Tuesday, 25th May. I take a towel with me on my typical peregrinations around London. It’s to mark Towel Day, the international celebration of author Douglas Adams.
More info on Towel Day at towelday.org
I start at Highgate Cemetery, just up the road from where I live. Mr Adams’s grave is covered in little offerings from fans. Pens, mostly, stuck into the ground.
(Am typing this up on Sunday, staying with Mum & Dad in Suffolk. Dad reminds me that there’s a passage about a planet of lost Biros in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. So that explains the pens.)
The towel I’m carrying is one of those sci-fi Lifeventure ones you can buy in camping shops. Light, compact, and it doesn’t become smelly. Being the technology buff he was, I thought Mr A would approve.
On a hot sunny day like this, walking around Highgate with a towel isn’t actually so unlikely. The cemetery is a short walk from Hampstead Heath, with its popular Mens’ and Womens’ ponds. Plenty of flip-flops and shorts on view today. Though admittedly, not on me: I’m using the towel to accessorize a linen suit and tie.
I’d like to say the towel’s getting me funny looks in the street, but with me it’s hard to tell.
Douglas Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49. That’s young enough, but the gravestone immediately to the right of Mr A’s puts these thoughts into perspective. ‘Eddie Steele Rosen. June 1980 – April 1999’.
Eddie was the son of the children’s author and poet Michael Rosen. After his death from meningitis, Mr Rosen wrote an account of his grief, accessible to young readers. Titled ‘The Sad Book’, and illustrated by Quentin Blake, it is beautiful, moving, and quite unique. Amazon link.
I walk around the cemetry and notice a few other recent-looking graves. Jeremy Beadle’s memorial is a bookcase, and he’s labelled for posterity as ‘Writer, Presenter, Curator Of Oddities. Ask My Friends’. Most people who recognise the name Jeremy Beadle would associate him first and foremost with ‘Game For A Laugh’ and ‘Beadle’s About’, rather than his huge collection of books or his work as a writer. But memorials are paid for by individuals, not by the masses. Like the ostentatious mausoleum of Julius Beer elsewhere in the cemetery, they can sometimes be final acts of defiance: pitting the private self-image against the public reputation.
Further along from Mr Beadle: another prankster of a kind. Malcolm McClaren, his grave freshly dug. The stone is topped off with the ‘MM’ coat of arms from the film ‘The Great Rock And Roll Swindle’.
(Forgot to get my towel into shot for these two.)
3pm. I move onto St Pancras station and place my towel over one of the many sculptures of elephants dotted around London at the moment. They’re to raise awareness of the plight of the Asian Elephant (More info at www.elephantparadelondon.org). This one is called ‘Dandi-phant’, and is decorated with images of dandelion seeds against a blue sky. Rather neatly, my towel matches it.
4pm, St Pancras Station, Gawper’s Bench. Being the name Ms S & I gave to the bench in Costa Coffee directly opposite the Eurostar Arrivals gate. Here one can sit for hours, munch away on a triangular slice of Chocolate Tiffin, and contemplate the miracle of the Channel Tunnel, that dream of Europeans for centuries. Or just eye up all the French and Belgian people getting off the train. I love the idea of the first London thing they see being me with a towel.
5pm. British Library cafe. Plus towel.
6pm. St Martin’s Lane. Another one of those elephants, ‘Figgy’. Plus towel.
6.15pm. Adelaide Street. Maggi Hambling’s Oscar Wilde sculpture. Plus towel.
6.30pm. Trafalgar Square. The current Fourth Plinth occupant: Yinka Shonibare’s ship in a bottle. Plus towel.
7.30pm. The London Library, St James’s Square, Piccadilly. Specifically the North Bay Reading Room. Even more specifically, the Rose Macaulay Memorial Corner. Plus towel.
Note my current selection of Library titles. Top of the pile is Douglas Adams’s ‘Last Chance To See’, for obvious reasons. The others are typical of the rare works one can borrow from the LL.
– ‘Creation Revisited’ by Pete Atkins. Praised by Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’.
– ‘The Poetic Museum’ by Julian Spalding. A personal account of the whole point of museums, how museums ‘work’, and the path of museums for the future.
– ‘Janet’s Last Book’ by Allan Ahlberg. A privately-printed book by the children’s author, dedicated to his late wife.
– ‘The Book of Masks: French Symbolist and Decadent Writing of the 1890s’ edited by Andrew Mangravite.
8.30pm. The Cross Kings venue, York Way, King’s Cross. Wasim Ki. Plus towel.
11.30pm. Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Vauxhall. Bar Wotever. Debbie Smith. Plus towel.
1.30am. Bus stop, near Vauxhall Station. A couple from Bar Wotever, who chatted with me while we waited for buses. I give them one of my business cards with ‘flaneur’ as my occupation. Plus towel.