Comedy

Remembering Towel Day 2017

If you’ve RSVP’d to the Save the Rhino event on Towel Day 2020, you might like to know what #Team42 got up to at previous Towel Days*.

The very first Stand Up for Towel Day was in 2017 in the basement of Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road.

My sister, Helen Puddefoot, very kindly made me a towel jacket.

The towel jacket, by Helen Puddefoot

Trystan Mitchell of the Big Foot Studio made us our beautiful logo.

Steve Cross interrogated the original Hitchhiker book to find out which day the world ended for Arthur Dent and the rest of the population of Earth in the book.

You can watch the set in full, here.

Steve Cross. Photo credit: I think possibly I took this with Steve’s camera.

There were Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters courtesy of the Waterstones bar, and Andy Mil of the Cocktail Trading Company, who very kindly gave me the recipe.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Photo Credit: Stuart Green

Paul Duncan McGarrity materialised as a sperm whale at a probability of 8,767,128 to 1 against.

Paul Duncan McGarrity. Photo credit: Steve Cross

Nell Thomas and Katie Overstall won our costume competition.

Kimberley Freeman, Nell Thomas, Katie Overstall and me. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And John Lloyd joined us to read some extracts from the book he wrote with Douglas in 1983, The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And everybody had a generally hoopy time.

Stand Up for Towel Day attendees. Photo credit: Steve Cross

This year’s Towel Day is going to be online and you can sign up to attend here.

And if you’d like to be first in the know about the event on May 25th, you can join our Facebook group.

I’ll be back with a review of 2018’s Towel Day events soon.

* Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour.

Pen and ink vs computer

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Is it harder to write now that it’s easier to write?

Hundreds of years ago, there was no digital editing, paper was expensive and to find a pen you had to butcher a peacock*.

*Or something. Turns out quill pens were made from goose, swan and turkey feathers.

19th century landowner, explorer and ‘first modern lesbian’, Anne Lister used to write her letters using every last inch of paper – it was pricey stuff.

In a ‘cross-written’ letter to her lover, Sibella Maclean, she turns the paper to write across what she’s already written.

In it she says, “I am an enigma even to myself and do excite my own curiosity.”

With thanks to the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

When writing materials were expensive, you would want to have a pretty good idea of what you wanted to say before committing quill to parchment.

Shakespeare, (who may have written King Lear during lockdown) never crossed a line, according to legend. But maybe he just had a massively inflated ego.

These days, you can just digitally vomit onto a word document, and there is no cost to you if the majority of it is garbage.

But is this a less satisfying way to write?

Some modern writers still swear by the pen and ink approach.

Neil Gaiman explained on The Tim Ferris Show that he usually writes his first drafts longhand, with notebook and fountain pen.

Nobody is ever meant to read your first draft.

Your first draft can go way off the rails, your first draft can absolutely go up in flames, you can change the age, gender, number of a character, you can bring somebody dead back to life.

Nobody ever needs to know anything that happens in your first draft. It is you telling the story to yourself.

Neil Gaiman

Then he extracts the best lines to type up..

Then, I’ll sit down and type.

I’ll put it onto a computer, and as far as I’m concerned, the second draft is where I try and make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.

Neil Gaiman

Creativity is about gumption as much as it’s about talent.

And there’s a lot to be said, psychologically, for doing things this way.

A second draft sounds more satisfying if the method is to select the best lines from a notebook, rather than deleting great swathes of digital text.

There might be something to slowing down and writing ‘analogue’ before committing finger to keyboard.

Stay In for Towel Day 2020

Stay In for Towel Day logo by Trystan Mitchell of The Big Foot Studio

Delighted to announce that Towel Day this year will be performed online in collaboration with Save the Rhino.

Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001).

On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour.

Due to the UK’s COVID-19 lock down, grab your towel and join us for ‘Stay in for Towel Day’ from the warmth and comfort of your own sofa.

Join me, Save the Rhino and some comedy pals for an evening of stand-up comedy, slam poetry, sketches, improv and more in homage to H2G2.

For more information, go to https://www.savetherhino.org/get-involved/events/stay-in-for-towel-day-2020/

Stand Up for Towel Day at the British Library

The cast of the original Hitchhiker series, with Douglas Adams

To celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the original radio broadcasts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the British Library are hosting a whole day of events.

Stand Up for Towel Day will be there, with Steve Cross, Cerys Bradley, The Underground Clown Club, Declan Kennedy, Jonathan Hearn and The Story Beast all performing homages to the late, great Douglas Adams’ work.

https://www.bl.uk/events/the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-at-42

This event is sold out but Stand Up for Towel Day will be back on international towel day, May 25th, in collaboration with Save the Rhino International.

