On Roald Dahl Day

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Posted 17 Sep 2012 in Books, Observations, Share

It was Roald Dahl Day last Thursday; like everyone my age (and probably a great many people younger and older), Dahl left an indelible mark on me during my childhood; particularly with The BFG, The Witches and Matilda, all three of which I can remember being published (the first only hazily). But of course there’s much to love in the earlier books too, for example in Danny The Champion Of The World, which is lovely on the relationship between a boy and his father, particularly the pride the child takes in his father’s powerful knowledge of the world.

In a passage which has since been successfully (and lovingly) lampooned by the fantastic Adam Buxton, (here), Dahl captures that wonder.

I really loved those morning walks to school with my father. We talked practically the whole time. Mostly it was he who talked and I who listened, and just about everything he said was fascinating. He was a true countryman. The fields, the streams, the woods and all the creatures who lived in these places were a part of his life. Although he was a mechanic by trade and a very fine one, I believe he could have become a great naturalist if only he had had a good schooling.

Long ago he had taught me the names of all the trees and the wild flowers and the different grasses that grow in the fields. All the birds, too, I could name, not only by sighting them but by listening to their calls and their songs.

In springtime we would hunt for birds’ nests along the way, and when we found one he would lift me up on to his shoulders so I could peer into it and see the eggs. But I was never allowed to touch them.

I overheard a nice exchange on the train today, which offered up a nice insight into modern day parenting. A young, mop-headed boy sat with his father on the 5.21 from Chichester to Brighton. He looked up and asked his dad a question.

“Dad, what’s the speed of light?”

I smiled to  myself, suspecting (rightly) that his father wouldn’t know the answer offhand (I don’t either, sadly). It felt like a slightly sad moment to me – the son still too young to realise that adults don’t have all the answers.

But the father did something very clever. Instead of immediately replying, he engaged his son in conversation, asking him what made him want to know that, and generally talked confidently around the subject while he quickly tapped into his mobile phone. When – only moments later – Google provided him with the answer, he was able to very naturally say,

“Well, anyway – the speed of light is around 700 miles an hour”.

The illusion was allowed to stand – Dad as the oracle and the font of knowledge. Very sweet, and rather lovely. I hope that illusion can be maintained a bit longer.

But then the boy looked up and said,

“OK. But how fast is that?


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