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Snarks and Boojums

Snark. Dictionary definition… oh codswallop. There is only one definition of Snark that matters and that is the Lewis Carroll version.

Carroll is most famous for Alice in Wonderland, however the Hunting of the Snark is equally delightful. This agony in 8 fits about a Bellman and his crew in search of a snark is a quirky, funny nonsense tale. I’m not sure whether there was any ‘rationale’ behind the Snark story. Certainly Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is filled with characters which are a parody of key figures of the day, or even the author himself. My favourite of Carroll’s subtle jibes is the suggestion that the Lion and Unicorn are representative of the British Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli.

puffer-fish2If I was today going to write a parody and feature our new Prime Minister as a character, I’d have to choice between a Goanna and a Puffer fish – a poisonous toady looking thing. Puffer fish are supposedly more poisonous than cyanide. I think Abbott definitely fits that bill.

Don’t you think the likeness is scarily accurate? True, I’m not sure that puffer fishes ride bicycles wearing a set of budgie smugglers but it would sure be hilarious if they did!


Alice in Plummerland

alice's_wonderland_gift_book_jacketSummer has taken a detour for a few days while the country is battered with rain. Last week it was fires, this week floods. What better to do on a rainy day than lock oneself inside sewing a quilt and herding 2 cats while listening to a recently acquired audiobook version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, unabridged of course.

The ‘cover picture’ of the audio book is a version of Alice I do not own – that illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia (pictured left). The narrator is Christopher Plummer. Actually, it doesn’t say ‘narrator’. It says ‘performed by’ Christopher Plummer. And perform he does.

Plummer does an outstanding job at bringing the text to life. While I may not always like his choice of accent for certain characters, I can only applaud and admire his energy and consistency of delivery. The Mad Hatter has a voice which reminds me of someone from the young ones although with an even further reduced intelligence. He doesn’t fit with my notion of mad.

In contrast, the dodo – a character who appears ever so briefly in the caucus race – is inspired. He has an air of an elderly gent consistent with Tenniel’s original interpretation of a well dressed bird with walking stick in hand. The inspired part is that he stutters. I have no idea whether Lewis Carroll himself had a stammer or not. I do know that the Dodo bird represents Carroll, drawing from his real name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Even if Carroll did not stutter, I can imagine him as a man with a less than perfect speaking voice.

As for the Queen of Hearts, Plummer performs this giant of fiction with a parodied German accent similar to Herr Flick in ‘Allo Allo’. When Plummer launches into part of the Queen’s dialogue at the trial of the knave of hearts, I found myself laughing openly as he yelled in an over-the-top German accent:

Collar that Dormouse! Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!

This audiobook acquisition comes as I join the gaggle of people with an iPad. At $395 for a basic model, they have now become affordable and with most people at work sporting them and notetaking on them, I was starting to feel ridiculously old fashioned with my pen and notebook. It is somewhat stupid to be handwriting notes in a meeting, only to go back to your desk and type up an email of the actions.

This leads me to wonder what is the best app for notetaking? There are so many available and each with their pros and cons. For the moment, I’ve given up trying to figure it out until my more experienced iPad-ster colleagues give me their lists of ‘duds’ to strike off the list.

In the meantime I’m alternating between listening to Plummer’s Alice in Wonderland and Miriam Margolyes in Dicken’s Women, both of who use accent and voice alone to create intricate and colourful characters.

Illustrated Wonderlands: The Beauty of Books

After a couple of lousy days, I had 30 minutes of unexpected joy, courtesy of TiVO. In its infinite wisdom, TiVO decided to record Illustrated Wonderlands: The Beauty of Books. Whoever at the BBC chose to make this short program, I thank you for a delightful experience. I even took notes! (Yes, I know I’m a little odd).

It was a double delight featuring the works of not one, but two, of my nonsense heros: Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. I wonder, whether you can get any higher in the nonsense world than the works of these two wondrous men? Actually, no, you can’t.

To start with, Edward Lear loved cats.

He wrote about pobbles with no toes, ‘people’ who went to sea in a sieve, quangle wangles and, of course, my personal favourite, the scroobious pip. Yet as much as I adore the work of the bearded man with the little round glasses, I cannot go past Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

I completely agree with The Beauty of Books assessment that while many illustrators have tried their hand at bringing Alice to life, the original fine drawings of John Tenniel are the ultimate compliment to Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. When I reflect on it, they are right: it is the partnership of the two which makes it the treasured classic that it is.

