PERHAPS PANIC JUST A LITTLE

As an under-graduate I adhered strictly to the maxim, ‘Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow’. Years later when I was teaching at uni I used to explore learning styles with each new group. One of the exercises asked students to position themselves along a continuum from ‘Early starting’ to ‘Pressure prompted’. I did it with over a dozen groups and was always amazed that there were actually people who were early starters on academic tasks. My soul-mate was more Douglas Adams, who once said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by’ (The Salmon of Doubt).

So it was one Saturday morning late in first semester 1981, a third year psychology essay looming menacingly on the horizon, that I turned to the radio for distraction. In all likelihood I was hoping for a repeat of My Word or perhaps an episode of The Goons that I’d only heard seven times already. What I got was something quite different.

It began with a dramatic but very hummable theme* and quickly revealed itself as some sort of science fiction series that had my face rapidly contorting between amusement and confusion. Much of the puzzlement appeared to be explained at the conclusion of the half-hour episode when the narrator invited me back to hear ‘Part 3’ next week. So I’d missed the beginning by a couple of weeks, but that sure wasn’t going to stop me inking this weird and often startling radio show into my diary.

The following Saturday at 11:59 am I was poised with my finger over the ‘Record’ button of my trusty cassette deck.

And so began my love affair with The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The radio station went on to broadcast the second series later that year and you can guess that I was well and truly prepared in advance. Having blathered excitedly to all my psych and drama friends, here was a chance to share the experience and make converts. Six weeks later there were a pair of cassettes available for loan to anyone with three character references and a current Level 5 Audio Recording Handlers Certificate . The second tape, Parts III – VI, contains the following warning written in my sternest handwriting. (Years of therapy later I am, naturally, no longer the controlling berk I was then. Don’t ask Ms Connection for confirmation, though. Please.).

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The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy certainly became a phenomenon, with a dazzling and totally perplexing array of related and often contradictory manifestations circling Planet Adams. There have been (according to Wikipedia):

Radio Series

Books (five in the trilogy plus another by some other guy)

LP Records

TV Series

Stage Show

Comic Books

Feature Film

Games

Naturally the radio shows were issued on CD, the TV series on DVD, the books n re-printed more times than Arthur Dent said, ‘What?!’, the radio scripts published in book form …and that’s without mentioning the towels^.

If it occurs to you that this may be spreading the idea a little thin, then you are not alone.

For this devotee the original two series of radio shows hold the fondest memories. That thrill of discovery is a feeling that endures. So much so that when I encountered an impressive box (with an equally impressive price tag) during a Hunter-Gatherer mission a while back, I hesitated no longer than it takes to convert Altairan** to Australian dollars.

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Reading the books again recently I couldn’t avoid a sense of diminishing returns. The original jump was exhilarating; diving into a deep vibrant pool of creativity, splashing around and grinning at the fascinating life-forms abounding in the depths. But then, swimming forwards, the water gets shallower and shallower until you’re sitting at the water’s edge with a wet bum wondering what all the fuss was about.

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Still, none of that stopped me enjoying M. J. Simpson’s biography nor feeling sad at the author’s untimely death. Nor did it dampen my enthusiasm when I read, in Simpson’s book, about a lavish illustrated edition of the first novel. Within internet moments a second-hand copy was winging its way over the sub-ether network (courtesy of the Royal Mail and Australia Post) to join a bulky collection of other coffee-table books that are too big for normal shelves, consequently infuriating to store, but absolutely essential to a sense of aesthetic and intellectual superiority or at least greedy possession. What was I saying earlier about berk-ism?

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Similarly, though much earlier in time, I decided that owning the LPs was essential. This is odd, as they add little to the story. And totally predictable, as I am a vinyl junkie. Furthermore, while I am utterly certain that there are people (and almost certainly, people-with-websites) who have plotted in four dimensions the variations, overlaps, inconsistencies and omissions that flow through the various formats, I’ll leave you to follow that operational matrix if you dare. Just thinking about it makes me hyperventilate. In fact I quite like that it all mooshes together into a gooey Douglas-Adams-Hitch-Hiker’s-Guide-Cosmic-Slop.

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And the advice of the original cover is still as good as it gets.

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* Bernie Leadon ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’  is on The Eagles LP One of these Nights [Asylum, 1975]

^ One clever manufacturer did indeed bring out a series of Hitchhiker towels but sadly, I don’t own one. My birthday is in November, by the by.

** I would imagine that if you have never heard/read/watched HHGTTG, these ‘in jokes’ will be wearing thin too. Almost as thin as annoying footnotes you don’t read until the end then cannot recall what they relate to.

