We know that Lewis Carroll had Alice follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole. I remember Neo being instructed to follow the White Rabbit in The Matrix, where it appeared as a tattoo on someone’s arm*. I’ve previously written posts titled “Chasing Gooses” which carried the same essence; that is, a few similarly themed things (or coincidences; also known as glitches in the Matrix) that caught my attention.
*In addition to this, the DVD for The Matrix has a feature whereby you can follow the white rabbit.
Whilst on my travels – cycling to Scotland from Wales via England – I reached Ullapool to catch the ferry to the Isle of Lewis. Since I had time to spare before the next ferry, and because I was in need of a book to read since I had finished reading the fitting novel that is Around the World in 80 Days* which I had elected to take with me (because it didn’t weigh 1KG like all the other books on my reading pile), I had been in search of a book shop, or second hand/charity shop from which I could purchase a new read.
*I’d started reading Jules Verne’s novel as part of World Book Night – 23rd April.
I discovered ‘The White Rabbit – Antiques and Collectables’ shop [link below] and in the windows I could see a few small stacks of old books. I ventured inside the bustling shop; squeezing in past other people coming out and moving with the gentle flow of traffic as we meandered round tables of wonderment. If you love old things then you would love this shop; everything had a sense of having being careful chosen and was awaiting its new owner to snap it up and take it home; had I not being travelling by bike I would have bought so much more than a single book – there was a large framed painting/print or two that caught my eye and I thought how they would look on my living-room wall, which is currently bare and awaiting such an adornment.
The book that caught my attention was one that had caught it previously, at a carboot last year, but I let the opportunity pass by – I’d returned home and searched online to try and understand what it was about. I’m still not sure! But on this occasion, and having the prospect of sitting on a ferry (or two, or three, or four – because that’s how many I caught in the end) without anything to do other than eat and write up my travel diary, I decided to buy it.
It’s titled ‘English Men of Letters’ which caught my imagination originally by painting a picture of these gentlemen from a bygone age writing letters to each other. It’s also titled ‘Charles Lamb’ but I didn’t know who he was.
Since my first encounter with this book last year, and just prior to my cycle tour to Scotland this year, I had reached a section in Volume Three of The Children’s Encyclopedia by Arthur Mee about William Wordsworth and someone called Coleridge (the section, from page 2469-2474, is called ‘Wordsworth and his Friends’); I’m not very clued up on such things, I only know of Wordsworth from my high school English lessons where we had to decipher such poems that began with “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” Having now returned from my trip and being half-way through this book, which turns out to be a biography of Charles Lamb, I turned back to that section in my old encyclopedia to see if Charles Lamb had been mentioned; and indeed he had.
The section had intrigued me for its mention of how the circle of friends had “dreamed dreams of how to make the earth a paradise. Their plan was to emigrate to America and form a Socialistic settlement there…” Their dream never materialised. In fact, I’m currently reading Thor Heyerdahl’s autobiography and in it, following his trip in search of paradise, he concluded (p.75) that “admission into paradise cannot be bought. Those who have found paradise have found it within themselves for free… paradise and hell do not have separate locations on this planet*. They are always in the same place, and one cannot simply avoid one by moving away.”
*I think there are some hellish places on this planet that could never be considered paradise, but the point of moving away in search of paradise is what intrigues me; you may find paradise by moving away, but it’s not necessarily the place that you move to in which you find it, just that the journey enables you to find it within yourself.
The trail, as I continue to follow this White Rabbit (or my ‘aku-aku’ as Heyerdahl has), who by the way, rarely runs in a straight line through either space or time*, leads me on to Shakespeare. ‘Shakespeare’ had been cropping up a few times in my life recently, once when I had visitors of a religious nature who noticed a collection of old books I had and enquired if they the works of Shakespeare; they weren’t, in fact they are the works of Dickens, but I have since become aware of religious links in Shakespeare’s works and his characters, and I’m keen to discover more. It turns out that Charles Lamb and his sister Mary co-authored a book of Shakespeare’s works aimed at children. My experience of old books written for children (The Children’s Encyclopedia being a good example) is that for us modern older folk, they can be a insightful read which come across as being for very smart children! I think the Lamb’s work will be a good starting point.
*Heyerdahl noted, regarding his aku-aku (p.148), that to it “time does not exist”.
As for the rest of my trip, the White Rabbit, my aku-aku, or whatever you want to call it, was rarely far away; if I was lost he would guide me, and if I was trying to head in one direction but he knew better, he would guide me his way. As for choosing which cafés to eat at, and which camp sites to stay at, he helped me out there too; I’ll write more on those later, I’m sure.