That said, I love to see how others have interpreted Alice. I’m delighted that the BBC program mentioned Ralph Steadman‘s illustrations; certainly one of my favourites, not to mention those of Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame from 1946. I think both are ‘up there’ among the best Alice illustrators as each used only black and white. In my humble opinion, when a picture ‘sings’ in black and white; it’s a mighty fine picture indeed.

Ralph Steadman's Alice illustration

To my surprise, the program didn’t mention Arthur Rackham as he is one I frequently come across when looking for Alice illustrations. They did feature the work of a gentleman I had not heard of: John Lord Vernon. As the program is from 2011 it seems that he is a relatively recent Alice illustrator. As the show mentioned, he has taken the very unusual step of not including Alice in any of his illustrations. From what I saw on the TV program, I’m curious to see more of his work.

Illustration by Mervyn Peake

If I was at home, I think I’d continue this wonderful Alice indulgence by pulling some of my Alice volumes off the shelf and losing myself in the drawings and paintings of Anne Bachelier, Rodney Matthews and Iassen Ghiuselev among others. As my books are not nearby, I’ve settled for a little internet surfing for Alice illustrations instead. A bloody good way to spend a Saturday night if you ask me!

Bob-splotch the disabled dragon

It seems that people search the world wide web for very strange things. Recently comments on my post The Secret to Increasing Blog Traffic got me wondering about disabled dragons.

I pulled out my copy of The Discovery of Dragons by Graeme Base. There was Olaf the Grim, Olaf the disagreeable, Olaf the Extremely Bad tempered but not Olaf the disabled. Asiatic dragons, tropical ones are plentiful however there’s not a white cane, a hearing aid or a pair of spinergy rims in sight.

I turned instead to Dragons: Truth, Myth and Legend by David Passes with Illustrations by the insanely talented (and patient – for her does it all with coloured pencils) Wayne Anderson. I found a dragon with the cool name of Marduck but no wheelie walkers here. There was the hydra who had multiple heads but each head was quite ‘typical’ – no microcephaly here.

Not ready to give up yet, I scoured my bookshelves further. I tried The Dragons are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis. I got all excited for a moment when I spied a poem called ‘My Dragon Wasn’t Feeling Good.’ Could I at last have located a disabled dragon? Nope. She took him to the doctor:

She took his pulse and temperature,

Then fed him turpentine

And phosphorus and gasoline –

My dragon’s doing fine.

Damn those meddling doctor’s who can cure everything.

I had two final books to search. (I know, I really don’t have enough books on Dragons). Dragon Poems by John Foster and Korky Paul yielded nothing. One last shot – The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash and Lynn Munsinger. Surely if anyone has a disabled dragon it would be Ogden Nash. Yet Custards only impairment, if you could call it that, was an extreme dose of cowardice.

So I ask you, where are the all inclusive stories for our kids? Who has written about the dragon with cerebral palsy; the one with schizophrenia or a broken wing? I ask you now, where is Bob-splotch the disabled dragon?

Then, it came to me. Of course. The Alice master himself, Lewis Carroll included a character with a disability. Well, actually maybe he included 2 because I’m sure that you’d have a reasonable case in claiming Mrs ‘Off With Her Head’ was showing some symptoms of psychosis. But it is not the dear Queen of Hearts to which I refer. And it is not the Jabberwocky either; the most dragon-like of Lewis’ creations.

It’s the one character who doesn’t have legs. The character who at times has a distinct separation between his head and his spinal column (a mark of disability if ever I saw one). I refer of course to The Cheshire Cat. For this creation I take my hat (not my head) off to Lewis Carroll. He created a character with a disability however we’ve been oblivious to it for what qualifies as a disability in our world is simply magic in Wonderland. If only the world were a little more wonderland.


I was just about to click the Publish button when I received a text from Andrew. In response to my message saying I was writing a blog post about disabled dragons, he asks ‘with prosthetic wings? Or prosthetic flame throwers?’ Hmm… flame throwers? I like it.

Alice the brunette

Alice's slow progressI have it on good authority that Alice Liddell had brown hair. For a moment this evening, my depiction included blue hair as I tried to take the ‘red’ out of the paint I’d put down. Perhaps I’m really trying to paint Alice as a granny!

I felt like I haven’t made much progress on this painting so put together the photos I’ve taken along the way. I’m very happy with the addition of the cheetah and the pocket watch. It seems to give the composition some balance. I also love the lion. The owl I think may be problematic as far as integration is concerned and I’m not happy with the ‘void’ to the right of alice’s back.

