26 February 2015
Mark Burstein

A couple of months ago I went to California to visit Mark Burstein, who has a mind-blowing collection of "Alice" books and memorabilia, one of the best in the world. He is a vital part of the LCSNA (Lewis Carroll Society of North America) and he and his family live on a farm north of San Francisco. It was kind of touch and go if we would be able to visit, since he had jury service during our time in California. But luckily Justice held off for a day, and so one sunny morning we got in the car and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin county...



And after a while, going down ever smaller roads, we arrived at the dazzling white tower where Mark keeps his collection.



I can't start to tell you what amazing things are there.



Mark's collection is built upon the one given to him by his father, Sandor. It contains one of only 2,700 very expensive books of Salvador Dali prints of "Alice in Wonderland" - I was excited, as I've not had the chance to examine these before. But I must confess I was equally impressed by other volumes. Look at these bindings. That luminous mother-of-pearl effect on this "Looking Glass"...



And this is the companion edition of "Wonderland, " both published by Cheshire Cat Press and illustrated with George Walker's distinctive prints.



The collection contains one of the rare press kits which were issued or the Tim Burton movie of "Alice in Wonderland." It is an elaborate piece of work, which is unlocked with a huge key. Can you see it there on the top of the pile? Very few of these were made, and so it's quite an acquisition.

Talking of acquisitions, one of the many interesting things about Mark is that he doesn't look to the internet to find his treasures. He prefers,he says, the "traditional way." Which means the hard way - by asking about, by looking around. Not so easy, but far more fun, of course.



There are "Alice" books here in many different languages; I was specially interested in some of the Russian illustrations which are typically stylish and emotionally powerful



But of course there aren't just books. What about the white rabbits, clustered around the staircase....

wwhite rabbits

And all kinds of toys and games and artworks, including this collage featuring Lewis Carroll. If you stand the shiny cylinder in one place, it reflects back an image of Carroll himself.



I spent a long time looking through his collection of material about Lewis Carroll and his life, of course. In fact, that was so interesting to me that I was considering turning up the next day, too, with a sleeping bag and a couple of packs of sandwiches, so I could stick around and read everything that caught my eye.

But no, I'm joking - about the sandwiches, anyhow. We didn't need sandwiches, because we had a great lunch, and met his attractive family, who were so hospitable, creative and friendly.

Then we went for an outing to the Charles L. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, home of "Peanuts." Schulz was a "local boy" in this area, and he was also a big fan of "Alice." If you know "Peanuts" you'll remember Snoopy's Cheshire Beagle Trick and so many other references to Alice in the comic strips.

Lucy and the Cheshire Beagle

The museum was running an "Alice" show, "Peanuts in Wonderland," featuring some of Mark's collection in clever VIctorian style display cabinets - one of which has a tiny door in the side, which looks to be leading into the garden. Unfortunately my camera started malfunctioning, so I didn't get any usable shots. But, if you live within reach, the show is on till 26 April, so I hope you can make it.

Finally, it was time to head back to Mark's place. We dropped him off, gave a last look to the magic tower, and set off back into San Francisco in the evening sun.

What an amazing day it was - one I'll really remember. And, if you think I sound like a bit of a fan.. well, you know something -



I am!!

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25 February 2015
Alice Doll

The Londonist is the best guide to London that I know. It's online and as I live in London I consult it often when I want a day out. It's just run a piece on London Alice in Wonderland hangouts. Some of the connections are just a bit tenuous, but all are interesting, the listings particularly. I'll be visiting some of them- so watch this space!

The Alice tree ornament doll at the top, by the way, was made by my friend Marjorie, who is a wonderful needlewoman - she always has some interesting stitching project on the go and she has made us some fantastic things over the years. The ornaments were a whole set and she gave one character to each member of the family.
04 February 2015
I'm sure everyone has now forgotten the BBC2 film on Lewis Carroll except those of us who were at the sharp end and actually appeared on it. For me, it is still an issue, because I have spent so long in trying to uncover the truth about Lewis Carroll, whatever it may be. I can't change anything that wasn't nice about him, but I feel directly affected when a mass audience programme goes out, with ME on it, making suggestions that contradict what I know to be true. So if you thought there was something a bit peculiar about this photo they are supposed to have discovered at a late stage, read on ...

The programme is on BBC iPlayer till the end of the month. If you can't see it on iPlayer, try Youtube, as I'm told it has been leaked onto that.

