Whilst I’m sure I was introduced to the magical worlds of Roald Dahl’s books much earlier, the most vivid memory I have is of reading a short booklet named Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety.
How I came to acquire this book, I can’t rightly say. In all likelihood my dad brought it home but the booklet was exactly as it sounds, a guide to keeping safe on the railway written by the master of dark children’s literature himself and illustrated by Quentin Blake.
There’s one image that sticks in my head and it’s from the section that advises against putting your head out of train windows, something I’m not even sure is possible with UK trains today.
Why shouldn’t you put your head out a train window? I hear you ask.
Call me morbid but it was delightfully gruesome, and served as a stark warning. I find even now that warnings about safety are tame, Roald was the type of man to plainly tell you, if you do this there’s a fair chance you might die, and not in a peaceful in your sleep kind of way but more of a your head will be in a different county by the time the train stops kind of way.
The man’s always had a special place in my heart for as long as I can remember.
George’s Marvellous Medicine taught me the fun of mixing strange liquids in the sink with my sister and cousins. Milk, toothpaste, aftershave, shampoo. DON’T DRINK IT!
I also learned that sometimes Grandparents aren’t so sweet and that blood relations don’t always command unconditional love.
The Witches taught me to be wary of strangers, and look out for purple eyes.
Matilda taught me the power of reading and how we really should turn off that T.V, while Charlie and the Chocolate factory taught me to indulge in my creativity, strive to be a good person, and that four grandparents across two beds is a terrible idea.
Danny the Champion of the World showed me how to be a father and the Twits? They taught me that the kindest people are the most beautiful and didn’t inspire me to grow a beard at all.
As I grew, I had the pleasure of reading some of his short stories, particularly memorable is The Landlady and Lambs to the Slaughter, both gripping and turned into episodes of his TV show Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I can’t explain the stories as it would ruin them but I’ll link to the episodes below.
I’ve always been in awe of his stories. They’re the type of tales a child would write, in part because Roald never really grew up, and I loved that. In many ways he reminded me of my granddad.
Beyond his writing, his life was pretty damn remarkable.
This was a man who flew in World War II , who spied for his country and reported to Churchill, met with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, had a story purchased by Disney which he intended to make into a film and married an Oscar winning actress, Patricia Neal.
Patricia had the misfortune of suffering three strokes whilst pregnant with their daughter Lucy. As she recovered, both Lucy and Patricia learned to walk together.
Patricia experienced aphasia and the family would find that her words came out in strange and wonderful ways.
For instance, when trying to say “You drive me crazy”, she would be heard to say “You jake my diagles.” This played a huge part in the formation of Gobblefunk, the odd words used by the BFG.
What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced, rather grandly.
One of my favourite things about Roald is this doo-hickey.
In December 1960, Theo, Roald and Patricia’s 4 month old son was stuck by a taxi whilst out in his baby carriage with their nanny. This resulted in hydro-cephalus. also commonly known as water on the brain. Poor Theo had to have a shunt fitted to drain the fluid from his brain but thing damn thing would often clog, requiring more surgery for the young boy.
Roald, ever the ideas man, knew there had to be a way to remedy this. He reached out to a close friend, engineer and fellow model airplane enthusiast Stanley Wade for help, and together with Neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, the men developed the The Wade-Dahl-Till valve.
The valve was praised by the Lancet medical journal for it’s “low resistance, ease of sterilisation, lack of reflux, robust construction, and negligible risk of blockage”
This invention has helped thousands of children and true to his character, Roald, Stanley and Kenneth agreed never to accept profit.
That’s why I love Roald Dahl. He inspires my writing, influences my life and makes me want to be a better human being!
I’m so happy that I get to share his stories with my daughter and that she loves them as much as I do.
Last year, I found myself in Cardiff where I embarked on a mini Roald Dahl Tour, visiting the Norwegian Church his family used to frequent (who have a mini museum) and the Roald Dahl Plasse. See below for pics and links to the Tales of the Unexpected episodes I mentioned earlier.
Now tell me, who inspires you?