Today is Towel Day, a day to commemorate the life and works of the late great Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On this day, fans are supposed to openly carry a towel with them all day, on account of what “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” says about the importance of towels:
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.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
I read the initial three volumes of these books in 1988, and to say they shaped my life is barely hyperbolic. Since then I believe I have read all Douglas Adams’ books, even including his non-fiction title “Last Chance to See”. Now I cannot let an everyday occurrence of the number 42 go by unheeded. The Atari ST scene gathering “ST NEWS International Christmas Coding Convention” had a 10th and 25th anniversary, and will next convene on its 42nd anniversary. I use the words “skoonsproot” and “affpuddle” in active conversation (though they are from his “The Meaning of Liff”). I regularly re-read the Hitchhiker’s series as well as the Dirk Gently books. And yesterday I finished binge-watching the second season of BBC America’s rather entertaining “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (which are very very very loosely, in fact hardly, based on the books) with my wife. I set up the most insulting website ever at www.wowbagger.com. When I attempted to write funny stuff, I wore Adams’ influences on my sleeve (well, and a bit of Pterry). Douglas has really touched my life in a way otherwise only achieved by Tolkien and Orwell.
So here’s to the life and legacy of Douglas Adams. Have a great Towel Day!