- First published:
- September 14, 1974 issue of The New York Times
- Also known as:
- The title comes from a famous song in the operetta Naughty Marietta.
- Recent news:
- Two brand new Dahl short stories added! - June 26, 2016
Roald Dahl introduces this version of the story as if it happened to him!
The other day, when this newspaper invited me to write a short piece on more or less any subject, I declined. I was struggling with a new children’s book, I said, and I find it difficult to switch over from one thing to another. But I had no sooner replaced the receiver when I began to have second thoughts.
The New York Times, I told myself, is read by just about everybody of consequence in the United States, including the President himself. So what a tremendous opportunity this would be to say something of world-shaking importance and to implant the message directly into the minds of powerful men.
But did I have such a message? Nothing in the lead bit trivial would do. Nothing political or witty or smart-aleck. It must, in fact, be something of major benefit to mankind the world over. Something along the lines of Salk and his polio vaccine or Roentgen with his exposed photographic plate or Fleming with that little bacteria-free circle on the watch glass. Something like that.
Well now, I thought. And I went on thinking and thinking and nothing much happened….until suddenly click went a little trigger somewhere inside the head and I cried out, “I’ve got it!” And indeed I had.
For the last 27 ears I have been stewing and brewing about an incident that took place one misty autumn afternoon in a farmyard on the outskirts of the village of Great Missenden, and I have many times wondered where and when I should make the facts known tot he world. This surely was my chance. So here we go. The story is a true one.
Back in 1947 when there was still a postwar shortage of milk in England, we kept a cow in our orchard. The house I was then living in with my mother and my youngest sister is presently owned by Mr. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister. So this is the orchard. I mention this for a reason. When my story breaks upon the world, thousands of people will flock to Great Missenden to stand and stare at the house where i tall started. And Mr. Wilson, who is no less of an egomaniac than any other politician, will almost certainly think they have come to look at him. He will probably wave to them from an upstairs window and he may even try to make an electioneering speech. If he does, he will be jeered.
This version is slightly different from the later one published in Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life. Claud doesn’t appear at all, for example, and there’s no description of the bull’s, uh, equipment. Dahl also claims that the story is true and happened to him personally in 1947 in Great Missenden.
Spoiler warning! Dahl’s cow started “bulling” so he took her down the road to be serviced by Rummins’s bull. Rummins explains he has a unique way of conducting an official mating that no one else in the world knows. Pointing the cow into the sun, he says, means that a heifer (female) will result, while pointing her away creates a bull (male). The actual reason has something to do with the pull the sun exerts on “female” sperm. After Dahl checks the records to verify this claim, he asks Rummins if it will work with people. “Of course it’ll work with humans,” he said. “…I’ve got four boys of my own, ain’t I?”