Alice, Bags and Insanity

I really can’t believe that it’s been almost a fortnight since I last posted so I suppose if it’s time again.  I also can’t believe that I’ve been in London for over a fortnight — and what have I done except reorient my body from extreme heat and humidity to greyness and coolness interspersed with something resembling summer sun and temperatures every now and then?  I can’t say that I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for and I also can’t say that I don’t like it — although a little more sunshine might be in order.

I finally “awoke” on my fourth day here, a Monday, and was even alert by the following day, at which point I needed to get out and “do” something.  I had watched a TV programme which was part of a series on museums during lockdown here in the UK and the one I watched was about the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) and part of the programme dealt with an exhibition based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.  Alice in Wonderland, as it is commonly known, was written 166 years ago and, as everybody knows, is a tale about a young girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures.  It’s regarded as a wonderful exemplar of the genre known as literary nonsense and it’s a story that appeals to both children and adults and it’s its play with logic that provides the story with its lasting popularity.  Alice has never been out of print and it has been translated into 100 languages. It has also been adapted for stage, screen, radio, art, ballet, theme parks, and even  board games and video games.

As the author apparently imagined the story and then told it on a boat ride with Alice (Alice Liddell was a very real person) and her sisters and started to write it down the following day. Alice was was aged 8 at the time and one couldn’t help but wonder what 21st century paedophilophobes would have made of an adult male riding in a boat on a river, telling three young girls fantastic stories, is anybody’s guess.  Moreover, Lewis Carroll was a keen amateur  photographer who enjoyed photographing children; several of his photos depict nude or semi-nude children—but nevertheless Alice in Wonderland  has been read by millions.

At any rate, I decided to travel to the V&A in South Kensington where I had spent several enjoyable days a decade or so ago participating in two photography courses from which I took away a lot. Before I set off, I booked my entry time for in these COVID days, and notwithstanding Boris Johnson’s “Freedom Day”, many institutions such as museums and galleries operate a form of social distancing based on times of entry.

Having got there, I joined a line for the Alice Exhibition.  I must have been in the line 10 minutes when I was approached by one of the museum staff who asked me if I needed help and I discovered that I was in the right queue but when my turn came, the information I received was that tickets for “Alice” are distributed on Tuesdays and this being a Wednesday, there were none left, which left me somewhat annoyed (I almost wrote a euphemism often used in common speech but I restrained myself at the last minute) as I’d travelled across London to get there.  However, I then enquired whether if I took out membership in the V&A, I could see the exhibition that same day as a member and along came the response “Of course”, so reckoning that I’m like to go again once or twice over the coming months, that is exactly what I did and I was able to see what I wanted to see, and, in addition, another exhibition entitled “BAGS: Inside Out”, which explores the style, function, design and craftsmanship involved with transportable containers for all sorts of nicknacks of all sorts of value, from handbags and purses, rucksacks and knapsacks to despatch boxes, Birkin bags, Louis Vuitton luggage and trunks that the over-wealthy used to take with them on ships and into which would be placed anything that might be needed at the end of a voyage.  Super interesting.  And all from the V&A collection.

… and then it time for Alice.  All I can say about it is that the curator’s imagination ran wild and there’s something in this conglomeration of objects based on Alice for everyone of every age.  I even came home and read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again for the first time in perhaps 60 years or more.

When Hollywood discovered Alice! (Just look at who’s in the cast!)


The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (i)


The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (ii)


The Queen of Hearts (accompanied by the King)

This week, friends asked me if I’d like to go with them to Kew Gardens.  Although the weather when we set out was far from perfect, Kew is a pleasant place to visit.  The fact that getting there took an hour or so and getting back even longer, left us about an hour and a half at the gardens, but the company was great, the chat even more so and there were some pictures to be taken as well.

Kew Gardens on an August afternoon

One of the more spectacular trees at Kew is the monkey puzzle, also known as the Chile Pine (Araucaria araucana).  Araucaria was also the nom de plume of the Rev. John Graham, the Guardian crossword setter, over whose solutions I used to study for years (the crosswords themselves were a little difficult for me although from time to time I had partial successes).  The Rev. Graham also set puzzles for other publications, including The Financial Times, in which he used the pseudonym Cinephile, which every crossword setter and solver would immediately recognise as an anagram of Chile Pine,  &c., &c., &c.



The Hive, Kew Gardens.

My other outing this week was to the Hampstead Theatre (with socially distanced seating) to see one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser known plays, The Two Character Play, in which the two characters are actors on tour, a brother and sister who find themselves deserted by their acting troupe in a decrepit “state theatre in an unknown state”. Faced (perhaps) by an audience expecting a performance, they enact The Two-Character Play – an illusion within an illusion, an ‘out cry’ from isolation, panic, and fear. The plot is somewhat confusing and difficult to follow, and there is little sense of a resolution. It has a concurrent double plot, a play within a play in which the brother and sister characters are psychologically damaged from witnessing the traumatic murder/suicide of their parents, remaining recluses in the family home since the incident though they are attempting to make hesitant contact with the outside world. Because the actors dip in and out of performance—there are only the two of them left since their company has abandoned them—improvising parts not memorised or not yet written, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate the actors from the characters and reality from illusion.  At the Hampstead, both of the actors were brilliant and the staging was out of this world.  The play is apparently in part autobiographical. The female actor and character are loosely based on Williams’ sister, Rose, who was schizophrenic, and the male actor and character based on Williams himself, who cared for her.

Beyond museums, galleries and theatres, just walking around the neighbourhood has provided its own complement of photographs.  For instance, I know I’m in England when I see a number like the one on the door below…



… and the bridge over the railway line just before entering Hampstead Heath has been decorated and beautified since I was last here.

Meanwhile, although I’m living in an urban area, there is still wildlife around — even when I take out the garbage…

… or when I look out of the [not too clean] living room window.

Kew Gardens provided me with two of this week’s avian photos

… while this pigeon in The Regent’s Park was only doing what pigeons do — taking the sun.

The Regent’s Park always amazes me — any time of the year, there are flowers and colours.

Meanwhile, on the way back from a morning walk on the Heath, I came across a scene that one can observe almost anywhere.

Too late! The deed has been done!

And while at Kew, it wasn’t all trees and flowers and birds — and there was time for coffee as well.

And moire locally, in the immediate neighbourhood, you can see all sorts of interesting things if you keep your eyes open.

Past its best before date. (Fleet Road, Belsize Park.)

And in a way, this post box, which I’ve been meaning to photograph for years already sort of summarises the current state of the United Kingdom

And the birds at the end of the garden are indicating that perhaps the apples on the trees that I can see from the living room window are already ripe.

Finally, daughters and granddaughters escaped from the heat and humidity of Tel Aviv for a couple of days to the Jerusalem Hills (before the wildfires) and while walking in Jerusalem, Lily (on the left) noticed a poster advertising an “End of Summer Festival”, which contained a drawing that Shuli had done for the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s children’s concerts a couple of years ago.  Great excitement all round, I’m told!




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