May 252015


Towel Day is celebrated every year on 25 May as a tribute to the author Douglas Adams by his fans. On this day, fans carry a towel with them, as described in Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to demonstrate their appreciation for the books and the author. The commemoration was first held two weeks after Adams’ death on 11 May 2001.


I stand in awe of Adams’ genius. Clearly millions of others do too. Words escape me when I contemplate what he achieved – stellar (!) prose, Byzantine plot twists, amazing inventions, extraordinarily dry humor, mind boggling intelligence, crazy imagination . . . need I go on? I, like all fans, just wish he had lived longer and written more.

The whole thing about towels begins here:

A towel . . . is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)


Towels then appear sporadically throughout the “trilogy”

Ford was hanging from the towel, gripping its seams.

Other hitchhikers had seen to modify their towels in exotic ways, weaving all kinds of esoteric tools and utilities and even computer equipment into the fabric. Ford was a purist. He liked to keep things simple. He carried a regular towel from a regular domestic soft furnishings shop. It even had a kind of blue and pink floral pattern on it, despite his attempts to bleach and stone wash it. It had a couple of pieces of wire threaded into it, a bit of flexible writing stick, and also some nutrients soaked into a corner of it so he could suck it in an emergency, but otherwise it was a simple towel you could dry your face on.

The only actual modification he had been persuaded by a friend to make was to reinforce the seams.

Ford hung on to his towel like a maniac.

(Mostly Harmless)

And . . .

Here, suck this,’ said Roosta, offering Zaphod his towel.
Zaphod stared at him as if he expected a cuckoo to leap out of his forehead on a small spring.
‘It’s soaked in nutrients,’ explained Roosta.
‘What are you, a messy eater or something?’ said Zaphod.
‘The yellow stripes are high in protein, the green ones have vitamin B and C complexes, the little pink flowers contain wheatgerm extract.’
Zaphod took it and looked at it in amazement.
‘What are the brown stains?’ he asked.
‘Bar-B-Q sauce,’ said Roosta. ‘For when I get sick of wheatgerm.’
Zaphod sniffed it doubtfully. Even more doubtfully, he sucked a corner. He spat it out again.
‘Ugh,’ he stated.
‘Yes,’ said Roosta, ‘when I’ve had to suck that end I usually have to suck the other end a bit too.’
‘Why,’ asked Zaphod suspiciously, ‘what’s in that?’
‘Anti-depressants,’ said Roosta.
‘I’ve gone right off this towel, you know,’ said Zaphod, handing it back.

(The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)


Just about everything you might want to know about Towel Day can be found here, most especially a list of events around the world. I was amazed to discover what goes on in Argentina (probably ex-pats), because 25 de Mayo is a major national holiday there celebrating the May Revolution. Amusingly Towel Day features locro which is the national dish for this day. I’ve written about locro here: Here’s the Argentine Towel Day facebook page:


Since Roosta’s towel contains wheat germ here’s one of my favorite recipes that includes it. I used to make my own granola, which was a great hit with my friends. I used to give away bucketloads. Use all organic ingredients, and essentially chuck in whatever you want by the half cupful: flax seed, pine nuts, chopped nuts of all sorts, dried fruits (mangoes are great) . . . whatever you can find. You just need to remember to keep the balance between oats and other ingredients, so as you include more ingredients add more oats. I eat mine moistened with freshly squeezed orange juice, or sometimes heavy cream (no need to be TOO healthy!), but you can use yogurt, milk or whatever.

© Tío Juan’s Granola


3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
¾ cup shredded sweet coconut
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each of whatever else you want.
1 cup raisins, sultanas, currants mixed


Heat the oven to 300°F

Put all the dry ingredients, except the fruits, in a bowl and mix them thoroughly.

Whisk together the maple syrup and oil and add the mix to the dry ingredients. Be sure that the wet and dry are thoroughly blended.  This takes time.

Spread the granola thinly and evenly on baking sheets. For this size recipe I use two. Put in the oven and keep an eagle eye on it. Stir frequently; it is very easy to burn the mix at the edges.

When the granola is golden brown (about 25 minutes), take it out and let it cool. Dump back in the bowl and mix in the fruits.

