30 for 30: Blogs

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

30. BLOGS

 

Kraftwerk live - you just know one of them is blogging

I have spent half my life making websites on the web.

I love what has come to be called “blogs”. I’ve been with them ever since they started – GeoCities, blogspots, tumblrs, wordpress, livejournals and all.

I know a lot of people are on the fence when it comes to this brave new world. At worse, it’s narcissistic indulgence. But I like it. And either way – it’s a big part of our culture now. Our stories are now on public record.

I started ‘blogging’ in 1996, with a GeoCities website. It mainly focussed on my obsession with comics. I became a part of the online community for the Legion Of Super-Heroes, my favourite comic at the time. I looked after a chronological timeline of these fictional heroes. I also did a complete annotation on the Batman mini-series The Long Halloween. Basically, I was a comic nerd who expressed his interest. And I met a few nice people too.

My interests changed to music, and so did my website. I started simply listing bands and posting photos of various things. It was so crude it’s ridiculous. Eventually, I decided the Australian band You Am I were my favourite band. My website became a shrine to both them and me – and renamed “You Am I And Me”. It started me on another journey completely.

The internet was very exciting at this time, especially if you had very particular interests. I jumped straight into the music online scene – webrings, fansites, newsgroups and more. Someone would decide to devote themselves to a band and create a page. Lyrics, photos, tabs and more.

You Am I were a big band and there were several other fan sites at the time – I thought I’d just be one of them. I did work hard on mine, in the way a teenage kid might customise their car. Pretty soon I was transcribing articles and scanning in CD single artwork. I think I did a pretty good job.

And the other You Am I websites fell away. It’s a continuing theme – dead sites. And I just kept at it. Newer You Am I sites started and fell away as well. Eventually, I decided to make it more seriously. Paul Stipack, who ran the fantastic Oz Music Central, and I made a deal. I would take some of his You Am I work and create the new You Am I Central.

My story with You Am I is for another time. But the You Am I site led me to meet the band, and the band officially endorsed me. It was something I became known for in the Australian music scene. I was also the common person for a whole country’s worth of You Am I fans.

It’s an amazing thing, in retrospect, that my little blog – of a lonely nerdy kid in suburban nowhere, Sydney – became somebody to some people. Just by putting myself out there with what I loved. And I got to meet people with the same interests. That You Am I website launched me out of being a nobody into the world of the Australian music scene.

Websites were very basic back then. I started with various wysiwyg editors – culminating in the long forgotten HotDog 4. But I also learnt how to do it all the HTML stuff from scratch. In my prime, I could make amazing websites with just a text program.

I also taught myself some javascript. I became very efficient at photoshop. No one taught me, I just spent hours in front of a computer. And instead of playing games, I made stuff. I made websites.

I developed a style and a sense of what I liked and what I didn’t like. For example – I still hate flash. Flash sites are all looks and no content. It’s graphic designers taking over – not people with something to say. Maybe it’s the Scott McLoud learning – just because it’s visual doesn’t mean it has to be just graphics.

I also read a lot of design blogs – the best being Jeffrey Zeldman. The man is a true internet pioneer, but I guess he might be considered old-school now. But there was a real movement there – the world of web standards and cross compatibility. Was a time you had to create a site for Netscape and other browser users would be damned.

I’ve not kept up my skills. I don’t have the time. I would come home from school and type code for 6 hours. I don’t have time to do that anymore. I can still make a decent website. But I lost it with php and mysql – database tables essentially. It’s the new backbone of the web, and I’ve lost the touch.

I maintained a personal page throughout this time (called Pop-aghanda), hidden away in the You Am I site somewhere. The internet was big news, and my work as getting recognition. I appeared on Triple J, age 17, talking about You Am I and then being the guest on a webchat with ‘fans’. The Australian Sound and Film Archive got in contact and asked for my permission to archive the site for historical importance.

People started to ask me about doing work for them. The only people I wanted to work for was Ivy League Records – my favourite Sydney label at the time. I volunteered to do their website and did so for a couple of years. It led to more contacts and more involvement in the music world. Along with working at a record shop and a radio station, websites became my way of contributing to music.

I would help other sites all the time. I would review and scan in rare CDs I had for other sites. I was more than happy to answer people’s html questions if I could.

I think of that generation of web creators and think – we were just obsessed kids. Instead of drawing guitars in our schoolbooks, the web let us make something that could be seen by others. With no recourse too. I could put anything I wanted online, and the only people who would find them are people with similar interests.

That era, the turn of the century, rise of the fanpage. Someone needs to write that story down. Maybe it’s too recent, but it’s a hell of a story.

You Am I and Ivy League fell away for me as well. I handed the reins over to others. Popaghanda died a slow death (although I have it archived somewhere – and it has my top ten albums of 1999 as an article). I had started my own band, and my web publishing and graphics skills concentrated on that.

I’m not sure if anyone is really monitoring trends for the web. For me, it seems there was an era where the web tried to be serious. After years of flashing graphics, clip art and fluoro colours – it seems like the web was starting to be a serious thing. Every small business got websites, and they couldn’t look like a 17 year old’s blog. Domain name costs plummeted, and a generation of web designers graduated and got to work.

Then there was MySpace, who took over a lot of what GeoCities and the like stood for. Free, easily formatted and easily linked – MySpace gave people an easy online identity. But MySpace was limited, even though it had a blog feature – some people want more than an identity.

Which was me. Having always written online, made lists and just basically being a self centred modern man – I needed something more than MySpace. So I started Gluing Tinsel To Your Crown, a random writing blog.

The design aspect of blogging has taken a backseat – at least for me. It’s to easy to use templates, and most of them are quite pretty. I know I can pay a bit more – get a domain name, take charge of the designs. But then I would be a ‘blogger’, and I have nothing against that – I just have a lot of other things to be first.

What has changed is what I write about – and how I approach it. I read a lot of blogs, and surf them randomly too. I know a lot about what I don’t like about blogs. Reactionary pieces. Repeating links and nothing else.

So, I approach blog writing with a philosophy. Yet another McLoud-ism comes into play – write like everyone you know is dead. I’m starting to get these long, loosely connected essays down. Writing in columns – like this 30 for 30 thing – also works, I think. Personally, I don’t like graphics to get in the way, and I like my text big and readable.

So ends 30 for 30. It’s back-to-basics blogging for me. Putting myself out there. Starting conversations. Keeping a record. Friends who have read an entry or two have taken time to talk to me about it, if it suits their interests.

I often ask people about what they write on their blogs too. It’s a give and take. All the links on the right are friend’s pages – and well worth checking out. Blogging isn’t for everyone, but I would love to see more people I know expressing themselves. If you have a blog and I’ve not included you, please let me know.

The annual top 10 albums of the year will follow in December, and a new writing project starts next year.

Leaps And Bounds started in 2005, ostensibly a travel blog, named after the Paul Kelly song. After what I learnt from Douglas Adams, I became a fan of blogging for bloggin’s sake. After mucking about with blogspot and then tumblr, before finally settling into wordpress.

I flirted with other things. An online version of my old paper zine (Strum) or my technology blog (Great Leap Forwards). But I realise I don’t have an agenda to push anymore – I’m not making websites for single bands. I’m writing to write.

Blogging technology has became pretty great as well. It was really easy to merge in previous blogs, even from other services. Now Leaps And Bounds is a happy little log of the last five years.

It’s not the last five years that’s interesting. It’s the next 30. It’s the fact that I’ve lost my very first few blogs, but I don’t think that’s possible now. This record will exist for all time.

30 for 30: God

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

29. GOD

God - as shown in Monty Python's Holy Grail

I agree with William when he said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

This column is about trivial things. This one, God, is the most trivial of all. I want to make that clear from the start – and I think it’s the great downfall of God and religion. How important people place it in the lives.

God, beliefs, morality, religion – these are the last things I use to form an opinion about a person. I have so many friends with so many varied beliefs. And it matters not one iota what they believe in. Just as what I believe in isn’t really anyone’s business.

But I thought I’d get a few words down about it – this trivial, trivial thing.

When I was very young, I was given a book. Not the bible, but rather This I Believe, an anthology of writers talking about their varied faiths, edited and compiled by John Marsden (doesn’t look like it’s in print anymore). Amongst other things, it inspired me to write down my own thoughts on faith, God and religion.

I do it every few years. Just write down what I believe. It’s very therapeutic.

Before that book, I had gone to church with my parents occasionally. I was so bored and inattentive at the time that I’m pretty sure those visits had no affect on me as a person. My parents stopped taking me very quickly in favour of Chinese language classes.

And since then I have had zero contact with formal religion. It just doesn’t affect my life. If it wasn’t for This I Believe, and it’s unwritten challenge of – hey kid, get your philosophy in order – I probably would never have thought about God again.

That’s probably not true actually. Because my life journey through my beliefs is a river, not a line. And what has shaped it has been a million influences.

At 17, writing my first ever This I Believe essay, I would say I was a half hearted atheist. Around this time, I discovered the word ‘agnostic’. I can’t remember who said it (it might have been in the book) but agnostics are just the WORST.

Believe in something. Don’t choose “can’t decide”.

In the last 13 years, I have moved away from atheism. On one hand, I discovered certain pros for the competition, which I will get into. But more importantly, I have some very worrying cons against atheism.

To start with the last one, there was a Global Atheism Conference in 2010, held in Melbourne. Global Atheism Conference? Come on. What kind of bullshit cult is this? In the last decade, Atheism has become a religion of it’s own – or at least it’s edging that way very quickly.

The only, and I mean ONLY, people who have ever tried to push their beliefs on me have been Atheists. They take out ads on buses in London promoting their wares. They ridicule and make fun of those who have not read their books and see things differently. And now, they have closed off little conferences that do nothing but preach to the converted.

Atheists, like all religious nuts, believe they are right. And yes, they use science and so their beliefs are not, you know, like fairies in a pretty garden. But it is turning into a bullshit mass movement. And my idea that belief should be trivial is being left behind by this Atheist movement.

Can you really tell me that all atheists know everything about their beliefs? Or have they just read two Richard Dawkins books and are now smug assholes?

Now, I’m not talking about ALL atheists. I’m talking about the ones that organise conferences. The ones who buy ads on buses. The ones that ruin holidays with their politics and beliefs. Where is Pete Townshend to hit them with a guitar.

Atheism used to be easy. You don’t believe in fairy tales. Nowadays, when you say you’re an Atheist, people ask you when you last read The God Delusion.

So, nothing against those who don’t believe there’s a God. In fact, good on you for thinking about it and deciding on something. And fuck those bastards who have turned it into a religion in and of itself.

Not that I’m an atheist anymore. In the years, my view has changed to include a God. Here is a quick headline rundown of how I went from a to b.

From not believing there is a God, means there is no meaning to life.

If there is no meaning of life, then I quote Joss Whedon – “If what we do doesn’t matter, then all that matters is what we do”. Basically if you want meaning, you create your own.

From there – there’s the Oscar Wilde idea of “My life is my life’s work”. If we create meaning to our own lives – wouldn’t we want it to be the very best meaning? Which means we’ve now reintroduced the idea of living a ‘good’ life.

So what are the criteria of a ‘good’ life? Is living by the code set up by the bible? Or something that is personal? Personal is of course the best. But no man is an island, and you have to take moral codes and lessons from what is around you.

I decided to become an artist. Write music. Be a writer. So my personal definition of a good life became to live an artistic life. And to live it fully. Essentially, to leave behind a good biography for someone to write. Taking cues from my idols and heroes, from Keith Richards to Stanley Kubrik, or whoever. Live an interesting, artistic life.

But interesting by who’s account? From here we find Bob Ellis, who wrote in his “The Nostradamus Kid“, the idea of the future camera. That one day, someone will invent a camera that can look back in time and see everything we have done. And we need to perform for that camera, and that future audience.

(It’s not far off from Willie’s “all the world’s a stage” thing)

Who is this imaginary future audience, who’s audience-ness is shaping my life and my actions? It’s no one. They don’t exist. They are just a focus of an idea. Like a meditation mantra. Something un-nameable to hang something on.

And if you’ve come that far, you might as well just name that imaginary thing “God”.

Because for me – if life is a story – then God is not it’s writer. It’s not even it’s editor. It’s the reader we are trying to impress.

So, God is not a person. Certainly not one that looks like Alanis Morrisette.

But it is a belief in something that doesn’t exist, outside myself, is judging me. When I lie in my bed at nights and wonder if I’ve been good to God, it’s me wondering if I have had a “good” day, and if that audience will look at what I’ve done and think of me well.

Which excludes me from being an atheist.

The popular question is – does God exist?

The popular answer is – it doesn’t matter.

For years, that answer seemed like hocus pocus bullshit. But now I agree. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons the church would give. But here are my reasons.

Religion and God are, most thinkers will agree, a necessary invention at a certain stage of civilisation. People generally create moral codes, and tend to do it by committee. Religion – big and small, good and bad – spawn from this idea.

The fact – and it is a fact, really – that God doesn’t exist should null and void the lessons learnt in religion.

BUT – a big capital BUT – where have I learnt my moral code?

I’ll tell you. There’s one person who taught me more about good and evil, right and wrong than anyone else.

Superman.

And that fucking do-gooder doesn’t exist either.

I’ll give you another. Captain Kirk. Or Spiderman. Or any character ever played by Steve McQueen. I am the product of learning from thousands of people who don’t “exist”. Does it null and void the lessons I’ve learnt?

Did the boy who cried wolf actually exist? Why don’t atheists attack that story?

So, there is some value in fictional people.

Now, lets take that further.

Dee Dee Ramone is a hero of mine (especially during high school). The guy is dead. I’m never going to meet him. The Ramones were personas at best. They are almost cartoons. How much does “Dee Dee Ramone” exist? That’s not even a real name.

What about Keith Richards then? If that guy was a fictional character, he’d be an unrealistic one. Again, I’ve never met him. What I learnt reading Rolling Stones biographies – is there more value to that than Catcher In the Rye? I don’t believe there is. Both are stories and I’ve taken what I chose to take from them.

Someone I have met then. Michael Stipe for example. I shook his hand once, and had a small chat. Those 3 minutes of confirming his physical presence had little affect on how I feel about the guy, and what I learn from him.

Real, not real. Fiction or fact. Alive or dead. It’s all the same. What gives something value is me, and where I choose to find inspiration.

So whether God exists really doesn’t matter. I’m not dealing with truths when I think of beliefs. I don’t know if there was a Jesus, anymore than I don’t know if Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play guitar. But I know which one I’d rather believe in, in both cases.

The problem is religion. It’s usually a pretty bad thing. But as the years go by, even I’m softening to that.

I have an addictive personality. It’s probably lucky that Paul McCartney got to me before God. But I look at KISS conventions, or the Joni Mitchell message board, and I think – a lot of what religion does for people is here. Community. Self validation. A feeling of being unique and special within a group.

Beth, for years now, has been someone I go to when I want to talk about these things. I once asked her about religious nutters. In particular, a guy I saw on the street with a Jesus sandwich board, ranting and raving.

