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31 October 2008
Book Party
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30 October 2008
I've come across an obscure acrostic poem Carroll wrote for some friends in the 1860s, around the time he did "Alice." But no solution has survived. It's called "A Day in the Country" and is clever because it describes a day visiting the friends and photographing them, and the key words are PORTMANTEAU and PHOTOGRAPHY, both of which relate to the photography trip itself.

Some people have had a go at solving the clues, several of which are easier than others.
I can't reproduce the whole poem because I don't have permission, but I'm putting one verse here. The word can be of any length and it begins with A and ends with G. It describes the family getting ready to be photographed - this would have been done outside, in the 1860s.

"But is it really here you mean
To group the family together?
You really must devise a screen -
The sun will bake us brown as leather!" [A----G]
29 October 2008
Carroll was a great storyteller - and he was undoubtedly more interested in telling stories than in writing them down. He'd like Mythstories, and so do I. For ages I've been a fan of theirs (a long-distance one, mostly, since I'm in London and they're in Shropshire.

Mythstories is a museum of stories, kept by storytellers Dez and Ali Quarrell. If you want to know how they make a museum out of stories, you'll have to go up to Wem, in Shropshire and see. If you can't do that, take a look at their new website. (If you are lucky enough to actually live in Shropshire, the site gives details of live events at the museum.)

Not only is Mythstories keeping alive many fine local stories, and wonderful traditional British tales, but they also have Asian stories - Gilgamesh, The Ramayana, etc. - and splendid French and Canadian tales, among others.

One of the people there - I think it's Dez - does nice illustrations to the stories. There are midi files attached to some of them which I am less keen on - I'm hoping they may one day find a local guitarist to donate some time to playing the tunes.

Their latest acquisition is a story jukebox, telling the local tale of Wild Edric. No, I don't know what a story jukebox is, though it looks pretty amazing from its picture. It'll be an excuse to go up to Shropshire and find out.
27 October 2008
Alice in Wonderland boots

I spotted these boots in one of the upmarket chains. They're called "Alice in Wonderland" boots, although I can't imagine why.

I've just come back from a short research trip, and have been looking at photos that Carroll took, as well as ones he bought and acquired from other photographers. I was struck by the peculiar shoes that children did wear then- very flat, almost like slippers, held on with a strap. Their little feet must have slipped out of them all the time. Of course nobody cared if their clothes were comfortable or convenient. Both boys and girls wore these shoes in early life, and, as is well known, both sexes were dressed the same until they were four or five.

The pictures that Carroll purchased and kept in an album did not include many of children, but there was one taken by O.G. Rejlander showing Hallam Tennyson, the poet's son. Hallam looked at least seven but he had long ringlets like a girl and was apparently wearing a pirate-style greatcoat. He was moodily lit, glaring centre left, and looked very splendid, brooding and distinctly odd, as though he was practising for a future role as lead romantic hero in "Wuthering Heights."

The picture did not show his boots, but it would have been interesting to see the rest of his outfit.
20 October 2008
At Crossness Pumping Station

Sometimes I forget how long ago Carroll really lived, and then something happens to remind me. Went to Crossness Pumping Station which had an open day yesterday. This monumental bit of Victorian engineering was the brainchild of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, maestro of Victorian sewerage. Because Crossness was built to deal with South London's sewage, thousands if not millions of people were saved from hideous death from cholera and typhoid.

I have seen unpublished Dodgson family letters which indicate how terrifying a spectre cholera was, and it is a threat which Carroll lived with until he was well into his thirties, or beyond - since Crossness was only opened in 1865.

Now, the biggest worry about Crossness is whether it will ever get restored - this massively impressive and important bit of industrial archaeology is still largely derelict, with sections of it restored by countless man hours of volunteers' work. I'm supporting them now at and I hope things will improve.

My biggest anxiety yesterday was actually Arthur, shown here as he scampered around in his special child-sized hard hat. The picture was taken about 30 feet off the ground, and the railings around the beam engines and up and down the stairs were not exactly childproof. But although he's very nimble, he's also always been very careful, and didn't tend to fall off things even as a toddler. So he was fine.
16 October 2008
Universal Studios Florida offers the chance to visit "Asylum in Wonderland"as part of its Halloween Horrornights. Looks a bit cheesy (although perhaps it will appeal to American McGee fans) but they have a nice website.
15 October 2008
I'm working on the chapter on Carroll's bank account at present. As we were sitting in that windowless room in Barclay's Bank archives and transcribing the account from the ledgers, I became more and more astonished.

Carroll was well known to be (to put it rudely) a nitpicking fusspot, and yet the account showed him positively throwing his money around at times and running into the red as a result. It looks as if, when his bank statements arrived, he just binned them without bothering to read them.

The account is the only totally uncensored major document about him, and I hadn't realised before how important it was to find something which hadn't gone through the filter of his loving family. He comes over as a man who could be very careless and headstrong. It also shows that the controlled, fussy image he presented to the world, although partly true, was also a self-caricature.

Wonder what sort of child he was. A pest, I suspect, though probably a lovable and interesting one. He said almost nothing about his childhood, except to mention once that he had been a "detestable" little boy.

13 October 2008
Marilyn Manson has been offering his thoughts on becoming Lewis Carroll. His movie seems to have stalled, but I hope it gets made. I don't suppose Carroll was anything like Manson imagines him - the movie will be all about Manson, obviously, and Manson is a pretty interesting creative person.

Carroll's far more fascinating because even in his own lifetime he could reflect back what people wanted to see. And that applies even more now he's dead. So many people see themselves in him: he really is a figure in a looking glass. Because of this elusive quality he has, I have tried to relate everything I say about him to the facts.

Once I let go of the facts, it won't even be like staring into a looking glass - it will be like getting hopelessly lost in a hall of mirrors.
12 October 2008
The White Rabbit in Venice.

I've just spend a few days in Italy. In Venice, I decided to see how soon I could spot an "Alice" reference. There were innumerable carnival masks and amazing glass objets d'art in the shops but it didn't take long to spot a small White Rabbit coyly hiding amidst glass thimbles and masks.
06 October 2008
West Coast Weathervanes - Cheshire cat

What I want for Christmas! But it costs a fortune.
03 October 2008
Nigel of Bermondsey wrote some Lewis Carroll music which I'm going to put on here as soon as I can figure out how. Meanwhile, here's some of his music.

He has been having some friendly talks about music with Barry Albin Dyer of funeral directors F.A. Albin & Sons. As anyone who has watched the TV programmes knows, Barry's funerals aren't like anyone else's and he's very much part of the Bermondsey scene.

Vanessa is writing stories set in Bermondsey. If she'd only stop saying they were for kids, I reckon she would find someone to publish them. I love them. Bermondsey is an amazing place with a very long, very rich and very fascinating history. I'm hoping the yuppies don't squeeze out everything historical and tough and raw and interesting and turn it into endless luxury flats which could be anywhere from Miami to Helsinki.

I don't think Lewis Carroll ever visited Bermondsey, or, at least, if he did, he never said. A bit too rough for him, I expect.
02 October 2008
I've been like the White Rabbit - late all the time - and I clean forgot to write about the Liverpool Academy of Arts' Alice exhibition. It's over now, but there are some good pictures on the site

Here's one of Alice looking as though she has already started to eat and drink some of the potions - something about the camera angle makes her look twice the size of the King and Queen of Hearts.

Alice in Liverpool

This picture is taken from the Daresbury Chronicle, an excellent publication put out by the Daresbury Lewis Carroll Society. This is a lively society and is run by Keith Wright. The best way of contacting Keith is to send a message via the LCS website here - scroll down to the bottom of the page.