When Arthur was five, he received a lovely fire engine for Christmas. It was bright red, with a miniature fireman clinging to the ladder. When he pushed it back and forth it made a grating noise that, while not even close to mimicking a real fire engine, was loud enough to brightening the sleepy Christmas holidays for any five-year-old while ruining it quite thouroughly for his parents.
Young Arthur loved his engine passionately. He spent several hours playing with it, bumping the tiny car into chair legs with force enough to leave a red strip of paint on the wood. The highlight of the fireengine's career as a cause of disturbance was probably when Arthur made his aunt stumble twice on his improvised house on fire (a box liberally coated in strips of red wrapping paper). When he grew up, he told his parents while they put him to bed, the car still clutched in his arms, he was going to be a fireman!
Shortly after New Years, the fire engine suffered an unfortunate accident involving a cat, a rock and a vacuum cleaner. It was a bleak Thursday for young Arthur, especially when his parents, while quite sympathetic, proved themselves to be (in this instance at least) hardliners on the concept of 'if you like it, don't break it'.
Many years and at least two universes later, Arthur was choking on the noxious fumes of burning carbofibers while ducking crumbling ship-joists made of a semi-aware nanochiffre material, which howled most distressingly when it caught fire. Most of his mind was busy gibbering in panic and trying to suck out the few remaining oxygen molecules from the increasingly choking air. However, there was a tiny near-forgotten part of him that insisted that trying to put out a space fire with only a wet towel and a bucket of what Arthur main sincerely hoped was alien mopping water and not fermenting Old Janx Spirit or something equally flammable, was just as cool as he'd always suspected.
Then Ford finally found the three second emergency airlock opening setting and the fire was sucked out into space. It was followed by the remaining oxygen, which is why no-one, not even Arthur himself, heard the tiny woo-eee-oo that his inner five-year-old forced him to produce when the flames shot off towards the chilling vacuum.
There were plenty of things the man known as Ford Prefect from Guildford didn't understand regarding human culture. Foremost their utter inability to realize what a boring, backwater planet they were living on and finally getting around to do a proper attempt to get off it. On some days, though, their fascination with and simultaneously complete inability to create proper rail-bound transportation didn't come far behind.
"Why would you want to become a train driver anyway?" he asked Arthur, who had joined him sometime between his third and fifth(ish) pint.
"Pardon?" Arthur gave him the belligerent look of the humanoid earthling male who has been suspecting that his conversation partner isn't listening to a word he's been saying for the last ten minutes. It was a look Ford would have been more than familiar with, if he'd ever bothered to pay enough attention to his conversation partners to properly take note of it.
"Train driver! You said you wanted to be one when you grew up. I must say, even for such a paltry little person from a paltry little place, that is one exceptionally un-froody dream."
"When did I ever... Oh, never mind." Arthur's frown deepened, his suspicions about Fords inability to pay attention to the litany of complaints regarding office backstabbing at the local radio station (which somehow always managed to exclude Arthur, in a way that came off more like a vague insult than some general goodwill in his direction, though he couldn't exactly pinpoint how) more or less confirmed with the abrupt change in topic.
"You said you wanted to be a train driver," Ford insisted. "I'm fairly sure I remember. And none of the substances we imbibed that evening should be hallucinogenic for my species, ergo I do remember correctly."
"Well, it's one of those typical boy's dreams, isn't it?"
"Really?" Ford gave a bleary glare to the tired station pub they were currently occupying, managing to express a staggering amount of disdain for the apparantly lackluster dreams of earthling boys.
There might somewhere be pubs in train stations, filled with the excitement of travel. The final outposts of comfort and semi-civilization, where rugged adventurers gather to trade stories over exotic drinks served in glasses so perfectly chilled that each drop of dew glistens like a pearl. Around them might gather fresh-eyed youngsters, setting out for their first great adventure from whence they shall return with more wisdom, maturity and probably at least one easily cured but highly embarrassing STD.
None of these pubs, however, are situated anywhere close to a station run by British Rail.
"Oh, not one of these trains!" Arthur said, proving that even if most earthlings had a telepathic ability somewhere in the negative numbers, they were occasionally able to pick up on subtextual cues that did not refer to sex.
