Saturday, 6 April 2013

Literary Excursion - A Day of Roald Dahl

Hi everyone!

Well, it's finally looking like Spring here in the UK (although I've obviously now cursed it) and I have been taking full advantage of the tropical weather. For the young at heart or those who, like me, think the definition of a good time is journeying to America in a piece of oversized fruit (the only way to travel), this is the post for you.

Welcome to the world of Roald Dahl!

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre - Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious without a doubt.

Having passed most of my childhood in the throes of Dahlmania (a legitimate condition), the village of Great Missenden, where Dahl lived from 1954 until his death in 1990, has long been on my list of 'must sees'. And it did not disappoint. While Dahl's cottage, christened Gipsy House after he decided to pop a gypsy caravan in the garden, is privately-owned (and therefore not open for viewing), Dahl drew inspiration from all around him. So the village itself, in addition to the Museum and Story Centre, offers more than enough to keep the dedicated Roald Dahl fan occupied for an afternoon.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is advertised as appealing to 6 to 12 year olds and their families. Fortunately, I buy into the belief that mental age also counts. And I'm so glad that I take such a broad approach to age recommendations because the Museum is fantastic. Largely hands-on and with plenty of activities to enjoy, it is undoubtedly important that you enter the Museum unconcerned about looking a little silly. From dressing up as Roald Dahl characters (YES) to making your own animation, you will certainly feel like a child from start to finish. Mostly, I enjoyed the absolute mine of information that the Museum provides about Roald Dahl and his life - you can see personal photo albums, watch videos of Dahl as he flits about, and track his wartime experiences. But the absolute highlight for me was seeing Roald Dahl's writing hut, taken from his garden and reconstructed in the Museum.

Writing desk love

Favourite random Roald Dahl fact learnt from my Museum experience - Roald Dahl had a pet goat called Alma (who once pooped on the floor of his writing hut).

The Museum also gives out a mine of information on the various Roald Dahl sites dotted around the tiny village. We are, I think, enormously fortunate that Dahl drew so much inspiration from Great Missenden itself, using it as the setting for a number of his books.

Crown House on High Street - the inspiration for Sophie's orphanage in 'The BFG'

The petrol pumps described in 'Danny the Champion of the World'

After perusing the various sites of interest in the centre of the village, a short walk takes to you to the Church of St. Peter and Paul where Roald Dahl is buried. While I'm aware that I may be giving the impression that I make a habit of stalking graveyards, I will say that this is quite simply the most beautifully personal grave I have seen. Following the BFG's footsteps through the graveyard takes you to the grave itself, draped with dreamcatchers and other offerings left by fans. Roald Dahl and his works are a feature of so many childhoods, I think most would be hardpressed not to be moved (although this is the girl who cries at The Walking Dead, so what do I know).



I rate visting literary hotspots as absolutely one of the top things to do in the UK (shocker). But, for the most part, they will serve simply as points of interest. In the same way that any tourist worth her salt must take 20 photos of Buckingham Palace in acknowledgement of the fact that "that's where the Queen lives," the house of a favourite author can provide something of a superficial insight into an otherwise enigmatic life. The difference with Great Missenden is that it absolutely oozes Roald Dahl and, as such, provides more than just a snapshot into one of the most unique minds to grace our shores. The man who created Matilda, Charlie, Willy Wonka, and The Twits was inspired by what he saw and experienced daily - his genius was in turning the everyday into something fantastic and bizarre. 

Roald Dahl once described his personal project as "teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful." I think we can agree that he surpassed his goals. And no where is there a better tribute to Dahl's lasting impact than at Great Missenden.

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