Tales of Childhood
Papa and Mama. My dad was Harald Dahl and was a Norwegian. My grandpa was a prosperous merchant. Dad suffered a fall when he was young and had his arm amputated at the elbow. For the rest of his life, he managed with one arm. However he was adept at using just 1 arm. His brother was Oscar. They wanted to head to England or France to set up shop there. Despite grandpa’s disapproval they left on a cargo ship. My dad stayed in Paris. Oscar was a rich man who entered the fishing business. My dad partnered with Aadnesen to form a partnership and became shipbrokers. My dad married a lady named Marie in Paris and headed off to Cardiff to start their business. The business performed well but Marie passed away after delivery of the second child. Later, Dad headed back to Norway and married Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg. With his second wife, she bore 4 children. I was one of them. We moved to a larger home. Dad and bro had a deep interest in beautiful things. They decorated the house with high quality furniture. Aside from this, dad appreciated nature and all its beauty.
Kindergarten, 1922 to 1923. My eldest daughter died from measles. My sister, Astri, died from appendicitis. Her death shocked my dad. My father gave up living after contracting pneumonia. It was my dad’s wish for us to be educated in English schools in England. We moved to a smaller home. I went to a kindergarten called Elmtree house. I loved riding to school in a tricycle. That’s all I could remembe
Llandaff Cathedral School, 1923 to 1925. I headed to a boy’s school. I was impressed by a guy on a bicycle one day and he wasn’t holding on the handlebars. Often, a group of friends and I would stop at a sweet shop. We often pulled funds together to buy sweets. We enjoyed Thwaites’ story about how the candy were made from rats. We liked Sherbet Suckers and liquorice candy. Gobstoppers could change colour and was lovely to eat too. Our spit made it change colour. There was also the tonsil tickler candy. We hated the shop owner, Mrs Pratchett. She was suspicious of us and thought we were thieves. Her apron was filthy and her hands were dirty all the time. However, we somehow didn’t mind as all we wanted were the sweets. We wanted to take revenge on her someday.
The Great Mouse Plot. We found a loose floor-board in classroom as a place to store our candy. I suggested placing the dead mouse in a jar so that Mrs Pratchett would get the shock of her life. We distracted her and then I finally placed the mouse inside the gobstopper jar. After that, I felt like a hero. We all ran out of the shop.
Mr Coombes. We wanted to see whether the mouse was still there the next day. Later, we realized the shop was closed. The Gobstopper jar was no longer there too. Later, we observed that the glass was on the floor and it was all smashed. She didn’t sweep the place. We felt guilty and puzzled. A while later, we suspected that she might have passed on due to a heart attack. All of a sudden, I was a murderer. Mr Coombes was the headmaster at school. That day, he ordered all the students to line up. I kind of expected policemen to come arrest me at any moment. Later, Mrs Pratchett appeared. Coombes allowed her to inspect all the boys. She identified Thwaites as one of the culprits. I was also identified. She managed to identify the five of us. She was really very sharp.
Mrs Pratchett’s Revenge. We would all be required to report to the headmaster. Mr Coombes held a cane in his hand. He was about to strike Thwaites’ bottom. He was whipped. We were all made to watch it. I waited for my turn. I was thrown violently forward when struck. The second stroke hurt even more badly than the first. I received 4 strokes and was told to get out. My mother noticed the cane marks and questioned me. She was pissed and went to approach the Headmaster in school. She vowed to take me away from the school the next year.
Harder! Stitch ‘im up! Make it sting! Tickle him up good and prper! Warm his backside for him! Go on, warm it up, Headmaster! – Mrs Pratchett
Going to Norway. It was the summer holidays and I headed back to Norway. It was going home and I was delighted. My mum was amazing and co-ordinated everything. It was an ardous trip which lasted more than 4 days. We headed to my grandparent’s house. Bestemama was my grandma. There would be a huge feast and we were all elated. Following which, we had ice cream. By 10, I was involved in drinking ceremonies and would always end up very tipsy.
The Magic Island. There would be another day on our trip. The boat ride was incredibly peaceful . Norwegian children were all very adept swimmers. The toilet was simply a hole. Breakfast was a luxury and there was a huge spread. Almost everyone in Norway had a boat. My mum was an expert at rowing. As kids, we all loved to play in the water. The island was our regular destination. There were plenty of cool places we could explore. My mum enjoyed the rough seas. She was skillful enough in controlling the small boat to make sure it wouldn’t capsize. Later, we enjoyed fishing and reeling the fish in. Those were the enjoyable days.
A Visit to the Doctor. I had to visit the doctor because I was suspected of having adenoids one day. The doctor seemed to performing a surgical procedure on me. I refused to open my mouth initially. Later, the blade in my mouth was twisted and flesh and blood came out. Huge red lumps came out. Those were the adenoids. They all came out and were placed in a basin. That was the procedure at that time without anesthetic.
St Peter’s 1925-1929. First Day. I was nine and headed to my first boarding school. It was situated near a seaside resort with a sandy beach. I placed my belongings in a wooden tuck-box. It was my secret-house. The box contained some of my treasured possessions as well. I was apprehensive for my first day of school. Similar to my previous school, this Headmaster was a giant. I began to cry when my mum left me.
Writing Home. I wrote a letter to home from St Peter’s. I often wrote to my mum and it was at least once a week. Later on, I would fly with the RAF. My mum compiled all my letters I sent and this was incredibly touching. We could not complain about school in the letters. The letters would be vetted by the school staff. If there were spelling mistakes, we would have to write the same thing 50 times.
