(*Inserted later – I have just realised I used this title on 25th May 2011! Failing memory, obviously!)
My much anticipated (by whom, I’m not sure) rant about the in-store failings and deficiencies of a very large supermarket chain beginning with ”T” is going to have to wait a few days longer because something far more important has come up!
It concerns an author mentioned in passing at the end of a recent post here (but not the one who wrote the sequel to “”The War of the Worlds”) – a brilliant man who died 17 years and 2 weeks ago today.
At this point one of my “regulars” will be jumping up and shouting “I know, I know!” in a Welsh accent but for those who still don’t know of whom I speak, I should reveal straight away that I am referring to Douglas Adams, the imaginative and extremely funny writer whose spiritual essence left us on 11th March 2001 – presumably to hitchhike around the Cosmos.
The late Mr. Adams’ best known work “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” took a rather unusual route to stardom, starting out as a radio serial in 1978, then a book (1979), a TV series (1981) and much later a movie (2005).
And in keeping with the quirkiness of their creator, none of those different media forms quite matches any of the others!
The original book spawned no less than four sequels by Adams himself and one other some 8 years after his death by renowned children’s’ author Eoin Colfer using notes from the Douglas Adams Archive in St. John’s College, Cambridge and with the permission of Adams’ widow.
I have to say that I missed the radio version (probably due to spending much of my time either working in Chelmsford or commuting by train to and from my home 40 miles away in Ipswich) but have very clear memories of buying the first two books to read on a holiday in Guernsey in 1981 and then watching the TV series with Faith in our first home together in Norfolk.
The movie did not do much for me. What with knowing the plot AND having a picture in my head from the TV series of what the characters OUGHT to look like I spent more time moaning about the differences than I did watching it!
I won’t bore you with summaries of the plot of the full story (if you’ve already read it) or spoil it for you (in case you haven’t) but there is one particular theme that caused me to write this piece.
And that concerns the most important accessory for the Galactic Hitchhiker – his towel!
I feel that I can do no better at this point than to quote directly what the eponymous Guide has to say on this subject as reported in the first novel:
“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
I had not realised myself what a highly important article a towel could be although I do recall experiencing the use of a wet one as a “weapon” – it really stung when someone flicked a wetted towel at you as you came out of the showers at school! Some of my old school chums were a nasty, sadistic lot in those days! Fortunately, however, the ones I’m back in touch with now have turned out OK. Mostly.
Anyway, let us get back to the subject!
When Douglas sadly passed away (as a result of a heart attack while resting from a workout at a gym in Montecito, California) on 11th May 2001, as previously mentioned, it was some days before his most avid fans came up with an appropriate way to commemorate his passing each year. It was decided that this commemoration would actually take place two weeks after the anniversary for no other reason than that this would be something that would appeal to Douglas’s strange sense of humour!
And the form that this celebration would take?
Well that’s where all the previous stuff about the towel comes in.
It was decided that fans of the Great Man would, on 25th May each year, ensure that they would carry a towel with them all day. It does not have to be one of the themed towels available with the words from the cover of the Guide “Don’t Panic!” printed on it – anything matching a definition of “towel” will do.
I can reveal that anyone today making me turn out my pockets would have found a small, blue, folded micro-pore camping towel! I try to ensure that I have this with me whenever possible and certainly on this day every year to mourn the loss of a great wit and storyteller.
Some countries take this much more seriously than others with bookshops and cafes offering discounts to towel carriers but I haven’t seen any sign of this in the UK. Still, it is now international in scope and I am happy to be joining in.
Happy International Towel Day everyone!