You might think this is strange but the person who got me into ‘ideas’ and public policy wasn’t a politician or an academic — it was Douglas Adams.
As a teenager I devoured all of the Hitchhikers and Dirk Gently books finding it amazing that somebody could take all this stuff we were learning in science and turn it into such fantastical (and laugh out loud funny) prose. Adams attitude to plot was never to think why something should happen but instead, why not? Why shouldn’t a whale suddenly appear several miles above the surface of the earth and consider its existence while hurtling toward a nasty end? Why shouldn’t a spaceship be controlled by the intricacies and improbabilities of a bistro?
Then of course there was all the technology stuff. As I was reading the books I was just getting my head around computers. I’d just sent my first ‘email’, logged onto my first ‘website’ and we were using the Encarta CD-Rom to cheat at homework. The idea of a Guide didn’t seem so crazy to me.
But actually the book of Douglas Adams that I loved most was the one that sold the least. You might not even of heard of it. It’s called Last Chance to See and is co-written with Mark Carwardine. I remember reading it in a couple of sittings in the wood panelled silence of the library at school. I think I was bunking off cross-country running or something. It’s all about a fascination that Adams developed for species that are nearly extinct, those evolutionary ends of the line that we call ‘endangered’. I loved it and certainly developed a lot of my passion for environmental issues from the book.
When Radio 4 were broadcasting the ‘tertiary phase’ of Hitchhikers recently I missed a new episode and logged on to the BBC website to use their ‘listen again’ feature. I was too early though â€“ you could only listen again if you missed it by a day rather than an hour. So I found myself aimlessly following the links to the BBC message board and from there was pointed to a site that a poster called ‘Douglas Adams last lecture’ but which was really entitled ‘Parrots, the universe and everything’.
I thoroughly recommend it. It’s over an hour long and you’ll have to watch it in a tiny little window, but it’s worth it.
Of course, there’s an irony in seeing him talk about Last Chance to See as his last talk, but I donâ€™t think he’d mind — I think he’d get the gag.