Posts Tagged 'Roald Dahl'

The Anachronistic-Office-Drone

It’s not often that I feel out-of-place in life, but I did tonight. My Friday Night commute was disrupted when my usual train was cancelled (“Shortage of Train Crew”), and I had to get the posh London-Virgin Train home from Liverpool to Runcorn. This is a 10 minute journey (and train) that has been part of my life for Saturday shopping trips, and evenings at the Theatre since I was 11, and is now my journey to work every morning, and home every evening. Tonight, with the combination of it being Friday Night, and the previous train being cancelled, the train was absolutely packed full, but I did get a seat. It was mainly full of trendy hipsters travelling back to London; with their cutting-edge clothes, and bottles of water, working at laptops, and talking on the phone with their alien southern accents. To be frank, they were cool, and they wore patterned trousers. I suddenly became very aware of myself, and my Office-Drone Uniform.

I’ve been an Office Drone since I was 17 years-old, and for all of those 16 years I’ve been a firm subscriber to the Office Drone Uniform. Interchangeable for men and women, the Uniform consists strictly of: mac / tench coat, pencil dress / skirt and blouse / suit, and a very particular type of sensible handbag. Either heels, or ballet flats / loafers, depending on (a) how far you have to walk, and (b) how strong your insteps are. The Office Drone can also be identified by their extremely well-developed calf muscles. I am comfortable with being part of this breed.

Over years of working in Manchester, Chester, and Liverpool, I have grown to love the daily routine of bumping shoulders with the same people every morning, and every evening, although never acknowledging them, and then walking as part of a mass through the City Centre in the morning. The early morning in the City belongs to the Suits, before the normal people are awake, and take over the City with their shopping, and everyday lives, the Suits walk through the quiet, clean streets, when everywhere smells of coffee, and fresh bread, and bacon, and newspaper. They stop at Starbucks, or wherever they get their morning coffee, and croissant. They carry umbrellas, and newspapers, and blue paper bags from Cafe Nero. They walk the same route, same streets, same corners, same shortcuts every morning, and they arrive at the same Office to start their day. They repeat the routine at lunchtime, and in the evening. I am very happy being one of these people, and part of the morning drudge, carrying my coffee, stepping over the same puddles. I love that we are all dressed the same, and can identify each other. It has always made me feel like a character from a John le Carre Novel. I feel like George Smiley every morning, and I love it.

Roald Dahl wrote a number of short stories about commuters, and how we stand in the same spot on the platform every day, and get into the same carriage, and sit usually around the same few seats. He wrote about how we never speak to each other, but notice instantly if somebody is missing one morning. He understood everything I love about commuting, and what makes our working lives and daily drudgery a little more meaningful.

But, on the train tonight, the other thing that I felt was provincial. I became acutely aware of something that has always been at the back of mind; that London is another Country, separate to the rest of us. These hipsters with their patterned trousers were totally different from the hipsters in Manchester. It’s hard to define, but it’s something about the way they speak, and the way their hair falls; they’re sharper, harder, more aware of the world, but a different world. It reminded me how narrow, and un-urban my life is, and how anybody who lives outside London is comparably an uncultured hillbilly. We’re basically the Waltons.

All of this lead me to think that perhaps this breed is being left behind by the modern world. As the new generation takes over, with their beards, and grime, and social media, all of the old stereotypes of old-school English castes are being fazed out, and slowly disappearing with the last generation, which makes me very sad. Two generations ago, there were very distinct social pidgeon-holes, and people fitted very neatly into one of a few moulds, but they are being overtaken by new and trendy social identities. It makes me very happy that I am a living part of one of the last castes to die out, and I hope we can keep our Le Carre trench coats, and umbrellas firmly in place, and let our meek flags fly. See you at Starbucks in the morning, I’ll be the one behind The Times.

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! 

 

I grew up in a house with no books. There were, of-course, a very small selection of baby books in our room, and the obligatory Dictionary, French Dictionary, and Medical Dictionary in the living room drawer, never opened. Aside from that; nothing. My parents, although possessing many wonderful qualities, are not academic. They read the redtops, if anything; never pushed me to do homework, and were only ever concerned when I was in trouble for not handing it in. 

It is remarkable then that I started school being able to read, and read well. This was thanks to one shining light in the darkness; Roald Dahl, and one stark exception to our bookless house. Each night, my mother would read to get me to sleep; a few chapters from three battered old books; The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda. I think the copies had come from a mixture of an older cousin, and those shelves in library doorways, selling dog-eared books for 50p.

It didn’t take long for me to reach that moment. I can’t remember precisely how old I was, or even when it happened, but I know distinctly that there was one night, when I’d started reading Matilda back to my Mother, instead of her reading it to me, that I realised. I realised it all. I had, without knowing, been learning the very important fact that you can be different to the people in your house, and it doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, just different. If your parents read The Sun, you don’t have to. If your parents think that books are irrelevant, and lofty, you can still love them fiercely (the parents, and the books).  

That was the moment when I understood. I am not alone. There are hundreds of shelves, in hundreds of buildings, with millions of words on pages, written by people who know how I feel, and what I think, because they thought the same thing. They may have thought it two hundred years ago, but they thought it. And I knew I would never be alone again. As soon as I could read, I belonged to a rich and limitless world full of people, and places, and thoughts. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
There are children who have never discovered Matilda, who believe that because they are different to their parents and siblings, and because they want to read The Famous Five in a corner with a lamp, instead of watching quiz shows with their family, it makes them stupid, odd, and abnormal. I wish I could tell those children how special they are. I wish I could shine the light for them. 
Shining that light is precisely what Roald Dahl does. Like the BFG’s long golden trumpet, blowing dreams through children’s bedroom windows, Roald Dahl, with his words, and characters, and help from Quentin Blake, reaches through the darkness of children’s lives, and shows them that they are normal, and crucial, and noble. He makes children see the nobility in their everyday actions.

What makes Dahl remarkable, for me, is that he did it all without really intending to. Roald Dahl was not a saint-like messiah, setting out on a selfless mission to do honourable deeds, and save children from awful lives. He was a battered old RAF pilot, who nearly died when his fighter jet crashed in the desert, who spent his childhood away from his family, being beaten and caned at boarding school, and lived his adult life as a spy, passing messages in the Second World War directly between presidents and prime ministers. He was an unsuccessful writer, writing books for adults without much notice, and the odd screenplay here and there, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, managed to bring extraordinary magic into children’s lives, and arguably changed the world, and the way we think.

Who else was brave enough to tell children that their parents and teachers might actually be catastrophically wrong, and even unintelligent? Who else told children that the monsters and dangerous things they’ve been warned about for their entire young lives might actually live in their own home, or school, in the next bedroom, or classroom, or down the street? And he gives children the bravery to fight them. For so many children, myself included, Dahl’s words give them the strength to fight back; to stand up. He lifts their chin up.

Owing solely and unequivocally to Roald Dahl, our bookless house is now full of books. Downstairs is filled with crammed bookshelves, and in my own tiny bedroom, the walls are covered in shelves, filled to drooping, and the room is filled with bookcases, and piles of books on the dressing table, chair, and floor; piled just high enough on every surface that they won’t fall over. All of them are mine. My parents still read the redtops. I can pay no greater respect or thanks to Roald Dahl than that. 


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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