Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The 13th Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture

I heard, back in October, that Neil Gaiman would be giving the 13th Annual Douglas Adams Memorial lecture, at the Royal Geographical Society in London, so I booked tickets for myself and a friend, and then mostly forgot about it, until last week when we started planning. 
(And  happily another friend was able to get a ticket, late on, so there were 3 of us, in the evening)

We arrived just after 6:30 and were met, outside the venue, by a Rhino. (The event was to support the charity, Save the Rhino, of which Douglas Adams was a supporter and patron), so the Rhino was not out of place!

Once inside, we found seats, (and found several other friends, too, although there wasn't much opportunity to catch up) and waited for Neil, while a film about the work of Save the Rhino, and its sister organisation, The Environmental Investigation Agency, (EIA) played on a big screen.

The lecture was worth the wait.
Dirk Maggs introducing Neil

Douglas Adams' (half) brother, James Thrift gave a brief introduction, Julian Newman of EIA explained the work of both organisations, and then Dirk Maggs (who of course was very involved in both the original HHGTTG radio shows, and with the more recent Good Omens radio drama, and with the HHGTTG live stage show) introduced Neil.

The speech was live-streamed, and the full lecture is available on YouTube, and I would recommend watching it.

I won't, therefore, try to report everything which was said, but have to mention a few favourite points. 

Neil's explanation that when thinking about the lecture, he had asked himself "what would Douglas do?"  ... as a result of which he was writing the lecture at 4:30 p.m ... and hoped to finish it at the weekend!

Neil talked about Adams' influence on him, and then moved on to talk about immortality and stories as lifeforms, and books as sharks.. all of which made perfect sense as he was saying it...

He talked about the immortality of stories - the oldest plants we know of are 5,000 years old, the oldest animals around 300 years old, but we have stories which can be traced back 8,000 years (a Native American story of forbidden love and volcanoes), and others which have survived from ancient Egypt (the Tale of the two Brothers) 

He spoke too, of his cousin Helen, a survivor of the Warsaw and Rodomsko ghettos, was, quite literally prepared to risk her life for stories, hiding and reading a copy of 'Gone with the Wind' which had been smuggled in, and retelling the story to her friends. He made the point that while fiction is often criticised for being 'escapist',escapism is not always a bad thing. There are places, and situations, from which it is good to escape.

At the end of the lecture there was time for  few questions, and as these had been collected before hand on index cards, it avoided the whole problem of the  endless question..

Neil was asked whether Douglas would have used twitter, and he confirmed thast Douglas would, no doubt, have used twitter to avoid writing two, maybe three further books (Neil described the internet as like his personal Tamagotchi: there are all those people on twitter, and you feel that if you don't give the a little love and attention, they will wither and die!)

He was asked which of his works he would like to be remembered for (Answer: Any of them) and speculated about how AA Milne, and JM Barrie would have felt had they know what they would be remembered for. It is, he said, so easy to be forgotten, so he would pick "any of them" 

Then there was a question about whether he felt things more, or less, than when he was younger. His answer was that you feel things differently but that he was not sure that he could kill people with the same joyous abandon as he did in the early days. . . 

But these are just my highlights. You should absolutely watch, and listen to the whole thing.

We none of us won any of the raffle prizes, but after the lecture finished and the raffle was drawn, Neil hung around for a little while and we were able to say hello,  and to give him hugs and cake, both of which are good things in almost every situation, and certainly in this one!

We (or rather my friend A, who is more observant than me) also got a little thrill by recognizing Arthur Darvill (AKA Rory-the-Roman-Williams) who had been in the audience,as we left!

A most delightful evening!

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