She said, and I paraphrase, that guy is just a lunatic. Pure and simple. And he uses religion as something to be insane about. It’s the same lesson as anti-racism 101. That group of black kids that broke into the local shop aren’t black kids. They are just kids – and dickheads at that. Skin colour, belief, age, gender – any combination of those can produce a dickhead.

Religion is so big, there’s bound to be some real dickheads there. If you took religion away, they’d probably be a dickhead about something else.

(I mean, the Nazi’s were Darwinists gone mad. It’s not hard to see the religious parallels there. Dickheads are everywhere.)

So that is a brief overview of why I decide to not Not-Believe in God.

But then there are the reasons I do.

And I just have to look at La Sagrada Familia. God, that is a fucking humbling experience. Looking up at those spires, and the work – since 1882 and not scheduled to finish for another 15 years – and you think, man, Gaudi really loved God. I mean he really, really loved Him.

That sort of outpouring of inspiration is – well – inspiring.

I want to live like that. I want to express myself with such thunder.

And God can take me there. I’ve chosen my own unique God to be my guide, but a God nonetheless.

Also, a lot of my heroes believe in God (although mostly troubled and turbulent relations at best). Stuart Murdoch. Neil Finn. Craig Finn. Jeff Tweedy. Tim Rogers. That’s just the music guys.

There’s no shortage of inspiring works in the name of God. So many churches. A million songs, movies, poems and books. It makes me think if you let yourself go to something bigger than yourself, then amazing things can happen.

This was a tough piece to write. I hope that you take it in spirit it was intended – a discussion rather than, ironically, a sermon. I usually don’t talk about this stuff, but I do think about it a lot.

In those very rare times I do talk about God, I have come up with a perfect nugget-sized analogy to sum it up.

The school of painting I’ve always been drawn to have been the impressionists. Those murky colours and shapes that suggest reality but don’t reflect it. Like the awesome “The Fighting Temeraire” by Turner or “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte” by Seurat. And so – I take an impressionistic view of life.

I’d rather blur reality for the sake of beauty.

This I believe.

 

 

(Small post script. The name ‘Danny’ means ‘The Lord is my judge’)

30 for 30: Douglas Adams

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

28. DOUGLAS ADAMS

Douglas Adams

I adore the works of Douglas Adams, and the man himself.

This 30 for 30 thing would not exist if not for Douglas Adams.

It was a thoroughly Douglas Adams moment in my life too. I was at my parents house, ready to leave for Paris for the first time. I was thinking, I need to buy The Salmon of Doubt, the posthumous collection of Adams’ writings found on his computer.

I had yet to read it, even though I was a huge fan (it was, after all, promoted as an unfinished novel. Who wants that?). So I decided I would rummage another book out of the boxes I had in my parents garage.

And there it was – a copy of The Salmon Of Doubt.

A perfect, unread, 1st edition paperback.

How?

I’m not the kind of person who buys something and doesn’t know it. No price tag marks of any sort to suggest it’s origin. No one else in my family would have bought it. It wasn’t even amongst the other books in “A”. It was in a completely random box – the first one I looked at. And I was just thinking about it.

The only Adams-esque explanation is this – The Salmon of Doubt has become a very important book in my life. It started on that day. And some time in the future, I will come across a pristine paperback 1st edition. And a wormhole. And I will know to throw the book into the wormhole, leading back to my parents garage circa 1996, ready for my 25 year old self to discover.

(Slightly odder still is I have no idea where the book is. I’m even less inclined to lose things)

As far as I’m concerned with things related to Douglas Adams, the most extraordinary explanation must be the one.

The Salmon of Doubt is not usually considered the most inspiring work by Adams. But, along with half a novel, there are a series of random writings. Wonderfully written, long rambling essays about certain subjects.

I remember reading these articles and thinking – this is exactly what blogs should be. Long, meaty, well written, point driven pieces. Adams jumps around and goes on tangents, always circling the same points. He usually write about technology too – something I love.

