Media, Sci-Tech

May 25: Don’t forget your towel

By Branko Brkic 25 May 2010

You might be wondering why that geeky guy at your office has brought a towel to work today. DON’T PANIC! He’s a hoopy frood, just paying tribute to the late, great Douglas Adams.

In Colombia they’re celebrating Dia de la toalla. In Turkey it’s called Havlu Günü. Throughout ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha people are honouring sci-fi author Douglas Adams in Towel Day events.

Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy” (initially created as a BBC radio comedy) died a few months shy of his 50th birthday on 11 May 2001. Three days later, bereft fan D Clyde Williamson posted the following on an online forum: “Douglas Adams will be missed by his fans worldwide. So that all his fans everywhere can pay tribute to this genius, I propose that two weeks after his passing (May 25, 2001) be marked as ‘Towel Day’. All Douglas Adams fans are encouraged to carry a towel with them for the day. So long Douglas, and thanks for all the fish!”

That was almost 10 years ago, and the tradition is still going strong, brought to greater prominence via social networking sites (yes, #towelday is trending on Twitter).

But just what’s so special about a towel? The idea for the event pays homage to the many uses of the item detailed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Forget about those warm, fluffy exemplars of luxury and comfort you read about in up-market store catalogues. The humble towel has many, many more interesting attributes. The Guide itself explains these best, if at some length:

“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 vapours; 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-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker 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 hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker 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 know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

If the chances of you ever journeying to the desert world of Kakrafoon or being accosted by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal are remote, then website Gnews has a list of 42 Useful Things to do with a Towel (although, admittedly, most of these uses still speak largely to the intrepid intergalactic traveller, so don’t bother clicking through if you’re  the stay-at-home type).

Of course, Adams has left us a legacy that’s a whole lot more just than an ode to the common towel. As well as the comedic genius evident throughout the Guide’s various incarnations, Last Chance to See (co-written with zoologist Mark Carwadine, about various journeys to track down virtually extinct animals), is a more serious offering, and the author’s favourite work. He also had a lot of interesting thoughts about god (or rather, the absence of god), and the development of the internet.

Nevertheless, it’s fantastically apt that we choose to remember Adams through Towel Day. As he showed so brilliantly, a towel is never just a towel – it’s what your imagination (not to mention sense of humour) makes of it. Today, he’s still helping the world laugh. And the imaginary fairies at the bottom of the garden know, we need it. So, let’s raise our towels in one hand and our Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters in the other, and toast Douglas Adams – the hoopiest frood of them all.

By Theresa Mallinson

Read more: Towel Day website, Wikipedia, Wired, Gnews, Douglas Adams website

Photo of Douglas Adams: Michael Hughes


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