I met Roald Dahl in 198something. It was after ’86 because that was college graduation. It might have been before ALRA, the drama school; or maybe it was during. I’m not sure. Christopher, a friend from the USA, had come to London with a letter of introduction to Roald Dahl. Can you imagine having a letter of introduction to one of your favourite writers? Not just a letter of introduction, but a hand written one that had to be posted on arrival in the UK. The world was once such a charming place, with posted letters and stamps and etcetera. The letter resulted in an invitation to dinner, and my friend invited me to be his date. I was beside myself with excitement.
Roald Dahl lived in Buckinghamshire, which is the country. We had a map and we had instructions; but we didn’t have GPS. It was before cell phones, so we muddled along, got lost, asked at the pub and eventually found the house. It was one of those extremely old heritage farmhouses with little corridors and casual country irreverence and dogs. It was a home without artifice.
When we arrived we were directed to the ‘hut’. This is where Roald Dahl famously wrote once he vacated his original writing place which was a gypsy wagon. Anyway, he was kind and distracted and after shaking hands and welcoming us he directed us back into the house where the daughters of Mr Dahl, and his wife entertained us. He only emerged at dinner.
Going to dinner at the Dahl’s meant dressing up as far as I was concerned. Chris told me that it was casual, but hey. How is dinner with Mr Dahl ever going to feel casual? Chris was gentleman resplendent in tweed jacket, and nice shirt and jersey. I was in a ‘suitable’ frock. I remember the frock. It had big sleeves, was nipped at the waste and had a midi length pleated skirt. It was pale blue. The collar was kind of neru and the cleavage respectable. I wore heels. It was the kind of dress one would wear for formal lunch or informal dinner or church. It was overdressed for the occasion. Everyone at the house looked like they’d just stepped in from the farm for a minute. Jeans, thick socks, old jersery’s. I remember thinking that I was glad we didn’t dress down. Looking a bit smarter gave me some much needed confidence.
It’s strange the things one remembers, or perhaps it’s not. Roald Dahl sat at the head of the table and I had a seat to his left, Chris, my friend, sat on his right. It’s the position of the guest of honour to sit to the left of the host. That fact was not lost on me and I felt the honour. It was perfect. There was easiness with this family and friendly effortless chat among them and they teased Roald Dahl and he was grumpy and they laughed at him. It was great to be part of this insight.
Conversation naturally went toward South Africa about which he had correct views. He knew of Daddy, although not in any way was he engrossed in the subject of the ANC.
I remember one of his daughters talking of ‘causes’. She said “One must support a cause”. South Africa was the cause of one of her friends. Her cause had to do with starving children in the former colonies, if memory serves. It wasn’t the done thing to share causes. One should have one’s own. I remember thinking what a luxury it was to be able to pick one’s humanitarian cause, rather than being born into one, or having a humanitarian cause thrust upon one. Although I had no complaint; my ‘cause’ was worthy and personal and that was OK.
It was a lovely evening. Chris was wonderful and generous in introducing subjects that ignited interest in me and gave me an opportunity to talk, to ‘shine’. Having Roald Dahl be interested in hearing me talk about me was divine. It was a dream that I’d never dreamt, come true. Me, sitting next to Roald Dahl and even teasing him a little and enjoying a little banter. The memory is quite exhilarating.
Dinner was roast lamb, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pud and veggies with gravy. Traditional British fare, and delicious. The dogs were well trained and sat at the edge of the room not begging. They were good dogs. However my knife slipped on a roast potato, hit the plate, slid into a piece of roast lamb sending it flying off the plate and onto the floor where three or four dogs descended on it, growling at each other. One of them got it.
I gasped and held my breath, consumed with total embarrassment. I was mortified. I’d been doing so well. This was a disaster. I looked at Chris across the table from me. He was frozen in shocked stillness. I looked to his right. Everyone at the table was frozen in stillness. All eyes were on me. I glanced at Roald Dahl who was looking at me expectantly and I burst out laughing. It was such a theatrical moment. When I laughed everyone else did too. Mrs Dahl said, “I didn’t know whether you were going to laugh or cry”. I said, “Quite frankly, neither did I”. I apologised profusely, but no one was fazed. I received instant forgiveness, a joke that I can’t remember from Roald Dahl and the moment went by. I got another piece of roast lamb and things were more relaxed and friendlier.
So, that’s just a little moment down memory lane. It’s a moment to smile about.