Cressida Bonas

The joy of being childish

The joy of being childish
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (Image: Shutterstock)
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I sat next to a man at dinner who told me I was nosey. Perhaps he was right, although I saw it as being curious. When a conversation consists of weather patterns, I like to throw in a personal question. That way I learn something more interesting about that individual other than his views on meteorology. However, in this case it unnerved the poor man. He glanced at me sideways and reached for his wine. I’m a hypocrite, of course. I hate talking about my private life. But that doesn’t stop me from taking an interest in other people’s lives and loves. Otherwise I find myself falling asleep and I too have to reach for more wine.

When I was younger, I loved the story of Alice and Wonderland. Old copies of Lewis Carroll's books remain on my shelf with the hope of giving them to my children one day. I was at university when the creepy, psychedelic film version of Alice with Johnny Depp reached cinemas. I remember going to watch it with a boy on our first and only date. The people in the row in front giggled as they passed around a bag of magic mushrooms. I found myself watching them rather than the movie and wondering what the already wacky visuals must be like on drugs. Halfway through they seemed overwhelmed, got up and left. Perhaps the smoking caterpillar was too much for them.

The V&A's exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser moves from the entrancing story of Alice and Wonderland to the adaptions and interpretations seen in the one hundred and fifty years since Lewis Carroll's book was first published. The show is an excuse to escape into an imaginary world, to get Immersed in something other than our screens. Flickering phrases are projected on objects and walls: 'Why is a raven like a writing desk?'; 'People who don’t think shouldn’t talk'; 'Who in the world am I?'  As we see in Shakespeare’s court jesters there can be truth and wisdom in foolishness. One leaves the V&A with reality having been firmly turned on its head.

During the summer I saw Alice in the lives of my young nieces and nephews. Similar to her they are growing up in an illogical world. For instance, we call a pedestrian crossing a zebra crossing. My nephew was worried about this and said, 'But if there’s a zebra crossing, he may get run over if it’s busy.' Another time the child’s mother said 'Sainsburys is a giant shop.' At which point my niece replied, 'Yes, it must be enormous if it can fit a giant in there.' Some of their questions have made me pause for thought. I have been asked if lightning is faster than a thought. Do tadpoles sleep at night? And if we see a shark can we be kind to it? I think it’s time my ‘niblings’ were introduced to the stories of Alice.

Sometimes I’m sad that I ever grew up. As Alice said: 'I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life.' I know just how she felt.