1. First - about the photo, attributed to Lewis Carroll and said to be of Lorina Liddell.

- The BBC found it in the summer, several months before the late January screening, not late in the day, as they say. They found it on the internet, although they do not say so in the film. You can find it too by simply typing "Lorina Liddell" into Google images, and it will come up on the first page. Here it is on the Scala Archives art site as an attribution (they say "called" as it is a auto translation) - and it's held at Musee Cantini, Marseilles.

2. What about the Musee Cantini?

- It is a small modern art museum in Marseilles. More info here in English, and a link to its site (in French) Its collection contains works by some very major artists and a photo collection, and it has professional staff.

So let's consider the BBC's investigation.

3. What do Musee Cantini's own experts say about their own item on the programme?

- They say nothing. No representative from the museum appeared on the programme. However, we do know from the Scala site that it is only attributed to, not "by" Lewis Carroll in the catalogue.

4. Has the museum done its own tests on it?

- Yes. They have determined it is NOT connected with Carroll.

5. What about the views of the programme's own experts on Carroll and his photography?

- Let's start with me. I am an expert on Carroll's life, and in the context of what is known about Carroll's life, this photo simply does not fit. My aim is to find the truth about Carroll, not whitewash him or offer distortions about him. But I was not told about this photo till shortly before transmission, so I was unable to consider it and give my opinion. You will notice from the film that the trip to Marseilles was made in the summer, so they had plenty of time to discuss it with me in the months since then. I was, however, told certain things which are the subject of a complaint I am putting in to the BBC so I am afraid I cannot tell you about those at the minute.

6. What about the other experts on the programme?

- The programme's expert on Carroll's photographs is Edward Wakeling. Here are his credentials. He is just finishing off the definitive edition of Carroll's photos, and is consulted by the V & A Museum, the National Museum of Film and Television, major auction houses, etc. He also studied this exact image for the Musee Cantini in 1993, and for various reasons concluded it could not have been by Carroll.

7. Where do we hear Edward Wakeling's view on this photo?

- His view is given in a voiceover which was added 2 days before transmission. He did not get air time to discuss it.

8. Which experts do get the air time?

- There are two. One is a professional paper and photographic conservator, Nicholas Burnett, of MCS. This company is an art restorer offering Watercolour Restoration, Paper Conservation and Conservation Framing.

Mr Burnett's professional opinion does not state that this photo is by Lewis Carroll. He does correctly identify that the photo is from the 30 year period c1851-1880 (some of the time when Carroll was photographing,) but then so were tens of thousands of other photos. He also identifies that the image, like Carroll's work and tens of thousands of other photos, were taken with plate cameras and the wet collodion/albumen print processes - that's because that is how photos were taken at the time. That's all. Yet his "gut feeling" - personal, non-professional opinion. is that it is by Carroll. Perhaps it is not fair to Mr. Burnett to leave us with this, but this IS what we are left with.

The BBC's other expert is David Anley, a forensic image analyst whose professional tests are given several minutes of air time. His professional opinion is that "there is a moderate likelihood based on the two photos | have seen seen that the photo shows Lorina Liddell." Notice he will not professionally back the idea that it is even "very likely" to be of Lorina, let alone that it actually is her. He is not qualified to judge whether it's by Lewis Carroll. He only studied two of the many photos of Lorina. Yet viewers were also given Mr Anley's "hunch" (i.e. personal non professional opinion) that it is genuine. This is what we are left with.

In terms of providing balance, (a cardinal rule, supposedly, for BBC documentaries), the film didn't make it clear that on one hand they had people with no relevant expertise in photographic history or knowledge of Carroll's life, whose personal hunches were offered airtime and discussion, and on the other hand they didn't tell their own relevant experts anything about the image, so their opposing views were not given airtime or discussion.

A few days before transmission, I was told by the BBC that they were expecting intense media interest. Well, this film has succeeded. As an example of advertising technique, it is pretty darn good. As a piece of decent documentary journalism - well, draw your own conclusions. Now, sit down and enjoy the film! http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b051wml4/the-secret-world-of-lewis-carroll

15 January 2015


What an amazing place! One of the highlights of my weeks in Tokyo was a visit to an Alice in Wonderland restaurant. There are several in Tokyo, each with its own "take" on the story. This one is called "Alice in Fantasy Book." It is in the Shinjuku area of the city. You go down a floor, and enter the restaurant through what appears to be a large book cover. The decor is, of course, Alice themed - here are countless little figures tumbling down the walls.

fabric

My good friend Yoshi took us. Yoshi was an amazing host while we were in Tokyo, and every place we went with him and our other friends was an eye opener to us! A large group of Japanese Carrollian friends came too and we all had a really good time.