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SOURCES

Douglas Adams ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts’ [Heinemann, London, 1995]

Douglas Adams ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: The Complete Radio Series’ [BBC, 2005]

M. J. Simpson ‘Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams’ [Justin Charles & Co, Boston, 2003]

Douglas Adams ‘The Illustrated Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ [Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1994]

Douglas Adams ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ [Original Records, 1979]

Douglas Adams ‘The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe’ [Original Records, 1981]

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Got your own Hitch Hiker’s reminisce? Go for it!

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SLIGHTLY SPOOKY POSTSCRIPT

Since May 2013, there have been weekly long-form articles at Vinyl Connection.

Today (the day after posting) I happened across which post this is.

Guess which number.

Go on, guess. I’ll give you one chance.

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Told you it was spooky.

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15 comments

  1. Ah Yes, how we annoyed the uninitiated! For example, whilst at ICI I imitated Marvin the paranoid android on my telephone-answer-machine using a greeting like, ‘Hello, this is David’s phone; Marvin speaking. He’s not here at the moment so he’s asked me to take your message. Yes me, me with “a brain the size of a planet”.

    I think I was smart enough to leave out “Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cos I don’t” but Marvin puzzled a few people so I moved onto an “Auntie Jack” threat to “rip your bloody arms off” if you don’t leave a message’. A wonder I was not sacked but I justified it to myself because I was peeved that people were offended, yes offended by a request to interact with a computer. My how times change …. Got to go now to MMS a photo of THE flowers to my Valentine.

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    1. What can I say? Except these are the stories that would have us buying a shot of that Ol’ Janx Spirit for Douglas in the afterlife.

      Glad to have evoked some questionable memories, David.

      Thank you for leaving your message. You have made a simple blog-site very happy.

      Like

  2. Believe it, or not, I did own a HH towel – it had a shortened version of the text from the guide about towels on it. It was much loved and sadly died a long time ago. (pause for reflection).

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    1. Thank you for sharing that touching story. We feel your pain, brother.

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  3. I’m stealing that line ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by’ and sending to my wife for Valentines Day. Nice post as usual.

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    1. Isn’t it a marvellous quote? I’m sure your wife will enjoy it, plus the voucher for a bunch of roses.

      Cheers, and Thanks.

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  4. Or a bowl of petunias?

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  5. Okay, three things – 1) I’ve taught that same course with the learning styles about a million times; 2) you do know that I’m utterly crazy about Mr. Adams, right? and 3) I’m pretty sure that the combination of these two alone, not to mention the whole Traffic thing among other music stuff, makes us kindred spirits of some sort, and that’s really cool, considering we live on different continents and have never met. 🙂

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    1. One word: ‘Yep’

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  6. The Prudent Groove · · Reply

    Great write-up! Thanks for the laughs. “Almost as thin as annoying footnotes you don’t read until the end then cannot recall what they relate to.” Sadly, I only know HHGTTG by the movie (I didn’t see), but I always say, if Vinyl Connection suggests it, it MUST be good.

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    1. Thanks for the endorsement, no matter how undeserved. Look, I reckon the first two novels are delightful in their inventiveness and humour, but chuckles are a very personal thing best explored between consenting adults in private.
      Thanks for reading, PG (and hope you are well again).

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  7. Great read, in-jokes and all! For me, the intro was the TV series shown on public television in the States when I was a freshman in college (’82). I’ve since read the books (the five-part trilogy) and then listened to them all again on audiobook versions during a period with lots of time in a vehicle when I was in the Bolivian highlands a few years back. Never heard the radio plays, but sounds like a format I would enjoy.

    P.S. Sorry, I ain’t buying it re this being the 42nd post by chance (smile). Even if it was not your conspiracy, it must have been part of the giant computer Earth program. The mice know!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The mice do indeed have the answers. Shame they won’t tell.

      I showed the TV series to the boy (10) recently. We both agreed that visually, it was pretty naff. I think that is why I have such a fondness for the radio series: the pictures in your head remain unpolluted by cheap effects. Let me know whether you’d like to sample the radio plays.

      Thanks a lot for visiting the back catalogue, Victim.

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  8. Love. Love love love.

    I have a hardcover collection of the first four novels that includes a short story called Young Zaphod Plays It Safe. In the introduction to the collection, Adams talks about all the varying versions and how not much of it had to do with anything else or the original and that, at a certain point, it just took on a life of its own. Your post has nailed this perfectly.

    I don’t know where we’d be without the books, though. In truth, I’ve only ever read the books. Never delved into the recordings. I may have seen the film, but it seems to largely be blocked from my memory.

    Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Delighted you enjoyed it, Aaron. You know, in terms of enjoyment of the artistry, I’m with you on the first two books. When I finally read the fifth instalment, I was rather depressed by its dark, pessimistic tone. Next time round, I might just stop reading earlier. Really hope you enjoy your re-visit to Mr Adams universe.

      Like

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