Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Gruesome History Weekend, Avoncroft 8 & 9 August 2009



Friday: Once again the Eldritch Beings who control traffic turned a simple straightforward journey into a convoluted epic. We arrived at Avoncroft Museum at 6:00pm and when we introduced ourselves we realised that nobody there knew who we were. After a few minutes of debate we were told that we could camp on the picnic green. The first thing that we saw on the green was a couple of lads arriving on bikes and we realised that this spot had public access so back we went.

The thought of leaving our belongings unattended and accessible to the public at all hours of the day and night was not on our agenda. Laz’s suggestion was that we could go to a B & B, tempting but why should we have to find alternative lodgings when there should have been a spot ready for us on site?

After further haggling we set up in the orchard. Time was getting on and we still needed to set up our tents and cook. We had never had such disinterest from our hosts or had to haggle for a camp space - if it had not taken us so long to get here we would have turned around and gone home.

Finally we could sit down, chill out and eat. There was not a soul in sight; we had for the 2nd time become Billy No Mates. Still it was a nice evening, I watched an emperor dragonfly hawking for bugs not far off and a painted lady grabbed what it could of the last sunshine.

While I was talking Laz suddenly started to laugh. Thinking that the day had finally got the better of him I asked what was so funny. He told me; I had been talking about the nesting habits of birds and without even realising what I was saying I was basically doing theBirds & Their Nests talk without the benefit of slides or an audience…I needed more gin in that tonic I reckon!

The Director had mentioned that we were near the road and that the only thing that was likely to disturb us was a family of foxes that passed through – if only that had been true! As I lay in the tent all I could hear was the constant roar of traffic and when I did finally hear fox it was miles away. I don’t usually take much notice of noise; you sort of get used to loud people outside your tent and block them out but again because I did not feel that the site was 100% I slept badly so was always aware of any sounds.

Saturday, 8th: We woke up to a beautiful morning and after breakfast we set about sorting ourselves out, virtually everything was still in the car but we got there in the end. One of my first observations was of a small species of mayfly sunning itself on the damp tent canvas, “Oh god, David Attenborough has woken up!” grumbled ‘Not at One With Wild Things’ Tooms. We were, to my knowledge, to be set up in the Showman’s Carriage but there was some uncertainty about this so ‘World of Wonders’ and ‘Medical Marvels’ were set up in a corner of the shed where I utilised the fireman’s ladder for some of my things, including almost denting my skull on it a couple of times…

About an hour after we opened, Preacher turned up…and he was not a happy man. Having invited us to Avoncroft with our collection being shown off in the carriage the whole thing had gone parson’s nose up like a drunken mallard! Gradually the balance was restored, Preacher got my collection into the carriage and…at last …I was impressed; this is a truly beautiful bit of kit and at £1,000 in 1910 it is up there with all decadent yummy things.

As the day progressed, we met lots of interesting individuals, although we were never swamped, which is really good as you can get right into enjoying a one to one with your visitors. Cassandra could not make this event, but she was there in, not so much spirit as gall stone! Yes folks she really had grown a stone the size of a hedge sparrow’s egg for your amusement...well perhaps not…but it is impressive, we even met a lovely family who are prone to the things.

At some point Preacher turned up with a plate full of freshly made pancakes with syrup to top them off – delicious! He did have a bone to pick with me though – on 4th July we had been invited to Laredo and he had done a stint as the Elephant Man and thought that I had made the comment of “Oh, he’ll just put a bag over his head!” Actually it was Dr Tooms who said that and Preacher had done a remarkable job as Joseph Merrick, considering that he is about as tall as I am he shrank almost a foot (about 30cm in new money!) and had almost given himself some serious back trouble in his performance. Bags and head were to feature rather prominently throughout the day.

One thing of note at this museum is the exhibit on brick making, not my idea of entertainment at best but my good friend Mad Mike the Viking (previously mentioned in these chronicles) can spot a vintage brick a mile away. I am not entirely sure how to view that ‘gift’ but I always reserve an open mind and am willing to be impressed.

During a lull in the afternoon, I was in the carriage talking to Preacher when a lady turned up and stood outside, we invited her in and told her she could look around, “I know”, she said, “I grew up in this carriage!” This was Mrs. Loverage checking up on what was, effectively her property. She told us about the history of the carriage and her family. We thought it was a real honour to see her but I am not really sure what she made of her ancestor’s home being adorned with my curios.

We have known Preacher for some years now but, like most re-enactors, he has a secret identity – his real name and since he and Joy are volunteers at Avoncroft, I finally found out that he is called Michael. We had already been invited to stay with Joy and Preacher and once the museum was closed he helped me get the tents down and into the car. Due to the haphazardness of things the vehicle looked like a landfill site as I chucked things into the back.

While Joy prepared a huge evening meal, Laz and I sat with Preacher and realised that the three of us had rather more in common than we had first realised. Laz and Preacher are avid reproducers of paper stuff such as labels and documents while Preacher, like me, seems to be a collector of rather more things than he has time to prepare, including an impressive collection of fossils.

We ate a vast carnivorous feast el fresco in Joy’s beautiful garden and, like all good gatherings, the conversation soon went to bodily functions, I wonder if there is some mathematical equation that induces people to talk about bottom coughs during dinner.

Eventually we retired indoors for more socialising, as I got up to go to the toilet Preacher looked at me and said “Beware the candiru”. I stopped, pondering, now where had I heard that name before? Then I recalled the little vampire catfish that latches onto the gills of bigger fish and will swim up the slipstream of anyone peeing in the pool – ouch!

Sunday 9th: After a hearty breakfast we headed back for Avoncroft, we could get used to this sort of luxury. While I was getting myself into my Sunday best in the carriage there was a knock on the door. I thought that it was an over keen visitor but it was Rachel who had come in on her day off to see how we were doing. It is such a pity that this dedication had to be met with a complaint. Anyway things were sorted out and we had a good chat with Rachel before she headed home for a well earned rest.

During a lull in the visitors I went for a walk and ended up watching a cock fight…This was a little exhibit done by David and G talking about this barbaric sport and, with the aid of big wooden chickens, showed how a cock fight starts and ends. I’m sure that you could have dreams about being chased by wooded cockerels if you ate too much cheese before retiring.

Weekend quote: While talking to one young man about Ichthyosaurs I told him to look them up when he got home, his reply was “my computer is not working!” whatever happened to those biopsies of trees we call books!?

The prize for knowledge quest goes to a young lady who, when told that the ostrich egg is the largest in the world, said “but an elephant bird’s egg is bigger!” She was of course absolutely right, I was talking about living birds but she had a bigger plan on this which became evident a few minutes later. As she was leaving she turned and asked me how many hummingbird eggs you can get into an Aepyornis egg! Being somewhat numerically challenged I gave up!!

Despite the start to the event it had turned out well, the weather had been excellent and being in that elegant carriage had been a real treat. We would like to extend a special thanks to Joy and Michael for their hospitality and generosity – it seemed to me that every time they came by they brought food with them and I was, at one point, starting to feel like a cuckoo in a wren’s nest.

This is Prof. Grymm….well that went well.