The answer to life, the universe, and everything

“Do you want a big party for your 40th birthday?”

“No, definitely not. You know me; I’m happy with just a quiet birthday. And anyway, if I was going to celebrate anything, it would be my 42nd birthday. Because, you know: 42.”

And that was the last mention of it.

Two years later (just this week) I turned 42. I had a lovely birthday and was spoiled with presents. Carolyn even remembered my obsession with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by including a message in my birthday card. I was too polite to draw attention to her accidental misspelling of “Vrogon”. She’s so sweet to have tried to keep up with my geeky ways. Little did I know, it was not an accident.

The weekend arrives, and I’m left alone at home while everyone else goes op-shopping. I am quite happy with this arrangement. Op-shopping really isn’t my thing.

After a few hours, my mother-in-law arrives at the door, looking for Carolyn. I inform her she’s out op-shopping, so she says that she’ll just have to talk to me instead, and invites herself in.

“Take this box and open it. I’m going to sit here and not answer any questions.”

The box has a poem on the outside and contains several items, including a “42” shirt and a towel labelled “Don’t Panic”. Carolyn has definitely been up to something. She’s clearly organised a little family gathering. I can’t believe that she’s been this sneaky.

I get dressed and follow instructions to get into the car. We drive to a nearby hall, and I’m told to head inside.

The doors are all labelled with Hitchhiker’s signs: their cheerful and sunny disposition begs me to open them, and then thank me with satisfaction on the other side. I arrive at Milliways and open the door…

The room is filled with people. Filled. With. People.

A room full of towel-bearing family and friends are there screaming “surprise!” I am, without doubt, surprised. Just about everyone that I know is in that room, including people I haven’t seen for 15 years.

My wife had definitely been up to something.

Contrary to her normal inability to hide anything from me, Carolyn had been working in secret for months. She had read the books to find food. She had watched the movie — with a notebook — for ideas. She had hunted the internet for bits and pieces of Hitchhiker’s iconography and gathered it all together. She had found friends that I haven’t talked to in a decade and convinced them to come and join me in celebrating a normally meaningless milestone.

I was put into a dressing gown and handed a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. There was food and drink throughout the room: Perfectly Normal Beast sandwiches, Dentrassi Hagro biscuits, Algolian Zylatburgers, mice sitting in a tray of edible (and rather tasty) brains, and so much more. There were even peanuts (just in case we had to hit hyperspace in an emergency, I guess). In one corner was a whale floating above a bowl of petunias. On the other side of the room was a competition for folding towels into Scintillating Jewelled Scuttling Crabs. Above us were dolphins, fleeing the planet. There was a Thinking Cap to assist those that needed a little brain-boost. Outside, the children were all shooting each other with Total Perspective Vortex guns (which suspiciously resembled water pistols).

Everything was labelled, with additional descriptions for those less familiar with the fandom. She had even organised a secret pre-party movie day to ensure that people could play along with the craziness. That probably helped when, at one point during the afternoon, I was quite literally strapped into a horrific-looking chair, had a Babel fish jammed into my ear, and tortured with Vogon poetry. Not even the Joo Janta 200 Super Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses I was given could save me from that.

Carolyn had even asked that, instead of gifts, people bring donations to the Douglas Adams’ Save the Rhino International. She had thought of everything.

Thanks to Keith Russell, I found myself travelling down a memory-lane of university pranks themed after the assassination of Caesar. I progressed through layers of polystyrene balls, bubble-wrap, cling-wrap, and a giant box of cheezels and cheetos, only to discover at its centre a cardboard tube: a 20-year old artifact of that very first prank, stabbed through with a knife. It made no sense to anyone watching, and yet everyone was laughing. I’m sure that Mr Adams would have been proud.

There was craziness, and everyone played into my life-long obsession with Douglas Adams’ creations. More than that, though, I got to spend an afternoon with the family and friends that mean more to me that even that obsession.

Thank you to everyone for making this old frood feel special.

PS: my wife is awesome.