Fun and games with Roald Dahl
Holidays can be for stealth learning via play, well they can be. So we have a French exchange student with us, homemade maps, OS maps, a pile of books and somewhere we’ve wanted to visit since the kids were little… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see http://homemadekids.wordpress.com, or my book Homemade Kids,www.nicolabaird.com
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where the great kids’ writer once lived, is billed as a perfect day out for six to 12 year olds. Unfortunately I left it years too late and ended up at the museum – excitingly entered via a courtyard enclosed by Willy Wonka’s gates from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – with two 15 year olds and a 12 year old. Of course they weren’t the oldest visitors, as there are plenty of adults there. The exhibition is surprisingly cerebral – lots of words and letters to look at. The games are all about how you can be a writer – even the entry fee gets kids an adorable My Story Ideas Book and a pencil to use as they discover more about Dahl’s life and wicked humour. It’s a very different experience to the breathtaking Potterworld experience one county away which goes for shock and awe as you meet the film sets.
But Roald Dahl is a wonderful children’s writer and creations like Matilda, and the dream-catching BFG have already stood the test of time. At the museum kids are given permission to explore their imaginations so they can travel anywhere, and then write about it. All aided with crazy food and drink concoctions served up at Cafe Twit.
Great Missenden has a train station, but it is far smaller than I expected, yet has a wonderful array of shops (bizarrely almost all but the sweet shop, Co-op and train cafe shut on Sundays – is there some kind of country rule about Sunday activities?). It also boasts spots that could be familiar to Dahl’s fans – the library which Matilda visited while her mum went to bingo. The petrol pumps from Danny the Champion of the World (not read this yet) and the “n-orphanage” from which Sophie was stolen by the BFG.
Revisiting stories I read with my kids wasn’t the only thing that gave me flashbacks. From 1975-80 I went to a boarding school in Buckinghamshire, an experience I would only wish on enemies – and certainly not children. It was such a painful experience that even now I try to avoid Buckinghamshire. But still as the train reached Amersham and the views opened up I felt that sinking go-back-to-school heart ache return. This must seem silly as the county is a looker: studded with beautiful beech woods, once well-managed for chair making. It also takes in a chunk of classic English chalk downland known as The Chilterns which stretches into neighbouring Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire.
|Marie, Nell and Lola pose while the red kites
swoop out of the picture.
|Lola swings, with Marie and Nell in the beech woods.|
The area around Great Missenden is also renowned for the successful re-release of the once common Red Kite (a bird once so prolific it’s geographical range stretched from Finland to Gambia). After our tour of the museum we took an hour-long exploration through hay meadows and woodlands (a trail provided by the Dahl museum), during which the kids spotted two Red Kites hovering – easy as they have a distinctive V shaped tail. “It’s so close you can see the colours,” said Lola in some awe when she saw the first.
Back in the Roald Dahl museum we had another look at the hut where Dahl cocooned himself for morning and afternoon writing sessions. It certainly offered sharper insight into the writer’s mind. Dahl loved coffee and chocolate as he wrote (I do too!). Beside the now-dead writer’s chair is a desk where sits shavings of his spine (to ease an old injury caused by a plane crash, see his life story in Boy), his hip joint and an equally round ball made from Kit-Kat wrappers. Each equally gruesome, all shouting for their fascinating story to be told…
Anyway, it left us all thinking about how to describe our worlds better. Definitely an inspiring way to start the holidays.
Over to you
Are there things you don’t do (or places you avoid) because of something that happened to you as a child? Or have you found a way to just get over it?
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