Oxford, The Story Museum and Alice’s Day

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…..

 

 

 

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Roofs in children’s literature

Let’s talk about roofs. Niche, I know, but something that’s sort of starting to needle at my imagination and what with a visit to Oxford yesterday, and my current reading of (the incredibly lovely) Rooftoppers, I thought it was an appropriate time to explore this.

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See, the thing about roofs is that they’re inacessible, usually. They are places that people can’t get to, not easily, and they’re everywhere. And I think sometimes we can miss that, because we’re simply so used to seeing them. They are always there. Every building has them. They are invisible through their visibility.

But, I think, not everywhere has them quite like Oxford.

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A literary wander around Oxford (part two)

Guys, guys, I love Oxford, I really do. I love it because I get to walk past buildings with signs outside like this: “Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre ” and I love it because it’s the only place in the world I’ve ever heard people berating their children because they just ran past the Henry Moore statue. I really love Oxford. It’s a place that palpably holds story to me, a sort of mystical magical story and yet a story which is vividly everyday and matter of fact. HMV. Costa Coffee. Stone tablets from 20BC. All of them sort of just there, and fitting together somehow.

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A literary wander around Oxford

I have just realised I never blogged about my trip up to Oxford last Monday! And I did Literary Things Which I Would Recommend!

So, with apologies, here is a belated tribute to one of my new favourite places.

We went to the Bodleian Library (which is GLORY) and went to the “Magical Books” exhibition. It’s a small, but kind of wonderful exhibition – and I think anything would be wonderful with the quality of the items they’re exhibiting and the place they’re showing them in. Original manuscripts by Alan Garner,  CS Lewis, Alan Garner and Phillip Pullman AND original Tolkien drawings AND a replica alethiometer AND that annotated copy of Harry Potter that recently sold for a zillion squid AND a recording of Susan Cooper being the Spooky Queen of Spooky reciting a section made of her book AND one of the (ridiculously unnerving) Owl plates which inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service AND lots more…

Basically it’s like Christmas for fans of children’s literature and it’s the sort of place that made me go all pawy at the cases and a little bit emotional at the genuine wonder that’s been created through the scratch of a pen in a room a long time ago.

The other bit about Oxford that appeals (hugely) to me is The Story Museum. I’ve never been able to get there when it’s open (yet), but have stood drooling outside its doors at the sheer loveliness of it. Anywhere that displays a copy of “Alethiometer Reading For Dummies” has me even when the doors are locked and bolted.

Here’s some photos!

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The Mania

When you’re lost in the story, the worlds mesh, the real and the figurative intertwine and cobweb around you. Yesterday I was in Oxford and I felt stories in every building. In every shape. A landscape written upon our psyche and in our consciousness. Buildings, some holding knowledge since the 1400s, and still holding it today. Places where you walk – and you feel the thousands that have been there before you. You feel their stories. We are built on stories, telling them to our children, our lovers, our sisters. We tell them, revel in them, find comfort in them. We feel, we know, their shape – their warmth – their familiarity. Stories guide us – make us – break us. They are us. They are our constant; our hope, our fear, our mania.