One of the nice things about being in Australia is living in the future, and getting to celebrate occasions before everyone else. My friends in Ireland are currently 9 hours behind, and people I know in the States are up to seventeen hours behind me.
This means that they all have to wait for May 25th to roll around in their own country while we get to start celebrating Towel Day right now.
Towel Day, for those of you wondering what the obsession with all things fluffy and drying in an annual celebration, held on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late and extremely great Douglas Adams, a man of many talents. He was not only a writer for books, radio and the screen, he was an environmental activist (he climbed Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit for Save the Rhinos and wrote Last Chance to See) and musician. Adams loved also technology and his essay – DNA/How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love The Internet – published in 1999, demonstrates he was a visionary thinker, who saw the amazing potential in the future that he is, sadly, not here to share with us.
Why a towel? Well, as any reader of the Hitchhiker’s Guide (referred to as H2G2 by some fans) can tell you, being someone who knows where their towel is marks you out as both a lover of his books and a person of forethought, gumption and organisational skills even – in fact, especially – if you are not in possession of any of those things.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet,: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
From Chapter 3 of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.
For those of you who would like to join in, you will find events over Australia and further afield on the Towel Day site. Venues in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney are offering discounts for people who wear a towel and the internet will celebrating too. It’s also an excellent excuse to curl up with your battered and beloved Adams’s books. Settle into your favourite comfy chair, with that cup of tea that Arthur Dent so longed for, and sink back into the worlds that he created. Just remember to keep your towel on while you do it.