Wednesday 11 May 2011: long; gone;
One evening, long ago, as I was preparing to go to bed, I'd wandered into the front room and caught sight of what my father was watching on the television. Rather than his usual smut-masquerading-as-art, the screen showed a brightly-coloured and cartoonish animation, narrated by a kindly old voice, accompanied by the sort of Radiophonic Workshop sound effects I was already familiar with from living in a predominantly BBC-viewing household in the nineteen-eighties. Intrigued by my father's laughter, I stayed for a moment to watch, seeing (and hearing) for the first time the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. This particular animation was the explanation of the manner of operation of the Babel fish, with the bit about "the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix" being that which particularly caught my ear, and the rest of my head alongside. I can't remember if I was allowed to stay up to watch the rest of the programme that night, but I was at least told its name. I think I must have been allowed to watch it, as when I finally found a VHS copy of the series years later it was all instantly deeply familar, in sight as well as in content. As with many important events from my childhood, I can remember the event itself but have very little idea exactly when it actually occurred. I'm almost certain that when I went to find the book in the library that very weekend that the library was in its current location, which would place the event either one side or the other of a particular year, were I able to find out which particular year it was when the library moved across the road in order to provide important expansion space for the adjacent supermarket. Of course, these days I can simply look up the broadcast schedule of the programme on the internet, though a first quick look reveals only the original broadcast dates, which my memory of the event is far too clear for it to have been, not to mention that the front room featured in the memory is also from entirely the wrong house.
Later on, I discovered other people at school who were also fans of the series, the books, and even the programme, one of whom had a book of the original radio scripts. These people also liked other things I liked (such as Monty Python) and disliked things I disliked (such as people with fashionable haircuts and the popular music of the time). I discovered the Meaning of Liff and the hitherto-unsuspected book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and shortly afterwards bought the sequel on a family trip to town one weekend. I can remember trying to explain why I was sitting in the back of the car laughing almost uncontrollaby at the notion of a man with a condition which allowed him to know what the actor Dustin Hoffman was going to say a moment or two before he said it. As with all the best things, it was a combination what was written, as well as how it was written, as well as the ideas behind the writing, which the writing sought to convey, though even without an idea just the writing itself was often sufficient to read, without need of any motive to be there other than to be read.
During the last year I spent at university, when I still had access to the computing laboratories at a time when I (and many others) still had no internet access at home, I had the good fortune to chance upon a news story concerning the imminent creation of an electronic database, accessible through (and contributable-to-from) the internet, which would be as close to actually being the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as anything had hitherto actually been. It's a great shame that the site h2g2.com, or http://www.h2g2.com and later http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2 never actually evolved into being Wikipedia (or perhaps a not-entirely-sensible combination of Wikipedia and Uncyclopedia) rather than being entirely eclipsed by Wikipedia, despite the latter being three years younger than h2g2. At least, for a brief while, I was able to rub electronic shoulders with similar fans, contribute to discussions, contribute articles and even sub-edit a few entries, actually spending time in the university library researching limericks when I should have been in an entirely different library researching lipopolysaccharides.
I was sitting in the back of my parents-in-law's car in Linlithgow on this day ten years ago when my dad texted me to tell me that Douglas Adams had died. This was way back before portable telephones regularly had the internet on them, so I had to wait until we got home to be able to access the internet to see the news confirmed. Considering the vigour of his ideas, Adams produced precious little actual content when he was alive, so was likely to produce even less when dead. In particular the recently-rejuvenated plans to create a decently-made feature-length feature film version of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed greatly threatened, though given the utter abomination which eventually emerged four years later it would definitely have been much better if the project had died, been cremated and then buried with Adams. There's been a great deal happening over the last decade which would have greatly benefited (and indeed been greatly benefited by the presence of) Adams, not least the final appearance of small, portable hand-held electronic devices through which anything useful (as well as a great many things of no use whatsoever) which mankind has ever committed to accessible electronic format could be retrieved, and indeed annotated, corrected or otherwise contributed to, all through the same devices.
Everyone has to die eventually, but every now and then someone dies a considerable time before they ought to, or at least might reasonably expect to. In cases like this we just have to make do with what we have, or hope that someone else (who is still alive) can have the ideas that the person who has died is unlikely to be able to effectively communicate, should they still even be capable of having them in the first place. If they are still capable of having them then this fact itself is one which would be particularly interesting to be able to communicate, but we can probably take the continual silence of everyone who has ever died as reasonable proof that they no longer have any ideas, or at least no ideas they feel to be worth making the effort of letting the rest of us know about.