When I was little two of my aunties worked in care homes, and I would sometimes be dragged along to visit if there was a teacher training day or some such. My mum and my aunts, in their trinity of wisdom, would sit me down in front of a bookcase full of second-hand novels, knowing this would keep me out of trouble for hours. On one of these visits I happened to pick up a battered paperback that was to change my life: it was The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
I think I must have been around 10 or 11. That book coursed through my neural pathways, upgrading my brain in all sorts of exciting ways. My sense of humour changed drastically, moving from the Russ Abbott Show to Monty Python, from the Chuckle Brothers* to Blackadder. I began to think about the universe and my place in it, and got my first real introduction to science-fiction outside of Star Wars.
Ford Prefect became something of a hero to me, with his responsibility avoidance and blithe confidence. Ford didn’t want to save the Universe, he wanted to go to parties and get smashed. He wanted to do stuff and write things and not worry too much about the consequences of those things (like describing the Earth as “mostly harmless”). He was cool and interesting and didn’t quite fit in on our planet, and when you’re a teenager, these attributes are extremely attractive. Still are, really.
I read all the books in a fever of excitement, and then nearly expired with glee when I heard that there was not only a TV series but the radio series that had come first. The fact that each version veered from somewhat familiar to wildly different only pleased me more.
I look back on it now and I think I was supremely lucky to be introduced to Douglas Adams at such an impressionable age. Adams was witty and wise and a fantastically clever writer, whose tangents took you all over the wildly unlikely galaxy, often just to give you a punch line and something to think about. As I got older I read some of his thoughts on science, the natural world and Atheism, and much of what he said helped me to sort out my own confused thoughts on, yes, life, the Universe and everything. Just today I came across an article where Bop Ad talks a frightening amount of sense about the internet, and this was some 12 years ago.
When he died, 10 years ago today, I was a little bit heartbroken; I felt like I’d lost a hero, and the world had lost someone who knew more about what was coming to us than was reasonable or sensible. But I suppose, as I look back now on exactly how much of an impact that well-loved, battered paperback had on me, you don’t ever really lose your heroes. I still know where my towel is.
If you would like to listen to Marty and I blathering on about how totally froody Hitch-Hiker’s is, you can have a listen to the Box Room Special Number 42.
*Alright, to be fair, I never did like the Chuckle Brothers. Do now though, weirdly.