When I was asked to write a blog on Roald Dahl I felt at first oddly out of my comfort zone. Middle aged and cynical, I had no real emotional attachment to the works of Dahl and so felt unqualified to celebrate the man. So I went to those who would know and could help me – my nephew and my niece. Which books, I asked, are your favourites by Dahl? Without hesitation the answer came back – Fantastic Mr Fox (said my niece) and George’s Marvellous Medicine (said my nephew). What, I then asked, is his appeal? Again there was no pause (but perhaps more than a hint of disbelief – did I, the adult, not understand the point of reading, their faces seemed to ask). They said, they are exciting books and you don’t know what’s going to happen next and they are funny. And that was it, the appeal of Dahl explained to me through the wisdom of children and as Dahl had written in The Minpins (1991), they perfectly illustrated the sentiment that “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” I vowed then to be more open to magic, to be less of a complicated grown up, and I like to think that in that moment of epiphany Dahl would have been proud of me. Try it, I recommend the sense of freedom.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birthday. He was born in Llandaff, Cardiff in 1916 to Norwegian parents. As a schoolchild it would appear that a career as a writer would not be a path worth pursuing as one of his English teachers remarked, ”I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.”
Dahl’s Welsh connections extended beyond the capital. Tenby has its own not insignificant part to play in the Roald Dahl story. As a child Dahl used to holiday here with his family (his father died in 1920). From the 1920s to the late 1930s they would visit Tenby every Easter. His mother rented a house on the harbour called The Cabin. In his wonderful book My Year (published in 1993) Dahl wrote memorably about his holidays: “We adored Tenby. We had donkey rides on the beach and long walks with the dogs along the top of the cliffs opposite Caldy Island, and there were primroses everywhere. We hunted for winkles on the rocks and carried them home and boiled them and got them out of their shells with bent pins and put them on bread and butter for tea.” In a letter from 1933 young Dahl wrote, “an Easter holidays is hardly an Easter holidays without Tenby.”
The town obviously had a place of fondness in Dahl’s heart. Communication between Dahl and friends and family reveal that holidays in Tenby were a tradition that he continued with his own children.
Dahl died in 1990. True to his Scandinavian heritage and his vivid imagination he was given a ‘Viking funeral’ and buried with his snooker cues, HB pencils, a very good bottle of Burgundy and a power saw to see him safe and comfortable on his final journey.
The Cabin is today owned by Dahl’s niece, whose parents had purchased it in 1973. Tenby Civic Society unveiled a Blue Plaque to Dahl on The Cabin. Tenby Museum and Art Gallery also have a small interpretive display on Dahl and are planning additional events for the anniversary year. So as you can see there are plenty of reasons for us Tenby folk to get involved in celebrating the work and ethos of this giant of an author and I leave the last words of inspiration to the man himself:
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”