Saturday, 26 December 2015

Alice's Adventures in Sunderland

Today - Boxing Day - is traditionally the date on which pantomimes (fun for all the family) commence. The convention doesn't strictly apply anymore, it seems. Nonetheless, in honour of that fine tradition, a little theatrical weirdness is in order, don't you think?  It's only my second attempt at pastiche; Lewis Carroll the innocent victim this time. And so, to mark this season of excess and in an attempt to at least touch on the theme of Family Gathering, your Saturday Blogger is pleased to offer you a short excerpt from Alice's Adventures in Sunderland. I've tried to sprinkle it with a patina of rusty Georgian Wearside grime and part of it is based loosely on a dream I had when I was a child. Enjoy...

Chapter 1: Down The Worm Hole
Alice was getting very tired of being her father's little assistant at the Bank, of having nothing to do but sit on a stool swinging her legs without her stays making a noise in this stifling temple of money. "What use am I here," thought Alice, "without transactions to perform or conversations to enjoy? Daughters-to-work days are so over-rated."

As she was pondering in her mind (as well as she could, for she was both young, lazy and a little naive) if it might not be worth her while trying to sneak out unnoticed, all of a sudden a white-haired rabbi with pink-rimmed eyes loomed close and spoke distinctly in her direction: "When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

"I beg your pardon Sir," said Alice, frowning most politely. "Did you speak to me?" The rabbi merely smiled enigmatically and beckoned to Alice to follow as he moved swiftly to the door. She glanced at her father and at his row of obediently industrious tellers and clerks. No one was paying her the slightest attention. In another moment, burning with curiosity, down slipped Alice from her stool and headed after the disappearing rabbi, never once considering the wisdom of her action.

Once outside on Sea Road, Alice looked left in the direction of the town and right in the direction of the derricks and wharves for any sign of the white-haired rabbi. A roar from the throats of twenty-thousand football fans floated up the street from Roker Park. Unperturbed, she kept scanning until she spotted the rabbi's retreating back and hurried after him. Eventually he turned and disappeared through the doorway of a tavern. Alice stood hesitating outside The Lambton Worm, for she knew that public houses were no places for young girls. One second she was contemplating the situation, the very next she found herself falling through a trap-door in the pavement and down what seemed to be a very long and dirty chute. "Oh my goodness," she thought as down, down, down she fell.

Presently she began to wonder "Might I fall right through to the centre of the world at this rate?" But hardly had she begun to contemplate such a possibility when suddenly crash! bump! She  came to rest upon a heap of coal sacks and feathers. Alice was shaken though not a bit hurt and scrambled to her feet in a trice. She coughed, sneezed and looked around. As her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom she became aware of many other pairs of eyes regarding her intently, the eyes of birds of all shapes and sizes.

They gathered round her, but not in a menacing way and the tallest of them, an emu, addressed her on their behalf. "We have been waiting for you pet," it said. "We have been waiting a long time. Tell us the answer if you please." "I would gladly do so, if only I knew the question," Alice replied, for it was in her nature to be helpful if she could. "However, I am not your pet." "That is merely a term of endearment," explained the dodo. "We have been very patient," added the pelican, "for so long now. Do please tell us something at least."
Alice considered this entreaty. She looked at their expectant faces, the emu, dodo, pelican, penguin, flamingo, ibis, albatross, gannet, seagull. She was quietly congratulating herself on recognising so many different species when it came to her. She held the emu firmly but gently by its long neck and said gravely: "When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."
At once there was a great squawking of excitement among the family of birds and a sudden hopping and flapping. "Of course. We should have realised," they cried to each other as they rose into the air as one. "Sardines. Thank you, thank you for these words of wisdom." And with much beating of their wings, every single one flew straight through the solid ceiling and was gone. "But how is that possible?" wondered Alice, coughing because of the coal dust and feathers that swirled around her. "This is a very curious matter indeed." 
As the dust cleared, she noticed coal piled up in one corner, beer barrels in another and a three-legged glass table standing in the middle of the room. On the table was a tray containing three brown bottles and a bottle-opener. Round each bottle was pasted a paper label with the words "VAUX - Double Maxim for Double Strength" in striking calligraphy. "Nice graphics", remarked Alice, as she prised the top off the first bottle and drank the contents to help wash away some of the dust in her throat. The contents of the second bottle soon followed those of the first, and the third followed the second, by which time Alice had no cough left and was feeling decidedly more cheerful and ready to look for the rabbi or some way out of the Lambton Worm hole. 
At that moment, a door that she hadn't noticed before swung open and in walked her mother and her sister attired for the night and carrying a candle before them, followed by a large walrus that bore a striking resemblance to her father. "Oh my, how late it's getting," her mother exclaimed to her sister as they passed before her, seemingly unaware of Alice's presence. The walrus, however, clearly saw her for it bore down on her in a threatening manner, wobbling horribly as it advanced. Alice began to hasten after her mother and sister, but her mother, on reaching the far wall, pulled back a velvet curtain revealing another door, opened it, ushered her sister through and then turned to Alice. "We are retiring to bed now, Alice, but you are a naughty girl and so must remain here below." Before Alice could protest, the pair were through the doorway, the door was shut firmly in her face and she heard the key turning in the lock.
Quickly she skirted the walls, the coal and the barrels, back to the opposite side of the room but the door through which her family had entered was nowhere to be found. The walrus was definitely still there, though, and began to chase after Alice. Three times round the cellar it pursued her, growling horribly, and a sense of panic mounted in the girl. Finally, she jumped up onto the glass-topped table, scattering the empty bottles in every direction, and stood there petrified as the walrus continued its lumbering circuit of the table, wheezing and wobbling as it propelled its quivering bulk and never once taking its eyes off her. "This might be the end of me," said Alice to herself, but in this apprehension she was mistaken, for suddenly the walrus exploded, its skin splitting apart and all of its yellow blubber pouring out like so much rancid blancmange across the floor. Alice screamed and then, poor little thing, began to cry.
When she finally regained her composure (as well as she could, for she was both young, timid and a little traumatised), Alice gazed down at the table she was standing on and between her feet, through its glass top, espied a mirror on the shelf beneath. She climbed down carefully, for the table and floor were by now both very slippery, and knelt the better to see that the mirror had the words "TASTE ME" beautifully spelled out on its surface in white powder. "Well, I'll try anything once," said Alice, whose recent experience had left her feeling somewhat in need of further restoration.

She tasted a little bit of the powder. It was sharp and bitter on her tongue and anxiously she said to herself "What's up?" But soon her eyes began to glitter, her toes and fingers to tingle and finding the sensation very agreeable, she tried some more. Alice had so got into the habit of expecting out-of-the-ordinary things to happen today, so wasn't surprised by the leaden feeling spreading through her limbs and the sensation of being pinned to the floor. "What a curious ceiling", she exclaimed, staring up at a painting of an enormous grinning black cat wearing a red-and-white football scarf sitting on the branch of a tree. As she stared, the cat winked and began to vanish quite slowly, beginning with the tip of its tail and ending with its grin, which lingered for some moments after the rest of the animal had gone - leaving just a striped scarf dangling from a branch.

In the near distance, the Seasiders silenced the Roker roar: Sunderland 2 Blackpool 4 - Hampson (twice), Quinn and Upton scored.

Quiet descended on this deepest cellar of the Lambton Worm as the afternoon wore off. So Alice considered her situation (as well as she could, for she was both tipsy and hallucinating) and very soon she had licked up every trace of the sparkling powder.

To be continued (one day, maybe...)

Thanks for reading. I wish you a Happy New Year, S ;-)