Douglas Adams: the big 60th Birthday Party event

21 February 2012

By Jon Treadway

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On March 11th, there is going to be a large, raucous celebration of the life of Douglas Adams. It is forcing me to to confront the possibility that, ten and a half years on from his death, I think about the man a little bit too much. It is certainly true that I think about him more often than the average man in his (very) early thirties, but then I have not made it easy for myself to forget him.

My son’s middle name is Douglas, and as he approaches his third year on the planet and really begins to misbehave, my wife and I find that this is where the stress naturally lies (‘AlexanderowenDOUGLAStreadway! Stop that right now!!’). And in the last year, I produced a tribute to Adams for Save the Rhino and the PodDelusion and began work for the company that first published and continues to publish The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently novels. Not events which will conspire to make me forget. There is, though, a deeper reason behind my continued fascination: the universe simply won’t let me forget. Think I’m being paranoid? Consider the following:

  • After 4 months of waiting for a start date at Macmillan, I finally began work on the 10th anniversary of Adams' death.
  • My extension number, which was randomly allocated to me by computer, is 4242
  • Adams' close friends and family, who are hosting the party to celebrate his 60th birthday in the intimate surroundings of Hammersmith Apollo, have very generously & entirely unexpectedly asked me to join their steering committee

This kind of thing is too spooky for my liking and it conspires to make sure that Adams remains at the forefront of my mind.

There are, however, worse curses to labour under -  there are undoubtedly heavier rocks to push & steeper hillshitchhikers-cover to climb. At least in my case I get to commune with thousands of other folks who are similarly affected. Because it’s not just me. For someone who we lost over a decade ago, Adams remains incredibly popular. The reasons for this aren’t too hard to understand. I would submit that he is one of the finest writers the English language has ever produced, and that it matters not one whit that he never quite considered himself a professional writer, that he left only 7 complete novels, or that he wrote about robots and spaceships and time machines. His prose is gentle and smooth, full of lengthy sentences with not a word out of place, and it is deceptively easy to read his work given the trouble Adams had getting words on paper. He was funny too, wickedly so, and his interests were so varied that he wrote insightfully on myriad topics. Be it science, the environment, literature, pedants, religion, cups of tea or the evolution of books, it is hard to find a topic on which Adams did not provide a definitive observation. Just this week, I found my mind supplying quotes as I was thinking about the impact of eBooks on the publishing industry ('we sell one Guide billions and billions of times') and receiving some mildly unfortunate news from my mother which really could have waited until I saw her next (Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws). As a result, it is hard to think of other writers with so many entries in the popular lexicon as Adams. (Just off the top of my head I can think of the Babel fish, the Infinite Improbability Drive, Vogon poetry, Sirius Cybernetics Company, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Don’t Panic!, etc, etc). It is even harder to think of other writers who expressed so many ideas so ahead of their time (for example, the central concept of Hitchhiker's is basically a combination of Wikipedia and the Internet, with a dose of iPad thrown in for good measure). His 60th birthday party will be a truly special event – the list of those willing to give up their time in his memory is extraordinary. All of the proceeds go to Save the Rhino, a charity of which Adams was patron, and it provides a unique opportunity for fans to experience the atmosphere of the legendary parties that Adams threw in his Islington home. So if like me and 3000 others, you find Adams still rends thee in the gobberwarts, it is worth feeding your own grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal to get hold of one of the few remaining tickets. You will want to tell your grandchildren you were there because, as much as anything in life is certain, a small part of their world, like ours, will be forever Adams.