Store in an airtight container.

Jan 282014


Antarctica was first sighted by explorers when Alexander Island was discovered on January 28, 1821 by a Russian expedition under Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen who named it Alexander I Land for the reigning Tsar Alexander I of Russia. This discovery was quite different from the “discovery” of Australia or the Americas.  In those cases those continents were inhabited and the “discovery” merely meant that Europeans found what other people already knew existed. To the best of our knowledge, no one knew Antarctica was there and Bellingshausen (and crew) was the first human ever to lay eyes on it.  Alexander Island was believed to be part of the Antarctic mainland until 1940. Its insular nature was proven in December 1940, by a two-person sledge party composed of Finn Ronne and Carl Eklund of the United States Antarctic Service. In the 1950s, a British base administered as part of the British Antarctic Territory was constructed at Fossil Bluff (Base KG).


Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen (1778 – 1852) was an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, cartographer and explorer, who ultimately rose to the rank of Admiral. Bellingshausen started his service in the Baltic Fleet, and after distinguishing himself, he joined the First Russian circumnavigation in 1803-1806, where he served on frigate Nadezhda under the captaincy of Adam Johann von Krusenstern. After the journey he published a collection of maps of the newly explored areas and islands of the Pacific Ocean. Subsequently he commanded several ships of the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

As a prominent cartographer, Bellingshausen was appointed to command the circumnavigation of the globe in 1819-1821, intended to explore the Southern Ocean and to find land in the proximity of the South Pole. The expedition was prepared by Mikhail Lazarev, who was made Bellingshausen’s second-in-command and the captain of sloop Mirny, while Bellingshausen himself commanded sloop Vostok. During this expedition Bellingshausen and Lazarev became the first explorers to see the land of Antarctica on January 28, 1820. They managed to twice circumnavigate the continent and never lost each other from view. Thus they disproved Captain Cook’s assertion that it was impossible to find land in the southern ice fields. The expedition discovered and named Peter I Island, Zavodovski, Leskov and Visokoi Islands, Antarctic Peninsula as well as Alexander Island (Alexander Coast).


The island is now used as a meteorological centre and refueling base. It is claimed by the United Kingdom, for which it represents their largest remaining overseas island, part of the British Antarctic Territory. But ownership is disputed. For Chile and Argentina it is part of the Antártica Chilena Province and Tierra del Fuego Province respectively (as a component of the general dispute with Great Britain over the Malvinas Islands).


Alexander Island, which is also known as Alexander I Island, Alexander I Land, Alexander Land, Alexander I Archipelago, and Zemlja Alexandra I, is the largest island of Antarctica. It lies in the Bellingshausen Sea west of Palmer Land, Antarctic Peninsula from which it is separated by Marguerite Bay and George VI Sound. George VI Ice Shelf entirely fills George VI Sound and connects Alexander island to Palmer Land. The island partly surrounds Wilkins Sound, which lies to its west. Alexander Island is about 240 miles (390 km) long in a north-south direction, 50 miles (80 km) wide in the north, and 150 miles (240 km) wide in the south. Alexander Island is the second largest uninhabited island in the world, after Devon Island.


The surface of Alexander Island is predominantly ice covered. There exist some exposed nunataks (exposed rocky ridges) and a few ice free areas. The nunataks are the peaks of north-south trending mountain ranges and hills. They include the Colbert, Havre, Lassus, Rouen, Sofia University, and Walton mountains; Staccato Peaks; Lully Foothills; Elgar Uplands; and Douglas Range. These mountains, peaks, hills, and uplands are surrounded by a permanent ice sheet, which consists of glaciers that flow off of Alexander Island. These glaciers flow west into the Bach and Wilkins Ice Shelves and Bellingshausen Sea, and east into the George VI Ice Shelf. The George VI Ice Shelf is fed by both by outlet glaciers from the ice cap on Palmer Land and Alexander Island.


Another notable feature of Alexander Island is Hodgson Lake. It is a former subglacial lake that has emerged from under an ice sheet that covered it. It is 2 km (1.2 mi) long by 1.5 km (0.93 mi), and has a 93.4 m (306 ft) deep water column that lies sealed beneath a 3.6 to 4.0 m (12 to 13 ft) thick perennial lake ice. The northern side of this lake is bounded by the Saturn Glacier, which flows east into George VI Sound, while the southern side of Hodgson Lake is bounded by the northern face of Citadel Bastion. During the Last Glacial Maximum, Hodgson Lake was covered by the ice sheet at least 470 m (1,542 ft) thick. This ice sheet started thinning about 13,500 years ago. It retreated and left Hodgson Lake covered by perennial ice sometime before 11,000 years ago. This lake has been covered by perennial ice since that time.

Two things were found out very early on in Antarctic exploration – that extreme cold makes people feel very hungry, and hard work such as that involved in traveling by dog sledge, or especially by manhauling uses a great deal of energy. This energy has to be replaced by eating enough, unfortunately the early explorers didn’t eat enough and suffered as a consequence.

We now know:

Manhauling sledges uses per day                                                   6500 calories  (27300 KJ)

Travelling by dog sledge uses per day                                            5000 calories   (21000 KJ)

Travelling by skidoo (snowmobile) uses per day                           3350 calories    (14070 KJ)

Working mainly inside station buildings uses per day                  2750 calories (11550 KJ)

Early explorers also did not eat enough of the right foods and in consequence developed several ailments, notably scurvy. Here is a comparison of the ration list for Scott’s 1912 expedition and the normal rations for polar workers 100 years later.


Sledging rations for one man day as provided for Scott’s expedition to the South Pole – 1912
One man day manhauling.kilocalories
Modern sledging rations – 2012
One man day travellng by skidoo
note the variety of the diet compared to 1912kilocalories
Biscuits 1730 Biscuits 530
Pemmican 2000 Pemmican 700
Butter and cheese 450 Butter and cheese 700
Sugar 340 Sugar 200
Cocoa 70 Cocoa 0
Meat and fish 780
Soup 40
Porridge 25
Muesli 140
Vegetables 120
Chocolate 530
Jam 65
Milk 225
Drinking chocolate 45
Total          4590 kilocalories per day Total          3400 kilocalories per day
Protein 257g Protein 102g
Fat 210g Fat 195g
Carbohydrate 427g Carbohydrate 170g


I discussed some of these issues in my post on the discovery of the North Magnetic Pole (1 June) and gave a recipe for pemmican, the longlasting dried meat and fruit combination used by indigenous peoples in the Arctic region, and adopted by polar explorers.  Modern rations also call for muesli which is much like granola except that the oats are not toasted.  So Muesli is even simpler to make than granola because all you do is mix dried ingredients together.

Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital, where a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables was an essential part of therapy. It was inspired by a similar “strange dish” that he and his wife had been served on a hike in the Swiss Alps. Bircher-Benner himself referred to the dish simply as “d’Spys” (Swiss German for “the dish”, in German “die Speise”). Muesli in its modern form became popular in Western countries starting in the 1960’s as part of increased interest in health food and vegetarian diets. Traditional muesli was eaten with lemon juice and not milk.

It is certainly worth making your own because (a) it is cheaper than commercial brands (especially if you buy in bulk), and (b) you can choose whatever ingredients you want. The only thing to bear in mind is that you need to keep a slight preponderance of oats over other ingredients, and since you are probably not heading to the South Pole tomorrow, you do not have to be scrupulous about the balance of food groups.

I don’t care for sweet muesli so I omit the sugar and replace it with desiccated coconut.  I also add flax seeds.  But the possibilities are endless.  In addition you can add fresh fruit when you serve it – bananas and strawberries work well.  Milk is the common moistener, but I often use juice instead, which also obviates the need for additional sugar.  Yoghurt works too.


Traditional Muesli


4 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup toasted wheat germ
½ cup wheat bran
½ cup oat bran
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, papaya chunks etc.)
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc)
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds


Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl and store in an airtight container. What could be simpler?

If you have a hankering for granola instead, spread the oats in a single layer on several baking sheets (drizzled with honey or maple syrup if you like), and bake in a 350°F/175°C oven for about 20 minutes until golden, stirring the oats every 5 minutes to be sure of even browning.  Let cool and then add the other ingredients.