Three stops beyond Barking


If you follow my ramblings with any level of alacrity you will note I’ve been considering putting the world into the Asylum. If this has confused you, dear reader, worry not.

You see, I am a Douglas Adams fan. Adams died in 2001, at the painfully young age of 49. Yet, his words still echo down the years, at least for me they do. I miss the fellow, even though I never met him in real life. I just adore his writings, his published works, and his finely-tuned sense of the absurd. 

I first made his acquaintance in the late 1970s, when the BBC was airing something called the The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You may have heard of it, but don’t worry if you haven’t. The radio series spawned a book, then some more books, some more radio series, a television series and — finally — a “major motion picture”. 

Douglas wrote many things in the Hitch Hiker’s universe that were patently meant to be absurd or surreal. He was writing a fiction, yet somehow along the way, the real world has fallen into step with what he wrote.

It’s absurd to think this is so, surely?

Well, for whatever reason, I feel the world in which I am existing now is not the real world any more. At some point around the turn of the millennium (two ells, two ens) I awoke in a subtly different universe to the one in which I’d been living up to that point. 

The differences were very subtle. The sun still rose in the east. Days were about the same length. The sky was still blue, when the clouds let it show. I wasn’t a different age, or living in a different country. It was, to all intents and purposes, the same universe in which I began my journey through life. 

As the new millennium (two ells, two ens) drew on, however, the disparities began to show. George W Bush had narrowly squeaked into the White House, and soon after somebody decided to take out the World Trade Center by flying jet airliners into it. Everything’s been going steadily downhill since. Sacred personal freedoms have been eroded more and more, in the name of security, yet we managed quite happily when some Irish freedom fighters were actually blowing shit up — and some of it not far from where I grew up. We just carried on as before, just being a bit more careful about lonesome packages and loitering near litter bins. 

These days, we’re perilously close to living in an Orwellian dystopia. We’re in a so-called War on Terror (without the vowels, if you’re George W), but it strikes me the terrorists have won if I can’t go about my daily life without being spied on, stopped for being a photographer, or having to virtually strip naked before being allowed onto an aeroplane.

I’m sorry but, what the f…?!

As the news media get ever more sucked into the world of Newspeak, nonsense “reality television” and no-name celebrity fawning, I have come to the conclusion that Adams’ character of John Watson, from “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, first published in 1984 (how apt), was right all along. 

I won’t bore you with the whole back story, but let’s just say that Arther Dent (the main narrative character of the Hitch Hiker’s series) has found himself on an alternative Earth where the dolphins seem to have vanished. Trying to find answers to this disjunction in his timeline, Dent and his lover Fenchurch, head to the US west coast in search of John Watson, Wonko the Sane.

‘Your wife,’ said Arthur, looking around, ‘mentioned some toothpicks.’ He said it with a hunted look, as if he was worried that she might suddenly leap out from behind the door and mention them again.

Wonko the Sane laughed. It was a light easy laugh, and sounded like one he had used a lot before and was happy with.

‘Ah yes,’ he said, ‘that’s to do with the day I finally realized that the world had gone totally mad and built the Asylum to put it in, poor thing, and hoped it would get better.’

This was the point at which Arthur began to feel a little nervous again.

‘Here,’ said Wonko the Sane, ‘we are outside the Asylum.’ He pointed again at the rough brickwork, the pointing and the guttering. ‘Go through that door,’ he pointed at the first door through which they had originally entered, ‘and you go into the Asylum. I’ve tried to decorate it nicely to keep the inmates happy, but there’s very little one can do. I never go in there now myself. If I am ever tempted, which these days I rarely am, I simply look at the sign over the door and I shy away.’

‘That one?’ said Fenchurch, pointing, rather puzzled, at a blue plaque with some instructions written on it.

‘Yes. They are the words that finally turned me into the hermit I have now become. It was quite sudden. I saw them, and I knew what I had to do.’

The sign said:

Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.

‘It seemed to me,’ said Wonko the Sane, ‘that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a packet of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.’

It wasn’t the toothpicks, or the warnings on take-away coffee cups about hot liquids, or the packets of nuts with warnings about containing nuts, that convinced me the world had lost it. It’s a whole variety of little — and larger, it has to be said — things about everyday life, the actions of those around me, and the general aptitude for the “civilised” human species to royally fuck up everything it touches these days that has convinced me the world has actually gone insane. I am working on building the Asylum, but I’m having a little difficulty in finding a suitable calming location for me to live outside it.

Since finishing that last paragraph, I discovered the term “Dagenham mad”. As anyone who knows the District Line will note, Dagenham is three stops beyond Barking. It’s only that I don’t really like that part of Essex that prevents me from opening the Asylum on the District Line, three stops beyond Barking. It would be rather appropriate, don’t you think?


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