Happy Towel Day & Thanks For All The Fish

The original UK cover
The original UK cover

Happy Towel Day! Here’s a look at my annual Towel Day post.

Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe proudly carry a towel in his honor. As part of the celebration, I offer you a few things you may not know about The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.


Who is Douglas Adams?

Douglas Adams was born on the 11th of March 1952 in Cambridge. He was an English writer and dramatist. While Adams was studying in Cambridge he hitchhiked from Europe to Istanbul, working various jobs to generate funds for it. After leaving school he tried his hand at comedic writing. Adams was “discovered” by Graham Chapman. They became friends, which led to Adams making a few brief appearances in the series ‘Monty Pythons Flying Circus’. But Adams writing style was not fit for the style of radio or television of that time which proved to be a hindrance in his success and led to bouts of low self-esteem and procrastination. Adams was never comfortable with fame and it took years for him to finish each book. In fact the first book ends abruptly due to the simple fact that because Adams was taking so long to adapt the radio series into book form the publishers called him asking that he simply finish the page he was writing.

The conception

The first episode aired on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, at 10:30 pm.

The Hitchhikers Guide was original a radio series idea. The initial idea for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came to Douglas Adams while lying drunk in a field holding a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe, staring up at the night sky. The original concept was called The Ends of the Earth. The idea was that at the end of each show, the Earth would be destroyed in a new and interesting way. As Adams wrote he realized he needed a guide, one who could explain the various cultures that bring about the ends of the earth, so the character of Ford Prefect was born. Prefect was not the main character, that would be Arthur Dent, but he role was central to the stories. Adams needed a strong central figure because he did not outline his stories. Adams admitted he “made things up as he went along”, which is why so there are so many plot twists and turns. Adams had no idea what would happen next or where the stories were headed. Most of his most well known characters and plot devises stem from his “just winging it” writing style.


The Cosmic Cutie

If you live in America and are a fan of the series, this symbol is very familiar. It’s known as the Cosmic Cutie. But did you know Adams hated it? He asked to have it removed from the book jackets but the publishers refused. Why? Because Adams took so long between books it was designed by the publishers to visually connect the books. They were afraid readers wouldn’t know they were part of the same series.


Marvin the Paranoid Android

“I’d make a suggestion, but you wouldn’t listen. No one ever does.”

Marvin is a severely depressed robot. He’s so depressed that, when he gets bored and talks to other computers, they commit suicide. His depression is due to the “Genuine People Personality” he received while he was being manufactured. Originally Marvin was to be used in only one episode as comic relief, but proved to be very popular and so became a recurring character.

Babble Fish

Adams realized early on he had painted himself in a corner. How was Arthur to understand the man aliens he encountered? Having Prefect translate would use up limited air time so Adams had to come up with way to save time. According to the first book, The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with”.

Infinite Improbability

Making stuff up as he went along created problems for Adams. How do you get your characters out of tight situations? Infinite Improbability, the most favorite of all the technology in the series, was created to get Adams out of a corner he’d written himself into. Adams came up with the idea after writing an episode that ended with Ford and Arthur being shot in open space without spacesuits; Adams no idea how to save them. It was absurdly improbable that any spaceship would come along and rescue them in time, so Adams created the Infinite Improbability Drive to make it plausible. This allowed Adams to create a universe in which anything could and usually did happen.

Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything- 42.

“The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything… Is… Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”

Books have been written about Adams answer to life’s most pressing question. Scholars, mathematicians and philosophers have all weighed in on what Adams meant by the number 42. It is ironic that humans are so obsessed with this question that many see value in Adams nonsensical answer. To him the answer is obvious; life is random and meaningless. When asked about his answer, Adams said: “The answer to this is very simple,” “It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one.

The Towel

When traveling great distances it is always a good idea to pack smartly. Of all the things you must have, which is the most useful? For Adams it starts with a towel.

According to the guide, “a towel 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 vapors; 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-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); 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.”


“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

“So long, and thanks for all the fish”.

Shakespeare Hidden in Plain Sight

First folio

Who among us hasn’t dreamt about finding a hidden treasure buried within the shelving of some dusty old used bookstore or thrift shop? Or suddenly eyed our old artwork with curiosity and longing after hearing about a lost map or valuable document found underneath a god-awful painting?

These kinds of finds don’t happen every day, but they do happen often enough that the idea of it happening to us isn’t all that farfetched and may be why many people love to haunt yard sales and antique stores.

My own mother has experienced this kind of luck, if only in a small way, several times. She and a friend used to go to barn sales out in the Midwest just for the fun of looking at old farm equipment but came home twice with very old Maxwell Parish prints housed in a expensive antique frames. She bought them for under $40.00, far less than they appraise for. I now have them hanging with my modern Parish prints.

Not very long ago my mother visited a thrift shop in California; something she rarely does and saw what looked like a Swarovski clock only this clock was priced at 99¢. She picked it up on impulse; it looked so much like the real thing she thought it would go with the other pieces of Swarovski she has in her living room. If my mother had a smart phone she could have looked it up…, but I digress. As it turns out, it was indeed a Swarovski collectable clock. As my mother tells the story:

Just as the clerk rang up my 99¢ item and commented on its beauty the manager happened to glance over. Her eyes widened as she saw me hand the clerk a dollar and some change and barked, “That’s not 99¢, that’s $99 and a bargain at that!” I smiled at her and pointed to the sign near the register that read “Prices as Marked”. The clock was clearly marked at 99¢ and 99¢ is what I walked out paying


Granted, nothing my mother has found has had any worldwide implications or changed what we think we know about an artist or valuable legal document, I use her to illustrate what can happen if we keep our eyes out for possible buried treasure hidden in plain sight. And, this is exactly what happened earlier this year with one of the first Shakespeare folios. It was found hidden in plain sight at Mount Stuart House on the Scottish Isle of Bute. According to the BBC

The trust, which runs the Gothic revival house, had been researching the collection of books, paintings and historic items and called in experts from Oxford University to assess the authenticity of what had been claimed as a First Folio.

At first experts didn’t believe this was a first edition folio but on examination they were astounded to find out that this book is truly is one of roughly 750 books published in 1623. Only 230 others are known to exist, but it is possible there are more. Only last year one was found in a Jesuit library in St Omer in France.

So the next time you happen to attend an estate or library sale be on the look out for a book that looks like a First Folio. Who knows, it may be your Willy Shakespeare Golden Ticket.

BBC News Shakespeare First Folio discovered on Scottish island

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