As 2015 is the Year of the Goat in the Chinese Zodiac, we take a look at a very special pet in Roald Dahl’s life – his nanny goat, Alma.
During his career as an author, Roald Dahl received many thousands of letters from children all around the world. We’re lucky enough to have numerous copies of letters he sent back in reply stored safely in the Museum archive. These often included humorous verses and jokes, and in several he regaled the children with funny anecdotes about his large menagerie of pets. Among his many pets was one mischievous nanny goat called Alma.
Alma is first mentioned in a letter from 1979, in which Roald Dahl wrote, “We have just got a nanny goat as a companion to my daughter Lucy’s pony in the orchard. She is lovely and intelligent and as tame as a dog and the colour of raw liver.” A few weeks later Roald Dahl was faced with a conundrum. In a letter he confessed that he had acquired the nanny goat to keep the horse company and had then “got a Shetland pony to keep the nanny goat company when the horses go out riding. I am not quite sure what we are going to get to keep the Shetland pony company. Probably an armadillo.”
By the following year, Alma had started getting up to mischief. In a letter Roald Dahl admitted, “Our nanny goat, Alma, is a bit of a problem around here. She keeps getting out of the orchard and coming to the door where she waits quietly until someone opens it and then she nips into the house and sits on the sofa like a dog. All the same I like her.”
One year later, in 1981, Alma had stepped up her game once more. Roald Dahl had left the door to his writing hut ajar, and in the manner of Bruce Bogtrotter in Matilda, Alma had snuck in like a serpent. Two months after this incident Roald Dahl revealed to schoolchildren what had transpired. “She left her droppings all over the floor and because I never allow anyone to clean my work hut and never clean it myself, they are still there – growing fur coats. I have resolved that today I will sweep it out. We cannot go on like this, can we?”
Alas – Roald Dahl was right. In a letter written the same year, he announced, “We have had to give away our beautiful nanny goat Alma because we simply could not keep her fenced in the orchard. I finally put my foot down after she had eaten all my tulips, all my parsley, all my other plants and had stripped the young leaves off all my rose bushes. But we found her a good home with a lady who has six other goats.”
However, this was not the last of Alma. In 1982 she reappeared as a character in George’s Marvellous Medicine, and was fed a spoonful of the magical potion “just for fun”.
And fun the adventures of Alma the nanny goat certainly were. In spite of the mayhem her antics caused in the house and garden, Roald Dahl seemed to develop quite a soft spot for Alma, and was left with this lasting impression of goats, as written to schoolchildren in a letter in 1979: “They are intelligent and friendly and a lot better looking than quite a few people I know.”
You can take a look at some of the letters featured in this blog post in the archive section of the website. If you were lucky enough to receive a letter from Roald Dahl, we'd love to hear from you. You can contact us here.