For my 42nd birthday, i had a
Life, the Universe, and Everything party
– with as many ingredients as possible from all the versions of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and everything else Douglas Adams ever did or said. For a little while i called the party “Andrew is the answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything”. But that seemed a bit ostentatious, so i changed it to “Andrew, he’s just this guy, you know?” Here are some of my ideas, with a few words about i made them happen (or failed to):
My first and most important idea. There’s a whole page about what I did and didn’t do here: Talking doors – how I made my doors talk just like the Heart of Gold
I wanted each room to feature a different version of the story (with the books available on every surface, beside every bottle). So i bought and borrowed as many copies of the books as i could, and at least one each of the following which i played on televisions and computers throughout the house:
- The complete radio series five seasons now, plus the bonus interview disc. I had them playing in a loop out to the front street, so as everybody arrived (and as passers-by passed by) they got to hear a snippet of story.
- quotes feed I downloaded the Hitchhikers Guide Quotes app, but it didn’t have enough quotes for me. So i made my own collection of Douglas Adams quotes, and wrote a bash script to scroll them slowly and continuously up a funny monochrome monitor i rescued from a skip once.
- The six television episodes
- The movie
- The books
- The radio scripts I bought my first ever copy (the US edition) from a second hand bookshop the week before the pary, and then a friend gave me a very battered copy of the first UK edition for a present. hurrah! I planned a reading. Sometime around one or two am, i thought, half a dozen stayers could drink port and play characters. but i forgot. we had the perfect cast too, sitting around in the kitchen at 2am.
- The game For the 20th anniversary of Hitchhikers, the BBC remixed the infocom game (which i loved when i was 15) and gave it a flash interface. It’s really good. On the BBC site you get a lot of headers and sidebars, but you can go straight to the game and open your browser full-screen: Hitchhikers infocom game remixed. I worked out how to get the game to fill your browser window – it’s heaps better! It’s great. The hints are as funny as the game (and much quicker!), the artwork competition is great, and there is lots of BBC hitchhikers stuff to listen to.
Food and drink:
- Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster A fan wrote a letter asking Douglas how to mix a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. His answer: I’m afraid it is impossible to mix a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in Earth’s atmospheric conditions, but as an alternative I suggest you buy up the contents of your local liquor store, pour them into a large bucket and re-distil them three times. I’m sure your friends would appreciate this. Dry ice! The best value party addition ever! Get it from wherever compressed gasses are sold (also the sorts of places you hire welding gear). Should be one in any city, get the pellets for about $5/kilo (AUD, 2012 prices). I got ten kilos, which was much more than i needed for a party of fifty people plus a couple of days doing dry ice experiments. It’s cold enough to hurt, but not cold enough to cause serious damage. Don’t swallow it. but gargling is fun, if you’re very careful.
- jynnan tonnyx
- Something that tastes almost exactly unlike tea I wanted one of those 80’s office click clack tea and coffee dispensers, with instant coffee and instant tea (!!)… but i couldn’t find anywhere that still had one, and i can’t even find a photo on google.Hint: the difference between a regular gin and tonic and a pan-galactic gargle blaster? a few drops of green food colouring and a teaspoon of dry ice!! (do what you want for the algolian sun-tiger’s tooth)
- Algolian Zybatburger I don’t think these are actually in any of Douglas’ work. but there was a stage play of Hitchhikers which sold them in the intermission.
- Table full of food, like the one where we meet the mice The mice are the main thing. I got mice. I got a lot of food too. People noticed the food more than the mice, i think.
- Milliways cocktail menu It is shown, very clearly, in the television episode. I didn’t get around to making one, but hit the pause button and it would be easy to make an exact copy.
Around the house:
- We apologise for the inconvenience
- demolition notice
- chesterfield sofa I actually own a chesterfield sofa. An old one which i would have been happy to leave out in the weather for a day and a night. unfortunately it rained like there was a rain god at the party (hey, nobody came dressed as him!), so the sofa stayed inside instead of bobbing on the eddies in the yard.
