It’s always a thrill to get something published. My latest appearance in print, however, is especially important to me, despite the fact it comprises just eleven words: my own humble contribution to After Liff, a book written by John Lloyd and Jon Canter and just published by Faber and Faber.
The reason those eleven words mean so much to me is a little complicated. In order to explain, I need to whisk you back through time to the year 1983, when TV producer John Lloyd joined forces with author Douglas Adams to write an unassuming little book called The Meaning of Liff.
The idea behind the book was deceptively simple: the authors compiled a list of real placenames – mostly from the UK – and assigned to them definitions that described ‘common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.’
The genius of this concept can only fully be appreciated by reading the book, but if I tell you that the definition of ‘Duddo’ (a village in Northumberland) is ‘The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes,’ and that to ‘Harbledown’ (a village near Canterbury) is ‘to manoeuvre a double mattress down a winding staircase,’ you’ll get the general idea.
The Meaning of Liff appealed to me because it’s very, very funny. Like most funny things, it’s also very, very true. As for the pedigree of its authors, well, John Lloyd is probably best known as the man behind such classic TV programmes as Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder and QI, while Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its many sequels.
These were the names that prompted me to pick up the book in the first place. Lloyd’s programmes had been – and still are – at the top of my viewing list. Adams was – and still is – one of my favourite authors, and I share the view of many that his sudden death in 2001 robbed us of one of our great comic talents. It’s all too easy to dismiss The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as the farcical spacegoing adventures of the hapless Arthur Dent – and on one level that’s exactly what they are. But Adams’s comedy was drawn from acute observation and thinly veiled sadness, and that’s what gives it both depth and lasting appeal.
1990 saw the publication of The Deeper Meaning of Liff, a revised and expanded version of the original book. Since then, the whole Liff phenomenon has steadily gained traction on the internet, with fans devising new Liffs (yes, the word has become a proper noun) and sharing them around on websites and through social media.
Bringing things right up to date – and indeed back to where I started – Lloyd and his co-author Canter have just published After Liff, a wholly new publication containing an entire lexicon of new definitions. One fifth of these were compiled from contributions gathered from the internet.
And I’m delighted to say that one of them is mine.
Last year, a friend of mine tweeted that he was driving through Northamptonshire and had passed a sign for a place called Yardley Gobion. A more suitable candidate for Liffification (hmm, I’m not sure that’s a word) I couldn’t imagine. So I tweeted my definition and, as is the way with Twitter, promptly forgot all about it. Months later, I was astonished to receive a message from the After Liff team asking if they could include my Liff in the new book.
So there you have it. Eleven short words that, in a very small way, connect me to two of the men who shaped my early life and who continue to bring me pleasure still. Today, the postman delivered my complimentary copy of the new book, signed by the authors and glowing faintly with the aura of the late, great Douglas Adams. It will take pride of place on my bookshelf.
What’s that? You want to know what those eleven words of mine are? You want to know what the official definition of ‘Yardley Gobion’ actually is?
Sorry, you’ll have to get your own copy for that!