Watch this space or join the Stand Up for Towel Day Facebook group for more information.

BBC Sounds Podcast Radio Hour: Hitchhiker Special

Me and Anne-Marie Luff looking hoopy af

42 years ago tomorrow (Wednesday, 8th March, 1978), a radio series called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was launched on BBC Radio 4 at 10.30pm. The author, Douglas Adams, was disappointed with the timing of the broadcast, as the timeslot was guaranteed to turn the programme into a ‘cult’ with a small but dedicated audience.

Happily, the programme gained a very large mainstream audience, and spawned books, a second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth radio series, a TV show and two films to date.

This week I was delighted to join Anne-Marie Luff at Radio 4 Extra to record a special ‘Podcast Radio Hour’ tribute to Hitchhiker’s at 42. Do give it a listen! We recommend a raft of wonderful audio fiction podcasts, including Diary of a Space Archivist, We Fix Space Junk and The Strange Case of Starship Iris. Anne-Marie and I also chatted to Mark Steadman, creator and host of Beware of the Leopard.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fx18

Level Up Human: Live at the Barbican

Earlier this year, Simon Watt and I recorded an episode of our podcast, Level Up Human, live at the Barbican in association with The Physiological Society. This episode was recorded with expert guests, marine biologist, writer and documentary maker, Helen Scales and KCL professor of developmental neurobiology, Robert Hindges.

Episode summary

First we look at human enhancements from around the world. Helen brings news of a man with an exo-skeleton allowing him to walk.

Robert tells us about developments in prosthetics which allow users to experience feedback from artificial limbs. And Rach has evidence that thumbs are getting faster.

Next: pitches from our guest experts, the studio audience and Mother Nature herself.

Robert wants a higher flicker frequency in the human eye. Helen suggests we all become extreme free divers with the breath holding abilities of the sperm whale.

The audience want improved cooling systems, reduced urination, lego wrists and multi-sensory anaesthesia. Simon pitches the arsenic resistant qualities of the Mono lake nematodes.

Which will make it onto the shortlist? And which will win? Have a listen to find out.

Mentioned this episode

Robot exo-skeleton: https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/exoskeleton-controlled-by-brain-signals-allows-disabled-man-to-walk/

Prosthetic sensory feedback: https://www.genengnews.com/news/prosthetic-leg-with-neural-sensory-feedback-shows-benefits-for-patients/

Thumbs are getting faster: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/02/ready-text-go-typing-speeds-mobiles-rival-keyboard-users

Obama swats fly during CNBC interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rbUH_iVjYw

The marabou stork which urinates on its legs to cool itself down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5NCubQutpE

Arsenic resistant mono lake nematodes: https://gizmodo.com/scientists-find-three-sex-arsenic-resistant-nematode-i-1838497056

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The BBC pips at An Evening of Unnecessary Detail

Last year I went along to Backyard Comedy club for a short talk about the BBC pips. Anyone who’s ever listened to BBC Radio 4 will be familiar with these six little bursts of noise, but where did they come from, and what do they mean?

With thanks to the Boring Conference for commissioning this talk in the first place, and to An Evening of Unnecessary Detail for inviting me to their night to recreate it, and for their work producing the video.

Level Up Human Series 2 with The Physiological Society

Level Up Human is a comedy science podcast asking a simple question: how would you redesign the human body?

My podcast, Level Up Human, is back for a brand new series!

The first series of the podcast was supported by the Wellcome Trust. This time we are working with the Physiological Society. We have a residency at the Barbican in London, and we’ve just launched the first episode of the new series.

Click here to listen

Episode details

Level Up Human is back redesigning the human body! This series we are supported by the Physiological Society. This episode was created with the help of the Society for Endocrinology, a world leading authority on hormones.

This episode was recorded at the Barbican as part of the Life Rewired season. Host Simon Watt and judge Rachel Wheeley are joined by Dr. Miles Levy, consultant endocrinologist and honorary associate professor at University Hospitals of Leicester. And by Dr. Clare Jonas, psychologist and blogger at That Thinking Feeling.

We asked Clare onto the podcast to talk about synaesthesia, a condition in which one sense is perceived as if by one or more additional senses. Clare tells us how she can ‘see’ the calendar, and explains loads more about synaesthesia: what it is, and how it would be great if everyone had it.

