Alice should be careful what she says in the odd world of Bertieland

ALICE had been invited to play croquet with the Duchess. The King and Queen of Hearts would be coming and Alice was so looking forward to it.

A lot of strange things had happened to Alice since she had followed the White Rabbit into Bertieland. She had met all sorts of odd people, especially when she went to the big tent at the races. Albert the Cheshire Cat was there, always grinning and saying 'howya'. There was Charlie the Mock Turtle, telling everyone they could 'feck off if they wanted any money'. The Walrus and the Carpenter, John from Kerry and Jim from Donegal, had made a lugubrious couple.

But it would be exciting to meet the King and Queen of Hearts. To be sure, nobody was sure any more who the Queen was, but the Duchess had been very certain that everything would be all right. Duchess Mary was always certain of everything, of course, talking so fast about enterprise and competitiveness that Alice always had difficulty keeping up with her. But Alice thought that even though most of what she had to say sounded like jabberwocky, the Duchess was always so sincere she must be speaking the truth.

It was while on her way to Farmleigh, where the croquet would be played, that she came to the gate lodge where the March Hare lived. She knew it must be his house, because the chimneys were shaped like ears and the roof was thatched with fur.

The March Hare and his friend the Mad Hatter were having tea at a table on the lawn: 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 loudly at each other over its head. "Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse," thought Alice; "only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind."

"I'm in charge of justice," the Hatter was shouting, "and that's more important than health." The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: "No room!" they cried out when they saw Alice coming. "There's plenty of room!" said Alice, indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table.

"What's your name?" asked Alice of the Hatter.

"I'm Michael," said the March Hare. "I'm Michael, too," said the Hatter, jumping up and down to demand Alice's attention. He did that a lot, Alice noted. "And I'm Michael too," said the Dormouse.

"It must be confusing," said Alice, "when you all have the same name."

"But I have a much more important job than the others," said the Hatter, "don't you agree?" And he looked at her with his little glittering eyes. Alice thought she had better humour him, as he seemed to be more than a little mad.

"What do you do?" asked Alice.

"It's a riddle," said the Hatter. "If the police don't behave, I threaten to reform them. If the criminals are especially bold, I threaten to clamp down on them. If the refugees are really frightened, I threaten to send them all home. I talk a lot and everybody thinks I'm doing something. I love to talk, especially about clamping down."

"Talk, talk, talk," said the Dormouse, in a really sleepy voice. "That's all you do."

"Shut up, shut up!" shouted the Hatter and the March Hare.

"Don't be so rude to the poor Dormouse," said Alice severely. "He must do something important. And you shouldn't be always sitting on him like that."

"Don't mind him," said the March Hare. "He's been around forever and all he ever does is talk nonsense when we tell him to."

"But he must do more than that," said Alice.

"Oh, he pretends to," Michael the Mad Hatter said. "One day he's buying a government jet, the next day he isn't. He says he's in charge of defence, but really he's just there when the rest of us don't want to talk to the awful media people. We push him out into the courtyard and he says the first thing that comes into his head. And then he goes straight back to sleep he spends most of his life asleep, when he's not talking rubbish."

Michael the Dormouse gave a loud snore. "You see?" said the March Hare. "And he calls himself a Minister! I think we should get much more tea and biscuits than him, because we're much more important."

"What do you do?" asked Alice.

"I'm in charge of the queues," said Michael the March Hare. "You can see them outside all the hospitals. I used to be in charge of the queues at the schools, but the hospital queues are much longer. I'm going to have the longest queues anywhere."

"That seems like a silly job," Alice said. "Surely the people don't want to be in queues outside hospitals?"

The Hatter and the Hare got so angry even Michael the Dormouse stirred a bit that Alice immediately realised she had said the wrong thing.

"Want?" shrieked the March Hare.

"Off with her head!" shouted the Hatter.

"I'm sorry," said Alice. "I didn't mean to upset you. I'm not sure what I said wrong."

"You don't understand, you silly girl," Michael the Hatter said. "This is Bertieland everything is back to front here. We only give the people what they want before an election. After an election we give the people what we want. The people think I want to protect them from one-party government, because I told them so. But really I'm so clever I could be a one-person government. I let the Duchess and the King of Hearts pretend they're in charge, but everyone else knows I'm the brightest."

"You might be bright," said the March Hare (Alice had noticed that it never took these two long to start fighting with each other, even when they seemed to agree), "but you're not very big. When I get rid of the king, I'm going to be the leader of the biggest group. You'll all have to dance when I say so."

As they continued to argue loudly, Alice noticed that the Dormouse had extricated itself from between the two Michaels and was sneaking away to the big house. She followed him away from the table.

"Where are you off to?" she whispered.

"I'm going to tell the King," Michael the Dormouse said. "We can't let the March Hare or the Mad Hatter take over this tea-party. One goes round in circles all the time and the other one talks about nothing but himself. I might be old and a bit useless, but at least I can make sure the King knows when they're plotting."

"And what will the King do?" Alice wanted to know.

"Do you remember the Cheshire Cat?" asked the Dormouse. "Do you remember the way he disappeared until there was nothing left except his grin? Well, he was the last one the King was cross with. And that was the end of the Cheshire Cat. If I was the Hatter or the March Hare, I'd watch out." (apologies to Lewis Carroll)

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