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Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything

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    It’s a very interesting, and unusual,
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    Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen
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    and weird experience for me
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    to be talking in my home town. Which is…
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    Now, amongst the books
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    that Constance mentioned
    when she’s introducing me,
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    The Hitchhiker’s Guide,
    Dirk Gently and so on,
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    it was not my favourite book.
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    And my favourite book
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    is what I’m here to talk about tonight.
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    Virtually every author I know,
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    their own favourite book is the one
    that sold the least.
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    It’s somehow the runt of the litter,
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    it’s the one you’ve always
    just loved the most.
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    And I want to tell you about
    how this came about.
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    Sometime in about the mid 1980s,
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    the phone rang.
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    And the voice said,
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    “We want you to go to Madagascar.
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    We want you to look for
    a very rare form of lemur,
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    called the Aye-aye.
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    The plane leaves in two weeks,
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    we would like you to be on it.”
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    Now I—assuming they’ve got
    the wrong number—said “yes!”
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    before they could discover their mistake.
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    But in fact it turned out
    that they decided,
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    “Well, here is somebody who
    doesn’t know anything about lemurs,
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    anything about the Aye-aye,
    anything about Madagascar,
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    let’s send him.”
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    So I started to try
    and find out something about it,
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    and it turns out it’s very interesting.
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    Lemurs used to be
    the dominant primate in all the world.
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    And they were very,
    very gentle, pleasant creatures.
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    They were a little bit
    like sort of cat size,
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    and they used to hang around in the trees
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    having a nice time.
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    And then, Gondwanaland split up.
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    It always sounds like
    some sort of 70’s rock group
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    going their own way
    for reasons of musical differences.
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    But as you probably remember
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    Gondwanaland was that vast continental landmass
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    that consisted of what then became
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    South America, Africa, India
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    Southeast Asia, Australasia
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    —uh, no—Australia, Australia and not
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    —and this will turn out to be significant later—
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    not New Zealand
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    which turns out to be just a lot of gunk
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    that came out from under the ocean.
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    And as I say,
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    lemurs were the dominant primate
    around the world
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    and when all these landmasses split up,
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    and Madagascar was one of them,
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    Madagascar kind of sailed off
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    into the middle of what then
    suddenly became the Indian Ocean.
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    And took with it a representative sample
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    of the livestock of the period,
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    which included a lot of lemurs.
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    And they basically sort of sat there
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    for millions and millions of years
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    in glorious isolation.
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    While, in the rest of the world,
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    a new creature emerged.
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    A new creature arrived
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    that was much more intelligent
    than the lemurs
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    —according to it—
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    much more competitive,
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    much more aggressive,
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    and incredibly interested
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    in all of things you could do with twigs.
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    Twigs were absolutely wonderful.
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    There is so much you can do with twigs
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    you can dig in the ground
    for things with twigs,
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    you can burrow under
    the bark of trees for grubs,
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    you can hit each other with twigs.
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    If there had been copies of
    TwigUser Magazine around on those days,
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    these creatures would have been lining up for it.
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    And these creatures
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    —which, as you have probably guessed,
    are called the monkeys—
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    because they were more competitive
    and more aggressive,
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    and they lived in the same habitat as the lemurs,
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    they successfully supplanted the lemurs
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    everywhere in the world other than Madagascar.
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    Because Madagascar was right out
    in the middle of the Indian Ocean
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    and they couldn’t get there.
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    They couldn’t get there until
    about 1500 years ago,
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    when due to startling advances in twig technology
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    they were able to get there in boats,
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    and eventually planes.
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    And suddenly the lemurs,
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    that have had this place for themselves
    for millions and millions and millions of years,
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    were suddenly facing
    their old enemy: the monkey.
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    So, this is Madagascar,
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    and it turns out that the rarest of the lemurs
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    —and when I say the rarest of the lemurs,
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    at this particular point in the mid 80’s
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    they were thought to be the rarest of the lemurs;
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    we’ve now discovered and even rarer lemur
    called the Golden Bamboo Lemur,
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    which went straight to the number one
    of endangered lemurs—
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    but the Aye-aye is a very very peculiar animal.
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    It looks like the agglomeration
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    of all sorts of other different animals.
