Saturday, 28 July 2012

A Mad Tea Party in Idle Wonderland

Once upon a time there was a dear small kitten called Nico, whose amber eyes and sweet smile won her many friends. She lived with her human mother Emalina, in a big old country cottage on a high hill overlooking a valley surrounded by greenery and roses.

One day, as Emalina sat in the garden picking wild strawberries, she heard a strange sound in the air. A lovely voice resounded through the valley, a soft and lilting song in deep dulcet tones she knew well.
"Quick!" cried Emalina, rushing indoors where Nico was snoozing languorously on the rocking chair, "Nico, it's time to go! Our friend Vanessa Valencia calls to us! The time has finally come, the time to visit her Mad Tea Party!" 

Nico smiled her sweet smile, for she had been looking forward to a tea party all year long (or at least since lunchtime). Together they packed up what they would need. Nico found her sun hat, and her pretty pinny for serving tea.
She sat very still as Emalina dressed her in her favourite red collar, the one with bells that tinkled like a stream as she walked. Last but not least were her coloured ribbons for country dancing, which Nico thoughtfully nudged into Emalina's pink straw basket as they closed the cottage door and set out to find Wonderland.

Nico and Emalina set off on their journey. After a while they came to a field full of buttercups. Nico sniffed the clean fresh air, and the gentle breeze dancing in the trees wiggled her long white whiskers, for it was a beautiful day.

Soon they came to a clearing where there stood a wooden cabin. At first Nico was too scared to step in, but Emalina reassurred her that it was the cabin into Wonderland and all were welcome there. As they entered the cabin they gulped in the gorgeous smell of lamb roasting in the wood oven. Nico's belly rumbled.

"Look, dear Nico" said Emalina, "there it is, the looking glass that will take us into Wonderland."
On the cabin wall hung a gilt gold mirror, carved and twisted, that reflected a dazzling light into their eyes.

"It's time to be brave, my darling" said Emalina, "for we must step into this mirror and into the unknown to reach our destination".

Now Nico was used to being brave to catch mice and shrew (and once a baby rabbit too), but she shook her head at her human mother.
 "I can only be brave if I know there'll be food for my belly in the unknown" she said.

 "Why then be not afeared little Nico, for beyond this mirror there will be cakes and sweets and who knows what delights", responded Emalina in a reassuring tone. "I will make sure that you don't go hungry".

And so little Nico and big Emalina stepped into the Wonderland mirror, and out the other side into a bright new world. As she opened her eyes, Nico was surprised to find she was rolling in roses, petals pink and purple, yellow, white and red covering them with their fragrant scent.

She looked around to see Emalina shaking the petals off her skirts with a grin.
 "We're here Nico!" she exclaimed. "Isn't it wonderful?"

Nico was inclined to reserve judgement until she had something in her belly,but she followed Emalina down the yellowing path of an old orchard. They turned the bend to find a most remarkable sight. The White Queen of Wonderland had spread out a picnic beneath the trees and was raising her tea cup to them in eager anticipation.

"How nice to meet you, Your Highness", Emalina gasped, "we beg your pardon at trespassing onto your land".

"Why this feast is for you dear Nico and Emalina, for Alice and I have been waiting to take tea with you. Vanessa Valencia, who has her own party to attend, sends her fanciful regards" said the White Queen graciously.

"Oooh cupcakes!" squealed Nico, "My favourite kind of cake!".

The White Queen spread her arms out in welcome, "These are no ordinary cupcakes little Nico", she said, "for hand painted onto each cupcake here is a different portrait of all the lords and ladies of Wonderland kingdom.
I will let you eat as many as you wish, kitty", she continued, with a wink to Emalina " for I can hear your stomach is rumbling." 

As Nico got to work eating her fill, Emalina looked around at the wonderful feast spread out before them. Meringues and rose petals, a white rabbit cake, marshmallows and cupcakes, tea ready to be poured, she had never seen such abundant delights.

"We have laid out some fruit and some fans" said the White Queen, "for those of us who need to keep our pale complexions".
"How thoughtful of you, your Highness" Emalina replied, "at home we only eat Whiskas for Nico, and green beans for me. That is why we're so thin you see."

"Then you must fatten yourselves up with some liquorice and marshmallows, Emalina, we are here to eat and be convivial. I can recommend the tayberry lemonade, made by our gardener from the berries this morning. It goes perfectly with a lavender meringue."

Nico, meanwhile, had finished her cupcake and was wandering about the picnic with her tail held high. "Would you mind awfully if I had this cup of tea?" she asked "I do so fancy a hot drink."
The White Queen nodded her approval, and Nico took her first lap of tea.

"What is this?" she exclaimed, "I have never tasted such a drink!"
"It is my Chocolate Mint tea" answered the Queen "I only bring it out for special occasions, infused as it is with magical powers."

"Yes, have you tried it?", spoke up Alice the doll suddenly, looking straight at Nico, "isn't it divine?"

"But you're a doll, Alice, how can you speak?" asked Nico, startled.
 "Fear not my dear, you have drunk my magic Chocolate Mint tea, that is why you can hear Alice speak" answered the White Queen.

"I speak all the time, thank you very much" countered Alice, "but it's only those with ears tuned to the right frequency who can hear me. Go on, have another sip of tea and a slice of cake, we're all friends here little cat." 

As Nico popped her head into the berries, Emalina took a peek at the book of fairy tales lying open beside her. "These are delightful illustrations Your Highness" she said "look at those birds in the picture Nico!"

"My wish is to surround myself with everything I love" said the Queen, laughing softly, "for it brings me such pleasure. There you see an illustration by Edmund Dulac from the story of Bluebeard."

