Friday, May 15, 2015


It isn't often that I sit in a field on my own and giggle out loud, not only because work and the climate here makes a conjunction of a free hour or two in daytime and sunshine a rare occurrence but also the state of my health and finances are not particularly amusing so something quite extraordinary tends to be required by way of input.

This short extract from The Salmon of Doubt by the late Douglas Adams was suitably and extraordinarily fine and amused me to such an extent that I must bring it to your attention.

I was a bit early for the train. I'd got the time of the train wrong. I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table. I want you to picture the scene. It's very important that you get this very clear in your mind. Here's the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, cookies. There's a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy, wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase. It didn't look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out and ate it. 
Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There's nothing in our background, upbringing or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies. You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would very quickly have been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know... But in the end I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn't do anything and thought What am I going to do?
In the end I thought Nothing for it, I'll just have to go for it and I tried very hard to ignore the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took a cookie for myself. I thought That settled him. But it hadn't because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie. Having not mentioned it the first time It was somehow even harder to raise the subject second time around. 'Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice...' I mean, it doesn't really work.
We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back.
A moment or two later the train was coming in so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, and picked up my newspaper, and underneath my newspaper were my cookies. The thing I particularly like about this story is that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the past quarter century a perfectly ordinary guy who's had the exact same story, only he doesn't have the punch line.

From a speech by Douglas Adams, 2001.
The Salmon of Doubt

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