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The tables are divided from each other by giant books, and the menu itself is in the form of a pop-up book; here's a shower of cards.

menu

These little crackers were fascinating; you can see they are really cards. The accompanying dips were in bowls shaped like hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.

dips

The Cheshire cat was made of spaghetti

cat

A Dormouse almost drowned in a cup of chocolate

And here is Alice, with icecream, in a heart shaped bowl





The waitress (who was dressed as Alice) sang us a little song as she mixed the salad, and I have to say the restaurant was packed, so there was a terrific atmosphere. My only slight regret is that I missed the Tweedledum and Tweedledee twin cocktails - I didn't spot them on the menu!

I've really never been anywhere like this place before. I like looking at the photos and remembering what a happy evening it was.
This was all arranged by Yoshi, so thank you very much, Yoshi, and everyone else who came along and made this an occasion to remember!

group

If you happen to speak and write Japanese (or have a Japanese friend) you can book online when you're in Tokyo.


12 January 2015
Magick

The other night I had a lot of fun giving the monthly talk to SELFS, which is a group of people who are fascinated by unusual and extraordinary stuff. They meet each month in the upstairs room of an old pub called "The Old Kings Head" in an alleyway near London Bridge tube station.

Old Kings Head

The pub probably hasn't changed in fifty years, and I've always enjoyed going and listening to the talks, so I was really pleased when Nigel, who runs the group, offered me the chance to talk to them myself.

I spoke on "Lewis Carroll and the Supernatural." It's a surprisingly wide subject, because Carroll was very interested in many aspects of the "otherworldly" experience and he read extensively about all kinds of magical, supernatural and religious topics. During the talk I suggested that the audience go online to see one of the most interesting books he owned - at least, in my opinion it's the most interesting. It can be viewed as an electronic facsimile, and once you get the quaint writing style and all the "s"s looking like "f"s, it contains some wonderful material, such as an eyewitness account of the celebrated Cunning Man of Kent, Dr. Boreman.

Its title is "A Compleat System of Magick; or, The History of the Black-art" (1729) and it is by Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame. So I thought in case any of the audience are reading this, I'd put a link to the facsimile Do think about taking a look, if you haven't already.

I think more research could be done into this subject, and I'd like to do it. Carroll was certainly interested in all kinds of strange things.


20 December 2014
christmas card

This is my favourite Christmas card this year. It's from Eiko and her nice husband Takamasa. Eiko spent a lot of time with us in Tokyo and was so VERY kind. She took us all around the place, including to the Ghibli museum and the Edo Tokyo museum, and a tour of many Alice places in Tokyo.

Here is one of the Alice shops we saw with Eiko. It had just opened and was so popular that you needed to buy a ticket online to get in! It is an Alice fashion shop and so I probably wouldn't have found anything in there to suit me... but it was a very unusual doorway.... and here is a link in case you are interested in what it has.

rabbithole shop

I will write more soon.

Happy Christmas everyone!


09 December 2014
Carrollians in Japan

I'm still recovering from a long trip that included a wonderful three weeks in Japan. I went there to give a talk at the Lewis Carroll Society of Japan's AGM in TOkyo, and it was a great experience. I can't begin to say how kind all the Japanese Carrollians were that I met. Yoshi (who I will show in my next post) more or less masterminded the trip, and everyone was so friendly to both T and me. They made sure we lacked for nothing and any problems that we encountered (usually to do with reading, writing or finding out way around) were quickly sorted out. Eiko (at the centre in the picture above) also took us to all kinds of places we wanted to see, and on one occasion she achieved the difficult feat of finding an ATM we could draw yen from. We had never expected it to be so hard to draw cash, and were even more surprised when the ATM turned out to have a phone next to it on which you could call an operator to help if you had any problems using it! Thank goodness that Eiko understood it all!

As many people have said, Japan is very different indeed from the West. This is one of the things that makes it so fascinating to Westerners, and one of several reasons why we were not bored for a moment. It is also a very safe country, so we never felt threatened because of our ignorance; although most people did not speak English, everyone seemed to want things to run smoothly. Of course, some of the ways in which the country is different from the West can also take Westerners by surprise. We spent quite a lot of time sitting in one restaurant, for instance, before an English speaking person on the next table kindly pointed out that we should have ordered and paid for our meal from the machines just inside the door. We never gave these brightly coloured machines a glance when we entered, because it never occurred to us that they could be for ordering and paying, and of course we couldn't read the Japanese writing on them which said so. We were also similarly baffled in supermarkets, where food often didn't taste at all like we expected. On one occasion, for instance, I bought fish when I thought I was buying sweets. Well - it WAS stamped with "Hello Kitty"!

