THE CITY GRUMP
With apologies to Lewis Carroll. An adaptation of his classic tale to suit our times.
Alice –The City Grump
The White Rabbit – The Sage Committee
The Cheshire Cat – Professor Chris Whitty
The Mad Hatter – Boris
The March Hare – Dominic Cummings
The Dormouse – The British Public in Lockdown and onwards
The Queen – Professor Neil Ferguson
One day in early March 2020 Alice was sitting on a bench in St. James Park when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat–pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well. Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. And then suddenly Alice landed with a great bump. Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was all dark overhead; before her was another long passage, and the White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it. There was not a moment to be lost: away went Alice like the wind, and was just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner, `Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!’ She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof.
There were doors all-round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again. She was in lockdown.
After much puzzling about her strange situation, consulting WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and even the BBC, she found she was allowed out for shorts walks and to find something to eat. After wandering around outside for a while she came across a most peculiar cat. It was indeed the Cheshire cat when she was a little startled by seeing it sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off.
The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.
`Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. `What sort of people live about here?’
`In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’
`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Alice decided she’d had enough of the Cheshire Cat’s clever clogs comments and suddenly remembered she was hungry, so she set off to find some tea. After walking a bit further she saw a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’
Alice found a chair and sat down. `Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all-round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.
`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.
`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.
`Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
`You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; `it’s very rude.’
Everyone fell silent. The Hatter was the first to break the silence. `What day of the month is it?’ he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.
Alice considered a little, and then said `The fourth.’
`Two days wrong!’ sighed the Hatter. `I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!’ he added looking angrily at the March Hare.
`It was the best butter,’ the March Hare meekly replied.
`Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,’ the Hatter grumbled: `you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.’
The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, `It was the best butter, you know.’
Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. `What a funny watch!’ she remarked. `It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’ The March Hare replied, somewhat testily, “and I found it very useful in Durham”.
The Dormouse is asleep again,’ said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.
The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. `I wasn’t asleep,’ he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: `I heard every word you fellows were saying.’
`Tell us a story!’ said the March Hare.
`Yes, please do!’ pleaded Alice.
`And be quick about it,’ added the Hatter, `or you’ll be asleep again before it’s done.’
`Once upon a time there were three members of my family,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; `and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived in a small flat–‘
`What did they live on?’ said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.
`They lived on pasta and loo rolls there after the Mad Hatter sent everyone into a panic about Coronavirus,’ said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.
`They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice gently remarked; `they’d have been ill.’
`So they were,’ said the Dormouse; `very ill.’
Alice took pity on the dormouse but decided there was nothing further she could do to help him as the poor creature was too much under the influence of the Mad Hatter and his assistant, the March Hare.
Time to move on said Alice to herself. After walking for several miles in the unexpectedly glorious Spring sunshine she came across the Queen’s Croquet Lawn and garden, or Imperial College as it is known to some. A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. Alice thought this a very curious thing, and she went nearer to watch them. `The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen. A procession of very learned looking courtiers was dutifully following along behind her.
When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said severely `Who is this?’ She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply.
`Idiot!’ said the Queen, tossing her head impatiently; and, turning to Alice, she went on, `What’s your name, child?’
`My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,’ said Alice very politely; but she added, to herself, `Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’
`And who are these?’ said the Queen, pointing to the three gardeners who were lying round the rose tree; for, you see, as they were lying on their faces, and the pattern on their backs was the same as the rest of the pack, she could not tell whether they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her own children.
`How should I know?’ said Alice, surprised at her own courage. `It’s no business of mine.’
The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed `Off with her head! Off–‘
`Nonsense!’ said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent. But not for long. For the Queen had decided that the Mad Hatter and the March Hare were not doing enough to prevent a terrible disease, called Corona virus, from spreading all over the garden and into the land beyond. There was only one thing for it and that was to demand the jury, also known as the Cabinet, to hear the evidence for lockdown.
Herald, read the accusation!’ said the Queen.
On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:–
The Queen of Imperial College hereby accuses the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse of refusing to take her modelling seriously and as result they both may be sentenced to death.
`Consider your verdict,’ the Queen said to the jury.
`Not yet, not yet!’ the Rabbit hastily interrupted. `There’s a great deal to come before that!’
`Call the first witness,’ said the Queen; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and called out, `First witness!’
The first witness was the Hatter. He came in with a teacup in one hand and a piece of bread-and-butter in the other. `I beg pardon, your Majesty,’ he began, `for bringing these in: but I hadn’t quite finished my tea when I was sent for.’ ( nota bene the Hatter was becoming rather obese but that is a story for another day).
`You ought to have finished,’ said the Queen. `When did you begin?’
The Hatter looked at the March Hare, who had followed him into the court, arm-in-arm with the Dormouse. `Fourteenth of March, I think it was,’ he said.
`Fifteenth,’ said the March Hare.
`Sixteenth,’ added the Dormouse.
`Write that down,’ the Queen said to the jury, and the jury eagerly wrote down all three dates on their notepads, and then added them up, and reduced the answer to an inexplicable formula.
It was quite obvious to Alice that the Queen had won the day and so the great lockdown spread through the Domain and for months and months the Queen spurred on the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit to issue curiouser and curiouser rules and regulations to Alice and the Dormouse about how to live their lives.
Alice began to wonder if she had only fallen asleep on that St. James Park bench and had a very bad dream but the long grass rustled at her feet as the White Rabbit hurried by–the frightened Mouse splashed his way through the neighbouring pool–she could hear the rattle of the teacups as the March Hare and his friends shared their never-ending meal, £10 off every Monday through Wednesday in August. Maybe she had just gone mad.
The City Grump has spent some 40 years in the City of London. He started as a stockbroker’s analyst but after some years he decided he was too grumpy to continue with the sell side of things so he moved to the buy side and became a fund manager for the next 20 years, selling his own business in the 1990s. Post the millennium, he found himself in turn chairing a stockbroker, a financial PR company, and an Exchange. He still keeps his hand in, chairing a brace of VCTs and investing personally in startups. The City Grump’s publications are available here.