"And come look at my boudoir", she beckoned to Emalina, "here you can find a portrait of my late grandmother, she was a great beauty. Many princes travelled from all over the land for a chance to woo her. 
Many fought battles in her name and wrote poems for her love, before she chose my late grandfather, the man who painted this."

"The dress" she went on to say, "is another family heirloom. It is belonged to my great grandmother on the other side of the family."

"But what are those strange green sparkly things?" piped up Nico.

"Let me tell you a secret", said the White Queen as she drew them close to her. "These green sparkly things are real beetle wings sewn onto gauze. My couturier tells me this dress was made in India more than a hundred years ago. It is a piece of history and so delicate that I have only worn it a handful of times, only ever to stand in. The beetle wings are sharp and they cut into me if I sit down."

"Gosh" said Emalina, "we are lucky to be taking tea with the Queen, aren't we Nico?"

"We are", agreed Nico, "and have you met Alice yet, Mummy? She's just over here. She talks you know, like I do."

At that moment the air grew thick with sound. Wood nymphs appeared from behind each tree in the orchard singing their praises to the White Queen. 

As the nymphs sang their hypnotic chant, Nico noticed the strangest things start to happen. All around her, objects began to move, to dance to the nymphs' song.

The dresses and paintings at the White Queen's boudoir swayed in time to the music, as if possessed!

The white rabbits on the Queen's cake began to hop, and play, amongst the white chocolate roses! 

The faces on the cupcakes began to move, too, and they smudged themselves as they did so.

Even the cupids on the White Queen's books began to prance and dance.

Before long the whole of Wonderland was swaying and dancing to the wood nymphs' song. Only the White Queen sat still in her chair, with a smile as she watched the revellery.

Nico felt the voices of the nymphs stroke her body with their tune, they were playing with her whiskers and caressing her tail. Finally, she could contain herself no longer, and let out a mad little jumping dance, as Emalina twirled her long skirts around her.

The music stopped as abruptly as it had started, and all of Wonderland stood still again. Nico, so exhausted by her dancing, found a shady spot under the White Queen's skirts to catch her breath, whilst Emalina took to a nearby hammock to recover.

"This really is the life!" exclaimed Emalina, as she reached for another meringue.

"It is, it is Mummy!" cried Nico, from beneath the Queen's shady skirts.
But being a fidgety little kitten, she couldn't stay still for long and she soon started to hunt for something else to eat.

Something like the liquorice...

"Don't eat too much of that," warned the White Queen, "it is time for us to cut the White Rabbit cake! You shall wish to leave some room to taste the cake!"

"Nico and I love cake, Your Highness", said Emalina, "what flavour is it may I ask?"

"Rose and lemon to taste, my dear girl, in different colours and different parts; for beneath the hand made white chocolate rabbits and roses, and the sky blue buttercream, there lies a moist soft marble cake of such magnificence that we must all eat at least one slice."

The Queen was right, it was a magnificent cake, and within no time at all they had had two slices each.

Finally, the White Queen brought out a strange looking case...

"Open it, dear Nico and Emalina", and they did as they were told.

Inside were all manner of things, pretty pictures and hand written notes hidden amongst the flowers and cupcakes.

"Here is my Case of Inspiration" said the Queen. "Look through it as you please".

No sooner had Emalina started to look in the case than a note appeared addressed to her.

Opening it, Emalina and Nico saw a fantastic message. "Man is condemned to be free?" asked Nico, "what does this Sartre fellow mean by such a thing?"

"Ah Nico, it is simple my darling. Sartre reminds us that we always have a choice in how we respond to situations in our lives. Even when we deliberately try not to choose, the act of not choosing is in itself a choice. With choice comes freedom, and with freedom comes responsibility, and a life lived in awareness and self reflection".

Nico was still thinking about what her human mother had said when Emalina spied another note, this one addressed to her.

"This is less of a riddle," exclaimed Nico, "oh I know how to do this, Mummy! I'm moving forward right this minute, towards that delicious cake!

As Nico ate some more, Emalina reflected on their notes from the case. What did Kierkegaard mean when he wrote that life must be lived forwards? Perhaps that by facing the everyday difficulties and contradictions of living - as opposed to trying ignore or dismiss them -  we could move forward in our lives, and grow as cats and as people?

She was still pondering this notion when she heard a rustle and the tap tap tap of some sharp high heels on the yellowing path.

There stood the Red Queen, with her hand on her hip.

"Oh has she come to join the party?" asked Nico, hopefully.

"WHO DARES TO EAT THE CAKES OF MY WONDERLAND?" roared the Red Queen. "Quick, guards, off with their heads!"

"We must run for our lives, Nico!" screamed Emalina, and threw Nico onto her shoulder before hotfooting it out of Wonderland, the Red Queen and her guards the nettles chasing behind them waving their stinging spears. 

Thankfully they escaped the gates of Wonderland unharmed, and found a small sailing boat in the mist, sent by the White Queen to take them home.

By the time they had reached their country cottage on the top of the hill, Nico was sleeping like a baby in her human mother's arms.

"What a day it has been" whispered Emalina, as she placed Nico on her fur cushions. "Sleep well sweet darling".

The Red Queen closed the gates of Wonderland for another year, and Nico slept curled up on her cushions, chasing white chocolate rabbits in her dreams.


P.S. Animal lovers will be pleased to read that Nico the kitten was not
 actually allowed to eat any cake or sweets during the shooting of this post.

P.P.S. All recipes for the above idle bakes will be blogged in forthcoming posts.

This special blog post was idly hatched as I listened to the music of Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook