Douglas Adams: 25 May is Towel Day!

“Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

After having spent a few weeks Time Travelling this month, you can be sure I kept my towel handy.

Towel Day, 25th May, is a day to Celebrate the life of Douglas Adams, who left us for the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul on 11 May 2001. I hoped he was just spending a year dead for tax reasons.

Cover of The Long dark tea-time of the soul Cover of The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy: the original radio scripts Cover of Wish you were here: The official biography of Douglas Adams Cover of The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy eBook

Adams is the inspired writer of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, first broadcast by the BBC Radio in 1978.  A cult following was inspired by the series and its characters, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Marvin the paranoid Android and Slartibartfast.

Adams’ inventive use of language, his imagination and humour have immortalised his writing. Using fantasy as a vehicle, Adams explores very human issues such as shyness, meeting women, rain, politics and the demolishing of houses to build motorways – or hyperspace byways.

Douglas Adams also penned three episodes of Dr Who (The Pirate Planet (1978), Destiny of the Daleks (1979) and City of Death (with Graham Williams, 1979); The Salmon of Doubt, the Dirk Gently series, and created the game Starship Titanic, based on a book he wrote with Terry Jones (Monty Python).

I love English wit. Its as stinging as English rain…or indeed Christchurch rain.

Don’t Panic! I’ve got my towel and I’m mostly harmless

25 May is Towel Day – here’s why you might like to carry a towel with you tomorrow.

I first encountered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a very long time ago on an old black and white TV. BBC TV produced the series based on the radio series. It starred Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, David Dixon as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Sandra Dickinson as Trillion and Peter Jones was the voice of The Guide.

After that, I was hooked and I had to read the trilogy; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe and Everything. The trilogy expanded to include So long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. Someone asked me what the books were about. How do you explain something as off-beat as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? I handed over my copy of the book so they could read the blurb on the back. I got the book back – eventually.

According to The hitchhiker’s guide, a towel is a necessity. To know where your towel is means to be in control of your life. The book lists many uses for a towel (including the traditional drying yourself) and goes on to explain that if you have a towel, a non-hitchhiker will lend you anything you need. Based on the assumption that you have lost your luggage, but still have your towel. I have put a towel to many uses: A bandage, a blanket, a sarong, a mop, a hat, a scarf, and have even used it to dry myself, but I have never tried travelling with a towel, but no toothbrush, brush, comb, shoes, or spare clothes, so I have never put Douglas Adams’ theory into practice.

Douglas Adams was born on 11 March 1952. He died of a heart attack on 11 May 2001. He was only 49. On 14 May 2001, one of his fans, D. Clyde Williamson, posted a tribute to Douglas Adams suggesting that a date two weeks after his passing should be observed as Towel Day. May 25th continues to be observed annually as Towel Day as an ongoing tribute to Adams. The fans are asked to carry a bath towel conspicuously with you for the day. Choose a towel that you like, and preferably isn’t tatty. Make sure it’s clean and have it with you.

Do you know where your towel is? Are you mostly harmless? If you answered ‘No’ to both of these questions, I recommend the following books:

Before his death, Adams was considering writing a sixth novel in the Hitchhiker’s series. Eoin Colfer wrote And Another Thing… from Douglas Adams’ manuscript. It was published on the thirtieth anniversary of the first book, 12 October 2009.

Do you know where your towel is?

Author Douglas Adams, who passed away in 2001, has been responsible for more than a few entries into the English vernacular “babel fish”, “pangalactic gargleblasters”, the facetious use of the number 42 as an answer to incomprehensible questions, the difficulty of Thursdays…the list goes on*.

Amongst this list of sci-fi, hitchiker’s guide references you can surely include the importance of the humble towel, which is perhaps not so humble after all –

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… 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… 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.

Two weeks after Adam’s death in 2001 the inaugural towel day was held. On 25 May every year since Adams fans have clutched their towels to their chests, necks, or waists and worn them throughout the day in the kind of offbeat remembrance that the author would surely have appreciated. If you are brave and/or devoted enough why not wear your towel on Monday? At least then you’ll know where it is, and you never know, it might just come in handy.

For more information check out the official Towel day website.

*If none of this comprehensible to you, well firstly “Shame!”, secondly go read this immediately.