It’s been a while since the White Rabbit and I met up with his former cell mate the Mad Hatter. Sorry, I meant to say colleague, yes, that’s what I meant…My companion gives me a calm but deadly stare. There’s a faintly manic look in his eyes that makes me edge away slowly. You don’t mess with Fluffykins (my private name for the arch Trickster). I know that he knows that I know that he knows this most private of affectionate names. We choose to take the road of ignorance where this is concerned for very good reasons.
In this surreal group of ours, namely The Shedies, a little light humour is essential. Especially considering the past history of some of the members, and I include myself in this select number. You may not be aware of this but I love tea, most varieties except for Earl Grey. Never Earl Grey. Apologies for the outburst, it’s a subject I’m passionate about, as well as food history, food, cooking food, reading about it. Sigh. Where was I? Ah yes, tea with a certain tragic figure. Tragic? The Mad Hatter has a sad history. He was the toast of European society for centuries for one very good reason. The man’s skill in millinery was legendary. He lived hats, dreamt hats, and made hats. As for the sobriquet “Mad Hatter”, it pains me to go over that terrible incident.
Many cultures revere tea highly and rightly so. Its serving is couched in mystical ritual and ceremony, often elevating the senses to a state of oneness with the outer world. It can be used as a tool in meditation but that’s another story. Apologies for the digression but it does have a purpose in this tale of woe. The Mad Hatter invited us to a tea dance in a grand hotel in central London many years. White Rabbit, His Nibs (Anubis), Thoth, and I went ahead to the hotel, filled with excitement we were. My heart lifted as we neared the hallowed portals of the building, the smiling doorman ushered us in. We followed the soft refrain of a familiar tune, our feet eventually leading to the main ballroom. Sunlight showered through a glass dome that was the ceiling. The orchestra looked terribly elegant as did our fellow diners. Oh my, we spotted the Mad Hatter sitting at a large table to one side of the dance floor. What a rakish figure! The man was truly blessed with good looks, manners and grace. Admittedly his choice of garb was a little, florid and ostentatious. My heart still raced with admiration.
This scene was a nostalgic reminder of gentler times (obviously viewed through rose tinted lenses). Yet, I sensed a strange undercurrent running through this room. The more I looked, the more the scene appeared to fragment revealing hidden things. Things perhaps not meant to see the light of day. Such is the energy that accompanies our merry band of misfits and magicians. We perceive the world in ways not usual with many, on highways rarely travelled. Shadowed shapes moved soundlessly amongst those present, were they either living or dead? It was hard to tell. Occasionally a figure would stop and pour something into a tea pot. It looked like light and gold dust. Such was the effect of this act that our surroundings shimmered and briefly vanished. It was apparent that there was another world behind our current reality.
I peered further into this strange new world and could see earth walls and ceiling, with roots weaving through tunnels and a large chamber. Suddenly the words of the Cheshire Cat echoed through my mind:
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”.
Yes, that made sense somehow.
The White Rabbit and His Nibs looked at me silently, whilst Thoth smiled that infuriatingly mysterious smile of his. I could smell the aroma of trickery and illusion in the air. The tension was broken as waiters served us with cakes and sandwiches. The Mad Hatter lifted the tea cup and breathed in the delicate scent of Oolong. He paused for a moment, a terrible look on his face. Was he grimacing? Suddenly a roar cascaded from his mouth, The tea was STEWED, quelle horreur! This was the last straw for the master milliner. He jumped and launched himself at the poor waiters serving at our table. A hand emerged from beneath the table and pulled me under. The White Rabbit rolled his eyes in despair. My other companions seemed to be enjoying themselves and just grinned at me.
I peered at the mayhem going on around us. There was a quality of madness about it. My intuition sensed powerful forces at work. “It’s Faerie magic” a voice whispered in my ear. His Nibs then laid a gentle hand on one of my ankles. “Just in case” he muttered. Faerie magic. I felt an overwhelming urge to throw myself into the midst of the melee. Food fights seemed exciting and I always wanted to indulge in a spot of this particular mischief. His Nibs tightened his grip on my ankle at that moment. We could hear the Mad Hatter screaming at another diner. This doesn’t sound good. His voice was edged with hysteria. This was more than annoyance, what exactly did the Faerie folk put in his tea? Next thing hordes of police were pouring through the doors. We remained under the table, except for the White Rabbit. He, with the Mad Hatter were being dragged into one of numerous police vans. They didn’t worried, which was a little strange. I swear the Mad Hatter even winked at us.
Everyone “laid low” for several days. The White Rabbit and Mad Hatter were released after a couple of days, bail being put up by a mysterious benefactor, only known as “Queenie”. Hm. The Mad Hatter saw me briefly before going on an extended road trip. He kissed my cheek and then slipped a package in my hand. It was a box of tea, Assam in fact. All he said was, “treat it with respect”.
Our band went separate ways for several years, only to meet up two/three years ago. My chance meeting with the White Rabbit in Llandudno recently was an omen of further shenanigans.