Sci-fi fan MITCH BENN on what his hero Douglas Adams would have to say about politics today
Whoever came up with the expression “You must never meet your heroes; they’ll always disappoint you” had dreadful taste in heroes. I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a few of my heroes over the years and by and large they’ve all been delightful. Even Sting.
Yes, Sting. I bumped into him a few years ago at a ridiculously starry party I had no real business being at (I’ll maybe explain what I was doing there some other time). I was feeling horribly self-conscious (and poor and fat and underdressed, and thinking about it I wasn’t even fat at the time but that’s what being around rich and famous people will do to you) and was about to make my excuses when somehow I got talking to Sting, who’d just rocked up with Trudie Styler (and while we’re here, there’s a showbiz marriage that’s lasted).
I’d been a fan of Sting since The Police broke through when I was about nine years old; they were probably the first band I was ‘into’ in my own right. I got all their albums – on cassette – but I never saw them live, since they split up when I was about 14 (I’m still kicking myself I didn’t get to see their reunion tour about 10 years ago). As I followed his solo career through the 1980s and 1990s it became apparent that people didn’t like Sting… in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a kind word about him. Every article I read painted him as arrogant and aloof, and every interview with him seemed to go badly. So if ever there was a case of Don’t Meet Your Heroes, it was this.
He was delightful. Polite, relaxed, easy to talk to, genuinely interested in what this total nobody he’d managed to get himself cornered by had to say, and, oddly, audibly Geordie. I spent the whole conversation wondering what on earth everybody’s problem with him might be, and later came to the conclusion that it might be all about context.
It could just be that Sting has had so many run-ins with reporters and journalists over the years that if you’re interviewing him or just interacting with him in any sort of journalistic capacity, he gets defensive and uncooperative (hence them regarding him as rude) but if you just happen to be hanging out with him socially, he’s friendly and charming. Just goes to show you (something).
One hero of mine who I never got to meet, to my unending regret, was Douglas Adams. It might have been possible during what turned out (to everyone’s shock) to have been the last years of his life; I was edging my way into radio comedy at the time and as such had a few mutual friends and colleagues, but I never met the great man himself before he was taken from us far too soon in 2001 (and in checking that date, I’ve just noticed I’m now eight months older than Douglas was when he died. Wow, that’s chilling). It was a great honour to take over the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox for the last tour of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy live show (standing in for an unavailable Mark Wing-Davey), not only for the chance to work with the original radio cast (there I go, recklessly meeting my heroes again) but also for the chance to play a part in preserving Douglas’s legacy.
It is perhaps the simplest message that Douglas Adams left us that springs to mind now: No, not the one about always knowing where your towel is, although that’s important too; the other one.
It’s easy to succumb to despair just now; with less than a month to go (and for all the things I’ll never forgive Boris Johnson for, ruining the run-up to Christmas may yet turn out to be the most unpardonable). But as I’ve said before, there is literally everything to play for, so let’s play.
We have been allowed back into the decision-making process, even if it’s not how we wanted it to happen. And yes, this way the government could get a majority in the House of Commons with a minority of the vote and dishonestly treat it as a mandate, but that’s what governments always do.
Vote, get your nearest and dearest to vote and get them to get their nearest and dearest to vote.
Because all votes count, even the ones that don’t. Even if you live in a ‘safe seat’ and your vote doesn’t appear to affect the overall outcome, the one place it will be counted is when people quote the overall percentages of the vote in months and years to come. And that does matter; if, say, the Greens get 7% or 8% this time, which is by no means unlikely, then next time they might get 10% or 12%, since more voters will regard them as legitimate contenders (maddeningly, a lot of people seem to think you’re supposed to vote for the party you think will win, but that’s a rant for another time).
Stay motivated, stay optimistic, stay in the game.
This is what resisting looks like.