The colours here are not particularly realistic at the bottom of the painting as the light was shining on it causing it to dull. The dragon, dark shape and playing card re still as they were previously. Mum, I agree with you that the dark shape is a problem. The new blue shape (which is very hard to see here) breaks it up a bit but I still have to do something with it. So I’m calling for suggestions. I think I need to add a ‘thing’ rather than a shape. Suggestions welcome. Teapots, trampolines, tornados (oops… that’s Oz), bats, cats, slugs, pirate ships, pantaloons, popcorn or protagonists… please send me your thoughts!

Meanwhile over at gallery de Andrew it appears that photoshop is the tool of choice. The picture below is what just arrived on my email. Pickle and banana.

Anyone care for a rabbit?

Anyone for a white rabbit?

Horrified that Andrew has declared himself ‘less than an aficionado’ on Alice’s illustrators it’s time for a lesson.

The top row rabbits (left to right) have been created by Ralph Steadman, Iassen Ghiuselev, Lela Dowling and Suzette Broad. On the bottom row (left to right) are the creations of Robert Ingpen, Helen Oxenbury, Anne Bachelier and Mervyn Peake.

I love how one character can be brought to life by so many different artists. I didn’t realise until I started thumbing through my Alice books, cards and calendars that I had quite so many and that they are so varied. From comic book style, to naive art, to rich black pen sketches, each has their own little something to offer.

Andrew I hope you’re paying attention. There’ll be a quiz later about who drew what!

Re-writing of alice

Alice in progress Is there nothing more delightful than nonsense? I love it. I don’t care that there is not an owl in wonderland – there is now. At the moment I’m toying with the idea of introducing a tortoise into this ensemble… or a frog… or strangely a nude woman with a magnifying glass. (Hmmm… what would Freud make of that I wonder!)

To date this painting breaks a number of my conventions. I tend to avoid drawing anything in pencil as I fuss over it. However I needed Alice to look like Alice and not some mis-shapen raggedy anne and so went through the painstaking task of using a grid on the original picture and the canvas to get her close to right.

I’m loving the way the lion blends beautifully into the background. The owl on the other hand is a little too prominent and needs a few more layers of paint to soften him.

As for Alice herself, do you think she can have brown hair? Or is that sacrilege? There’s nothing in the original that says she was blonde as far as I know.

Charmed with smiles and soap

No disabled person was harmed in the taking of this picture (I'm not that heavy)

I don’t want to be woken up tomorrow morning by the alarm clock. Instead, I want to be roused with muffins like the Baker in Hunting of the Snark. Hmmm… how nice would that be? To be awoken by warm muffins. The baker can keep all the other things he was roused with… I don’t want the ice, the mustard, cress, jam or judicious advice. I certainly don’t want the conundrums to guess. No, the muffins are quite sufficient!

Yes I’m in one of those moods. Too cold to paint; too tired to sew; too lazy to clean. When in this state – and confined in movement by cat in lap (not in hat) – nonsense is just the only option leave open.

Speaking of nonsense, did I ever publish that Tony Abbott won the Mad Hatter’s tea party invitation poll? Well, he did by a nose. Or probably an ear in tony’s case. If he was to run sideways that is. (I’m imagining Tony in a race running sideways against a podgy Winston Churchill and a ear deficient Van Gogh. Yup… Tony’s ear’s would get him over the line first I think). Ok, it’s clear that there’s is not going to be a smidgen of sanity to this post. I blame Saffron. She’s sitting on my foot and I now have pins and needles in it. Move her and the foot I must. Tally ho, there are muffins to be roused!

Chalk and cheese

This blog came about thanks to my brother. While we are oft chalk and cheese, this is an example of where our quirkiness combined. He knows that I love both Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear and located a suitable Lear ‘doodle’ for my banner page of his own accord. I instantly loved it. Thank you.

but back to being chalk and cheese… (can I be epicure, port salut or a fine blue? I don’t want to be a bland processed cheese slice)… my brother possesses technical flair. I possess logic. It takes me a while to be brave enough to enter new arenas and catch on to new concepts. I am like the tortoise who gets there in the end though… So while he would have lit up the front page with fireworks by now, I’m still figuring out the categories menu. Categories, of course, I can do… because that is English! Blogroll, slugs, plugins, feeds, chomps, hyperextending cats… it’s worse than Carrollian nonsense because the words do actually mean something… just not to me!

So please be patient whilst I make friends with slugs. I know that you will, like my good friend 21st century Alice, be crying out “What is the use of a blog without pictures?” If it is all too new too quick, I’ll call chalk again and hope his patience with the crumbly cheese persists.