There’s an Argentinian cartoon from the late 1960s-early 70s, about a little girl called Mafalda, whose exclamation, ¡Paren el mundo, que me quiero bajar! (Stop the world, I want to get off!) became an internationally known phrase. As we all have moments in which we want to get off (I did, yesterday afternoon), perhaps it might be a good idea if you keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at hand?
As the title suggests, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the only – electronic – book you’ll ever need if you should actually succeed in getting off by hitching a ride on a passing UFO. It will also provide you with light relief while you’re waiting by the roadside, as it were, with your thumb stuck in empty air as those heartless aliens are driving by without stopping.
When I first read this book I was only fourteen and I greatly admired the author’s bizarrely original ideas like the opening scene in which the Englishman Arthur Dent lies down in the mud in the path of the yellow bulldozer about to demolish his house to make room for a bypass. The ensuing conversation between Dent and the council employee alone would make the book immortal… but there’s more to come: all the things that happen when Arthur Dent gets up from the mud, that is.
I have to admit that in admiring the opening scene so much at this first reading, I gave credit to Douglas Adams for something he didn’t deserve. Having now lived in England sufficiently long enough, I realise that Arthur Dent, when he lay down in front of the bulldozer, simply acted in the best English traditions. Douglas Adams must have seen plenty of examples to inspire him: hereabouts this passes for normal behaviour.
- Sitting in branches of trees like so many parakeets to prevent the council chopping the trees down? √
- Chaining yourself to some gates to blockade a company? √
- Donning handcuffs and chains to make a televised pilgrimage to Africa in order to atone for the sins of your slave-trading ancestor? √
Really, apart from writing to the Editor perhaps nothing could be more normal and commonplace in England than lying down in front of a yellow bulldozer to stop the council to demolish your house: only an Englishman could have written this book. But the yellow bulldozer is the last and only thing in the novel which you can describe as commonplace. Soon the Vogon construction fleet turns up to demolish our planet to make way for an inter-galactic bypass, and you can forget the adjective commonplace forever.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio series meant to end when Arthur Dent and his amiable alien friend, Ford Prefect, the contributor to the eponymous Hitchhiker’s Guide were thrown ‘overboard’ from the Vogon spaceship on which they stowed away. But as is often the case with series, a sequel was called for, leaving Douglas Adams in the unenviable position of having to come up with a feasible idea of how two people who had just been jettisoned into space could possibly survive to have further adventures. Cue the Infinite Improbability Drive and many infinitely improbable adventures… including discovering the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything.
A word of warning: as you already guessed from the Vogon incident, the Galaxy is not any safer or better organised than Earth. This is why The Hitchhiker’s Guide is indispensable for any clueless Earthlings trying to survive out there. And the most important advice the book can give you is printed right there on the cover in large, friendly letters:
I recommend you follow it at all times, especially in stressful moments like when the Vogons throw you out of the airlock.
In addition to the books – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had four sequels – you can still also actually buy the original radio series on a CD or indeed, as a download.
For when you next want to get off the world. Just remember: Don’t Panic! (And pack your towel.)