The Day I Met A Genius

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Tuesday, in case you didn’t know, was Towel Day. If you are unaware of the significance of the day, you should read (or, even better, listen to), The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. And certainly visit the highlighted link back there. You know, the one that says Towel Day.

Come back here when you’re done.

I meant to blog about Towel Day at the time, but didn’t get around to it, what with, you know, real life and everything. I console myself with the thought that this is a fitting tribute to the late, great Douglas Adams. He was the man, after all, who said “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly past.”

He was also the man that predicted the World Wide Web.

Even the most casual observer won’t have failed to notice the similarity between the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide device (which bore the comforting words ‘Don’t Panic’ on the front and in which our planet was described pithily as ‘harmless’, until the entry was expanded to ‘mostly harmless’) and, if you’re still with me after that parenthesis, the myriad handheld devices that clutter/enrich our world today (delete according to preference), and, most particularly, the devices made by the Apple corporation under the sobriquets iThis and iThat, and, most particularly particularly, the one that goes on sale in this country in about an hour and a half called the iPad.

Ok. That was quite a long sentence. You might want to have a little lie down.

I could go on for hours about Adams. As well as the whole Hitch-Hiker thing, he wrote the heinously under-rated Dirk Gently novels, travelled the world in search of endangered species for the radio programme and book ‘Last Chance To See’ (the sequel of which was made by Stephen Fry-Who-Else? last year), and was responsible, with John Lloyd, for possibly my favourite little black book, The Meaning of Liff.

The concept of this book is best explained, like pretty much anything, by Adams himself:
“In Life (and, indeed in Liff) there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no word exists. On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.”

Or, more brief, but less beautifully written: place names as dictionary definitions.

A deliciously simple idea, perfectly executed.

But they missed two definitions out.

The first definition they missed out was this: the feeling you get when you are a sixteen-year-old boy getting your copy of The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe signed by the author in an empty bookshop in Oxford, and you are too much of a sixteen-year-old boy to do anything than mumble “Ithinkyou’reagenius” at him when what you want to do is start a wide-ranging and spectacularly erudite conversation about computers, literature, conservation and all sorts of other stuff and you realise as you are doing it that you are pissing away the opportunity of a lifetime.

The second one is: the inability to find your signed copy of The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.

Oh well. Any ideas for places that fit the above definitions would be gratefully received.

I’ll leave the last word to him. A funny, perceptive man, whose deep wisdom was masked by an almost infinite capacity for silliness.

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

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  1. I’ve been the same every time I’ve met Stephen Sondheim. I can’t think of much to say that doesn’t make me feel that I’ll sound like a git. Sorry you lost your book though. You could buy another one if you like and I’ll sign it. Not quite the same thing though. Thanks for more entertainment.

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