Thursday, 27 June 2013

Blooming Bohemians.

Dearest Emily,

GiGi learned a bit of a lesson this week. You know I thought I'd get all relevant about my research and ramblings and try for a PHD on it all. Well, I knew exactly what I want to work on, and how I want to do it, and started putting it together as a proposal. I looked at several other proposals, and thought- eek- I don't write like these, not sure I even know the language! But I dived in, wrote out some sentences, and a strange thing happened- I completely lost the power of making any sense whatsoever Em- and what came out was quite frankly, a shocker! You will find all this out, all too soon when you start to learn your lessons at school, (so its just as well that I heads you up)- that each time you learn something new, it's almost like you have to go back to the very beginning again, unless of course, you don't want to learn the new thing at all- or get outside of your comfort zone.

Which is where I am at now. I've been there plenty of times before. I remember designing my first ever Knitwear Collection for John, and as usual it being very late in the day for knitwear, which takes longer than cloth. So, there was nothing for it, other than designing it myself- and hoping good old JG would 'buy-it'. I couldn't wait for him to give me a brief, I had to use my own clues, research and resources.

I remember the day clearly. It was a Sunday, Daddy was three years old, and his Daddy had taken him out for the day, so I could sit down and 'do a collection' (!)
I put some paper out in front of me- and stared at it. Then, I made a cup of tea, and stared at the paper again. Panic crept in about three hours later, as disgarded bits of paper filled the room, several drawers and tables got tidied, the room dusted, and an ashtray filled up.

No work. Nothing. No mood board given, no design brief provided, just a need to create and fast.

I stared at blank paper. And then Em, it got designed! Somehow, staring at the paper, and not distracting myself, a bit of magic happened.

After the previous show, I had gone to a Folk Museum in Worthing, and seen the most exquisite Working Men's Smocks. I loved the craftsmanship, and had been reading up on Folk-dress, Guernseys, and Aran history with a vengeance.

I started to mimic the embroidery in knit, and played around with some stitches. More styles presented themselves in my head, and before I knew it, I had fifteen burgeoning styles in front of me.
Here are some of the results.

It took me a while to realise what had happened that day. The lesson was, that I knew what I wanted to say. I had it all tucked away, I just hadn't yet learned the language of how to translate that. Need, and time deadlines, made me accept and trust the process. My ego, or foolishness, just couldn't get in the way.
It happened again significantly, when I was training as an Actress. I could NOT stand Shakespeare. Had learned it by rote at school and could repeat it parrot-fashion. But understand it? No- and my spines were up against that. My wonderful mentor Dorothea Alexander (told you about her before Em)- just wouldn't have it. She made me sit at her feet (embarrassingly age 32, I curled up in a ball and put my hands over my ears!) Until- suddenly (like those 'Magic eye' pictures, where you can't see what's in them however hard you 'try' until you stop 'trying') it made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it became seductive, beautiful and relevant. My thirst led me to read-re-read and visit Shakespeare anew.

So what is my lesson today Emily- well my sweet, it is two-fold. One- the first, confirms a core aspect of what I am looking into for my PHD and the creative processes. Two, is relevant about trusting yourself to learn a new 'language'.

Both can be done- without 'trying' to try. That, and not minding feeling like a bit of a twit along the way...

Tara from there!

Your ever-loving Grandmother, 

GiGi xxx

Monday, 24 June 2013

Where does the Day begin?

Dearest Emily,

In November of 1860 dear dear Dodgson gave a lecture at the Ashmolean Society in Oxford;

"Where does the Day begin?" The problem, which was one he was very fond of propounding, may be thus stated: If a man could travel round the world so fast that the sun would be always directly above his head, and if he were to start travelling at midday on Tuesday, then in twenty-four hours he would return to his original point of departure, and would find that the day was now called Wednesday—at what point of his journey would the day change its name? The difficulty of answering this apparently simple question has cast a gloom over many a pleasant party.
Get your head around that one my little one. Actually though- as I recall, it is exactly the sort of puzzle that went on in my little head aged about 9 or 10. I remember quite distinctly pondering stuff like this- and the infinity of the Universe, and what infinity could be imagined as, and how did God work, and was he really real, and what if there was another World War- just because my Dad said there wasn't going to be one- how could he know, and why did Brentford Nylons make horrid brushed nylon fitted sheets in shocking pink that my mother had bought that set my teeth on edge every time a jagged toenail caught it.
All these questions and more crowded my pre-sleep brain, along with a thought about why did we need to learn so much more at school when we knew everything already?
My answers were simple. What I couldn't figure out- I just wasn't meant to understand as a human being. Good cop-out Gail!
Well our Mr Dodgson, clearly never gave up on his night-time questions. They plagued him with insomnia for all of his life. I a mere un-mathematically bent child, solved them by not knowing.
I can see how this puzzle got translated into Through the Looking Glass, with the Red Queen and Alice running as fast as they could and ending up in the same place.