Ford made a mental note to include that in his next revision, before he forgot it in favour of waving down the bartender for another sadly lukewarm beer.
"No, I was probably thinking of a steam-driven old thing, in the old West or so. You know, where men where men and cows where cows, or something like that."
"Aha? So cattle is an intrinsic part of the false romanticism you assign to this frankly substandard mode of transportation?"
"What? Cattle? No, I just meant– Oh, you know what I mean, Ford, stop being a silly prick! Manly men, southern belles, steam and a sky full of stars. Not this," Arthur said and poked the greasy bar disk. "This is just. Well, this is probably what actually being a train driver might be about but it's not what you dream to be when you're a kid! My God, that would be a deprived childhood."
Arthur flapped his hands in an attempt to illustrate the intangible romance of the Old West, as experienced by a man who had not actually set a foot west of Dublin and, on the few occasions he could not avoid it, approached cows with the same trepidation most sentient beings offered the Triple-Fanged Vipers from Kleath.
Judging by the far-away look in Ford's eyes and the way he stopped sucking down crappy beer as if he hoped to find a prize at the bottom, Arthur was surprised to realize that Ford actually seemed to understand him for once. This was rare enough on those occasions when Ford was stone-cold sober (another image his friend didn't actually seem to grasp, if their discussion on the average levels of of sobriety within different kinds of minerals was any indication), never mind when he was a good bit on the way towards depressively sloshed.
"There are jobs that really are like those you dream of when you're a kid," Ford said, sounding far too sober for a man who'd called Arthur down with the threat of turning up at his porch and puking all over it unless he got some help turning his dole into more liquid assets immediately. "In fact, there are occupations that lets you visit parties beyond your wildest imaginations – and trust me, Arthur, my imagination is a roaring monster when it comes to booze. Did you know, that if you pick the right career, there can come a moment when you stand beneath a foreign sky and almost taste the sweetly poisonous atmosphere through your home-rigged breathing apparatus? In a place where the sunset looks so tempting that, once you've drunk enough, you start wondering if a taste of the air wouldn't be worth the feeling of choking on your own liquifying lungs five minutes later. There are offices where the accountants yield fission-powered staplers of such might, that the entire act of faking your expense claims might be more dangerous than simply going into the war-zone. Though you'd miss out on the bloody amazing drinks they serve in the press bar if you did, so it kind of cancels itself out..."
"Sure there are, Ford. I just wish you had one of those jobs, so you could finally afford to threaten me into drinking some better beer than this stuff."
It would take another few months before Arthur had amassed enough experiences to understand Ford's mumbled 'some days, I do', at which point he was usually not possessing the right mind-set to sit down and reflect over drunken discussions back on Earth. But if he had; especially if it came directly after a moment such as their completely random and utterly unplanned (from Arthur's side, at least) crash-landing in the Mootley Hoovey's legendary throughout three galaxies and several eons after-gig-party which had led to no less than six new laws and seven new definitions regarding levels of drunken disorder being written; ah, then, Arthur might have been forced to agree that even through his life now contained utterly agonizing levels of terror and far too many encounters with unfriendly law-enforcement officials, he was at least never forced to sit in a pub in a station and watch the trains of British Rail fail to run for lack of more exciting things to do with his life.
"So. Arthur! Arthur, Arthur, Arthur, my towel-less friend of yore. I never knew you dreamed of becoming a spaceman when you were young," Ford told him one day when he was marginally less deep into his cups than Arthur was used to, especially during Christmas parties hosted by the physics institution which Arthur had, once more, been convinced to join in crashing.
Reflecting for a moment that he might really want to hang out a bit less with a friend who started off conversations with 'Arthur, Arthur' etc. when he wasn't even drunk off his head (yet), Arthur shrugged in a non-committal way. It was, he had come to learn, one of the marginally safer ways to answer Ford's ramblings.
"But, please, share! I am curious. What kind of spaceman? What kind of spaceship? Any particular colour preferences?"
