Due to the eternal loveliness of my long suffering family, I got to spend the weekend in Oxford. There was a particular rationale behind being there for this weekend: the 4th July commemorates the the day that Charles Dodgson told a story to Alice Liddell and her sisters, and the Saturday nearest to that date sees Oxford turn into Wonderland for the day – “Alice’s Day”. The event, run by the Story Museum and held there and in venues across the city has been on my wishlist for a while. And this year, reader, I did it.
The Story Museum is gorgeous. Really, it is. I appreciate I come from a very nerdy and quite niche perspective, but there’s something intensely magical about a space that is working very directly towards children and allowing them to own that space. Exhbitis are low, pitched for interactivity, and there’s signs everywhere of an organisation that wants children to become involved. I don’t think there’s many places where one can have a conversation with volunteers along the lines of “Have you seen Wonderland?” “No, but I’ve been to Animal?” “Come back when you’ve Been To Bed and we’ll take you to Wonderland.”. There’s some intense pleasures to be found in this higgledy piggledy colourful building; Narnia’s hidden away in one corner, Philip Pullman’s sketches of the chapter headings to Northern Lights are in another whilst in a third, Katherine Rundell’s on the TV talking beautifully about wolves. It’s beautiful.
I have to share with you a further example of how great the Story Museum is (and it is one, I fear, that might be a bit more information than you require – but skip, gentle reader, if needs be!). The ladies toilets were three cubicles: one was big enough for a parent and child to get in, and even involved a little toy toilet (though I didn’t check if it actually worked!), a toilet with raised seat and grab arms for those in need of mobility help, alongside a third toilet cubicle. Such things I know are a little strange to tell you about but for me, they’re very important. They speak of care for detail and of a care for sharing their message and ethos with everyone. Accessibility, equality, openness. You can tell everything about somewhere by their toilets, I think.
But, enough about toilets! Back to Alice’s Day and the great joy of seeing a city flip into somewhere unexpected. Alice was everywhere, from tiny blue-dressed children dancing a lobster quadrille in the courtyard (adorable) through to seeing a white rabbit peddling bubbles in the street through to seeing a giant Alice ‘walk’ slowly around the Radcliffe Camera or finding the Cheshire Cat in the Botanic Gardens; this is story spilling out in the city and I was exhausted and I was exhilarated and I love it. If you’re an Alice fan you have to visit; there’s something so wonderful about the entire day.
And I can’t tell you how much I almost cried at everything; there’s something so perfect about hearing children insist that they’re called ‘Alice’ (I checked, she wasn’t actually called Alice) and seeing families dance along to horn bands. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Go next year if you can. Trust me, it’s worth it. Maybe we should all dress up for it wherever we are. Wonderland for everyone. Anyway, I’m rambling because I’m still in love with everything, so I’ll finish this post here. Here are some pictures and this is the end of my tail…..