Neurologist, encephalitis guru, marathon runner and now launching a new live show and book about Roald Dahl; is there anything Tom Solomon can’t do? A bit like Dahl himself, known for writing best-selling books, such as Matilda and the BFG, but with a list of interests and achievements beyond that of children’s fiction. As part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival 2017, Tom took to the stage to enlighten us about Dahl’s extra-literary interests. And a fine stage it was, with Tom seated in a leather armchair by the fireplace, with just a few mod cons to help illustrate the salient points – a laptop, big screen and large glass of red wine. To set the scene, Tom explained how he developed a friendship with “the great author” after meeting him whilst working as a junior doctor in 1990. It was Dahl’s curiosity about Tom’s research that initially brought the two together and the friendship quickly blossomed. As the evening unfolded, we listened intently to the tales Tom had heard from Dahl through their regular evening encounters on the ward.
We heard how Dahl’s life was marred by several significant medical encounters and loss of loved ones. Tom transported us to a world in the pre-antibiotic era, where Dahl had vividly described looking on as tragedy unfolded. Rather than crumble, Dahl developed his love of medicine, using his experiences, not only to enhance his writing but also to help advance stroke rehabilitation and medical inventions (he co-created the Wade-Dahl-Till valve for hydrocephalus). We were not subjected to a didactic lecture as Tom invited audience participation; sometimes taking on a professorial role (demonstrating the ‘Stroop Effect’), other times as quizmaster with occasional retorts to silence the fellow Dahl experts in the crowd! We were by no means restless when he suggested an interval with a complimentary drink, but this is always welcomed in Belfast! Of course this was no ordinary tipple, but a Dahl-themed ‘William and Mary’ passion fruit cocktail to drink to his memory.
So there we were, feeling relaxed in the intimate company of our convivial host, hearing about a fascinating life and a heartening friendship between two kindred spirits. From a medical perspective, it was interesting to see how intrigued Dahl was with every aspect of medicine, curiously seeking the “sights smells sounds” of Tom’s clinical experiences. It struck me afterwards how fateful it was that their worlds collided by chance and how they seemed to complement each other perfectly. As Tom quietly admitted in his book ‘Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine’, “Just as he, a writer, has always wanted to be a doctor, so have I, a doctor, always wanted to be a writer”. The book is a great read but I highly recommend seeing Tom bring Dahl to life in this unique and entertaining live show; I think his fellow writer Dahl would be very proud.