"Well, you always talk about the green ones, so I might as well go for one of those," Arthur said, trying to inject a bit of hilarity in the discussion. Since Ford only nodded attentively and made a go on-motion, he suspected it had failed utterly. "Honestly, I don't even recall when I would have told you that and even if I did," he hurried to say before Ford began the rambling tale of recollection that would probably end with him screaming about the unreliability of time and memory if previous university parties were anything to go after, "it wasn't a serious dream. I never sat down and studied, oh, NASA-applications or such things."
"Why should you?" Ford wrinkled his nose at one of the professors, who had made the mistake of mentioning his degree in astrophysics earlier. While Arthur made a mental note to keep Ford away from the man as long as possible, his friend continued, his voice rising alarmingly. "Those amateurs haven't even made it to the next planet, I'd hardly call that space-fairing!"
"Well, it's not like anyone else has made it further," a serious young girl with a sleek bob-cut and, Arthur was dismayed to see, not quite enough cleavage to distract Ford from her words, interjected. "Or do you believe that conspirational crap about the Soviets having secret projects on Mars?"
"My dear," Ford began in a particularly alarming lecturing tone, "I'll have you know that the furthest travelled intelligent species – not counting certain hyper-intelligent shades of colour, their lack of bodily solidity giving them a rather unfair advantage – belongs to neither of your childish little groupings of barely indistinguishable socio-economic shufflers of little green papers. Further!"
"Further, I think we were talking about my childhood dreams, weren't we, Ford? I suppose I always wanted to have one of those little flying saucers," Arthur said, leaning his body-weight against Ford in an attempt to steer him towards the buffet table. "The ones with spinning windows and a transporter beam that you had to repair with a sonic screwdriver when the polarities were reversed," he continued, dragging up vague memories of childhood television that involved asteroid mining and talking pepper-pots.
"Pish-posh! I'll have you know that a good hard thump and a threat to reboot the computer with a broken bottle works much better on belligerent teleporters than any screwdrivers."
"Fascinating," Arthur said. "Look, Ford, they have green alcohol with star shaped ice-cubes! Shouldn't we toast for a spaceship to come pick us up soon?"
While Arthur poured, Ford gave him one of those enthusiastic full-body hugs that ensured that no sleekly coiffured young ladies would follow either of them home that evening. When he broke into a spirited rendering of what he ensured Arthur, between sloshing alcohol on a PhD-holder in non-linear mathematics and trying to pick up a potted palm, was the most classic spaceman song of all times it was gently suggested to Arthur that, while their presence at the party had certainly been Highly Interesting and would be Talked About for Years to Come (in particular with campus security), it was now time for their brief aquaintance to end. Permanently.
"There!" Ford cried, pointing wildly at the overcast England sky. "There, right behin' thas big cloud, nooo, not tha one, th'other clou'! Tha' ish the star where they'll b'ld Milliwayss one day an' I'mma buying you a drink right there, s'truth!"
"Fine. Excellent." Arthur only staggered a little, the combined factors of trying to support a drunk actor and several glasses of not half as bad as they looked green drinks making his own feet slightly unfamiliar with the concept of Earth gravity. "Er, Ford, you do know that you're pointing at a Christmas star, right?"
There are times when Martin Smith is being particularly stuffy and aggravatingly British in a way that drives even Arthur Dent (who will come to be mentioned in no less than three intergalactic dictionaries as an example of the ur-stuffy aggravating Brit, though Brit in pan-galactic lingua implies a person obscenely obsessed with a drink that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the standard Nutriamatic beverage, instead of the Terran geo-ethnical group) speechless with rage.
One of those is when he casually dismisses Arthur’s, admittedly less than stellar, career in radio. Especially with words such as "dead-end dabbling".
Just because you are content as a disliked teacher in a boringly average school, trying to pound almost out-of-date information into the heads of uninterested pupils, doesn't mean you have to try to attack those of us with more sophisticated jobs and aspirations, Arthur's spirit d'escalier retorted cleverly while Martin was in the loo.
I'm sorry, did you say something, Martin? I was trying to think of a nice couples councilor to recommend to you, before you and Sally go on with the divorce, Arthur's acerbic wit mentally added while the rest of Arthur tried to drown his sorrows.