So since that time, I have been trying to write blog posts like Adams’ writings in The Salmon Of Doubt. If you are interested in reading a really great essay (Hooray! Essays!) you can find some on his site, and I would start with Frank the Vandal (http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-00-a.html)

I discovered Adams through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, much like everybody else. I’m guessing this was around age 11, and I was already discovering Monty Python, Red Dwarf and various absurd British comedies. I found it at Campsie Library, when I was devouring so many books. Then I found all it’s sequels – and loved them too.

Those books were, of course, and marvellously, surrounded by Adams’ other works. First was the Dirk Gently books, which I also loved – and the BBC have just announced they will finally make TV adaptations of the two novels. The Meaning Of Liff and the Deeper Meaning Of Liff – a dictionary for things that needed names.

Then there’s the one non-fiction book – Last Chance To See.

I absorbed it all. And I am not the only one. Every time I see the phrase ‘Don’t Panic’, I think of Adams. And ‘42’, yet another Adamsism that has broken through to the mainstream. The glorious Babel Fish. His popularity has never waned.

Hitchhiker’s is, of course, awesome. It is such a deep reflection on the interests of Douglas Adams as well.

I read and re-read the first four books many times. I waited patiently on the library waiting list to read the fifth book – Mostly Harmless. I bought a collection of the first four books, and I eventually found first edition paperback copies of all of them – going for almost £40 each now.

Around that time, the ABC screened the 1981 BBC TV version. Even better was the South Bank show special – a very absurdist take on Adams’ life story, intercut with recreated scenes from his novel. It’s the only time I’m aware that Dirk Gently has been portrayed onscreen.

It was easy to keep track of Adams’ works, because he was almost always first in the sci-fi books section. New stuff stood out. The ridiculous Illustrated Version to the weird and underwhelming Starship Titanic.

I kind of lost track of Adams’ by the time he died in 2001. Although I was really sad – I guess I was at an emotional age about my heroes.

One of the last things Adams worked on was to make the Hitchhiker’s movie. After mulling over a film version for decades, it finally happened in 2005.

I remember seeing it at the cinemas, and loving it. Even with the 1981 TV version, it felt like they mostly got what I imagined the book would look like.

The movie had some major flaws – it’s rambling plotline is just almost impossible to shoehorn into a movie. The wit in Adams’ narrative is missing. It seems they spent all the special effects money went to the last 30 minutes of the film.

But there were lots to love. The cast was mostly perfect. Martin Freeman – the man was made to play this role. Zooey Deschanel is great as usual. Sam Rockwell made a great Zaphod, except no-one’s managed to get the two heads thing right.

And it looked great. The Vogons were perfect. The showroom of planets is honestly breathtaking. In the end, they just nailed the strange humour, and lost none of the heart in the characters. And just that big screen feel. After 15 years and seeing that – it was amazing.

No one’s discussed a sequel, even though the movie made plenty of money. I would love to see it. A hundred scenes I would love to see. Milliways. The krikkitmen at Lords. And most importantly, Arthur and Fenchurch flying over London.

Maybe someone will reboot them again one day. It seems to be the trend. Special effects just get cheaper, and maybe we can get something that looks like the Harry Potter films, and a commitment to make all of them.

More than his work, I love Douglas Adams the person. It’s a side I first got to see when I read Last Chance To See. It’s a non fiction book, an account of Adams’ adventures with zoologist Mark Carwardine, searching for the planets most endangered and rare species. I didn’t finish it the first time, but years later returned to it and loved it.

Adams’ fell in love with these bizarre animals. In fact, they didn’t seem that far from Babel Fish and other weird creatures that came out of Adams’ imagination. In the book, he describes them like he would a Vogon. And he never loss his passion for protecting life on the planet.

In 2009, his good friend Stephen Fry recreated his journey with Carwardine for BBC2. The sequel, also called Last Chance To See, finally showed me a moving Kakapo. And great that this side of Adams’ legacy is getting it’s day in the sun. If he had lived, maybe he could have been a animal lover version of Michael Palin.

