Today is Towel Day. Don’t know what Towel Day is? That’s okay—nor do I. Not exactly. One answer is that it’s in honour of Douglas Adams, which makes it clearer. And towels, which might make it clearer still. Or not. Anyway, my contribution to the shenanigans is a short story inspired by one of Douglas Adams’ most loved (arrrggghhh!!!) creations—Vogons and their poetry. And towels.
A grand night out
The ambassador had been bored. So bored she almost filled in an application for a real job. She was there just as a presence, in case anyone forgot that the dead chunk of rock her ship was orbiting belonged to El Gordo. As if it wasn’t bad enough representing a galaxy cluster called “Big Fatty”, she was lumbered with supervising the mining concession extracting the universe’s only known deposits of Purgolite, the most powerful laxative ever discovered.
She had been bored rigid until she discovered poetry. Vogon poetry to be precise. One of the other ambassadors had given her a copy of ‘Jeltz’s Ballads’ just before he opened an air lock and threw himself out. Fascinated, the El Gordo ambassador had skimmed a few of the first poems. She was hooked. She had never been a fan of poetry. Let’s face it, if she had been, she wouldn’t have been able to get past the first two lines, would she? Now she had something else to occupy her time besides flushing grenades down the toilet and watching them burst in space like pretty flowers. Best news of all, Jeltz, the sublime poet, was actually the present Vogon ambassador. She had even met him at a function and he seemed quite happy with his posting, found it inspiring. In fact, he joked that he took a large dose of Purgolite on his cornflakes every morning to keep the creative juices flowing. She thought it was a joke.
This evening, Commander Jeltz, in gratitude for her praise of his poetic genius, had invited her to dinner and a private recital of his opus major, an epic in the style of Beowulf. Arnold P. Beowulf. The excitement was intense. She settled down with a slim volume of some of Jeltz’s early works to calm her nerves and sighed with pleasure. She could read this stuff all day. She barely needed to read the words, in fact the doctors had advised her against it. All she had to do was look at the page and she heard the Vogon commander’s voice. As a general rule, the droning sent her to sleep, but today the soporific effect was rather upset by what felt like a small earthquake getting under way in her lower bowel. She would have to take something for that. Such a shame when certain parts of one’s anatomy failed to appreciate the finer points of poetry.
“More towels, Ma’am?”
The voice of the laundress broke into the complex images of bogglechittering and hyperventilating fartlebogles.
“I believe I have everything I need,” she said, slightly irritated at the interruption.
“You’ll want a new set if you’re having dinner with the commander, Ma’am.” The woman was insistent. She filled the doorway with her huge beefy arms wrapped round a laundry basket of impressive proportions.
“Of course.” The ambassador hadn’t given a thought about how she was to dress. “Yes, Euphrosnia, leave me out the pale green set, please.”
“Marge,” the woman said.
“No thank you. I hate the stuff.”
“No I’m Marge, Euphrosnia’s on her day off. The pale green’s got those…stains that won’t come out. You know, when you—”
“I remember,” she said quickly. “The sage green then.”
Marge gurgled to herself, “Wise choice,” and dumped a pile of clean towels the colour of nasal secretions at the foot of the couch. “Oh, and the President said to tell you that this evening they’re doing a re-enactment of the Inter-galactic War XLIII round the Horsehead Nebula with a firework display to finish with if you’re interested.
“Fireworks? That’s a bit tame, isn’t it?” She stifled a yawn.
“Well, fireworks is just a manner of speaking, innit? They’re going to put nuclear lights on the Christmas Tree Nebula. You won’t want to miss that. What’s left when they’ve finished they’re going to feed to a Black Hole.”
There was a faint flicker of interest in her eyes before they fell back to the page of her book. Commander Jeltz chuntered on in her head.
“I think not, Euphrosnia.”
“Bread and circuses, Marge. Culture is a higher calling.”
“Suit yourself.” Marge heaved the laundry basket round onto the other hip. “There’s Twiglets and Jammy Dodgers.”
The ambassador had a moment’s hesitation but there was really no choice.
At eight on the dot, the ambassador made her way to the bay where the Vogon vessel was docked, one towel tucked neatly under her arm, the other turbanned around the luxuriant purple locks of her hair. She was under no illusions about the quality of the dinner, having already witnessed Vogons at table, so she had taken the precaution of eating before she left.
The Vogon ship was in its usual state of filth: she had had the foresight to wear rubber boots and swept up her long skirts to save them from the worst of it. The ship was as echoingly empty as she remembered it from her last visit. She wondered which of the many corridors led to the ambassador’s suite and hesitated at a junction partly blocked with a pile of pizza cartons and crates of non-returnable stout empties.
Then she heard the noise. A smile flickered in her eyes and she hurried towards it. Stepping over a box of used teabags and a dead cat, she turned into a broad corridor where a crowd of people—cleaning staff, office workers, embassy officials—who had obviously taken a wrong turning somewhere before Alpha Centauri, were running, screaming towards her. Halfway down the corridor, two Vogon guards, with uncharacteristic courtesy, were holding open an airlock. The crowd, their hands clamped over their ears, and their faces the very image of torment, elbowed and kicked their way to the airlock and leapt into the void beyond. Through a porthole, the ambassador watched the expression of beatitude that illuminated their faces before they disintegrated into tiny frozen dust motes.
She clutched her towel and her copy of ‘Odes to the Snorkels of Bureaucracy and the Labyrinths of Gruntfungle-by-the-Bogsnatcher’ and prepared to wade into the crowd. She knew where she was going now. With a final disdainful glance out of the porthole at the sky filled with brilliantly coloured mushroom clouds, she strode purposely towards the door through which was pouring the musical accompaniment to one of Jeltz’s most famous compositions.
The link is optional. If you have nerves of steel, click to play…then run screaming to the nearest airlock