"I know people with two mouths to talk crap with, who still manage to be less annoying than that smug bastard on a bad day. And if you knew the truly galactic magnitutes of crap those mouths can talk, you'd understand the level of insult I've just leveled at your 'friend'!" Ford said almost in his ear, managing to startle Arthur into quite the undignified jump. With reflexes that had less to do with superior alien genes than a mighty thirst for anything and everything vaguely alcoholic, Ford at least saved his drink, and what remained of his dignity, from an unfortunately splashy accident.
"Oh, it's nothing to be upset about. I know not everyone understands the charms with local radio," Arthur said once his beer was saved and his heart-rate had almost calmed down. He hoped that, if he repeated this enough times, he would stop having to remind himself about the charms with his job quite so often.
"There are charms in local radio, where? Sorry, sorry!" Ford slapped him on the shoulder and showed a bit too many teeth. "I was trying to say that your job doesn't define you! Come on, Arthur! Look at me, you know me as an out-of-work actor and I'm still the hoopiest guy you've ever encountered, right?"
That statement, Arthur was entirely willing to agree with. Hoopy, froopy and plain loopy were all words easily applied to Ford.
"Well, there you have it," Ford said, appearing satisfied with his non-answer.
"What do you mean? Is that supposed to be your entire motivational speech? I've got a crap job, no girlfriend and I'm supposed to be happy about it because you're a weirdo who can't even get an acting job at the community service theatre after that stunt you pulled with the burning flamingo during Shakespeare night?"
Ford rambled off into a tangled explanation of all the amazingly positive effects that came of knowing him. While it did not quite have the intended effect, it worked insofar that Arthur stopped feeling sorry for himself in favour of getting annoyed at Ford.
When Martin Smith returned with his too carefully combed hair and a smarmy smirk, Arthur was explaining to Ford all the ways he was a failure of a human being (something which Ford seemed to listen to with unusual attentiveness, if the little notebook was anything to go by). He gave them both a friendly, if intrinsically annoying, smile, managing to completely blank out the twin glares of alcoholic frustration fueled by a most intense disatisfaction with (chosen but spectacularly misrailed, and not so much chosen as stumbled into) their respective careers.
"You two... you do know that you can really be like two peas in a pod sometimes; Ford, Arthur?"
"Huh, no, we're not even on the same evolutionary tree. I don't even think my evolution ever involved trees, to be honest. Yours did," Ford said and nodded sagely at Arthur. "Should've stayed up there, better for all involved."
"What? Wait, what? And Martin, stop sniggering! I'm not in the least like Ford."
"Sure you are," Martin said, draining the remains of his beer. "Not in the obvious sense of having a steady job versus living on god-knows-what, or even your utter inability to hold your beer with any sense of dignity –"
Here, Arthur began to protest that he did too hold his beer with a great deal of dignity, while Ford angrily interjected that if beer-holding involved anything even in the remote vicinity of dignity, then this indicated a major failure on the side of either the beer, the holder or the dignity involved.
"But you're both twice as crazy as anyone would guess by looking at your boring mugs and you spend far too much time dreaming of impossible crap. Now, me, I'm a solid citizen. What you see, so to speak, is what you receive."
"Get," Arthur mumbled rebelliously, a vague memory of listening to his "hacker" friends discussing slang surfacing for a moment, "you get what you see."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure you're right, Arthur. But you?" he gestured at Ford and shook his head. "For being an utterly rubbish actor who talks a truly staggering amount of shit, you're one of the few people I believe would actually make it out there, if you ever got on your precious intergalactic highway. And Arthur... as long as you got a cup of tea in the morning, I bet you'd plod right through the end of the world and come out still nagging at this idiot at the other side of it all."
Ford looked at Arthur. Arthur looked back. In a moment of perfect understanding, they both attacked Martin Smith with the sad remains of a previous bar-visitors soggy crisps, viciously enjoying Martin's howls about the damage processed fat and potato crumbs would do to his almost-silk tie.
One day, many years later, they shall do the same thing to a particularly annoying Betelgeusean known as Zaphod Bebleebrox (using, at that time, stale Slllrgh'fg Crackers, but the effects is similar). Though neither Ford nor Arthur will ever quite recall why, it will be a moment of perfect personal triumph for them both.