The Matron. Matron told care of the doms and was incredibly strict. She was extremely mean and caned people on the spot. She was like a tyrant. She scolded me at times too. If we made noise at night, we would be caught too. Everyone was ordered to wake up and stand in a line. They banned us for eating during canteen breaks. She made life very miserable for me. To the Matron, snoring was a crime and one would be punished for doing it.
Homesickness. I was homesick during my first term at St Peter’s. I wanted to pretend to have appendicitis so that I could go home. Nanny said when you swallow a toothbrush bristle, it would appear in your appendix and cause appenditicitis. I complained to the Marton that my appendix hurt. I feigned illness. My mum would be coming to pick me up. He forgave me for feigning it and told me not to do it again.
Everybody is homesick at first. You have to stick it out. And don’t blame your mother for sending you away to boarding-school…Life is tough, and the sooner you learn how to cope with it the better for you. – Dr Dunbar
Unless you have been to boarding-school when you are very young, it is absolutely impossible to appreciate the delights of living at home. It is almost worth going away because it’s so lovely coming back. – Roald Dahl
A drive in the motor-car. I got though the first semester. Our family bought a motor car. At that time, no one took driving classes. My ancient sister would drive too. The car had a retractable hood. Traffic was very light. Unfortunately she was involved in an accident. No one was hurt except for me. My nose had been partially cut off my face. She placed the dangling nose back on my face. Later, my sis continued driving. My mum was insistent to get to the doc as soon as possible. Finally she drove us to Dr Dunbar. The doctor sewed my nose back again. I would be sedated for this operation. Later I vomited. Luckily, it went well and I was okay again.
Captain Hardcastle. He was a slim man. We were very afraid of him. He had an awful moustache. He had a strange twitch all the time. In school, he often picked on me. We were forbidden to look around or to talk. These masters were very tough. There was once when I broke my pen nib in class. I wanted to get an extra nib from a friend. However, it was seen by Captain Hardcastle. I was given a stripe. It meant a beating from the Headmaster. I could never win against the Headmaster. I would receive 6 strokes of the cane. Every boy feared the cane. I grabbed hold of my butt and clutched it in pain. A boy named Highton promised to report this incident to his father.
Little Ellis and the boil. Ellis had a boil on him and was being treated by the doctor. The doctor took out a long steel handle with a blade attached to the end of it. Ellis screamed in pain.
Pain was something we were expected to endure. Anesthetics and pain-killing injections were not much in those days. Dentists, in particular, never bothered with them. But I doubt very much if you would be entirely happy today if a doctor threw a towel in your face and jumped on you with a knife. – Roald Dahl
Goat’s Tobacco. My half sister got engaged. Her partner was a heavy pipe-smoker. One day, the family and the couple headed to some island because we saw goats on them. The goats weren’t friendly. Later, I inserted goat’s droppings into his tobacco pipe while he wasn’t looking. My family didn’t object to what I did. Later, he began choking and admitted his lungs were on fire. When he realized it was his pipe, we all ran away.
Repton and Shell, 1929 to 1936. Getting dressed for the big school. I chose Repton over Marlborough. I had to take the train. I was exactly 13 when I had to go to Repton. It was troublesome to wear the butterfly collar of the uniform. Later, I crept downstairs. The uniform was indeed very elaborate and difficult to don on.
Boazers. The prefects were called Boazers and they were scary. Williamson was the one who caned people.
The Headmaster. He could not speak coherently at all and it was very embarrassing. Later, he became the Bishop. Everyone was surprised by this. Eventually, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite this, he had horrible mannerisms and didn’t treat the kids well. Did they preach one thing and practice another? It was then that I had my doubts on religion and God.
Chocolates. Once in a while, we received chocolates from Cadbury. Cadbury were actually testing out their inventions. It was then that I realized that the chocolate companies had laboratories and factories. This formed the plot for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Corkers. Corkers was an old man who was interested in boys. He kept teaching us other stuff than mathematics. However, he kept everyone thoroughly entertained. When someone farted, everyone would rush to open the windows.
Fagging. I was the servant of the studyholder while in Repton. Carleton was an arrogant dude. I had to clean the place well every Sunday. Carleton would inspect our cleanings. He would purposely try to seek out any dust. The school had extremely complex rules for disciplining people. I became Wilberforce’s bog-seat warmer.
Games and Photography. I was exceptionally good at fives and squash-racquets. I was soon made captain of the Game ‘Five’. This made me more conspicuous among my peers. Being captain, it also entailed other duties. However, I was not Boazer material. School was fun especially since I was good at the games. Playing games made the days seem to pass faster. The other thing which interest me was photography. I often developed my negatives and then enlarged them. In the past, technology was not good and the photography business was challenging. I won trophies before.
Goodbye School. I got accepted into Imperial Chemicals. However, I wanted to work for Shell Company. I surprised myself and cleared the Shell interview despite intense competition. This would be followed with 2 years of intensively training. I enjoyed working in Shell. Later, I got posted to Egypt but I didn’t want to go. Later, they changed my posting to South Africa instead. I was 20 then. It would be a 3 year stint overseas. It was a wonderful experience. During the WWII in 1939, I joined the RAF to fight the war. This would be a tale for another time.
I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. – Roald Dahl
It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and, I am sure, is why he does it. – Roald Dahl