Monday, 25 June 2012

Dahl Day

Nostalgia, that tweak of pleasure from something remembered, something felt, something rekindled. The nostalgia for 'lost' childhood has fed a whole literary movement, a whole market that is based on adults writing from remembered childhoods, I'm one of them. I sought inspiration from a visit to the home of Roald Dahl in the search for the true voice in my novel.

The Dahl museum and story centre in Great Missenden is a confection of stories and stirred memories, it's bright, loud, fizzbinglingly wonderful. Slipped in between the old buildings on the high street, it sings out its presence with a candy frontage, the shadow of the BFG slipping behind the giant lettering that shouts 'Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious'.

In the car on the way there, my daughter and I reminisced over our favourite Dahl stories. Hers was Esio Trot, that was the first story I ever read aloud to my first class, in my first teaching post, swiftly followed by The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me. My childhood contact with Dahl was shaped by the 1971 film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I was more thrilled to see Johhny Depps wine velvet jacket and cane from the more recent Tim Burton version.

I didn't really read Dahls stories until I had children to read them to, then they came alive, the tenacity and cunning of Mr. Fox, the horror of The Witches, the sheer horribleness of Mr. and Mrs.Twit.

I must have been about 4 when an adult read my first Dahl to me. Our exotic next door neighbour, Zelia Fox read Danny Champion of the World to her son, Daniel (of course) and me. Older, I remember the undulating female and the music for Tales of The Unexpected meant it was time for bed. The museum made realise what a prolific writer Dahl was, all produced from his famous writing chair, by hand, cut and pasted with notes, to be typed up afterwards.

The interior of his writing hut is carefully recreated inside the museum, a table of trinkets and oddities that he kept, spine shavings from his many operations, a ball of silver foil formed from daily doses of Cadbury's milk chocolate bars, a part of a hip joint, a bright painting from his granddaughter, Sophie.

I remembered Dahl as a cantankerous character, perhaps in later life, the pain from his injuries and advancing age made him so, perhaps it was a myth circulated by the media.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a visit to Gipsy House, where the gardens are only open few days of the year. A rare summer sun pushed through the clouds as we explored the children's maze, the writing hut, the giant jars in the summer house.

We drifted past meadows and borders scattered with giant nodding orange poppies, drooping lavender and purple iris. Then my the ultimate childhood fantasy; nestled behind the orchard, beautifully restored, the gipsy caravan.

We climbed inside, the table was set for tea, Beatrix Potter bed linen on the bed. I was ready for the off, transported back to a summer, aged three, when I had climbed in the empty hen house in a neighbours overgrown garden, hidden from the world, making up my own. I left, fuelled by nostalgia and inspired by a genius, ready to make up more worlds of my own.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rain, Rain go Away

Rain, Rain go away, come again another day

It's all over the news, our national obsession, the weather. We continue, stoic and tenacious but it's beginning to wilt the spirit. Working outdoors, I can't avoid the rain, there's trees for shelter in the forest, but little else, and I traipse home most days damp and mud splattered, aching for a lie down and a hot shower.

I had envisioned frolicking in buttercup meadows in the bright sunshine, not to be. The upside is, everything is green and lush, the trees pulse with life, squirrels shake their tails of water and the cows mooch in the scrub. Once you embrace it, you enjoy it, but I am looking forward to some Spanish warmth next month.