We were driving back to Yorkshire this afternoon, heading back home on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, when we got caught up in one of those traffic jams that are so lengthy and interminable, everybody gets out and strolls about on the central reservation, chewing the fat. (Apart from the lorry drivers, who stay in their cabs and eat Pot Noodles.) Eventually we were shepherded down an obscure side road, on an impromptu diversion.
As we slowly made our way through several small villages, scrabbling to find our place on the atlas and thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time on this particular occasion, I switched on the radio to get the travel updates and ended up listening to the end of a Radio Four documentary about the life of Roald Dahl.
The documentary described in detail the “Writing Hut” (above) in his back garden, where Dahl sat every day and wrote some of his best-loved books and stories. This was a tiny, shed-like building. Inside, it was poky and freezing cold. Dahl tacked polystyrene to the walls, to try and keep the heat in; the window was covered with a raggedy old curtain. He would sit in there on a battered, straight-backed chair, with a roll of corrugated cardboard resting on his lap and his “writing board” on top of that. In the winter he would also climb into a sleeping bag, so that he could keep his legs warm while he wrote. It sounds like a rickety place: once a goat got into the hut, and Dahl had to clean out the droppings before he set to work that day.
As I listened to these descriptions, it struck me that this wasn’t just a “Writing Hut”; it was a frugal office par excellence! Roald Dahl was one of the world’s most successful and best-loved children’s authors, living in a beautiful home in a beautiful village. Had he wanted, he could have created a stunning office, with all the latest gizmos and other trappings. Clearly, what mattered to him was the quality of his output, rather than its setting. Go that man!
We (finally) found our way back onto the A1 and headed homewards. I guess it turned out to be an interesting diversion, as diversions go. I now admire Dahl even more than I did before: he wrote amazing books and he did so in fine frugal style.
By the way, frugal as his writing days may have been, it seems to me that Dahl was also aware that thrifty living comes with its own attendant dangers. As this short story demonstrates….