Talking

Here I am, listening to questions after the talk. Although the biography is due to be reissued and revised next year, I decided to talk instead about the way in which Lewis Carroll's bank account casts a different light on him, showing him to be a person quite unlike his popular image in many ways. I am starting to think that I should say more about that - because it's certainly true, and I'm probably the best person to say it. After the talk, I was glad to have many lovely responses from people who had heard it and said that it had changed their way of looking at Lewis Carroll.


I have literally thousands of photos of Japan and I am still digesting the experience, but I will write more posts, in particular about the amazing Alice restaurant we visited in Tokyo, courtesy of Yoshi, and some of the other good times. I'll also write on my other blog as soon as I can.

03 October 2014


The LCS meeting last Wednesday was tremendously interesting. Sarah Stansfield



introduced two great talks - one by Cristina Neagru who looks after the special books in Christ Church Library, the other by Ella Parry Davies, whom you see here. Ella is a PhD researcher who is also a tutor at the Brilliant CLub.



Both talks were very interesting, but I was particularly drawn to the work of The Brilliant Club. It's an organisation that seeks to widen access to top universities for bright children from non-selective schools, and it does it by fostering extra curricular programmes like the one Ella had devised. Called "Alice Through The Iron Curtain," it was about investigating the the artistic and political significance to Iron Curtain illustrators of Lewis Carroll's work. Not as arcane as it sounds, since "Alice" was considered subversive and illustrators responded in ways which were both personal and anti-establishment.

Ella brought along three pupils from Plashet School in East Ham, and they talked about what they had learned from the course. We saw a few slides of their projects, but personally I'd have liked to have seen even more of their work. They were obviously very bright girls who well deserved the chance to attend a good university.



As for the building, it's called @Waterloo, and it's a block of trendy serviced offices themed on Alice in Wonderland.

I didn't photograph everything there is to see by any means, but the boardroom where Bob was checking his watch (see previous post) has a nifty reflective section in the ceiling - or is it the upside-down lawn of Looking Glass House?



There's a rather strange shelf with bar stools along it in the entrance hall, in just the right location, it seems, to take a cheeky look up Alice's skirt.... assuming that IS Alice - she disappears into the ceiling before you see far enough up to check that it really is her.



The boardroom where we held the meeting was themed on giant playing cards which zigzagged around the walls and above our heads in a disconcerting way. I don't know if the bag belonged to an LCS member, but it looked just right.




01 October 2014
Bob

So Bob looked at his watch, and it was exactly six p.m!

Being a member of the Lewis Carroll Society, Bob knew what Lewis Carroll would have said about relying on a stopped clock.

"If you have the choice of two clocks, one which has stopped and one which loses a minute a day, which do you choose?"

"The losing one," you answer, "without a doubt."

"But," says Carroll, "The one which loses a minute a day has to lose seven hundred and twenty minutes before it is right again, so it's only right once in two years. But the other is right as often as the time it points to comes round - which happens twice a day."

So the stopped clock is evidently the best!

But, you might go on to ask, "How am I to know when six o'clock does come? My clock will not tell me."

To which Carroll replies, "Be patient: you know that when six o'clock comes your clock is right.. Keep your eye fixed on your clock, and the very moment it is right it will be six o'clock."

"But--," you say.

"There, that'll do; the more you argue the further you get from the point."

So just to be on the safe side, Bob had a working watch too. But when he checked it, he found that the stopped clock WAS exactly right. Six o'clock, and time for this evening's Lewis Carroll Society meeting. And very interesting it was too, in a most unusual building which I will tell you about next time.


20 September 2014
Jpan Rail pass

The Japanese translation of The Mystery of Lewis Carroll is nearly finished, and next month I will be going to Japan to talk at the LCSJ's annual conference in Tokyo. I'll be seeing Yoshi, Rie, Reiko and their families, Eiko, Katsuko and Yoko and we will also be seeing as much of Japan as possible. I'm specially looking forward to seeing "Alice" themed places in Tokyo!

Today, Japan Experience has just sent the Japan Rail Passes. How exciting!