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    So, for instance,
    it has a sort of foxy ears,
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    and it has a little sort
    of bitty rabbit’s teeth,
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    and it has a kind of
    ostrich feathers as a tail,
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    and it has very weird eyes,
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    actually it has Marty Feldman’s eyes.
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    The kind of sort of looking
    slightly beyond you
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    into a sort of other dimension
    just over your left shoulder.
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    But it also has one very very
    very peculiar characteristic,
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    which is its middle finger on both hands
    is skeletally thin and very very long.
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    And it turns out there is
    only one other animal
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    in the entire world that has this feature.
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    And this is called
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    —I love zoologists;
    they have such vivid imaginations—
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    it’s called the Long-Fingered Possum.
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    And this is a creature
    that lives in New Guinea,
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    and in fact it is its fourth finger
    that is skeletally thin and elongated.
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    And this is the thing that tells us
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    that there is no relationship
    between these animals,
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    it’s pure convergent evolution,
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    because the common factor
    between Madagascar and the Aye-aye,
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    and New Guinea and
    the Long-Fingered Possum
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    is that in both habitats
    there are no woodpeckers.
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    And you see, the thing is
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    —life is very very opportunistic,
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    and it will take advantage of any
    food source it finds around the place.
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    And if there are no woodpeckers looking
    under the bark of trees for grubs,
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    then, in this case, it will be the mammals
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    that grow the skeletally thin long finger
    to burrow under the bark of the tree,
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    and get to this source of food
    which is the grubs under the bark.
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    So, the Aye-aye is this
    very very very strange creature.
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    And at this time it was thought there
    were only about fifteen of them left.
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    And they lived actually
    not on Madagascar itself,
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    but on a tiny little rainforest island
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    just off the coast of Madagascar,
    called Nosy Mangabe,
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    and it’s just off
    the northwest tip of Madagascar.
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    And now to get there, what you have to do,
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    is you have to fly in a 747 to Madagascar.
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    And then in a terrible
    old jalopy of an airplane
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    from Madagascar up to the northwest port.
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    And from there you have to go
    in a kind of decreasingly excellent
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    series of carts and trucks and so on,
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    to a little port where
    there was going to be a boat
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    that was going to take us to Nosy Mangabe.
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    So we arrived there,
    and arrived at the port,
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    and we were looking around for the boat
    that was going to take us to Nosy Mangabe,
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    and we couldn’t see it.
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    And we kept in turn asking people
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    –you know–“where is this boat?”,
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    and they would say “it’s there! it’s there!”,
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    and we couldn’t see
    what they were pointing at
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    because there was this terrible
    rotting old hulk in the way.
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    Well as you guessed,
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    this is the terrible rotting old hulk
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    in which we have to go to Nosy Mangabe.
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    And it didn’t fulfill what to my mind
    was the sort of basic criteria of a boat,
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    in that it was basically full of ocean.
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    And it seemed to me
    that the whole point of a boat
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    was to keep the ocean on the outside.
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    Anyway, so we crossed to Nosy Mangabe.
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    And it’s this tiny little, very very
    beautiful little rainforest island.
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    And we hit a major problem
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    which of course is that
    this animal not only lives in trees
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    —nobody has seen it for
    years and years and years—
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    lives in trees but
    it’s also a nocturnal animal.
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    And the quality of batteries
    in Madagascar is very very poor.
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    So, we spent night after night after night,
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    traipsing through the rainforest,
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    in what can only be described as:
    the rain.
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    Getting rather ratty,
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    and basically we’ve just spent night after night
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    sort of huddled under tarpaulins,
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    looking at us, saying “stop raining.”
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    And every now and then we would sort of,
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    “gah, I’ve been trying
    to find this damn animal.”
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    Actually, this is wonderful,
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    we found this hut that used
    to be this sort of game warden’s
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    —not game warden—a ranger’s hut.
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    And it’s a tiny little hut.
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    And it was actually full of wild life.
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    What happened, you see,
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    is you would open the door,
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    and you hear all this noise…
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    and you turn on the light and it would all stop.
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    And you would see these little
    giant spiders around the wall,
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    each with a sort of
    half-eaten bug in their mouth!
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    And say, “yes?”
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    And you turn the light out and…
Title:
Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
01:27:37

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