For me, it showed me that the amazing things I found in books were equal if not less than the amazing things you can see in life.

Adams had many other passions too. He was a big Beatles fanatic. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Gilmour and was one of the few outsiders in the Monty Python inner circle. He was an outspoken atheist before it became fashionable. He made a short but significant impact on Doctor Who.

He was also a Mac enthusiast, and a technology nut. He understood programming language, energy technology and computer science. According to Stephen Fry, Adams was the first person in the UK to own an Apple computer.

Adams loved technology. He loved the internet. He dabbled in video games in the mid 80s, and supported the advancement for technology. And for technology’s sake. He didn’t just love typing, or games, or graphics. He loved that these devices and how they can fit into our lives.

Imagine what Adams would make of the world today. He loved the internet, and prophesised we would live our lives on there. A comment that mirrors a line in the 2010 movie the Social Network. Imagine what Adams would make of Facebook.

Best still is the iPad. Let’s face it. It’s essentially the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life.

Adams has a theory about progress, that works in three parts.

1) Everything that exists before you’re born is “normal”.

2) Anything created between ages 0-30 is very exciting, and hopefully you can make a living out of it.

3) Anything created after 30 is abnormal, abhorrent and against nature.

So it’s only an age thing that makes us scared of progress of technology (or movies, or music etc). And when new things occur in technology, I think of Adams, always pushing ahead to the front of the line to see what was happening. I hope I can be there too.

May 25th of every year is now Towel Day. It’s a celebration of Adams, of Hitchhiker’s and his other works. It takes his name and inspiration from, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy world, the single most useful device ever – a towel. I’m aware of it every year, but I’ve not been brave enough to carry a towel with me in public.

But its’ something that is growing. A UK thing that is spreading out slowly to dozens of countries around the world, according to towelday.org. It’s yet another sign of how important and ahead of his time Adams was.

If you only know Adams for his sci fi humour, here is a great introduction to his activism.

30 for 30: France

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

27. FRANCE

The view from the Sacre Coeur

The view from the Sacre Coeur

I love France and French culture. I am essentially a Francophile.

Paris. Just the word evokes images of style, fashion and romance. It occupied a lot of my thoughts before I ever went there. It is still one of my favourite cities in the world – if not the favourite.

The place reeks of cliché. Walking around a beautiful courtyard, it’s easy to see a man in a stripey shirt busking with a piano accordion. It makes me want to scream “For God’s sake turn down the French!” But why would they? French is brilliant.

The government actually actively turns up the French. No matter how rich your company is, you can’t fuck with large parts of France. Apple wanted to build a store on the Seine and was told to fuck off. It took Apple years to build their first proper flagship store in Paris. The French still hate the new modern entrance in the Louvrethe Pyramide du Louvre.

The list of marquee landmarks are as long as any city and more than most. The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Seine. Hotel De Ville. Notre Dame. Père Lachaise. Pompidou Centre. Arc De Triomphe. Sacre Coeur. But it’s the small things. The merry-go-round near Abesses. The street signs and lamp-posts. Even the most insignificant bridge is amazing.

And the people. The most beautiful women, just walking along the street, smoking. Old American couples on holidays along the river. Trendy French kids dressed in the latest crazy fashions.

There’s not a corner of Paris that I find boring. There’s just something in the water.

Before I got there, Paris was already the main place I wanted to visit. In my naivety I thought this was true for everyone. Paris! I mean, come on!

Yet I know people who’s heart – even far away Australian hearts – belong to different places they’ve never been. Some it’s New York (Amy), Italy (Kathleen), London (Liam) or Egypt (Jeanette). This only makes me love Paris more. I studied maps of Paris before I even earned enough money in my life to afford a flight.

I don’t know why I was drawn to it, but I was.