Miles is working on ‘liquid biopsies’ which might allow us to detect cancerous tumours via blood test in the future. He has lots to say on the pituitary gland, the ‘conductor of the endocrine-orchestra’ and explains how the condition acromegaly inspired the name of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

If you’d like to see us live, we’re in the middle of a residency at the Barbican in London. Please join us on October 28th and November 7th 2019. You can reserve free tickets at https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/level-up-human

Episode summary

The team have brought news stories from the world of science to share before we kick off the pitches. Clare explains why elephants are basically cancer-proof, Miles sings the praises of the pituitary, and Rach has tardigrade news.

Then we hear pitches for how we should redesign the human body from each of the panellists, the studio audience and Mother Nature herself.

Clare would like every human to have synaesthesia and Miles would like to tone down testosterone. The audience want to eat like termites, recognise faces better and have more control of adrenaline. Simon really wants to make humans stripy. Which suggestions will make it onto Rach’s shortlist?

Mentioned this episode

Synaesthesia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

Acromegaly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acromegaly

The Hyrax: does this sound like a video recorder rewinding to you?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF3rPvzTPF4

Video recorder, for the under 35s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videocassette_recorder

Tardigrades could hold the key to treating life-threatening injuries: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/01/could-an-extremophile-hold-the-secret-to-treatment-of-devastating-injuries/

Pareidolia (recognising faces in inanimate objects): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Prosopagnosia (face blindness): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia

Extracts

“The pituitary gland is the most under-rated gland in the whole body. It is the size of a pea and it’s the conductor of the endocrine-orchestra (thyroid gland, adrenal gland, ovaries, testes, pancreas and all other glands in the body.) It controls every hormone in the body. It’s the most important, yet the most misunderstood and ignored part of the body.” – Miles Levy

“Everyone should have synaesthesia. It’s a completely harmless, possibly even helpful neurological condition where your senses get mixed up. So you might see colours when you’re listening to music, you might taste words, or in my case, you might see the calendar and numbers and letters of the alphabet all laid out in space in front of you which is hugely useful.” – Clare Jonas

“Mums are better. Actually, Grandmothers are better. Grandparents have the knowledge. They remember the last time there was a famine and we had to eat those weird berries. So old people are basically libraries of the past. They are a repository of knowledge that we have to keep.” – Simon Watt

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Coming Up with ‘New’ Ideas

First of all, forget new ideas. There aren’t any. See through toaster? Already exists. Dusting drones? Done. DIY bath milk? What are you even talking about Harriet, that’s not a thing. Oh alright then, it is.

Whatever you come up with, it won’t be new. New is just old + old smooshed into a ball. All the way back to, “I wonder what happens if I bang these rocks together?”

Think about it. See through toaster = toaster + window. Dusting drones = drone + your Nan. You can work out the bath milk one.

Point is, you’ve got nothing. I’ve got nothing. Nobody’s got anything – every thought has been thought before. The good news is, it doesn’t matter. Smashing old ideas together is a valid way to become Elon Musk/Cardi B/any other entrepreneur you can think of.

How is it done though?

Years ago, this dude J.W.Young wrote a thing about how to come up with fresh stuff. He was in advertising, so we can assume he had to produce every day. He didn’t believe in ‘new’ either.

Here’s his method:

  1. Collect ‘materials’. Both general materials and those specific to what you’re making.
  2. Digest the stuff. Here we have to be like a ‘curious octopus.’ Pick each thing up, feel it all over like a randy, sorry, curious octopus. Feel for the meaning of it. Bring two things together, see how they fit. You’re looking for relationships and ‘synergies’.
  3. This is my favourite part. ‘Make absolutely no effort of a direct nature.’ I read this as: take the afternoon off and go to the pub.
  4. The ‘A-ha’ moment. Yes! This is what we’ve been waiting for. The ‘new’ idea hits us as we soak in a tub full of bath milk. There’s nowhere to write it down so we squirt it as best we can on the wall in Original Source Shower Gel.
  5. Idea meets reality. “The cold, grey dawn of the morning after.” We’ve all been there. See if the thing has legs. Tell people whose thoughts you value for feedback.

The good idea, according to Young, has ‘self-expanding qualities.’ If a friend thinks of things to add, you may be onto something. If they say nothing but nod politely as their eyes glaze gently over, you might want to drop it.

Coming back to his method years later, Young added that pursuing ‘general materials’ for the idea producer’s reservoir is best done as an end in itself, rather than whilst boning up for something.

With thanks to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for an article about Young and a bunch of other stuff on creativity, productivity and how to be a human in the world.