Monday, 5 March 2012


11 March 2012 would have been the 60th birthday of the writer and thinker Douglas Adams, author of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, lover of Apple Macs. This only slightly derivative story is by way of a wee tribute...

The assault fleet of the Galaxia Media Corporation hung silently in orbit, waiting. Below, the focus of their long mission, the last planet to provide a home to the almost entirely extinct platitudeypus, beloved of publishing companies and lecture circuits everywhere.
So important, so vital was this mission, that the entire operation was being beamed back to their homeworld as a reality TV series, the longest running in their planet’s history. In truth, most people preferred the first few series before all the staged wars and jacuzzi planets. Initially, the advertising revenue from the show had funded the tanks and guns. Now it was lucky to cover the freeze dried ice-cream.
Admiral Fnurt wearily straightened his lapels and walked on to what he was beginning to feel was the rather optimistically named Battle Deck.
“Admiral on deck!” chirped a well groomed lieutenant.
“Well Captain..are the forces preparing to strike?”
Captain Zstash shifted awkwardly in his very comfortable Captains chair.
“Well...yessss...but me and the lads we was thinking”
Fnurt sighed.
“Well it’s not a very nice day is it? I mean looking at those monitors. It’s pouring down.”
“I fail to see what this has to do with our planned attack.”
“You don’t want to turn up on a wet day is all I’m saying. None of the lads have got macs or anything...and might be sunny tomorrow. Sets a better tone for an invasion.”
Fnurt had known this was how his day was going to end up.
“This is not a holiday Captain. We cannot afford to wait.”
“You’d kick yourself it it was nice tomorrow though. I mean wouldn’t you?”
Fnurt had read a book earlier in the week, “Just Managing”, it suggested that you do the thing that you are most dreading first in the day because then the rest of the day would be a breeze. It did not allow for the possibility that the thing you are dreading most might take all day.
“Captain we have been orbiting this planet for the last ten years. And every time we are ready for attack...something goes wrong.”
“Oh come on sir. That last time was hardly my fault.”
“Well I can’t see how your emergency dental treatment would take priority over the mission.”
“I lead from the front Sir. If I’m not there the lads are all over the place.”
The assembled Generals on the Battle Bridge nodded in agreement, one or two dropped their weapons or held them upside down to illustrate their incompetence. Fnurt was fairly sure most of that was intentional.
“Captain we were here two years before you mentioned you’d forgotten to pack all the attack saucers.”
Fnurt winced at this memory, this remained one of the most popular episodes of the TV show.
“And what about the time before that when you couldn’t attack because your task force were all being fitted for new trousers?”
“But I think you’ll agree they looked a treat”
Second most popular episode. Third was the first time they found a jacuzzi planet.
“We are here to take this planet...rain or no rain.”
“It is awfully heavy rain.”
Admiral Fnurt recalled another lesson from his book.
“Now is not the time for us to pick the low hanging fruit. Moving forward I want us all singing off the same hymn sheet. Today, we attack!”

So, what was it that inspired the heroic Galaxia media empire armies to brave the near torrential rains? What could be worth travelling halfway across the universe for? Well, money obviously. The platitudeypus first came to prominence just over a century ago, indigenous to several hundred very similar carbon based planets it has since been hunted to near extinction not because it tastes particularly nice or looks good as mittens, but largely because it irritates many lifeforms to the point of violent fundamentalism. And that is because this bafflingly literate beast’s many and varied mating calls sound exactly like the sort of vague half baked false wisdom that people really like to hear in times of personal crisis. So, while a male platitudeypus might be frantically signalling all females within a five mile radius, it would sound to our ears like he was suggesting that “time heals all wounds” or “ah well, it wasn’t meant to be”. The fact that medicine and surgery are more likely to heal wounds than letting them fester over time, or the notion that you are solely responsible for your own destiny and frequent mistakes is really neither here or there - who likes to hear that miserable rationalism when you can listen to a reassuring platitudeypus instead. After all it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. As indeed, is almost anything.

It only took one savvy entrepreneur to set the whole nightmare in motion; by recording the mating calls of the platitudeypus, naturalist Fillian Trantantor realised he had enough material to release an audiobook on increasing your self esteem through interpretive dance. He released “Like No One Is Watching” on Monday, was able to quit being a naturalist by Wednesday, and by Thursday teatime, the platitudeypus was being pursued by publishers across the galaxy.

Behavioural discoveries came thick and fast; herds of captive platidudeypi would synchronise the style and theme of their mating calls to the point where within a week you could almost guarantee that you would have enough material for a book on management theory, the power of positive thinking or relationship counselling. The outlay was low, a few leafy cages with a tank full of aquatic insects, and with just a sprinkling of judicious ghost-writing, you could be hitting the bestseller lists in no time.

As is so often the case, the popularity of the platitudeypus became it’s ultimate undoing. Ruthless publishing companies scoured the universe for ever more creative mating calls in an effort to continually reinvent the self-serving self-help boom; mighty media empires turned their guns on one another in the race for supremacy, with whole galaxies laid waste; households paid furtive platitudeypus poachers to provide them with their own home based oracle, always there with helpful though largely vapid and insubstantial advice; whole countries began to interpret the messages of the beasts in wildly opposing fashions and self actualisation wars broke out all across the universe.  However, more problematic by far, was the attention of gangs of increasingly angry rationalists who were incredibly ticked off by the popularity of such patently ridiculous advice and the damage it seemed to be causing; this was especially galling given that its very existence appeared to be an evolutionary fluke.