Today, I was back in the lovely Bookroom, and reading 'The Illustrated London News', from 1859. There were lots of interesting snippets, which I'll save for another time- but today, I'll show you this one- it is for June 25th (ie tomorrow) a hundred and fifty years ago- and all about the weather...

Look Em,

It says, on the longest day (just as we had last week) the sun rose at 15 minutes past three a.m, and set at 47 minutes past eight p.m. The length of the day was consequently 17 hours 32 minutes.

15 minutes past three a.m sunrise Emily! Goodness moi. As you know, GiGi faces the sunrise in her bedroom, and has found it easier to change her working day to fit in with natural day-light hours, at least in the summer- but for me at least, this doesn't even begin to wake me until about five-thirty. Plus, they didn't have 'British Summer Time', but even so-Em, what with the clock being a bit here and there all over the Country, no wonder our Dodgson, ever the Railway Journey Afficionado got all hung up on time.

Well, when he was down here, he can't have slept much. Liking to work until the wee small hours- unless he invented some light-blocking cleverness, he would have been up with the sunrise, just about when he went to sleep!

No wonder he got a bit cranky Em,

Off to bed for you now my little girl,

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi xxx

Monday, 17 June 2013

Doctor Theatre

Dearest Emily,

Your Great GrandmaNina, being ever the martyr to her Thespian life, rather liked using the term 'Doctor Theatre!' She would say it in her best R.P voice (the one she used for answering the telephone too) and if she were under the weather with a cold or chill, would rally herself for her performance by chanting it. I swear, if her leg was falling off, she would have hopped about, wringing her hands and still made her curtain-call. No understudy ever stood the chance of a glimpse of the limelight with Nina around!
Of course in thesp terms- 'Doctor Theatre' meant the effects of adrenalin that carry you through a play, whether your ill, gloomy or tired. Only afterwards do the aches and pains return- the old 'fight-or-flight mechanism over-riding any bothersome ailments that might get in the way of Entertainment.

However, for the formative character of our young Dodgson, 'Doctor Theatre' appears in a different guise. It's a way of life, an attitude, an attractive panacea to the ultra-conservative surroundings and expectations that his family had, and also held firmly for Charles.

Ever the family Entertainer, Magician, Storyteller and Games Manager to his younger siblings, Charles had this side of his character so ingrained that it simply had to find companion, and continued outlet.

So, did the young Dodgson work alone, in a creative vacuum,  or as a lad, and young man, did he find like-minded souls to bounce his theatricals around with?

Well, do you remember Emily, when I told you about a relative of Dodgson's that I recently met?

Prior to this, I had been doing quite a bit of digging about who, what and how Dodgson spent his formative years with, and doing. A particular family has been very illuminating for my investigations into what made his strikingly original clock tick- culminating of course in a complete Bible of Fairy-tale completely of his own making...

It was back in March, if you remember, when I had just put your book to bed, and fell upon Michael Bute's 'A Town Like Alice' with alacrity. Having heard about it- and tracked one copy down to Durham Library, I was eagerly awaiting its arrival at Freshwater Library, hoping it provided me with some answers to gaps in the backdrops in the two Alice books, that didn't fit with London, or Oxford or Freshwater. But they did smack of the P.R.B's somehow, and I wanted more evidence.
True enough- the book answered some prayers and as my previous post
revealed, I got a handle on the origins of the 'Jabberwocky'.

But, I hadn't expected the new twists in our tangled tales! The 'Misses Wilcox of Whitburn' were the initial references to the genesis of 'Jabberwocky' verse, told as I posted over a verse making evening of entertainment in 1855.

The more I read about this Wilcox family of cousins, the more I began to form a picture of a humour-rich, literary-bantering, theatrical clique, of whom Dodgson was very much a part for once in his life. He and Cousin William, walked miles a day together, wrote regularly and Charles spent large amounts of his long vacations at the Wilcoxes of Whitburn. They visited Sunderland Theatre, they even all acted together in "Box and Cox" and I imagined young Dodgson, having gone up to Oxford, coming back and recounting his 'lionising' tales, his clever parody poems, his growing 'Carte de Visite' collection additions, and general theatrical and literary 'showing-off'- to a willing and co-operative audience.

I felt he was drawn as a kindred spirit to their jollity and creativity and love of current artistic affairs. Though not a bohemian family in any tangible sense, their easy showmanship and play-fullness in particular must have held a strong allure for Charles whose nature was more akin to this than his beloved, but more stifled 'family personality'.

So, imagine this Em- there I am armed with a strong but surmised 'mental picture' of familias Wilcox, when good old serendipity struck again...

