smoked in 1976. Back then I used to smoke tailor-made cigarettes – just a regular brand in a twenty pack. Eric was definitely a roll-your-own man. His adroitness at hand rolling a cigarette was compelling to behold. He could do it while driving. He would produce the tobacco pouch and grab a small amount of tobacco. Then he would peel off one Rizla cigarette paper. Place the tobacco inside the paper and roll the perfect cigarette. All using one hand while holding the steering wheel with the other hand. Eric’s hand rolling ability would prove to be useful in the days and months ahead. At the time of setting off for Llanddewi Brefi neither of us were, or had been, drug users. Not even the odd toke of weed! That changed in due course and became a necessary part of our temporary new lives.
Typical of policing at that time, the authorities expected us to infiltrate a drugs cartel with no training in undercover techniques. No training manual existed. And, no psychological assessment to determine your fitness for such demanding work. In due course, my naivety in the practicalities of smoking a joint could have been a fatal flaw in our cover story. It could have led to our unmasking. I adapted and was able to control the situation. I even turned it to our advantage, but only through force of personality and natural ability - not training.
The road trips to Llanddewi Brefi never became tiresome. But before that first trip we needed to figure out where to keep the van. We decided it would be folly to keep it at Devizes. The sight of the hippie flowers on the side of the van would prompt curiosity, even amongst the most stupid of people. To drive it in and out of Devizes on a regular basis was a no-no. We left the van parked a walk away from Eric’s home in Bristol. Far enough away from his house to prevent anyone linking Eric and the van. There were people who may have known Eric as a police officer. I would drive my car to Bristol and leave it close to Eric’s house. Our visits to Devizes would become infrequent, partly by choice and partly through exercising our discretion. We had a carte blanche and one hundred percent freedom to operate as we saw fit. In effect, we operated as a lone wolf, but plural rather than singular. We would be seeing action behind the enemy lines.
The drive from Bristol to Llanddewi Brefi first took us over the Severn Bridge along the M4 Motorway, the most boring part of the trip. To avoid that boredom, we often took the A470 and then the A40 from Abergavenny to Llandovery. From there we would drive to Lampeter before taking the last few miles to Llanddewi Brefi. Lampeter became the last gulp of air pit stop. Then we plunged into the depths of our undercover activities.
We found a decent greasy spoon café in Lampeter that did a fair all-day breakfast. It had the classic plastic red gingham table cloths. Not to mention the generic tomato ketchup bottles filled with the cheap ketchup. At least they didn’t fill Heinz bottles with the cheap stuff like many places did. It also had a jukebox in the corner playing the hits of that time. The Eagles ‘Take It to The Limit’ was on there. And also a song we came to adopt as our signature tune – ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ by Thin Lizzy. The next nine months changed me in so many ways, including adding to my tastes in music.
The first time we did the trip, we talked non-stop about who we now were, practicing our lines for the big performance to come. I had an idea part way through the journey.
“Let’s pick up a hitchhiker, Eric.”
“What the fuck for?”
“So we can mutilate him and kill him,” I said dead-pan.
“Oh! Fuck off! I’m serious – what the fuck for?”
“Dick shit, why do you think?”
“I don’t fucking know Scouse git. That’s why I’m asking!”
“So we can practice our story on him.”
“Fuck me! You’re a genius!”
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