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.).
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):
Books (five in the trilogy plus another by some other guy)
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.
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.
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?
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.
And the advice of the original cover is still as good as it gets.
* 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.
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]
Got your own Hitch Hiker’s reminisce? Go for it!
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.
Told you it was spooky.