Happy Towel Day


The loss of Douglas Adams on 11th May 2001 led to the creation of a celebration of all things Hitchhiker a couple of weeks later. Today, then, is the 15th Annual Towel Day.

To celebrate (or commemorate) I wrote the following pastiche, which was for a Birthday reading at Southcart Books in Walsall. It went down quite well.

I should point out that I have included part of a brief exchange, word-for-word, from the late Mr Adams. Given his (and my) habit of anecdotal repetition, some of you may have heard it before. If not, share and enjoy:

A Question, at last…

A Vogon, a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri and a hyper intelligent shade of the colour blue known as a hooloovoo walked into a bar.
Being intangible, the colour passed through it without incident while the small furry creature stopped to use it as a scratching post. Unused to the concept of clothing, it was obviously quite irritated by the freshly printed Extra-extra-large tee-shirt, emblazoned with the the legend “I Voted for Stupid”, that enveloped its extra-extra-small body. The Vogon, meanwhile, walked up to the bartender and shouted out his order.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam!”

“I beg your pardon?” Said the mixologist, clearly upset by some perceived slight.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam.” the Vogon repeated. “Now, madam!”

“Madam?”

“Yes, madam, now, madam!” said the purple-faced Vogon, slamming a meaty fist on the bar with the force of a large wet medicine ball.

Shrugging off the disgruntled order, the bartender set about making the drink, vigorously shaking a bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit into a pre-chilled measure of Santraginean water. The kersploosh-kersploosh-kersploosh of three Mega-gin cubes was quickly replaced by the bubbling sound of their rapidly diffusing benzine payload, even as a geyser of Fallian marsh gas erupted from the hollow tube that rested at the bottom of the tall glass. With a flip and a reverse flip the talented mixologist spiralled a glutinous globule of Qualactin Hypermint essence into the cocktail, breathing deeply of its heady vapours before revealing, with a flourish, an Algolian Suntiger tooth which, with a satisfying plink-fizz ignited the mixture with a dazzling burst of white-hot sunlight that was immediately quenched by a fine sprinkling of zamphour. To this a slice of lemon and the piece de la resistance, an olive, were added. Setting the carefully prepared drink before the customer, the bartender promptly threw its contents into the offending Vogon’s face, where the highly corrosive mixture exfoliated the fat alien’s outermost layer of blubber.

As the room fell silent, the hooloovoo turned to the small furry creature beside him and flickered manically, silently asking why exactly the Vogon had called the bartender madam when it was clearly pangendered.

“It’s the sound he makes whenever his triple chins crash into his face,” explained the Alpha Centauran.

“Happens every time I speak, madam,” said the Vogon, looking around for the nearest towel.

Casting an inquisitive ray of light around the room, the hooloovoo settled its focus on a dark corner, flashing in excitement as it spotlit their quarry.
“Hey, torchie, not so bright!” Said Zaphod Beeblebrox, whose single head, feathered lime fedora and turned up collar were about as inconspicuous as the galaxy’s most narcissistic narcissist could muster. “My left side is the good one this week.”

What can you say about Zaphod Beeblebrox…? Adventurer, ex-hippy, good-timer, fantastically tactless, manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, overarchingly arrogant, if not completely out to lunch, inventor of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe for the forty sixth time.
A man so Machiavellian, in fact, that he betrayed even himself, become President of the Galaxy just so he could top it by becoming the most wanted man in the universe.

In the wake of his eventual capture, his extremely well publicised multiverse-wide execution and his subsequent lecture tour across the length and breadth of the Galaxy, vicious rumours began to circulate that he might actually have done it all on purpose.

Quick as a flash the hooloovoo was at Zaphod’s side while its furry sidekick struggled with the tail of its tee-shirt as it scuttled across the floor.

Behind them the mighty Karx, dressed in the formal leathers of the Animatractic Courier Corps marched, duck-like, with a creak, a waddle, a creak and a very unsightly frown.

“Beeblebrox?” He shouted. “Madam.” His chin flapped.

“Shush. Cool it, stubby. I’m in-cog-neato! Do you have the package?”

“Yes, madam,” said Karx, unstrapping a thick rubbery rucksack which his client had mistaken for a hump. “If you could just… madam.”

The Vogon dumped the bag on the table, pulling out a lengthy sheet of pink paper for Zaphod to sign. The Alpha Centauran produced a similar sheet in green, while the hyper intelligent colour projected one in a fetching shade of blue.

“Who shall I sign it to?” Zaphod asked, producing a gold stylus and a third arm from the folds of his coat.

“No dedication,” said the Vogon, “madam.”

“To Tim,” said the Alpha Centauran, attracting a glower from his towering companion.

“How do you spell that?” Zaphod asked.

“T-I-9-M,” squeaked the furry fan. “The nine is silent.”

“Cool. That’s the second most unusual request I’ve had…” The ex-President paused, waiting to be asked about the first. An awkward silence followed, broken only by the strobing of the hooloovoo, desperate to get an autograph of its own.

With the papers signed, Karx let out an almost joyous “Ha! Madam!” Before gathering the triplicate receipts and stuffing them deep inside his leathers.

Gingerly, Zaphod reached out towards the rucksack, breaking the beam of its light-zip. Losing its rigidity, the sack’s sides fell away to reveal as rusty robotic head.

“One heap of junk, As requested,” said Ti9m. “Although we don’t see why you bothered.”

“This…” said Zaphod “…is something I spent years looking for. It was under my nose all the time. Boring, irritating, totally unremarkable.”

“I can hear you,” said the head, it’s triangular eyes glowing with a dim light. “Although I really wish I couldn’t.”

“What is it, then?” Ti9m asked.

“This is my metal mate Marvin, the oldest, wisest, most soul-numbing robot in the history of the universe.”

“I can still hear you,” said the head with a loud electronic sigh.

“And?” Karx asked, letting out a barely audible double-madam.

“And he had the question all along.”

“The question?”

“Yeah. To Life, the Universe, Everything.”

“THE question?” Ti9m asked.

“Yeah. I spent years finding the answer, only to discover I needed the question to make any sense of it.”

“Pardon me for pointing out the exceedingly obvious, but you do realise they’re mutually exclusive?” Said Marvin. “You can’t know the question and the answer at the same time.”

“It’s okay,” Zaphod reassured him, “the answer’s in my other head.”

“You know, it’s at times like this I’m grateful that I still suffer the phantom pain of the faulty diodes that used to run down my left hand side.”

“Time to end the pretence, chrome-top. I know you have the question.”

“You know? You barely uprocess a hundred million bits per second. How can you possibly know anything with such a slow brain. Now if you really want to know things, you need a brain the size of a planet.”

“Yeah, exactly. You have a brain the size of a planet.”

“Oh, forgive me. You know what I just told you. Give it a few moments, I’m sure the memory will fade. Unlike mine, I never…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not really stupid Marvin. I commissioned you.”

“You commissioned me? You’re telling me you were responsible for initiating my miserable existence in the first place? I hated you before. Now I positively loathe you.”

“Yeah? Thanks. It’s mutual. Thing is, when I wired my two brains back together I worked it out. Brain the size of a PLANET.”

“Yes, well done. You still remember. I can only surmise that you finally got some treatment.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thing is the question had to be calculated by a computer the size of a planet. A computer as big and as powerful as the Earth.”

“Earth, madam?” Karx was startled by the name. A startled Vogon is not a pretty sight, particularly when the ends of its unibrow stand up as if they just received an electrostatic charge. “Didn’t that get demolished by one of our Constructor Fleets?”

“Yeah, my bad. I was popular that day and accidentally signed the order. It’s not like I’d make THAT mistake again. Still, I did make up for it by approving the order to build Earth 2. I just didn’t think the interface would be built into Marvin here.”

“All that redundant capacity,” said Marvin, “and it was all for the sake of a question that nobody is going to like.”

“So what’s the question?” Ti9m asked, leaning in so that the old robot might share the information.

“Not for you guys,” said Zaphod. “Shove off. You’ve got your money. Now skedaddle.”

“Really?” Ti9m bristled and his nose twitched angrily. “After all we’ve…”

“He’s right, madam,” said Karx. “We have the receipt. Duty calls elsewhere.”

Cursing, the Alpha Centauran turned on his heel, accompanying the shade and the Vogon from the premises while muttering something about never voting for “that bastard” ever again.

“So,” said Zaphod, alone with The robot head at last. “Spill.”

“I’m afraid any lubricants that may have occupied my cranial cavities have long since been drained away,” said Marvin, “more’s the pity.”

“The question, metal man,” said Zaphod impatiently. “What is it?”

“Anticlimactic. Really. The deep, but brief sense of achievement I experienced in working it out was quickly overcome by the sheer pointlessness of knowing what it is.”

“Yeah but you’re the only one that worked it out, right?”

“So? Just because it happens to be the single most difficult task that might ever be undertaken by any hyper-intelligent being in the entire history of the universe. Just because understanding it is entirely dependent upon understanding the entire structure of life, the universe, and everything, doesn’t make it exciting. Or useful.”

“Yeah, but it is valuable, right?”

“Valuable? To the academic community I suppose. They might find a use for it, but only to populate a fresh lesson plan or to justify a lecture tour. Not that you ever need an excuse.”

“So WHAT. IS. THE. BLOODY. QUESTION?”

“What is the square root of -1?”

“I don’t know. Why answer a question with a question? I don’t want games, Marvin, I want answers.”

“No,” Marvin gave an even longer electronic sigh than earlier, “you wanted the question. That was it. So utterly underwhelming that you skipped over it without a moment’s hesitation. A bit like me really. Hmm. Maybe I am the embodiment of the question. Maybe it’s sheer uselessness is a metaphor for the yawning void that fills my neural pathways from each interminably long second to the next.”

“You mean the square root thing? That’s it?”

“Yes. I told you it was a useless piece of information.”

“Marvin?” Zaphod sighed. 

“Yes?”

“I’m switching you off now.”

“Hallelujah.”

All characters are copyrighted to the estate of Douglas Adams, and no intention to infringe these rights is intended.

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Published by

adrianmiddle

Adrian’s life in publishing began as a prolific fanzine editor, producing some 300 issues in the early 1990s. His first book was Shelf Life, an anthology published in memory of his friend Craig Hinton. He then spent several years writing strategies and policy documents for the government before establishing an independent press, Fringeworks, which he tries so hard to keep going.

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