Friday, 24 July 2015

The Roald Dahl Museum

Charlie loves the books of Roald Dahl and has read and re-read several of them, so last week we went on a round trip of about 180 miles so that we could visit the Roald Dahl Museum, based in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.

Roald Dahl moved to this small village in 1954 and lived there until his death in 1990. His second wife, Felicity "Liccy" Crosland, was the driving force behind the establishment of the museum, which took nine years to set up in an old coaching inn and yard. It houses Dahl's collection of manuscripts, photographs, 'Ideas Books' and letters. Two galleries (titled 'Boy' and 'Solo') tell Dahl's life story and a third gallery, called the 'Story Centre', provides inspiration for children to have a go at making up their own stories.

The museum was being painted when we arrived, but the ladders didn't detract from the entertaining exterior: the words, 'It is truly swizzfigglingly flushbunkingly gloriumptious' were painted in large letters along the front of the building and the BFG peered into an upstair's window.

One of Quentin Blake's monkeys held a sign directing us to 'Cafe Twit':

And Mr Willy Wonka struck a familiar flamboyant pose in the shop window:

Once inside, we noticed Dahl's words everywhere. This sign was next to the front desk:

After buying our tickets and being handed a Dahl-inspired notebook and a quiz to fill in, we went first into the gallery about Dahl's boyhood, entering through two giant 'chocolate' doors.

This gallery houses many photos of Dahl's childhood:

Dahl's old letters were fascinating and entertaining to read. Many included humorous tales of pranks that Dahl played as a boy, including the time he put a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop because the owner, Mrs Pratchett, was so mean. There were also old school reports, one of which was not very flattering. Placing him 19th out of 20 pupils, it said, 'He started the term badly with some fits of sulks, but has improved a great deal the last three weeks.'  A second teacher added, begrudgingly, 'He has shown some slight improvement but could doubtless do a good deal better.' It just goes to show that our performance at school doesn't necessarily predict our success in life.

The second gallery focuses on Dahl's working life, including his time as a fighter pilot and his writing career. The gallery features his writing hut, which was transported from his house and displays the many mementoes and odd objects Dahl collected over the years (such as the 'ball joint' from the top of his femur, removed during a hip operation and given to him by his surgeon).

There were lots of hands-on exhibits for children to enjoy, such as drawers to pull out containing various items from Dahl's life (even his false teeth!). Charlie enjoyed having a go on the quiz machine, which tested him on his knowledge of Dahl's works.

The third main room housed the Story Centre, which was full of creative ideas to inspire children. It also included a detailed model taken from the film of 'The Fantastic Mr Fox'. Charlie noticed that the designers had even included a replica of the ball of foil that Dahl kept on the table in his writing hut (made up from a collection of chocolate wrappers).

Film set from Wes Anderson's 'Fantastic Mr Fox'

Charlie had a go at inventing his own words, just as Dahl had done:


Then he constructed a short narrative film:

And he had a go at writing a nonsense poem, using magnetic words:

Before we left, we paid a visit to the Twit Cafe for some lunch. We were relieved to find a spread of delicious cakes and sandwiches, rather than the disgusting left-over sardines, cheese and cornflakes found in Mr Twit's beard.

Charlie filled in his quiz (carefully writing in neat joined-up handwriting - the product of hours of handwriting practice), then handed it in at the desk. The winner will win a token to spend in the gift shop.

To be honest, I was surprised at how small the museum was, but this was more than made up for by the content. It's obvious from its excellent website that the museum also has a busy programme of visits from children's authors, as well as other literary events. It also holds workshops for schools.

We enjoyed browsing in the gift shop before walking through the town to the local church to visit Dahl's grave.

The grave is on the left-hand side as you approach the church, near a tree with a bench underneath. Two giant's footprints lead from the bench to the grave - a lovely touch.

We came home from our museum trip with a cache of leaflets, worksheets and the Dahl story book:

And Charlie had also bought a cardboard 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' kit to build, as well as a Dahl cookery set, complete with cookbook.

I brought just one thing home with me: Dahl's reminder to parents everywhere.

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