Today is towel day and the answer is 42

towel day photo

Today is not only International Geek Pride day, it is also Towel Day on which fans of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (HGG) carry a towel around as a tribute to author Douglas Adams who tragically passed away aged 49 in 2001. In fact, it was just weeks after his death that the first Towel Day happened and it has been happening ever since. I came upon HGG in around 2008 or 2009 and fell in love with the books straight away. I don’t know, there was just something about the wit and observations that struck a chord within me that resonates to this very day. The only other books that have ever changed the way I think about and behave in the world around me are the Discworld Novels. Tiffany Aching is my homegirl.

In August 2011 I got my first tattoo. I got the number 42 tattooed on my left wrist in an uncomplicated and simple hand written fashion. The tattoo artist just wrote it in biro a few times before we were both happy with it, and then inked over that. Ever since then I have been questioned time and time again about why I have the number 42 tattooed on my wrist. In fact, it wasn’t until November 2011 – four months afterwards – that one colleague in my small office asked the question it seemed they had all been wanting to know ‘what does that 42 mean?’. Everyone in the office looked on as I explained it. I thought I’d tell the same story today to celebrate Towel Day and to hopefully give some insight into the two little numbers on my wrist.

CFI UK event photo
Tattoo in action

In HGG a giant computer called Deep Thought, having spent exactly 7.5m years pondering the Ultimate Question of ‘What is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?’ finally and solemnly announces that the Ultimate Answer is . . . “Forty two”. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Question was.

When I first read this part of the book I put the book down and sat in silence. Woah.

For most of my life I was taught that the Christian bible was the answer. I wasn’t Christened because my parents were very decent and decided I should make my own decisions about religion when I was old enough to do so (which is one of the best gifts a parent could give their child), but I attended a Church of England primary school who I now realise had a huge Religious agenda throughout their curriculum (even so far as to often make me write with my right hand even though I was left handed).

When I reached my teen years I started questioning the ideas of the Christian God and religion and rejected it and, in my desperation for some sort of meaning, I turned to a not-exactly-spirituality version of Spirituality insofar as I would do seances and think that psychics could talk to the dead and so on. I replaced heaven with an afterlife. That is until Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion was released in 2006. I read the book in 2007 around the time that I was starting to doubt there was actually anything to this whole afterlife, ghosts and psychics thing and I realised I was an atheist and I realised that it made total sense and I understood why I had been so desperate to find meaning in life.

Following this realisation I began to see a wonder in the world around me that I had sort of taken for granted before and I started living for now rather than living for the life after death. It was difficult as I had to accept that I wasn’t going to see deceased family members again, but slowly I came to see a beauty in death that I hadn’t considered before – it wasn’t some mystery but a close to something spontaneous and random. I now find real beauty in the fact that when we die our bodies slowly but surely become part of this Earth that sustained us throughout out lives.

This is why in 2011 I went into a tattoo parlour alone and asked if they would tattoo my geeky little tattoo. There was one other person getting a tattoo that day and I could tell he had been there for hours. Mine took five minutes and as I went to pay the other tattoo artists commented how quickly his colleague had finished and my tattoo artist said I should tell them about my tattoo. So I did.

I told them how it was the number 42 because in the HGG the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of ‘What is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?’ is . . . “Forty two” and that this was symbolic of my world view – of how everything is pretty much meaningless and yet we try to find reason and meaning because it is comforting when really, if we looked at the bigger picture, we’d find that more than comforting enough. Life is sort of pointless, but that really is okay. I explained that I found meaning in life after realising this by making the most of today and living for now.

Suffice to say I got blank looks as I often do when I try and explain the meaning behind the tattoo to strangers or people marrying into the family, but it makes sense to me. 42 all the way, until the day I aten’t dead. 

p.s. Ending this with a Pratchett quote has reminded me that today is also Wear the Lilac day in which Pratchett fans wear lilacs to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s Research after Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with the condition in 2007. The origin lies within the Discworld itself, for on May 25th certain members of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and a few others around the city, wore a sprig of lilac to remembered those who fought and fell in the Glorious Revolution of Treacle Mine Road. I don’t have lilacs to hand but I have just made a small donation to Alzheimers Research Trust UK. Maybe you’ll consider doing the same, even if it’s just £4.20…

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

2 thoughts on “Today is towel day and the answer is 42”

  1. All good stuff (although I’m not a fan of Pratchett’s books – just his philosophy). Pity there aren’t enough days in the year to cater for all the events worth remembering. We need to double up.

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