of all, a short rant in the spirit of our "blue green
planet" whose absurdities Douglas Adams regularly and
benignly mocked and exposed in his all too few works. He
would have had a ball, a cue and a pool table with this
one. And some chalk. This afternoon, I saw, with some incredulity,
a photo of a person on the cover of a lifestyle magazine,
one named unambiguously 'Living'. To posit a Brit equivalent
of the woman on the cover, this American home-making giant,
think of a DNA hybrid of Trinny and Susannah (if they did
carpets and curtains), spliced with Nigella Lawson. This
supreme queen of the kitchen is absurdly famous in the US.
The mere mention of her christian name in her native land
conjures up a world of honed, honeysuckled, pot pouried
good taste in the same way that the name 'Delia' (in the
UK) has now been accepted into the Oxford Dictionary (a
quickie meal for one is now 'doing a Delia'). The less said
about Norwich City the b…
that uniquely blonde, American smile, this 'Domestic Goddess
Inc.' beams at you looking every one of her 45 years except
that she's a striking and almost too good to be true 63.
Inside 'Living' (an unfortunate pair of words given Martha
Stewart's current confined circumstances) was her article
about eggs. Now there's a good reason for a cover story.
But beneath her headlit dental work was the bizarre caption
"Welcome home, Martha!" I racked my brains. Where
had she been, this doyenne of American cuisine? On holiday?
En croute? On tenterhooks? No.
Stewart had been imprisoned for five months and was detained
at her prison-like home (yeah, how squalid - a millionaire's
estate in Bedford, New York state) for another five. She
had been found guilty of lying to the authorities concerning
the selling of stocks. Money. It's always money, unless
it's love. They always come out at night and in this case
the day. Only in a world this bizarre can we find magazines
devoted to celebrities ('Living' is her own magazine as
in she owns 'it' in its entirety as a business not the fact
that she buys a copy every month), celebrities who are then
casually welcomed back into the superstar fold after a spell
in prison as if they'd been on a spice-finding trip to Zanzibar.
It's the same bloody culture that allows Jeffrey Archer
to make a packet from his prison memoirs. I'm not here to
debate the actual legal issues (ah, lost half my readership
there, all two of 'em) but simply to point out that we live
in a seriously weird world and like Adams' Wonko The Sane,
it's time to consider living outside the asylum.
seemed like I was living outside the bookshop in 1980. All
I could see was some absurdly young and absurdly large nosed,
tall man sitting where I hoped Douglas Adams would soon
be sitting to sign copies of his astonishingly popular novelisation
of his radio science-fiction comedy hit. Slarek (of all
folks) was there at my introduction to the work of a man
whose mind's passions would oddly parallel my own. At college,
we booked out one of the LPs (oooh, history lesson; L.P.
= long player, a circular piece of vinyl with grooves etched
into its surface which a needle translated into sound waves)
or 'the album' of the radio show. I sat. I listened. I heard
The Flatulent, of his poem 'Ode To A Small Lump Of Green
Putty I Found In My Arm Pit One Mid-Summer Morning', four
of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging."
I was gone, a floor-bound seventeen year old who felt like
he'd found the only man in the universe who knew how to
elicit smart laughter at the absurdity of existence (quite
a tall order actually). But then Douglas was six foot four
and wide to (re)boot.
queues were becoming labyrinthine, snaking as they did through
Cardiff's arcades. The doors opened and the twice-absurdly
man didn't move. I was 18. My hero was (gulp) 27! He was
one of us! I did my usual sneaky trick at book signings,
something I'd perfected when I was 14 meeting Major Pat
Reid, he of the escaping Colditz fame. I commandeered a
chair next to the star attraction and promptly became part
of the furniture as all the fans sidled up, went "I
love your work," or "Did you really build a glider?"
and disappeared with an ink scrawl in a frontispiece. I
wanted more. Adams shared a lot of insider stuff about the
upcoming TV series of Hitchhiker's and
I left Lears Bookshop that day very high on celebrity and
glowing from the warmth of fame.
did flirt with Douglas' output a little later into the '80s
away from the yoke and joke of Hitchhiker's.
He subsequently became very proud of a book he wrote with
zoologist Mark Carwadine called Last Chance To See,
a supremely entertaining discourse on the frayed edges of
mankind's efforts to save certain rare species. It had been
my good fortune to work on two natural history films featuring
the people and places that Adams had championed. I sent
him tape copies and he was kind and considerate enough to
reply in kind. For many years (and this is how sad I am)
I had Douglas Adams' e-mail address in my computer with
(in the notes column) written "Yes, THE Douglas Adams…"
It would take up another seven pages to describe our symmetry
of thought when it came to Macintosh computers but I have
to say that if I am deeply sad about his early demise, it's
as much because of what he was capable of giving back to
the world as it was his gaping Adams sized hole in the lives
of his loved ones. Of all the famous people I ever met,
his death is the one I mourn the most. It seemed like freeze-framing
Nadia Commaneci after mere seconds on the parallel bars.
Could I scream it any louder? His work was NOT done!
flawed but fun Hitchhiker's TV show was
astounding for many reasons (mostly budgetary) but not least
for the extraordinary awe that my parents suddenly had to
concede to me. On that magical Episode One night, I impressed
them to the point of their demanding to watch Episode Two
to see if I knew that one by heart too. Once a geek, always
a geek. Adams had unleashed the science fiction nerd in
me and it was rampant. But would Zaphod and co. ever make
it to the big screen? After all, there had been radio shows,
theatrical productions, books, illustrated books and towels
(no mere figment of my imagination, I owned and vigorously
dried myself off with one).
been a wait of about twenty-six years and there is but a
single week to go. All I've seen is the trailer. I'm wondering
whether to keep it that way. That's not true. I will be
there, opening day, popcorn money in hand. But. Frankly
my overwhelming ambivalence startles me. In my head, I'm
holding two desperately opposing feelings. Firstly there's
the fervent desire that Douglas Adam's wonderful creation
reaches a wider audience (thereby making lots of people
happy and rich, ahem) while simultaneously successfully
re-inventing his spectacularly mutative radio show. Sparring
with that thought with knuckle dusters on Dust-Con 4, is
the idea that the essence of what literally made me fall
off my chair in 1979 may be completely and utterly crushed
under the soulless sole of the Hollywood bottom line.
not as if it's never happened before. It happened last month
with Constantine. But to many Brits, Adams'
Opus is as sacred as world history and the latter has a
tendency to be rewritten by those with the deepest pockets.
Thank God for Tom Hanks on the D-Day beaches and Matthew
McConaughey in the submarine finding the Enigma machine…
You know the drill. In fifty years, it'll seem like every
hero is and always has been American, every food will be
fast and every other nation will be on its knees in supplication
or worse, subjugation. History is not only written by the
winners; they make the damn movies too. And movies are so
compellingly easy to believe in.
a glimmer of hope.
that word 'mutative'; able to be bent, cut and twisted in
and out of all sorts of shapes. The Hitchhiker's
Guide has been many things. It's even been an honest
to goodness towel. A movie, good or bad, will not diminish
the original radio series or the superior novels that really
got the Adams ball rolling. Given the very Britishness of
the work, it's a shame that no one on our isle could get
the movie weened and burped. During development hell, Adams
described the process as trying to have a barbecue and all
you did to the meat every now and again was stand next to
it and breath on it. It's been painful but a process that
Adams was intimately involved with. It's not as if he were
the disinterested party pocketing skips of cash while sneering
at the bastardisation of his original creation. Adams put
himself in the trenches creatively with everyone else and
I hope to "the man in the shack" that the movie
works. It will be the bizarre punch-line in some sort of
perverse cosmic joke the universe needed to play on him.
Adams fans cannot possibly wonder what that remark referred
to. The gentle giant biped with a nose you could double
park on and a talent that a friend once remarked 'was looking
for a niche' went to his local Santa Barbara gym on 11th
May 2001. After a hard work out (clutching his towel) he
'stopped' (said his partner Jane Belson), fell and never
the movie be a glorious celebration of the man, a triumph
of a cultural prophet over a profit-led culture and an event
that proves that when it comes to a ruler of the known universe
then it's Stephen Fry’s turn to bat. Knock it out
of the park. Make Douglas proud.
seem to be having this tremendous trouble with my lifestyle…"