- Whale I thought it would be easy to find a blow-up whale. But no. The only reasonably good-looking sperm whales i found all belonged to Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth. I’m sure i could have borrowed one from wherever they store them if I had time. But i didn’t, so i was stuck with this guy.
- petunias Within a week of the party the whale had untangled itself and gone for a swim down the highway. But more than a month later, the petunias are still flowering, suspended above the front path.
- dolphins I tried to get all the dolphin kitsch i could. posters and videos and books and bath toys and anything that had a dolphin on it. I think that’s the right vibe. And of course our actual fish had something to say.
- mice I bought two white mice, and put them in a fishtank on the kitchen table surrounded by food – and didn’t take a single photo. I was really hoping that I could find somebody who wanted some mice, some ten year old having a birthday whose parents wouldn’t mind. but around 1am, as Elwyn was leaving the party, he asked about them and I asked if he wanted them. He said yes. took them home. a month later Frankie and Benjy are living happily with him!
- Rubber duckies The captain of the B-Ark says “you’ve never alone when you’ve got a rubber duck”. Douglas loved baths (he was very tall, i guess having less gravity around was a relief)
- Towels. Pints of beer. Nuts
- Vogon poetry competition I actually got two excellent Vogon poems as birthday cards (as well as a poem by Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, who died in 2004). But Nicole thought of having a room (or a bit of a room) with paper and green textas where party-goers could write vogon poetry. The best bit would be the judging – around midnight I thought, with earplugs handed out to everybody in the room, and the winner being the person who causes most non-gargle-blaster related deaths.
- Total Perspective Vortex The toilet! Such a perfect idea. I had a few thoughts about painting the walls with stars or decorating the room in some crazy Escher perspective. And on another tack, I actually had a Bible, a Koran, and a Bhagavad-Gita ready to put in there for you to contemplate. But in the end, the idea on its own was enough.
- Disaster Area concert I spent months trying to imagine a way that an actual rock band could play. Put them on the roof? build a perspex cube in the lougeroom? Have a live webcam from a heavy metal concert somewhere in the world (surely at any given moment there is somebody webcasting a heavy metal show?) In the end, Cathy and Joe independantly came up with the genius solution – a diorama!!! Kate made it, a shoebox with a slit in one end so you can see the band playing far away on the horizon. We thought of having a set of headphones to put on while you looked as well… (I don’t have a photo, because there was only room for your eyes to look out of the bunker, not a camera)
- The wikkit gate I didn’t think of this one at all – but Matt’s birthday present was this excellent Wikkit Gate
- procol harum : Grand Hotel This album was the inspiration for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I’ve listened to it a couple of times, but i haven’t made the connection yet.
- the Eagles : One Of These Nights : Journey of the Sorcerer For the (now very recognisable) theme music, Douglas wanted something “electronic, with a banjo” to give an “on the road, hitchhiking feel”. This is the track he chose. At the time, a lot of Eagles fans didn’t even recognise it out of context.
- Pink Floyd Douglas was a huge Pink Floyd fan, and all the band members became friends. They played at one of this birthday parties. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is in fit 3 of the radio series.
- The Beatles Douglas was also a huge Beatles fan. Read Neil Gaiman’s book for the excellent story about the day Douglas went to see Paul McCartney play in a pub.
- Staying Alive why did i have this written down?
- and of course, Disaster Area Find a place where you don’t want anybody to hang out. play incredibly loud thrash metal there.
I don’t think anybody actually did it (because i have high-quality friends who know to give a present when they have a good one and not feel guilty if they don’t have an idea), but i asked anybody who did feel guilty about wanting to give me something to give it to Douglas’ favourite charity, Save the Rhino
- clivebanks.co.uk (the scripts to the radio series!)
Thanks to Julian, Kate, Nicole, Fraser, Josh, and Cathy for lots of help and good ideas. And to everybody who themed up, even if that just meant carrying a towel.