A Perfect Time for Alice

Well, what an interesting year this has turned out to be.... although by "interesting", I actually mean "unforeseeably crazy".  Maybe that's why "Alice" came to the fore?  Perhaps we have all fallen down a rabbithole...

Alice in Wonderland




Lewis Carroll was not the first to notice the craziness of hatters - apparently the phrase "mad as a hatter" was first used about one Robert Crab, an   eccentric Englishman who, in the 1650s, gave all his goods to the poor and lived on dock leaves and grass.

By the time Alice was written, the prevalence of erratic, flamboyant behaviour (along with less picturesque problems such as drooling, loss of teeth, and peeling skin) among those making felt hats was widely noted. It took longer for the cause to be discovered: the widespread use of mercury in the felting process.

A story passed down in the hat industry gives this account of how such a toxic substance came to be used: In Turkey camel hair was used for felt material, and it was discovered that the felting process was speeded up if the fibers were moistened with camel urine. It is said that in France workmen used their own urine, but one particular workman seemed consistently to produce a superior felt. This person was being treated for syphalis with a mercury compound, and an association was made between mercury treatment of the fibers and an improved felt. Eventually the use of solutions of mercuric nitratewas widespread in the felt industry, and mercury poisoning became endemic.

Fortunately, the Bizarrium's Hatter has only developed pink eyes and a pale complexion and is still quite a handsome chap.


Meanwhile, the March Hare and his Dormouse pal are just waiting for their tea....