Thursday, 13 March 2014

Veruca and the Netsuke

This is the story about the girl who always got her own way, how she wasn't modest, but vain, and one day got her name claimed by a character in a best-seller.
This is how Veruca brushed past Roald Dahl; how Roald came across Veruca Salt.
The plot that placed these two in the same room together happened years before Roald Dahl was a popular children's author. At that time, he was unpublished, but Veruca was already an obnoxious girl.
Fate conspired these two to cross paths one summer.
Mr. Salt and Roald Dahl had both been issued with an invitation to an unveiling of a private netsuke collection. A huge display of very small Japanese cravings, which the owner, who they both knew, had painstakingly acquired. He searched them out and brought them back to his mansion house in prestigious South West London. Yes, Mr. Bertie Loomis was an unusual and well-travelled fellow; a dandy in a pin-striped suit whose monocled eye was good at spying treasure. At soirĂ©es when he circulated the room, it was his booming voice that was heard: “Illuminating, dear boy, illuminating” or “My, but how skilled you are.”
Into this scene, Roald Dahl, Mr. Salt and Veruca entered.
Bertie jovially shook both of their hands and ruffled Veruca's hair which made her scowl. His daughter, Mr. Salt said, had insisted on coming. Since the gold-leaf invitation had been received, Veruca had slept with it, he disclosed to Bertie Loomis. “Ah, she's a magpie like me.” Bertie said studying this girl through his monocle, “Run along and explore the house my dear. It's only boring adults in here.” Veruca refused to move and pouted.
Extraordinary child you have Mr. Salt.” Bertie commented as he turned to his next guest. Veruca's face flushed as pink as her rose tutu, CHILD! I'M NOT A CHILD! She thought.
Roald Dahl standing nearby overheard this exchange and intrigued continued to observe them. The Salts were such interesting characters.
Bertie tapped the side of his glass with a butter knife and brought the cheery voices to a halt. With all eyes focused on him as their host, he cleared his throat, “Beautiful things come in small packages.” He reached inside his suit jacket and pulled out a brindled wolf.
The small group gasped at this matchbox-sized beauty and Veruca tugged at her daddy's sleeve, “Hey, Daddy, I want a netsuke. I want you to get me an netsuke right away!”
All right, Veruca, all right. I'll get you one before the day is out.” Mr. Salt placated his daughter. But as the guests were ushered through to Bertie's display room, Veruca broke free. “I want the whole collection!” She screamed.
She flung open the doors of the glass cabinet, which Bertie had ensured were unlocked for this occasion, and stuffed a galloping horse, a wild boar, a sleeping mouse, and a rat on a peanut into her coat pockets. Mr. Salt did not try to stop his spoiled daughter.
Bertie calmly approached her as if she were a tiger and retrieved his precious netsukes from her bulging pockets. “It's all right Veruca. They have that effect on some people.” Her breath answered him in shallow rasps. “But as you're so passionate, I'll let you keep one.”
Give it to me now!” Veruca growled and held out her palm. Into it Bertie placed the boxwood rat on a peanut. The audience watched as the rise and fall of Veruca's chest slowed and her fingers closed protectively over it.
Veruca Salt's a bad nut!” Bertie joked as he collided with Roald Dahl, “A little bird told me you were trying to write about a giant fruit. What you need is a netsuke to inspire you.” His hand disappeared once more into a pocket and pulled out a rat on a giant peach.

*Inspired by the world of Roald Dahl and The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal