Towel Day: a curious but entertaining memorial

2006-05-21

in Books and literature, Geek stuff

Fans of Douglas Adams may appreciate being reminded that this coming Thursday, the 25th of May, is Towel Day. Created after his untimely death in 2001, the event is meant to mark his memory with good humour of the kind always demonstrated in his writing. Learning about his death was personally difficult in a way I don’t think it could have been for almost any other stranger.

For the unfamiliar, Douglas Adams is was best known as a British writer of science fiction, though much of his career was devoted to radio work. His most famous books are the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy in five parts” and the Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency duo (trio if you include the unfinished segment in The Salmon of Doubt). If you haven’t read them, you are a lucky person: you have the chance to spend the next few days experiencing something exceptionally amusing for the first time. Personally, I’ve read them at least six times each – including going through most of Dirk Gently’s aloud.

On the matter of why towels are relevant, I shall quote a section from the first Hitchhiker’s book:

A towel, [the Guide] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker 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 mini raft 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 to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but 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 hitch hiker 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.

Carrying a towel on Thursday is therefore both a way of marking your appreciation for Adams’ work and setting yourself out as the very example of a well-prepared and capable individual. Given that the world’s most interesting English-speaking people are all either present or future appreciators of Adams, you stand a decent chance of meeting some new ones if you carry the towel obviously enough.

To the many people who have already read and loved the books listed above, I recomment having a look at the lesser known non-fiction book Last Chance to See: written about a slightly mad worldwide expedition in search of endangered species, including the Kakapo parrot of New Zealand, Komodo Dragons, and Chinese river dolphins. The book has all of Adams’ characteristic wit, as well as quite a forceful conservation message. The fact that he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro while wearing a rhino costume definitely contributed to my own ambition to find my way to that lofty summit. Widely available in the UK, you may need to order the from here or wander through a few libraries to find a copy in the US or Canada.

Also worth noting is that Douglas Adams had one of the most amazing funerals possible: with the eulogy delivered by Richard Dawkins and a live performance of Wish you Were Here by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. That’s my favourite song of theirs, as well. Dawkins also wrote a touching article in The Guardian praising Adams.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Fellow DNA Fan May 22, 2006 at 12:15 am

Doesn’t it seem like some kind of pub expedition for towel carriers is in order? To quote the HHGTTG again:

Here’s what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards. The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.

I doubt Gargle Blasters can be had in Oxford, but the general idea seems to be in the right spirit.

Tim May 22, 2006 at 12:22 am

Douglas Adams died on my 19th birthday.

B May 22, 2006 at 12:33 am

I also love Douglas Adams; how could you not?

I hope we will get a photo of your towel-carrying self in Thursday’s entry. Naturally, given the day of the week upon which Towel Day is to fall, the following quotation is obligatory:

“This must be Thursday,” said Arthur musing to himself, sinking low over his beer, “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Milan May 22, 2006 at 12:52 am

Re: DNA

The uninitiated may appreciate knowing that the author’s full name was Douglas Noël Adams, hence DNA.

Anonymous May 22, 2006 at 3:34 pm

There is also an Everything2 node on Towel Day.

It isn’t very good. Perhaps you could improve it.

. August 31, 2007 at 11:15 am

Here is a rather good discussion of Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See.

. December 7, 2007 at 9:44 am

Group Hopes to Rename Street After Douglas Adams.

By Zonk on will-go-well-with-the-simpsons-motif

interstellar_donkey writes “Despite the recent brouhaha over the renaming of 4th Ave after César Chávez, a Portland group is pushing to rename a local street after the late writer Douglas Adams. The street? Why, 42nd Ave, of course. According to their website, the renaming will reflect Portlanders’ commitment to the arts, respect for the environment, desire to provide technological access to all, their passion to further education to all people, and most importantly remind Portlanders DON’T PANIC. This appears to be a serious movement, with preliminary paperwork already in the works.”

. December 7, 2007 at 9:44 am

“The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened ‘ it’s just wonderful. And . . . the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned.”

– Douglas Adams

. January 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Douglas Adams’ entire book Last Change to See is available online. Some choice bits on kakapos:

“In fact the kakapo is a bird that in some ways reminds me of the British motorbike industry. It had things its own way for so long that it simply became eccentric. The motorbike industry didn’t respond to market forces because it wasn’t particularly aware of them. It built a certain number of motorbikes and a certain number of people bought them and that was that. It didn’t seem to matter much that they were noisy, complicated to maintain, sprayed oil all over the place and had their own very special way, as T.E. Lawrence discovered at the end of his life, of going round corners. That was what motorbikes did, and if you wanted a motorbike, that was what you got. End of story. And, of course, it very nearly was the end of the story for the British industry when the Japanese suddenly got the idea that motorbikes didn’t have to be that way. They could be sleek, they could be clean, they could be reliable and well-behaved. Maybe then a whole new world of people would buy them, not just those whose idea of fun was spending Sunday afternoon in the shed with an oily rag, or marching on Aqaba.”

You see, the young birds that we’ve hatched here don’t come to sexual maturity at the same time, so when the females start getting sexy, the males are not ready to handle it. The females are bigger and more belligerent and often beat the males up. So when that happens, we collect semen from Pink, and…’

‘How do you do that? asked Mark.

‘In a hat.’

‘I thought you said in a hat.’

`That’s right. Carl puts on this special hat, which is a bit like a rather strange bowler hat with a rubber brim, Pink goes mad with desire for Carl, flies down and fucks the hell out of his hat.’

`What?

‘He ejaculates into the brim. We collect the drop of semen and use it to inseminate a female.’

`Strange way to treat your mother.’

‘He’s a strange bird. But he does serve a useful purpose in spite of being psychologically twisted.’

Milan May 24, 2009 at 9:54 pm

A note to Douglas Adams fans: tomorrow is Towel Day, once again.

. September 28, 2009 at 4:10 pm

“Sadly, not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, but it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground.”

Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See.

. May 25, 2010 at 10:33 pm

CANADA

* FANTASTIC NEWS: watch the TV coverage the Toronto froods managed to get! (mixed French & English) Kudos to all involved and especially to spokesbeing Mark Roberts and TV personality David Baeta, you did a stellar job there!

* So what’s up in Toronto? A Towel Day photo scavenger hunt/pub crawl! Paul Smith writes: “May 25 at 5 pm downtown – Wear a bathrobe, grab your towel, some cash and a TTC multiuse pass, we are pub crawling”. “Indigo at Bay and Bloor has agreed to host us between 5 – 6 pm on May 25th. We will use this as a rally point for the pub crawl and / or photo scavenger hunt. Remember to bring your towel and digital camera. Keep your eyes open at downtown Toronto Indigo locations for Douglas Adams displays a week in advance of Towel Day.” More info on the Facebook page.

* Cherry Vega, photographer and artist, has made this snazzy iPhone wallpaper from a poster she created for a Towel Day photoshoot. Douglas Adams was a huge Apple fan and we can imagine that he might have liked the iPhone.

* Ottawans can party at the Zaphod Beeblebrox club where they can dance to the music of Kalle Mattson, The Darcys, Life in 2D and Zaphod’s Hoopiest Magrathean DJs “Twiin and guests”. Zaphod’s Pan Galactic Bar Staff will be catering to your fluid intake needs. Doors 8pm, age 19+/general admission, address: 27 York Street.

* In Edmonton, AB, Laura from the Edmonton Sci-Fi Appreciation Society is hosting a “Geeking out” meetup at Tim Hortons at 19:00. She states: “I’ve booked this one for Towel Day because as a sci-fi group it’s out duty to meet on Towel Day”! You should probably bring your towel, but people can just sit around and hang out talking about their favorite Sci-fi related topics. You can RSVP on Meetup.com

* In Vancouver Gianfranco Latrofa and Serena organize a meetup and h2g2 movie viewing at in La Fontana Caffe (3701 Hastings St, Burnaby, BC). They meet at 19:15 and will be easy to spot (hint: towels).

* Also in Vancouver a friendly bunch is meeting for tea at The Secret Garden. It’s at 5559 West Boulevard and will be running between 11:00 and 13:00. Will writes: “Bring towels and have a long, dark tea with us”.

* In Calgary, Joel Palenychka will be heading out to The Joyce on 4th Street for a pint after work, around 19:00.

* Dylan Spencer, author of the webcomic “The Earth Explodes” has drawn Deep Thought as a tribute for Towel Day. Coincidentally it’s also his 42nd comic!

Milan May 25, 2012 at 8:30 am

Happy Towel Day everyone!

. May 6, 2013 at 9:53 am

One of my favourite books about natural history is Last Chance to See written by the late Douglas Adams (not actually a biologist) and Mark Carwardine (actually a biologist). Douglas Adams, of course, could write about just about anything and make it both thought-provoking and funny, and in Last Chance to See, he brings an outsider’s eye to the study of the animal kingdom. The book is an account of a number of expeditions the pair made to see critically endangered species, but along with the natural history, it is a hilarious travelogue and a brilliant account of the trials and tribulations of the zoologist. For example, there’s a wonderful passage in which they try to buy condoms in Shanghai in order to waterproof a microphone to record noise pollution in the Yangtze River (they were trying to find Yangtze river dolphins). You can hear Douglas relating some of the story here, but the gist was that the woman in the pharmacy could not understand why they would not accept the clearly superior oral contraceptive pills, and their attempts at miming and drawing diagrams just made things worse. As someone who has done clearly insane things in public in the name of science (for example, releasing a series of pigeons held in a transparent box mounted on top of a step ladder in the middle of Port Meadow in Oxford by pulling a string attached to a bulldog clip holding the lid closed, and then watching the pigeon with binoculars), I know the kinds of looks you get from Muggles.

. May 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm

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