Back at Dimbolaland, D.B.H harangued me-as is his way, to get in contact with someone who might be helpful in lending something or other to our then up-coming 'Alice The Illustrators' Exhibition. I did as bid, but heard nothing back, so left it alone. D.B.H wouldn't let it lie, so eventually I resent the email, and we made a vague plan to meet at some point in the future.

The future became the visit to London which turned out to be receiving Dimbola's Museum and Heritage award- a happy little trip on it's own- so Emily my little one- imagine my delight when I meet said descendent of the Wilcoxes and before my eyes is the embodiment of the set of characteristics I had thus formulated!
And Emily, much, much more...
Such an encouraging under-pinning of my hunches so far. However- of this, I shall savour and investigate and report more another day, in future posts. Let's just say, there is a wealth of background to add to my own perfecting of the dual enigma of Dodgson and Carroll.

AND a tangent more- sneaky-peek at a quite unusual photograph for its time- staged, but apparently spontaneous (though the machinations of aperture meant holding a pose for such a length of time that normally prohibited any apparent spontenaeity in any but the most professional of 'pose-keepers'.

Entitled 'Tweedleton's Tail Coat' these two images really do set me off on another tangent- I have blurred parts as these are not for reproduction without explicit consent. Here are the family and servants staging a theatrical family piece. Quite extraordinary at the time!

Lastly Em, I shall leave you with a clue:-

The uniquely brilliant Lewis Carroll was merely acting in costume as the nondescript Don and Clergyman-Dodgson- in order to pass through dull corridors un-noticed, and therefore within acceptably contained walls to keep the creativity pure and bright of his burgeoning Wonderland legacy and his need for 'Doctor Theatre' within that.

Glad he did Em!

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

More than six impossible things before breakfast.

Dearest Emily,

Alice laughed. 
"There's no use trying,"she said: one ca'n't believe impossible things."
I daresay you haven't had much practise," said the Queen. 
"When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. 
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. 
There goes the shawl again!"

The White Queen speaks in Through the Looking Glass

Remember way back when we started this little letter diary? On the very first post, I wrote;

'Following a chance discovery back in April this year, I'm researching sourcing and a'hatching out a book. It's about 'Alice Through The Looking Glass', and I'm writing it for my little Grand-daughter Emily so that when she grows up, she knows that there is always something else to discover...'

So here we go Emily, six impossible things for you to believe today;

1. In August 2011, two Senior Lecturers at Portsmouth University published a little book- Tennysons Celebrity Circle a great bite-size stylish, informative on the subject close to my heart and home. This accompanied the work they had done at the Uni, which also gave a very user-friendly and accessible destination for us at Dimbolaland, when we needed to help the uninitiated get familiar with our altogether mind-blowing uniquely rich local heritage-

2. Our Chairman, dear D.B.H had a 'light-bulb' moment inspired by the work these guys had done. In 2012 he proposed to the Board that we change our Articles to include 'The Freshwater Circle' and all who sailed in her.

3. Mr Dickins, brought in his considerable commercial expertise, and suggested the re-branding of the Tearoom as 'The Mad Hatter' ( told you before how that one went down dear Em, and how the 'War of the Roses' began. ) T'was that night your Granny went home and another 'light-bulb moment' begat the discovery of the characters of the Freshwater Circle that Dodgson drew from whilst he was here.

4. The good olde Bookroom where GiGi works, provided me with my initial research at my fingertips, whilst I served the customers and your little book got hatched, and I used this little blog to help me focus my thoughts. Now, Dimbola had tangible reasons for its Tearoom re-branding and right on the money with the recent change of Articles.

5. The Mad Hatter Tearoom got finished, and it won a Museum and Heritage Award for Excellence last month. Your little blog, just topped 4000 views, two Alice Exhibitions at Dimbola are proving newsworthy, the launch of which is-a-coming up in just under three weeks (eek, no peace for GiGi.)
Your book is set to go into Fortnum and Masons too. (Nice with cake!)

6. GiGi, who as your Daddy just reminded her walked out of her degree course after 8 months because she was too impatient to get to work in the Fashion Industry, is now set to embark upon a PHD, that begins with the 'Jabberwocky' in Whitburn, travels via the blooming railway, through literary fume to dress-theory-fire to Oxford, and London, and the good old Isle of Wighty, ending in Sandown in 1874.
With luck, I will finish it when I'm Sixty, and you are just a year older than Alice was as set in Dodgson's books!

My dearest Grand-child, keep close to your enquiring heart- you never know what else there is to discover, and where it might lead you.

Here's your invitation! Granny's 'fashion-son' is a-hostin' (He's the same age as Daddy, and with a different Sartorial-flair!)

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx