WHAT DOUGLAS DID FOR ME

My tribute to a wholly remarkable man, and the remarkably remarkable works he left behind.

When Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on the radio it was 1978. At 2PM on Thursday, January 4th 1979 I arrived in the world, disrupting a rather nice family meal in the process (I could never get the hang of Thursdays). From very early on in my youth The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy always seemed to attract my attention in some form or another.

I remember the early 1980’s: a betamax recording of the BBC TV series that my Grandparents had taped, I would watch it almost every day. My father had recorded the radio plays on cassette tapes and played them often. I also remember playing the interactive game on the Amstrad computer.

Most of the narrative content of the radio series was too much for a young boy to understand, but I remember being captivated by the characters voices: the rotund and consultative tenor of The Book, the frustrated and hapless Arthur Dent, and the forlorn and dejected tones of the pessimistically depressed android, Marvin; – “Life, don’t talk to me about life”.

Into my teens and the 1990’s – Sarcasm and irony became my close companions. During reading sessions in English classes I would stick to the four Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy novels along with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and sequel novel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The more I read them, the more I grew to understand Douglas Adams’ social commentaries on the world.

I began to encounter things in life that could have easily been knitted into the ridiculously overblown and random scenarios from his works: local authorities, money, politics, salesmen, science, bureaucracy, evolution, relationships, religion and creation. There were, are, things in life that should be logical and straight forward but have been tainted and confused by some rule, regulation, or procedure.

Douglas Adams’ ability to scale-down the big issues was paralleled by his ability to take insignificant objects and give them greater meaning than the sum of their parts: Towels, bypasses, bulldozers, fish, tea and a bowl of petunias; some of a few things given a higher design. The unique context in which these things are placed has taught me that there is nothing wrong with not having a sense of proportion; given the right context a cup of morning coffee can be far more significant than the history of creation.

In addition to radio and writing novels, Adams worked as a script editor during Tom Baker’s stint as Doctor Who. His unique and bizarre sense of observation was the perfect match for Baker’s cosmic clown. I was a fan of the Tom Baker era long before I discovered that Adams was it’s script editor.

Douglas Adams also collaborated with John Lloyd on The Meaning of Liff: a dictionary of meanings that there aren’t any words for yet. After realising how arbitrary the real English Dictionary is – it misses huge wodges of human experience – Adams and Lloyd set upon writing a dictionary of experiences people recognised, but there wasn’t a word for.

The Salmon of Doubt – published in 2002 – is a posthumous and eclectic collection of writings, drafts, articles, observations, unfinished novels and other mish-mashes extracted from Adams’ computer (Over 2000 documents existed in total). This book has the biggest influence on me; it inspired me to start writing and this blog.

In The Salmon of Doubt Douglas Adams makes light of his towering height, his big nose that does not admit air and how he broke it with his own knee while playing rugby, stood up. He teaches the Americans a thing or two about tea, and offers the Traffic Police an insight into road safety in relation the fundamental laws of the universe.

To me The Salmon of Doubt is a firm testament to the fact that Adams was more than a novelist. He was an observer; capturing moments that would have passed most of us by. I have no doubt that Douglas Adams could have made eating Corn Flakes an interesting read. His expertly-placed words transcend each page as if he is speaking to you over a roaring log fire and an ice-cold bourbon; informal and deceivingly simplistic.

It wasn’t until Douglas Adams death that I began finding out more about him as. I discovered that we shared a few things in common: our parents divorced when we were young, we often came across as ‘strange’ to our families, our teachers at school couldn’t work out if there was something mentally wrong with us, we spent most of our school days getting out of games, we enjoyed acting and writing, and we are are both atheists.

In 2000…ish I purchased a book about evolution written by Richard Dawkins calledThe Blind Watchmaker. It shed a lot of light and logic into my life, and crystal-clear-clarity about my place in the grand scheme of things. I was surprised to discover while reading The Salmon of Doubt that Douglas Adams chose The Blind Watchmaker as the book that changed him. Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusion to Douglas Adams after his death.

Another sort of six-degrees-of-separation-thingy was that Adams, like me, was a Pink Floyd fan; he named their 1994 album The Division Bell and performed with the band on his 42nd birthday (the same age that his daughter was born). Adams’ official biography shares its name with the Pink Floyd song Wish You Were Here. David Gilmour performed the song at Adams’ funeral.

When socialising, I like to slip in a clever Douglas Adams quote, like a secret handshake – acknowledgement suggesting that we are like-minded people. I always follow “drink up” with “the worlds about to end”, I cannot enter an elevator without wondering if it fears for the future, and I wonder what would have become of me if the lemon soaked napkin had not arrived at my table in time.

Like Douglas Adams, I also like the ‘whooshing’ sound that deadlines make as they shoot past. I view tea, towels, baths, poetry, Rickmansworth, Thursday, mice, Fenchurch Station, mattresses – and much, much, more – in a very unique and special way; a Douglas Adams way.

Douglas Noel Adams prematurely died in 2001, but his star continues to burn bright in all those who celebrate the life and times of this wholly remarkable man, and the remarkably remarkable works that he left behind.

So long Douglas Noel Adams, and thanks…

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