Monday, 26 April 2010


I’ve been thinking about genes, particularly Norwegian genes. A miniscule knowledge of Viking history is all one needs to realise that a great many of us Scots have a good dollop of Norwegian genes floating about inside us. As do many of the Irish, the Welsh, the English, the Americans and the Canadians.

But before we go way back in time, and before we head across The Pond, I need to mention one particular family that left Norway in order to settle in the UK. Their contribution, and particularly the contribution of one of their family members, is almost legendary.

If you have a teenaged boy in your house and you are in the habit of watching the extremely famous British Broadcasting Corporation, you will know that Tuesday nights offer half an hour of essential viewing. For it is then that ‘The Delicious Miss Dahl’ is broadcast across the UK, before being beamed elsewhere.

‘The Delicious Miss Dahl’ is apparently the perfect vision of womanhood, according to the teenaged youth I happen to have handy. If ever the ideal female graced the television screen, it is apparently Sophie Dahl, the grand-daughter of the man who, to my mind, is The Delicious Mr Dahl, Roald for short. Sophie is reputed to be rather keen on food, and thus it has been arranged for her to present a cookery programme. So of course, being a curious parent, I was obliged to tune in too, just to check things out.

I did so on the first night of the series, and was confronted with the most Norwegian of Norwegian faces. Funny how this had never struck me before but.... wow....those Norwegian genes came shining through the screen like nothing on earth. Miss Dahl may have lived in England all her life, but she could not look more Norwegian if she put on a bunad (national dress) and started doling out lutefisk. I watched in astonishment as the camera enjoyed her perfection from as many different angles as the kitchen would permit. Even I could quite understand what the teenaged youth was going on about.

I retired to my library and fetched down a book by The Delicious Mr Dahl, one that I knew he had dedicated to a different Sofie, his own Mum. Like everyone else, I’ve been a fan of Mr Dahl from the minute he started to have his books published (some of us are as old as that) but it has only been since living in Norway that I read his two autobiographical books, ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo.’

‘Boy’ tells the story of the young Roald, born to Norwegian parents in Wales. He was brought up in England, and spent every summer holiday in Norway where he fished, swam, mucked about in boats, ate ice-cream and wore strange Norwegian sandals, (the ones the ‘BFG’ was to be seen wearing in later years).

The next bit of Roald’s life is written about in ‘Going Solo’, quite the most gripping book I’ve come across for a while. There he was, a young man of 18 working for the Shell Oil Company in Africa, when WW11 broke out and he found himself training to be an RAF pilot with 80 Squadron in the Western Desert. Once trained, he survived a horrific plane crash. He recovered from this and was immediately sent to Greece to fly Hurricanes. As he arrived in Greece he was told that his plane was number 15 of the fleet of 15 Hurricanes. Those, along with 5 Blenheims, represented the entire RAF war machine in Greece at that moment. The Germans, meanwhile, had hundreds of fighters and hundreds of bombers. It was less than ideal. It was a fiasco.

His stories of these days in Greece would make anyone’s hair stand on end. In particular, the description of the Battle of Athens, when, despite being outnumbered ten to one, Dahl and his fellow pilots flew sortie after sortie, ignoring the danger, taking astonishing risks, and braving appalling odds. I can’t possibly tell the story here....Dahl is, after all, the World’s Number One Story-Teller and it’s his story, so you have to read the book. All I can say is, the circumstances and the strength of courage those pilots showed is mind-blowing. The chances of a pilot surviving those battles was slim as slim, so we are extraordinarily fortunate that Dahl lived to tell the tale, in between all his other stories.

In later life, Dahl had a reputation for being rather a fierce man, impatient and often difficult to be around. But I also know he was a dedicated family man, a man who adored children and simply wanted to amuse them. Of course he was bad-tempered from time to time....he was busy. He had a terrific number of books to write, and he had a desperate desire to do them well. He would disappear into the garden and vanish into his yellow-doored-hut, his hytte, where he would sit in his favourite chair, his writing board across his knees, and create some of the best children’s fiction the world has ever known. He may have been grumpy from time to time, but his legacy is one of humour, adventure, style and above all, fun.

‘The Delicious Miss Dahl’ has been hammered by the critics. I do hope Sophie has inherited her grandfather’s courage to go on, despite everything. Clearly these critics don’t have children who have laughed and laughed at Roald Dahl’s books, and are now smouldering quietly at the sight of Dahl’s delicious Norwegian-looking grand-daughter. What do critics know?

If, incidentally, you have a favourite Roald Dahl book, tell me what it is....I haven't read them all yet.


  1. "My uncle Oswald", "George's Marvellous Medicine" and "Over to you: ten stories of flyers and flying" are my favourites, in addition to "Going solo".

  2. Tor...lucky I haven't packed them yet then!
    Funny...I knew Dahl flew, but how!!!

  3. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is such a delight! I also love his adult fiction ("My Uncle Oswald"). I wish that I could see Miss Dahl's show, sadly, we don't have it here in America.

  4. Anonymous in America...I just dug about in a packing box and managed to extract 'Henry Sugar'...good news. Here's hoping you chaps get to see Miss Dahl gracing your screens some time.

  5. Bjørn Olav...Great piece on Dahl and Norway. Personal favorite is "Boy" and "Danny". I happen to be a Norwegian myself and also a writer of books for children. ( Great blog, by the way.

  6. Bjorn Olav...guess what I'm going to do now...thanks for the link.