‘I really loved your books ... when I was alive’ I told DNA ‘Though I’m sure i could have written them myself ... if you don’t mind me saying so’.
DNA obviously did mind.
His face went red as a beetroot, and his bodily temperature rose a few hundred degrees, as he towered over me, spluttered, and then boiled over, like a saucepan of water that had been left on a stove too long.
‘Why didn’t you then?’ he snapped.
‘Hey ...’ I said, trying to turn down the intense heat emanating from him, ‘I only meant ...’
‘I know exactly what you meant’ said DNA, and then, with an almost superhuman effort, he managed to get hold of himself, and said ‘It’s a rare mind that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious.
‘The cry, “I could have thought of that if …”, is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too, and being offended, because nobody believes them, seems to be what they do instead.
‘I don’t care that a million or six people say, “I could have thought up ...”, whatever I wrote while I was still in my body, as they say, but what irks me more than a whiff of an unexpected fart is I’m still getting it all here.
‘Some folk never change, or move on, and refuse to give up the ghost, as they say, for a chance at fame, so let them all join in the chorus, ”I could have done that if …”, for all I care’
‘Ok ... Ok’ I said ‘I didn’t mean to offend you. But you must have had a lot of fun writing all that stuff, right?’
DNA was calmer.
‘The more I think about our species the more I think we just do stuff and make up explanations later when asked’ he said ‘I would rather read than write.
‘To be honest I’d rather hang upside down in a bucket than write so when it was suggested some ten years after I toppled off a bench in a gym at Santa Barbara, USA, and became Recently Dead, I write something, but this time for the Newly Arrived Recently Dead, and the Not Yet Dead, who felt the need to prepare, I wasn’t overly excited, but thought well, why not, and I guess I’ve got to do something to while away the otherwise endless tedium of eternity’.
‘So, how, exactly, did it happen?’ I said ‘I mean ...’
‘Well, I was feeling good when I went to the gym to work out, and remember walking the treadmill, thinking about a draft of the screenplay of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy I’d just finished, and then did a few aerobics.
‘Peter, my trainer, had checked me out. Everything normal, heart rate around 130, pulse fine, breathing was good. I did a few stomach crunches, then closed my eyes, fell asleep, and rolled off the bench, clutching my towel – and that was it.
‘Simple, and easy, as that, which says something, considering I wasn’t ill, and was just 49 years old, about to see my book on the silver screen, had everything finally going for me, and then pop, I’m gone.
‘Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Before what happened to me, happened,
‘I was already thinking of having my entire body surgically removed, but it seems to me that what happened was just as effective.
‘I hadn’t gone the way I’d expected to go, or where I thought I’d be, but, well, here I am, and, finding myself dead, then not dead, and feeling the condition needed some explanation, I agreed, as you do when you know nothing about something, to write a book about it, and not just a book, but something to help those just a little more surprised than I was about it., and never having really been seriously into religion, though I have a little history connected with it, I concluded I was a little more objective, about being dead, or not dead, than most’ he paused, as if waiting for a comment, but with nothing forthcoming, from me, he went on.
‘My physical body was cremated, along with my towel, at 7.30 pm, British Standard Time, on May 16th, 2001, in Santa Barbara, CA, USA, and lots of folk who liked what I wrote, or said they did, had a round of drinks around that time.
‘It’s funny the things you remember most, and even funnier what you forget, when you’re dead. Like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit, but at six feet five inches tall, my legs stuck out absurdly from the bottom, so that I looked more like a giant prawn tempura than a rhinoceros, and, inside, the heat and the stench of stale sweat and old dettol was almost overpowering, until I got into the swing of it.
‘And then the time I took the family on vacation to Barbados in early 1999. On the second night the villa we were renting was burgled, and they came into our bedroom while we were all asleep. Folk told us later if we’d woken up we’d probably have been shot.
‘I remember the time I appeared on stage with Pink Floyd. It was my forty-two birthday present from Dave Gilmour. I played the easy lead guitar bit on Brain Damage, and then rhythm on Eclipse, and used a left-handed Bahama Green Jerry Jones Neptune, a copy of a Danelectro.
’Not bad for a guy who used to work as a chicken shit cleaner, and as a body guard for an Arab family, and in a mental hospital … ‘
‘Ok … Ok’ I said ‘I get it. You prefer talking to writing. But what do you read?’
‘I loved the Wodehouse stories about golf’ he said ‘My one experience of it was many, many years ago, when a friend of mine offered to introduce me to the sport, and we played a round at a local golf course.
‘He wasn’t a great player, but he was a goodish player, and he took it very seriously. The inevitable happened, and he found himself playing rather badly, and fluffing easy shots, as a result of which he became rather tense and morose.
‘I, as complete beginners often do, hit one or two lucky shots, and, by the end of the game, my friend was such a clenched knot of self hatred that the whole thing was unbearable. I thought I’d give it a rest for twenty or thirty years to wait for the memories of that hideous day to wear off ... ‘
‘I liked the movie …’ I said.
‘Making a film is like trying to grill a steak by having a series of people come into the room and breathe on it’ he said ‘Film makers go at the speed of molten glass moving through thick syrup, and they have only two speeds - full stop and reverse.
‘It just wasn’t happening because nobody was really seriously interested enough to come up with the money. It needed eighty to eighty five million dollars, and the best they would offer was forty-five million dollars.
‘Ok, if what you wanted was a cheesy film. The fundamental problem, I heard, was that Hitchhikers was too picaresque for a traditional movie structure, and, anyway, where was the market for comic SF?
‘It had hardly ever been done before, and never on this kind of budget. Then, bang! They make Men In Black, and we sold Hitchhikers for Jay Roach to direct, who was just finishing Austin Powers, International Man Of mystery, and Jay wanted Hitchhikers to be his next film.
‘I was sitting in a little bar in a hotel with my agent Ed Victor when the whole thing got blown away like a deckchair on a windy day, and I was devastated.
‘Disney wanted to bring it in at forty-five million dollars, but Jay and I insisted it was an eighty to eighty five million dollar movie because that was the way we’d written it and we’d have to do some drastic surgery to make it a forty five million dollar movie.
‘Ed said ‘You’re crazy. Grab it. It’s still a forty five million dollar movie’ and I said ‘No, Ed, it would be cheesy’ and Ed said ‘Hitchhikers is cheesy – that’s its charm. It’s not Star Wars. You keep on wanting to make Star Wars with jokes.
‘But it’s not Star Wars. It can be cheesy’ he said.
‘Well, fuck you too … but he was right, I was wrong. Nevertheless, I was hurt. I’d transplanted my entire family to Santa Barbara to follow a dream, and I was fucking devastated.
‘Then, on the morning of May 11, 2001, feeling good – I died. Isn’t life a bummer?
‘Woody Allen once said that some find immortality through their work, but he preferred to get it by not dying.
‘I should have thought of that …’