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Alice is back in back-a-yard Wonderland

A tale of nonsense happenings in Jamaica

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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Curiouser and curiouser, and curiouser still,” thought Alice as she landed gently at the bottom of the rabbit hole and found herself once more in Wonderland. She got to her feet and was quickly made to feel at home by the Duchess, who had been her tour guide in earlier adventures, and the zany cast of simple, easy-going, and quite crazy characters who ran up to welcome her back home.

As she looked around she saw the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat with the huge grin, Humpty Dumpy, the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle, and the craziest of them all the Dodo. The Dodo had a penchant for using the wrong words to show off his limited vocabulary, which often got him into trouble, as we will see later in the story.

The Duchess got between them both, however, and whispered to Alice that since they last met she had been appointed principal advisor and press officer to the king.

“His Majesty will see you shortly,” she told Alice, “but first you will have to prove that you voted for him in the last elections.”

“But I wasn't here for the last elections,” pointed out Alice as she tried to ward off being kissed and smothered by Humpty Dumpy, the Walrus, and the Cheshire Cat.

“Never mind, my dear, wherever you were is not essential. You are now in Wonderland, where everything that happens in Wonderland stays in Wonderland.”

It was then that Alice realised that she was now in Wonder 'Backayard' Land, one of the many crazy and fanciful state-of-mind places that exist in the world of Wonderlands, including Wonder Brexit, Wonder West Indies Croquet Team, and Wonder Great Again.

Readers may remember Alice as the central figure of the 19th century tale of a little girl wandering through a fantasy world peopled by the oddest characters — human and animal — who take her on a journey that has fascinated readers in over 70 countries and several generations since it was written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. The story is replete with amusing and illogical conversations and scripts said to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.

Alice is over 150 years old, but Wonderlands are at play all over the world where what should be normal and sane social behaviour is often sabotaged by silly, immature, and unexplainable decisions and actions taken at the highest levels of decision-making. The characters had their own rules, which they made up as they went along, and broke them just as casually. They had their own peculiar code of conduct, which was summed up by the Duchess, who told Alice, “My child, everyone in this world has got a moral; if only you can find it.” Life simply held no complications for these extraordinary folk.

“When I use a word,” announced Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean.”

The Duchess was making an offer. “How much do you want for your vote,” she asked.

“I am not selling my vote,” replied Alice.

“Oh, yes, you can. I can offer you cash or contract up to a maximum of five votes, and you can vote in two different names.”

But it's no use, thought poor Alice, to pretend to be two people. “Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make one respectable me.”

She asked the Duchess to take her somewhere; anywhere else but where she was.

“Where do you want to go,” asked her guide.

“Anywhere but here, I really don't know my way around.”

Then came the immortal reply so typical of Wonderlands and which has been quoted time and time again by lovers of the story.

“Don't worry, my dear,” said the Duchess. “If you don't know where you are going any road will take you there.”

So Alice took off with the Duchess. On their way down the road to anywhere she came across the Mad Hatter looking busy and dressed in a caterer's outfit.

Now I have often found a parallel situation with Jamaica as we wander through the maze of eccentricities and wild goose chases that make up the fabric of our often bewildering country.

According to my journals (earlier columns in this newspaper), Alice has twice visited Jamaica and found it as delightfully confusing and infuriating as was her original Wonderland. So consider this conversation with the Mad Hatter held on the Knutsford Boulevard.

“ Ah, Mr Mad Hatter, you are having another tea party. Can I come?”

“You are not invited,” said the Mad Hatter. “Well that means I can come,” replied Alice, the experienced Wonderlander. “Where should I go?”

“To that hotel down the road all the senior civil servants and heads of departments, and private sector big shots are there. They pound the pavement everyday between hotels and restaurants, enjoying morning sessions at official opening ceremonies, coffee breaks (with pastry and sandwiches) at 10, then to another hotel for a chamber of commerce luncheon, a tea time cooler at 4:00 pm, and before you know it they end up at the same hotel in the evening for an awards banquet or a speech from a minister.

“Don't those people work,” asked nave Alice.

