Alice in blunderland

The V&A reckons Alice in Wonderland is a self-help manual in the sex-war rather than the daydreams of an old Oxford perv

Man About Town

This article is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.


Alice in blunderland

In much the same way that Dubya had that thing on his desk asking “What Would Jesus Do?” — a little surprisingly, the answer always turned out to be “Vaporise random bits of the world, duh!” — most laughingly-named “world leaders” these days evidently have something similar featuring, instead of the Son of The Man, characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice, most typically the maniac Queen of Hearts or the Duchess’s anger-issues Cook. 

In fact there’s plenty of larfs to be had guessing who has which: Boz would be the shambolic and random White Queen, le petit craporal the officious small contrarian Mad Hatter, Uncle Vovik Humpty Dumpty. And Joe would have to be the Dormouse: send that man a teapot! 

Good timing then, for the V&A to launch its new show on the pinafored moppet, cataloguing her influence through art and design. At the press launch they couldn’t help themselves from wittering on about what a terrific role-model Alice is, as if the books were some kind of self-help manual in the sex-war, rather than the daydreams of an old Oxford perv. Nobody can stop themselves spouting this kind of drivel now, can they? 

Anyway, it’s great to be able to report that Alice turns out to be a strong feminist icon, empowering little girls (big and small!) with amazing resourcefulness when confronted by caterpillar-based glass ceilings, furthermore overcoming all manner of other patriarchal bullshit, albeit the really heavy authoritarians in the books all appear rather inconveniently to be women. Frankly it seems a bit much for these people to co-opt old Dodgson’s harmless sex fantasies for their dubious purposes. Will they leave us nothing? Is nothing sacred? 

Heads: you lose

It’s got a bit light in the evenings now, and the vomming young roustabouts have returned to spoil the stalker’s peace of London’s night-time streets, but back in early summer was a good time to enjoy the Thames bridges, lit up (like concert halls and everything else these days) in pastel shades like a Belarusian bordello, possibly in the agreeable and accommodating town of Slutsk. 

After immersion in Alice, one mulls over how vastly improved the picture would be by the restitution of an old tradition, curated by said Queen of Hearts, with a row of spikes erected along London Bridge (cerise and pistachio) for the heads of traitors. An entertaining party game — an extension of the above — can be had deciding who gets a place; for a start, obviously, every prime minister since Phony Baloney (though should we spare poor Mrs May? — perhaps she suffered enough) plus the odd chancellor — yeah, that one who flogged Stonehenge and everything else to the Chinese, and the other guy who pissed our gold reserves away for a sixth of their value. Plus a little teeny one made of something bendy and recyclable for Cleggy so he could wave around in the wind.

Bonfire season dawns in the blessed six counties, and the pipes and pipe-bombs are calling … Actually there is one excellent benefit to life in the Occupied North-East of Ireland in July, on top of the fact that everyone else gets the hell out.

Persistent rumour maintains that the local councils have banned garden bonfires — and really, nothing would be a surprise here where the entirety of politics is devoted to thwarting the other gang, resulting in a competitive wowserdom whereby the Shinner and Dupper thugs, gangsters and halfwits who have by some devilish visitation come to represent this mild and harmless populace vie to outdo each other in their touching concern for public health & safety. 

Anyway, obviously nobody’s going to stop you having a bonfire wherever the hell you want in July, but what to do at other times of year? A friendly local farmer suggests the following solution: keep a “Pope” dummy handy to bung on top if the peelers come by, and claim you’re celebrating your legally enshrined cultural traditions. Other side? Nothing could be simpler. Swap the auld mitre for a wee tricorn, and King Billy’s yer uncle, so he is. Parity of esteem, that’s what we preach. 

People are being rather rude about puir wee Pootsy and that arcane belief system of his. But why? — this is a place where everyone is devoted to believing six impossible or at least bloody stupid things before breakfast. Many maintain as graven truth, for example, the notion that neither Gerry nor Marty was an MI5 tout, that republicans are not sectarian, and all the rest of it. In local terms, Pootsy’s fatuities seem pretty harmless. 

Handbags and gladrags

Alas, one must occasionally forsake the delights of lambegs, bowler hats, merry badinage and slogans for the English summer opera season (that sort of fête champêtre stuff used to happen up here at a place called Castleward, and very drunken and jolly it was, but the killjoy feckers got to that too, and now the only music allowed is the grim spoon-dancing and bones-fiddlers of our rival traditions). 

By far the best to date has been Charles Court Opera — imagine J.B. Priestley’s Good Companions, plus music – doing G&S’s Iolanthe in the Roman theatre at Verulamium (it’s on tour through the summer). Gilbert’s freaky worlds have much in common with Lewis Carroll; Iolanthe is the one where the House of Lords, invaded by fairyland, discovers the ungovernability of the wild human heart, plus some jolly stuff about the non-separation of powers. 

Now I know that the office of Lord High Chancellor isn’t what it used to be, and indeed perhaps it’s a blessing that we were spared, for example, a third generation of Hoggs mounting the Woolsack. And yet Iolanthe does depend a bit on fooflah with big sticks and wigs. 

I suppose no institution could survive those photos of Michael Gove’s investiture as LC in 2015, and he and his successors (the present seat-warmer is called Buckland) do look awfully like that old David Low cartoon of little Ribbentrop swamped in Bismarck’s clothes. Iolanthe’s fairies will have to go tripping hither, tripping thither somewhere else.

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