But this is not a post about Paris. My courting with France began in, as with most things, the music. Being a huge music guy. Being a huge music guy, it’s easy to com across plenty of non English music. For me, something caught my ear with French music. It also began my interest in the language.

It’s small things at first. Nada Surf singing a French song. The original “My Way”. Que Sera Sera. The Grapes song Je M’appelle. Francoise Hardy dated Nick Drake.

Eventually you get yourself some Serge Gainsbourg. Then the chanteuses. Hardy of course. Brigit Bardot. Jane Birkin. Each more beautiful and swoonworthy as the next. Then you get some Edith Piaf. Some Telephone. Some Sebastian Tellier. And you’re stuck.

Then there’s cinema. I discovered Jean-Luc Godard when SBS showed a film of his every week for months. A bout de soufflé, Pierre le fou, Weekend, Masculine Feminine – all great (Sympathy For the Devil is also pretty good, but super weird). Amelie and the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jacque Tatu, etc. To this day, I am happy to see almost any French film at the cinema, be it arty like Diving Bell And the Butterfly, romance like Priceless or even teen dramas like LOL. If it’s on and I can make it, I do.

I love French cinema more than French music. But there’s also the films set in France. Charade is one of my favourite movies – the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. Before Sunset, little more than two people walking and talking in Paris – so many great moments. Everybody Says I Love You. Even French Kiss. Even the Da Vinci Code. Perhaps my favourite film version of Paris is Ratatouille. It really glistens bright like that cartoon.

I really loved the food in Ratatouille as well. I’ve tried all the delicacies and liked them. Escargot. Steak Tartare. Raclette. If it’s French I’ll try it. I have thought about getting that Julia Child book. And then there’s the wine. Even the crappiest 2 euro bottle from a shop is pretty good. And my favourite beer is Kronenbourg.

Then there’s everything else. Architecture. Painting. Cabaret. Even mime. It’s the same culture that brought us A Remembrance of Times Past and A Void. There is something about the French. They approach everything with a touch of flair. A je ne sais quoi. They lead artistic lives. If you’re going to do something, do it with class.

Man On Wire was a 2008 documentary on Phillipe Petit, a French tight rope walker and stunt artist. Amazingly, he walked across the New York Twin Towers in 1974. When the American press got to him, they wanted to know one thing – why he did it.

“Why”?

Petit did not know the answer. He barely understood the question. He was expecting “how”. He just did something amazing, that brightened people’s day and fuelled imagination and possibilities. Do you really have to ask ‘why’?

Such a French way to look at life.

I studied some French in high school, and did more years of it in London. I can get by in France. On a good day I can get by without using English at all. I even managed to buy drugs in French once. They should put that in a test.

I have a few French language podcasts and plenty of French apps on my phone. I even tried to read Le Monde every morning for a while but I thought that was taking Francophilia into Wankery. I bought the first Harry Potter book in French and I’m working my way through it – and getting better at not reaching for the dictionary. What I really want is the Roald Dahl books in French.

I will get back to lessons as soon as I can. I started to write a story in French once. I’ve translated some of my own songs into French (badly). I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to the language, but I love it. Studying something has never been so easy.

Last time I was in Paris, I had a strange feeling. In my first couple of years in London, I went to Paris almost every month. I’ve been to many other French cities too. I really got to know the place.

I have my regular things. Train into Gare Du Nord, and walk through Abesses to Tim Hotel. Breakfast pastry from that little boulangerie around the corner that make awesome chocolate croissants. I have the places I like for dinner, for drinks and all around Monmartre. It also all ends at the steps of the Sacre Coeur, looking over all of Paris. I know my spot, the backstreets, how to get anywhere from my spot.

I’m not a tourist, but I’m still a stranger.

It’s like I dated this city for long enough. Time to step up or get out. I wouldn’t have left London if it wasn’t for this. Next time I go to Paris, I have to spend some real time there. Like live there.

So, I’m going to get the language up. I’m going to save. And then I’m going to go back. And live an artistic life.