Roald Dahl was a great fan of sports, and he used the May chapter of My Year to extoll the virtues of playing games.
At the start of May, the blossom is out, the sun is hopefully shining and, as Roald Dahl happily tells us in the May chapter of My Year, it is the start of the summer term at school, and the chance to play lots of sports and games.
Sports may not be everyone’s favourite activity, but for Roald it was a chance to get outside and enjoy himself. At his schools (firstly at Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset and later at Repton in Derbyshire) he loved games, taking part in boxing, tennis, cricket, swimming, fives (a game similar to squash but using your hand instead of a racquet), rugby and football, all with mixed success. In the letter below, Roald tells his mother that his school team lost a match 27-3, which he didn’t seem to mind too much about.
Above: extract of a letter Roald Dahl wrote home from boarding school in 1927.
In fact, in My Year, Roald is enthusiastic about the value of playing sports, especially in learning how to be a good loser, stating that:
“I regard all forms of sport, whether the pupil is good at them or not, as being a most important part of character-building… lessons and exams are all very well, but there are other things in life besides being clever and soaking up knowledge.”
Roald goes on to talk about his love of golf – how as a ten-year-old he taught himself how to play and would cycle with his sister Alfhild to play at the local green. Later, while working for Shell Oil in Tanzania, he took part in golf competitions – although in Africa the games were somewhat more exciting. Roald tells us that you had to watch out for cobras on the green at Dar-es-Salaam, and that on the course in Kenya, you were allowed to lift your ball out of rhinoceros hoof prints. However, it seems that Lagos in Nigeria provided the most entertaining round of golf, as players had to dodge the mangoes thrown at them by monkeys! In Roald’s words, ‘it was super!’ Roald didn't limit himself to golf, he also played football, cricket and squash while in Africa.
Above: Roald Dahl played cricket while he was in Tanzania. He took this photo in 1939.
Above: a letter that Roald Dahl wrote home from Tanzania. In it he tells the story of a spitting cobra on the 7th green during a round of golf.
Rather neatly, Roald rounds off his tale of his African adventures by reminding us that many of the birds we see here in May have arrived after their long migrations from North Africa, Asia and New Guinea. He is both fascinated and repelled by the nasty habits of the cuckoo, but finds it incredible that the same pair of swallows always managed to find their way home to nest in the same spot in the garden of his house in Great Missenden.
Hopefully we’ll be getting out and about in May, finding our own sports to play, or else spotting birds from far away as they arrive for the summer.