Like many kids of my generation, I grew up on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–quirky, brilliant, funny–perhaps one of the multiple reasons I fell in love with England and much of its literature. I’ve been itching to go to this museum, in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire (conveniently situated next to Little Missenden, of course), ever since we moved here, and we finally did it a few weeks ago on the children’s end-of-term break.
I could say that we unfortunately went to the museum on our children’s school break because it felt like everyone in the whole country decided to take their children the same day we did. It’s a small museum in a small village and there were too many people, especially if you happen to be a 14-year-old I know and love who doesn’t enjoy crowds. (The museum is geared for children ages 6 to 12, so we knew going in that she would be “too old” for the trip, but made her go anyway. She did, however, get to go clothes shopping the next day to make up for it.)
That said, we loved the museum (except for aforementioned 14-year-old). We got to see mementoes of Dahl’s childhood and learned he was a born storyteller and mischief maker. As a young boy, the school he attended was conveniently located by a Cadbury chocolate factory, which would occasionally deliver plain cardboard boxes to the school filled with 12 newly developed chocolate bars for a select group of boys to taste test. (If anyone from Cadbury is reading this post, I am available for taste testing. Contact via comments below.) Roald was one of the lucky group who got to try the new chocolate bars, and he and his fellow pupils were expected to give each bar a mark for tastiness, along with comments. Of one bar he wrote, “Too subtle for the common palate.” Thus began a lifelong obsession with chocolate which led him to, at the age of 21, having all his teeth removed and being fitted with dentures so that he wouldn’t have to worry about cavities. (As much of a chocoholic as I am, I think this is a step too far.) He always wanted to own a chocolate factory, and while that never came to pass, this became the seed for the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Every day, when he sat down to write, he had two chocolate bars–a KitKat and a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk–which he enjoyed with his flask of coffee. He squished the foil wrappers from the chocolate into what became an enormous foil ball still in its place in his writing hut, which was moved into the museum in Great Missenden.
Like many writers, he was a creature of habit. Every morning he sharpened six Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, specially imported from America, and begin writing on a yellow legal pad, also imported. He took to writing with these while he was living in America, working for the British Embassy. Though he began his career writing for adults, he soon found his niche as a children’s writer, though once, when asked by some children how he came up with his marvellous ideas, said it was his dog Jelly who invented everything.
The museum has a small cafe, Cafe Twit, which serves scrumptious concoctions like Bogtrotter chocolate cake (from Matilda) and fizzlecrumpers, swishwifflers and whizzpoppers to drink (no snozzcumbers, sadly). The cafe is exceedingly small, at least for the size of crowd on the day we visited, though the food is very nice. We did leave the museum in the hopes of finding a place to eat in the village, but Great Missenden didn’t offer much in the way of eating establishments, and those we found were full of other museum escapees also looking for a quick bite.
Here, a few photos of our day out: