Cookies — by Douglas Adams

This is one of my favourite little apocryphal stories. Text from here.


by Douglas Adams

This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person was me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I’d gotten 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, packet of 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 have very quickly 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 not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out 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 the 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.

Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he 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, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies.

The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.

What I expect

This is too perfect in its entirety to simply publish a pullquote. Enjoy the whole thing and give Marco props.


My content will be stolen and republished in ways that violate my extremely permissive Creative Commons license. This will be done by both bots and humans. The bots will use my content to steal pennies from advertisers and time from people. Some of the humans won’t realize they’re doing anything wrong. The others think I won’t notice.

People will misquote, re-title, and edit my content to make it more sensational, at the expense of my credibility and their readers’ trust, in an effort to increase pageviews to their own site, like Business Insider, or increase their rank or reputation on someone else’s site, like Hacker News.

People will misread and misunderstand my content, usually because they’re inattentively skimming it for trigger phrases and concepts that confirm or inflame their own biases.

This will incite many of them to leave misguided, poorly written, ad-hominem comments on every site that republishes or links to my content. Most of the commenters will only read the (edited, sensationalized) title before commenting. They’ll insult my intelligence, call me names, tell me I suck, and refute arguments I didn’t make. Many of them will email these comments to me to make sure I see them.

But I still write.

Because amid all of the spam, fraud, and nastiness, people are reading what I write. Some even send positive feedback or valid counterarguments.

But most importantly, I’m freely expressing my ideas in public, which helps me clarify my thoughts, enhance and alter my views, and improve my writing over time.

I think I’m getting the better end of the deal.