Would you be in the B-Ark?

I may have a weird sense of humour but I particularly like a race of beings that appear in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. They are called Golgafrinchans and they originated in “a red, semi-desert planet that is home to the Great Circling Poets of Arium and a species of particularly inspiring lichen”. The story is this. At some point in their history the Great Circling Poets decided they wanted to get rid of the useless third of their population. So they invented a story that the planet Golgofrincham would shortly be destroyed in a great catastrophe (by a “mutant star goat”). The useless one third of the population were packed into a spaceship know as the B-Ark – supposedly one of three giant Arks – and launched into space. They were told that the remaining two thirds of the population would follow in the other two Arks.

Of course the remaining two thirds did not follow – there were no other Arks – and the B-Ark was programmed to crash land on a remote planet on the spiral arm of the galaxy – which happened to be Earth. So they crashed. The Golgofrinchan societal rejects mingled with and usurped the native cavemen and became the ancestors of humanity.

But who were the useless third? According to Douglas Adams they consisted of hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants and telephone sanitisers.

I have always assumed – being a gloomy sort – that I would be included in the “useless third” and would find myself on a spaceship hurtling towards relative oblivion. But then I started to wonder – how do you define “useful”? Surely “useful” itself is relative, since it depends on the society you happen to find yourself living in, and the relative needs of that society? And doesn’t it depend on the intelligence of the individual, his or her store of arcane knowledge, unused skills and potential to change or adapt?

I mean, in some societies there is little choice. In our own, for instance. There are many pretty trivial jobs but most people need a job of some kind.  Inevitably this means quite a few will be left with no alternative but to become – telephone sanitisers or whatever. I’m pretty sure those bored gentlemen forced to stand/pace around for hour after hour in stores in a silly uniform as a deterrent to shoplifters, don’t really want to be doing that. They do it for the money, and for security.

Hairdressers – well, yes, in an apocalyptic situation or primitive society you wouldn’t need hairdressers. It is quite possible – as I have discovered – to cut your own hair after a fashion – at least well enough to keep it out of your eyes – or just to let it grow long. In our current society, hairdressers are somewhere between a necessity and a luxury: their function is to make people look and feel better; a good hairdresser is an artist in his or her own right. Do we really need musicians? Do we need artists, or tailors, or comedians? No, we could survive perfectly well without them if they all suddenly disappeared in a puff of green smoke.

If I were to be marooned on a desert island with a brilliant violinist, would he or she be able to save me from starvation and the encroaching tide? Probably not. On the other hand that same violinist might be good at maths (musicians often are) and might be able to calculate the tides around our island, so that we knew the most fortuitous time to set off on our raft – which he/she might even have been able to help me construct. Because being musical does not preclude you from having other talents – simple construction work, for example. That telephone-sanitiser might happen to know how to weave, or paddle a canoe. Or they might have qualities not previously utilised – a clear head in an emergency, people skills, courage under fire – whatever. Until you are tested, you don’t know what you can do.

So I would say, be careful who you write off as useless. Do not write off disabled people, autistic people, artistic people – or people who have never had much of a chance in life and so are forced to accept trivial or low-status jobs. Do not assume that that is all they are, or all they could be if circumstances were suddenly to change and a new and different version of society come into being.

It is a risky thing to define any skill or occupation a “useless” – we do not know enough, about the present, let alone the future, to be able to make such value judgments with any confidence.  Fate has a way of taking its revenge on those who are absolutely sure they know best.

According to Douglas Adams, the Great Circling Poets of Arium were eventually wiped out – by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

The restaurant at the other end of the universe

I have discovered Fun late in life – very late, in fact. It’s not been a Fun sort of life, really. I was ill-equipped – born anxious, born solemn, born bewildered and with a sense of humour at forty-five degrees to everyone else’s. Yes folks – life has mostly been an uphill struggle!

If you type “fun” into Google Images you get all these pictures of groups of people leaping up and down, mostly in bikinis or speedos on a beach, or short frocks and afro haircuts under a glitter-ball in a disco – which of course are no longer referred to as discos – clubs, venues or whatever. What is it with all the leaping? I could never understand it. Never once been tempted to leap in the air and shout “Yay!” or alternatively “Woots!” which according to a blogging friend is now an acceptable alternative term of celebration.



Woots? No, I don’t think I can manage it, even now, having discovered Fun.

Recently, however, Fun has been creeping in – sinister, like red dust under an environmentally-controlled dome on the planet Mars – unwanted, like a pile of used paper tissues. You laugh, I used to work in a call centre with a guy who had a permanent cold and a permanent and ever-growing pile of germy paper hankies at the back of his booth.

Only in tiny amounts, mind you. Gotta be careful. Gotta start small. Who knows what a sudden inrush of Fun might do to someone like me, with a weakened immunity.

For instance I have Fun playing WordsWithFriends with Daisy and now, Mr Daisy. I have never won a single game against either of them, in spite of having a vocabulary the size of a planet. Unfortunately, they too seem to possess planet-sized vocabularies. They also possess what I do not – the ability to add up and multiply simultaneously and then retain the resulting number for more than two seconds. Those pesky little yellow tiles have numbers as well as letters. For the longest time, as my Canadian sister says, I ignored these, assuming they were merely decoration. They can also, it seems, visualise further than the next move, and keep all those possible moves in their heads. Strategy, I think it’s called. To me it’s a miracle.

A bearded and not particularly pleasant Welshman once taught me to play chess. I learned the rules, I memorised, I practised, even read books about chess. My husband asked me to teach him the rules. I did so, secretly thinking This may turn out to be the first time I am better than him at anything. My husband learned the rules and beat me within sixty seconds, first game. To be fair he is intelligent – one point short of Mensa, apparently. But it wasn’t intelligence that did it, it was something else: some utterly blank and neurone-deprived area in my brain.

However, I have what might possibly be called Fun playing WordsWithFriends. I no longer even look at the scores but enjoy the mental challenge. I look at the letters and usually a really nice word floats up to me. Then I find that although I have this really nice word, there are currently no letters on the board to attach it to, or not enough spaces to fit the word in, or that whoever designed WordsWithFriends has either never heard of the word or disapproves of it. It doesn’t matter – the puzzle is the fun.

Second small experience of this thing called Fun. I recently bought not one but three play-tunnels for my cats. They’re really for rabbits, these tunnels (they have helpful pictures of carrots on them, so the rabbits know) but the moggies love them. They are made of canvas and shaped something like that Isle of Man three-footed thing:


The cats bomb up and down inside these tunnels, colliding with each other or chasing screwed-up pieces of paper or little jingly balls I throw in there. They also require me to jiggle the outside of the tunnel with a foot. Even when three x three-legged tunnels are joined together – it’s possible, there are toggles and loops; it makes the whole thing like something out of Colditz – a cat can zoom from one end to the other and painfully attach itself to one’s slippers/toes through the canvas – in microseconds: impossible to resist the Fun of tempting an in-tunnel moggie, though I do occasionally use the broom rather than my foot to save wear and tear on the toes. The cats know, this is the thing. Sometimes they even poke their heads out as if to say

Get on with it, woman. Make with the slippers.