Monday, April 21, 2014

Hitchhiking into the past

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty much taken over by earnest online excavations of my childhood cultural experiences. The biggest shock came when I discovered that the postcode of BBC TV Centre was not, despite Noel Edmonds’ repeated assurances, W12 8QT after all. Those of you rather older than I will fail to grasp the extent to which this shatters the foundations of my faith: those younger might ask what a postcode is.


Also, thanks to the efforts of Messrs Berners-Lee, Zuckerberg, et al, I got embroiled in a discussion about the BBC’s (mis)use of the above picture in its online plugs for the repeats of the Hitchhiker’s radio shows and to confirm my nerdy instinct that the photo was taken during the recording of the seventh episode (broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1978), I referred to Nick Webb’s biography of Douglas Adams. Apart from noticing for the first time (duh) that the book is named after a Pink Floyd song (rarely a good idea) I came across this passage, intended to demonstrate Adams’s wish to include his friends in his enthusiasms, about the time he went to see Paul McCartney and David Gilmour play in Los Angeles:
In high excitement, Douglas phoned her from the auditorium. ‘Listen to this,’ he said, holding a mobile phone above his head. ‘Just listen.’ And Sue listened to a wall of sound relayed through the tiny microphone of a mobile.
Now, this would have taken place in about 1999, when mobile phones were still pretty much about telling people you were on a train; and even in 2003, when the book was published, the experience of being unexpectedly patched into a concert was still something to be remarked upon. Now we’d just wonder why there were no pictures. Of course Adams died in 2001, so his infectious passion for gadgets and techie things is frozen at that moment: we can only imagine what he’d have made of iPhones and YouTube and Facebook, the medium on which we were kvetching about the photo. His death came a few months after the launch of Wikipedia, the closest thing to a real Hitchhiker’s Guide that we have, but I don’t know if he ever saw it.

But the extent to which Webb’s reference to the phone call has dated made me think of Adams’s own description of humans as “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Which would, of course, have sounded rather arch and ironic in the late 1970s but anybody reading it now would just nod, or wonder what a digital watch is, and whether it might be something to do with a postcode.
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. - See more at: http://www.planetclaire.org/quotes/hitchhikers/#sthash.B2JHhVtQ.dpuf
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. - See more at: http://www.planetclaire.org/quotes/hitchhikers/#sthash.B2JHhVtQ.dpuf
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. - See more at: http://www.planetclaire.org/quotes/hitchhikers/#sthash.B2JHhVtQ.dpuf

5 comments:

Chas. Early said...

I remember the same sense of disappointment at the Great BBC Postcode Betrayal. As if puberty wasn't bad enough.

Nicholas Pegg said...

Lovely post, Tim. You're so right about the "digital watches" line, long since washed downstream by the march of time; I remember finding it rib-ticklingly arch back in 1979. Mind you, there's another line in the first episode/chapter/fit which has dated even more drastically: in the pub, Ford Prefect orders six pints of bitter, hands over some money, and tells the barman to keep the change. "What, from a fiver? Thank you very much, sir." Nowadays that sounds like straightforward sarcasm, a passing sally about Ford's comical stinginess and/or otherworldliness. Of course, back then it was anything but: it was another brick in the wall of unease that Adams was building. Ford really does know that the world is about to end. "You've got ten minutes left to spend it." To recapture the same sense now, it would need to be a fifty-pound note. At least.

Of course, this syndrome is not at all uncommon. Twenty years ago (argh!) I was in a production of Ayckbourn's Absent Friends, and we always got a laugh at the bit where Diana insists on paying for the kitchen-roll holder that Marge has brought her, and conscientiously hands over "50p". Back in 1974, when the play opened, there was no laugh intended there. By 1994, inflation had turned it into a bonus gag about Diana's self-absorption. I recall we debated during rehearsal whether the amount of money should be updated, but the director decided to leave it be.

Steerforth said...

Not W12 8WQT?

I've just got over the Savilegate business and now this. Things have come to a pretty pass when even a post code is a lie.

But I think the world really turned upside down the day Frank Bough was revealed to have snorted coke with prostitues, whilst wearing ladies' underwear.

Richard said...

I am slightly older and while the W12 8QT postcode was ever present from my teens I remember Lime Grove being mentioned often so it's not as much of a revelation. The other one I remember is the postcdode for requests on the wireless (on a postcard or sealed envelope to Junior Choice...). It used to be W1A 1BT. This doesn't exist anymore (at all), having been replaced by 1AA many years ago. The 1BT one though is the one I always seem to remember.

Tim Footman said...

Cheggers stole your innocence, Chas. You weren't the only one.

Nick: I seem to remember that the coin that Charlie finds in the snow (with which he buys the choc bar that holds the golden ticket) has increased in value over the years. Wonder what they'll do in a cashless universe.

I'm awaiting similar revelations about Susannah Reid, Steerforth.

Aren't those codes for different wings of Broadcasting House, Richard?