Last week, you may recall, we were discussing nonsense verse. Discussing it, note, in a light playful manner, for when one hears of doctorate theses dissecting just what is a runcible spoon, then one fancies that the academic has spectacularly missed the point. However, ever since then this archivist has been plagued by the nagging bluebottle of unlooked-for cross references, swooping past my ear every few minutes with its unignorable buzzing and banging its head againt the windows of my hindbrain until I was forced to spend half a day I could ill-afford to chase down its obscure footnote of coincidence in one of our weightiest and scrawliest tomes, inconveniently located at the very bottom of our tallest bookstack and carrying a Babel’s-worth of more junior volumes atop its fraying boards. At least its considerable weight, while much straining this archivist’s back, did make it an ideal tool for slamming down on the aforesaid metaphorical fly and crushing its worthless, miserable body to oblivion, and the fact that the antique oaken table upon which it was resting at the time was rent asunder was small price to pay for finally scratching that itch.
So, what was the resulting irrelevant piece of miscellany anyway ? Well, the archives (eventually) show that Lewis Carroll, was a regular attendee throughout 1871, playing truant from his lecturing duties at Oxford to catch the Great Western flyer down to seeking to polish his nonsensical verses for his upcoming Alice in Wonderland II – Back Down the Rabbit-Hole. Initially he concentrated on honing what started out as The Baboon & The Blacksmith, swapping out one of the title characters each week for another mammal or tradesman with apparently no logic as to why this latest was any more absurd than the previous.
Nothing exchangeable about this week’s workshop, where the singular John Hurley has been struggling to stem global warming and Alan Chambers has been listening at night to the sound of his house breathing out and fidgeting. Anne Furneaux remembers the coalmen from her childhood, leaving a film of soot in their wake – perhaps to clean up they needed to take a dip in the sky like the boy in Owen Gallagher’s fantasy. A similar magical (though not nonsensical) theme was pursued by Roger Beckett as he listened to a tree’s digestion and by Nick Barth as he longed for dirty, noisy, sexy petrolhead machines in a world of batteries. Martin Choules meanwhile has been looking up and ignoring the dim stars, and Pat Francis has been not ignoring her neighbour at the bus stop and then in the casket, leading us to a pleasant walk into the sunset on the beach with Doig Simmonds.
Which brings us neatly back to the beach of Lewis Carroll’s mollusc massacre. Once this was set, he turned to the equally-lengthy Jabberwocky – Alas, here instead of the non sense coming from a joyfully cannibalistic picnic, it seemed to consist of an endless litany of made-up words. “Cut it down, Lewis !” was the comment each week, and sure enough when it appeared again it was shorn of yet another verse, but its constant wellspring of gibberish would still prove to wearying on Frederica’s gatherings. Finally, exasperated, they nodded through a twenty-eight line version (but only because the final four lines repeat the first four), yet the upshot of such ruthless editing is that something important had become lost – the battle itself ! We seem to jump from the jabberwocky merrily burbling through the wood when a sudden double one-two is all it takes. Vorpal blade or no, that has to be chalked up as a major anticlimax.