When I moved to Melbourne, I spent three weeks living with a friend and her parents, while said friend and I searched for a hovel of our own. Their house was lovely, my favourite of its features was not the hardwood floors or pool, though, but the walls lined with books. My friend’s mother writes childrens’ books, and about a month ago I was on the receiving end of this 21st invitation to put all others to shame.
‘I have a simply smashing idea,’ said Julian as he stopped suddenly outside a house in Rupert Street. ‘Let’s have a 21st Party for Rebecca’
‘I say,’ said Dick as he bumped into Julian and didn’t move away. ‘That’ll be a jolly jape.’
‘Let’s make it a picnic,’ suggested Julian. ‘We’ll have a gay old time.’
‘Yes rather,’ said Dick. ‘We can pack a picnic basket with ginger pop and buns with lashings of jam and cream.’
‘But we’re boys,’ said Julian who never once had doubted his sexuality but still hadn’t asked Dick to back off. ‘That’s women’s work.’
Rebecca overheard the boys talking and opened the front door.
She squealed excitedly and clapped her hands. ‘Oh let me do everything,’ she said.
‘I’m just a girl. It’s not like I have neuroscience exams to study for or anything like that.’
‘Quite right,’ said Julian. ‘Girls don’t need an education.’
‘Make sure you wear that maid outfit while you’re at it,’ said Dick who liked to pretend that he wasn’t same sex attracted.
Rebecca was now super excited. She loved nothing more than dressing up and being objectified unless perhaps it was dressing up, being objectified and spending hours working in the kitchen.
Now just at that moment who should peep its head through the door? It was Synia, Rebecca’s cat and her tomboy chum Georgina.
‘My goodness you’re a good little fellow aren’t you?’ exclaimed Julian.
‘Thanks chum, you’re a brick,’ said George gruffly. She thought it splendid of Julian not to call her girl.
‘Not you, silly, the cat,’ chuckled Julian with a chuckle.
‘Woof. Woof,’ barked Synia who had species issues.
‘What’s that?’ Rebecca asked her cat. ‘Edinburgh Gardens?’
‘Woof,’’ confirmed Synia wagging her tail.
‘Ed Inburgh-Garden!’ exclaimed George. ‘You mean that traitor of a scientist who was plotting to sell top secret information abroad?’
‘Meow,’ snapped Synia momentarily forgetting which species she was, or wasn’t.
‘No,’ interpreted Rebecca. ‘Synia wants the party at Edinburgh Gardens.’
Julian turned all queer. His stiff upper lip trembled. If he was a girl he would have cried.
‘Bb-butt yy-you cc-can’t gg-go th-th-there,’ he stammered. ‘It’s ff-full of …’
‘Homeless people?’ suggested Dick.
‘Drunks?’ opined George.
‘Occupy Melbourne protesters wearing tents?’ said Rebecca
‘No!’ Julian shouted. ‘Don’t you see the danger? There’ll be vegans there!’
‘They are a thoroughly bad lot of scoundrels,’ agreed Dick. ‘Let’s go to Kirren Island instead.’
By Helen Chapman (Beckory’s mother)
The party itself was January 2. We were instructed to dress as characters from childrens’ books, but the weather proved a sturdy impediment. My own plan to dress in tights and a swim suit (wizard dressed as muggle) was overruled by how difficult I would find it to go to the bathroom. Instead, I donned a dress, broad-brimmed hat and several layers of 30+ for a 40+ day.
In the shade, with enough food to put Enid Blyton to shame, dramatic readings to Shirley Barber books and spirited rounds of Scrabble and Articulate, it was quite blissful. There was a light breeze, circus people, pirates, scones made by a Dorothy-a-like and plenty of winkle jokes. I haven’t been at a party where so much Blackadder was quoted since we plied a formerly straight-edge friend with all of the spirits one Halloween, and had him spinning on a swivel chair singing the song that runs ‘See the little goblin, see his little feet…’
More than anything, though, the entire spirit of the occasion felt like the poem Lewis Carroll wrote to start Alice in Wonderland
All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretense
Our wanderings to guide.
Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale of breath too weak
To stir the tiniest feather!
Yet what can one poor voice avail
Against three tongues together?
Imperious Prima flashes forth
Her edict to “begin it”–
In gentler tones Secunda hopes
“There will be nonsense in it”–
While Tertia interrupts the tale
Not more than once a minute.
Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast–
And half believe it true.
And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
“The rest next time”–“It is next time!”
The happy voices cry.
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out–
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.
Alice! a childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined
In Memory’s mystic band,
Like pilgrim’s withered wreath of flowers
Plucked in a far-off land.