“This is work, stupid,” says the White Rabbit who is on his way to a seminar in-between looking at his watch. “It's not easy to move from function to function each day, change outfits in-between, greet the same people you saw this morning with surprise and a windy kiss later in the afternoon, and exchange a little gossip and criticism about the minister's speech, which in any event was the same speech they listened to last week, but from a different minister.

“How do they get invited to all these functions,” asked poor, old, nave Alice.

“Oh, they don't,” said the Walrus, who had joined them. “They just come, like you.”

Frustrated with the conversation, Alice turns to the Duchess and asks to be taken to her leader. The Duchess is taken aback, explaining that in this Wonderland there are many leaders. She is quite right, because as they enter the city park they come across two separate political meetings. The Duchess identifies the two candidates aspiring for a leadership position and Alice watches fascinated as they take to the stage and commence dancing in lobster quadrille style.

The Duchess explains that the challenger candidate had announced earlier in the campaign that his entry into the leadership race would energise the party. He had not taken into account that it would also energise his competitor to the extent that, by the time the campaign was nearing its end, the incumbent was dancing and spinning better than his opponent.

“Does the best dancer win?” asked Alice. “Perhaps not,” said Duchess, “but every night they dance on stage as if their lives depended on it. Look at Peter Prince go!”

And sure enough the Prince was 'signalling a plane' on stage that had the crowd's roaring approval until Peter the Pretender, with youth on his side, stepped up and out of a trance-like foxtrot into a lebeh lebeh, fling yuh shoulder, and a genna bounce that brought him level with the Prince.

“If it's not the dancing,” asked Alice, “then how will they know who has won?”

“Let me give it to you in full Wonderland language,” said the Duchess. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled delegates, a peck of pickled delegates Peter Piper picked. “Now at the end of the day, one basket will be full, and one basket empty. You will know who is the loser when his basket is empty and he is saying to himself, I thought I picked a peck of pickled delegates. Where the heck are the peck of pickled delegates I thought that I had picked? And at the end of the day believe me, they will all be well pickled.”

That afternoon the entire team of characters took her to the Square to watch the king's annual parade in his new magic clothes. (Readers will be aware of how the King and his loyal citizens were all fooled by two fake tailors who convinced His Majesty that they could make him the most beautiful suit in the world, but it would be invisible to anyone in the land who was incompetent or stupid. And although he was exposed and ridiculed after a little boy innocently bawled out that the king was naked, he decided that he would repeat the parade every year and wear a different costume each time.)

So once again the people lined the streets to clap and cheer their King and to compliment him on his brilliant outfit, hoping of course that their flattery would be rewarded.

As the parade got close to Alice, the king pirouetted and posed, turning around to show the people his wonderful outfit from every vantage point. Nobody in the crowd wanted it to be noticed that they were incompetent or unfit, or plain stupid. Except the Dodo, who, as we learnt earlier, could be counted on to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and to misuse words that would confuse everyone.

“My goodness,” he said in a loud voice, “The king's bauxite is showing.”

Alice blushed, realising he had used the wrong word, but too shy to correct him. The crowd heard the Dodo and, out of respect to His Majesty, they shouted and repeated in unison: “Long live the king, may he sit on his bauxite forever.”

This did not go down well with the king. He stopped the parade and dismounted with as much dignity as he could. The Queen went wild. “Off with his head!” she screamed again and again, looking for the Dodo. But the Dodo had disappeared.

The Cabinet buried their heads in the sand. A group of cockpit hills in the crowd, who had come to the city to search for their boundaries, clapped and cheered. Their precious mineral had now been locked up tight and given a royal seal.

The chairperson of the Busybody Association was alarmed. “Take your bauxite out of here,” she warned the little hills, “and get back inside your boundaries.”

Alice was amused and confused. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she kept on repeating. “You take your bauxite out of here as well,” said the White Rabbit as he escorted her back to the exit.

“What route should I take to get out,” she asked him. “Where do you want to go?” he replied.

“I really don't know,” said Alice.

“Then,” said the Rabbit, “It really doesn't matter, does it?”

Lance Neita is a freelance writer and columnist. Send comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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