Indeed on one planet, a crack team of fundamentalist rationalists hunted the platitudeypus to extinction for no other reason than they were sick of people taking its advice on low-carbohydrate diets and self worth so seriously all the time. And sure enough, once it had gone, and the final platitudeypus had been stubbornly parboiled and served on a nice bed of rice, everything did actually get a lot better and there were less disagreements and upsets all round; but the planet became so monumentally grey and dull that no one even remembers where it is anymore.

Meanwhile, on the planet below, the imminent arrival of the Galaxia media empire assault fleet had not gone unnoticed, partly because the planet was very self conscious and had telescopes trained on the skies to see if anyone was looking at them, but mostly because the Galaxia media empire had started beaming down adverts for their cutting edge, reasonably priced, market cornering services. Most people were at least mildly interested in the introductory offers, but could have done without the attack saucers. Here and there, disillusioned by the brutal assault on their world, or perhaps just unhappy that their area was not within coverage of Galaxia services, pockets of resistance were gathering.

Former civil servant Hershel Genshburger decided that the time had come to take a side, and having seen an advert for his local resistance group in a newspaper shop window, he turned up at the secret meeting and was rather surprised to find that there were plenty of biscuits and tea available. But not quite as many burly ex-military explosives experts and former special-ops as he might have hoped.
“And are you connected to any other groups?” asked Hershel, helping himself to another ginger nut.
“Sorry. Could you sign in please.” said The Secretary, passing a notepad and pen over to Hershel. “Thanks!”
“Well....” said The Chairman, “There’s a group up the road in Plantard. And one down in Lurg. Jessie’s sister runs that one.”
“Okay. Any national networks? What’s the plan?”
“Well...its really still developing at the moment. We’re hoping to have some sort of conference.” explained The Secretary.
“A conference?”
“Yes...then we can workshop it all out. Figure out exactly what it is we want to do?”
The Chairman nodded and smiled as The Secretary minuted this point.
“What you want to do?” Hershel looked around at the collection of rather pleasant elderly folk. “What you want to do?! Surely you want to get ready to fight all the alien invaders and get them off the planet! That’s what a resistance movement do. They resist!”
“Told you!” said a lady by the tea urn, “I told you if we said we were a resistance movement that people would expect more from us.”
“Well this is precisely one of the reasons we need a conference.” said The Chairman “An open forum to discuss all of these issues and come to some sort of consensus.”
“There doesn’t need to be a consensus...” said Hershel “The spaceships are landing right now...”
 “I mean...maybe it isn’t about resistance at all. Maybe it’s about negotiation and understanding between ourselves and the attackers.”
At this point, The Treasurer could hold his tongue no longer.
“I think we’re all concentrating on the wrong issues. Think about the carbon footprint these things are making.”
The Chairman shook his head angrily, gesturing helplessly to Hershel in attempt to make it clear that this was old ground, well trodden.
“I honestly think that an organised group with an agreed mandate and agenda has more chance of influencing the decision making of the invaders. That’s what we’d be striving for at this conference.”
The Treasurer threw his arms up in the air.
“Oh! You and your conference.”
“Strawberry Tart?” offered the lady at the urn. Hershel smiled and shook his head.
“No...ehm…thanks very much for that.” he said, walking slowly back out of the community hall towards the battle scarred and burning streets “Probably all a bit much for me to take on in one go.”
“No problem. We’re here every week.” said The Secretary “Oh! But not next week. There’s a bingo night on. And Jessie’s got her appointment.”
“Now then,” said The Chairman, “arrangements for the AGM....”

The first of the attack saucers exploded just after lunch on Friday. A delegation of Galaxia Media executives were on their way to address a peace conference, when the rain had really started chucking it down. The hard water and acidity level of this planets precipitation did not at all agree with the Galaxia Assault Fleet’s fusion generators. Within minutes, an entire squadron of anti-matter propelled saucers starting malfunctioning. It really was very heavy rain. The planet didn’t stand a chance.

As the world below exploded, drifting swiftly out across the dark emptiness in waves of dust and rock, Admiral Fnurt sighed and turned to the camera.
“Ah well. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.”

Douglas Adams said many wonderful things, among them this very poetic defence of science and secular reason,
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it as well."
I'm a non-believer myself, but in our increasingly polarised times, I'd certainly like to think that Douglas Adams wasn't suggesting that anyone who does believe in fairies is an idiot, and that maybe, it is really up to individuals what they do and see in their garden...providing they don't start berating other people for not seeing things too. I've eh..I've run out of metaphor.

Enjoy some of my very own Vogon Poetry.

Enjoy "Shada" a lost Doctor Who, which Douglas Adams wrote for the BBC .

Get tweets from "The Meaning of Liff", Adams dictionary of things there should be words for.

Here is an episode of the bizarre childrens TV show "Dr Snuggles" written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.