Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Avoncroft …The Sequel - 28th to 31st August 2009



Friday: We were met by Preacher who sort of guided us to our spot by running ahead like one of those pheasants that get onto a road, see an oncoming car and try to out run it instead of scurrying back into the hedgerow! As we neared our spot a family of moorhens just ahead of Preacher had more sense and headed for the little pond full of yellow water lilies. We had arrived just in time to see some dark clouds heading for us. We had to make a decision as to whether to wait it out or set up in the hope that it would not last. Did we feel Lucky? Laz had no waterproof and I soon found that my waterproof jacket was not as waterproof as it should be, perhaps I should have sprayed it! Still, I didn’t get that wet and we soon had lodgings sent up.

We were camped with the Folks of Laredo who had set up their tents in a homesteader sort of style. Oddly enough, although we have known Mark, Jolene and many of the others for some years now this was the first time that we had actually done a re-enactment with them.

Saturday: I’d had something of a rough night, having spent most of it with my guts in spasms for some odd reason. The toilets were not only some distance away but the only way to them, as far as I could make out, was over a gate. I had no idea where the unlocked gate was and the thought of me spending the night dangling and undignified from railings was not very encouraging.

After breakfast I set up ‘Grymm’s World of Wonders’, we had decided that the this was probably the best option for the day, I became my, somewhat itinerant twin, Ishmael, after whom the opening line of ‘Moby Dick’ is dedicated – apparently he got Mr Melville drunk…possibly. So after years of absence Ishmael ran the museum much as it had started, as a series of curios advertising ‘genuine’ mermaids etc.

It was all a bit of a tough call really; wasps meandered, bumped and investigated everything, my giblets were still gurgling (I believe that General Flashman VC etc etc suffered a similar situation prior to the Charge of the Light Brigade). I stoically continued with the show, divulging ancient knowledge while gritting my teeth. The highlight was the moment I took a sip of drink only to feel a wasp scrambling at my upper lip! I managed to spit the bug out before any damage was done but I wondered if it had got any venom in me as my lip tingled for the rest of the day. And so my talk came to an end, I thanked my excellent audience for their time, bowed, carefully, and as I removed my hat with one hand I deftly unravelled my sash with the other and wandered off…I may be gone some time.

The rest of the day went very well; I wandered about and watched Her Majesty taking a stroll and overseeing a croquet match. I then headed back to socialise with the Laredo folks. Kim, one of the volunteers was there and she was playing a school teacher, apparently she had upset a misbehaving young lad earlier in the day.

After dinner Tooms took up a loaf of bread and started to cut the crusts off…oh, dear cucumber OCD was setting in. I watched as the loaf was mutilated into a roughly square shape, the ‘cumber was biopsied and patted dry and the whole thing assembled and cut into unequal triangles…not a pretty site. This display of Victorian haute cuisine got virtually no points from anyone who saw it or was brave enough to try it.

We had, once again, committed ourselves to doing a magic lantern show. When we arrived Ceri was playing her violin beside the open fire, Staggers was manning the bar and folks, along with Willow the mastiff were just chilling out.

The show was held in the merchant’s house, in a little back room which was just big enough to set up and get more people in it than I had first thought. That we had glitches after such careful preparation is beyond me. If glitches are the norm using modern lighting it must have been a real treat a hundred years ago trying to dislodge a slide from the carrier while the room filled with toxic fumes from the burners and the audience sat there patiently praying that you got on with it before they died. We did manage to finish and, as the crowd departed, Morgan summed it up in true Victorian style, “That was rubbish and it cost me a shilling!

Sunday: I had decided that today would be living history, wandering about sort of thing and the curios would stay in the box. In the morning we went for a stroll and chatted with other re-enactors and exhibitors. We watched a group of ladies making lace, I have seen Mrs. Grymm make the stuff but she never used 50 odd spangley stick things at the same time!! As we chatted with these ladies I watched as the street urchins picked Tooms’s pocket, he stepped back onto one of them and apologised without spotting that he had been had.

As we headed for the windmill, Red Adam and Staggers turned up, they were dressed as Victorian gangsters; scarred, black toothed, cudgel wielding thugs with Willow as trimming; they were very impressive. For me windmills are evocative of Boris Karloff, torches, pitchforks and…oh, I know…Dr Fronkansteen.

Jolene and Joy had worked incredibly hard and brought together a fine collection of clothing for a display. In addition to this Joy had also set up an amazing flower display in the church, there were bunches of flowers for every occasion, from betrothals to betrayals, with plants to suit. The language of flowers is a most interesting one.

We also got to listen to the chimney sweep, Chris and his son Rob, who gave excellent demonstrations with tales of the horrid life that these unfortunate kids led. For Chris the site was perfect, he got to do his bit next to a most impressive set of Victorian chimneys complete with bullet dents where the master sweep had fired his pistol to ‘encourage’ the child sweep to come back down.

Finally the moment came when Her Majesty went for a walk. Emperor Norton I, (Laz Tooms) of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico made an appearance. As his representative it was my job to get him to see the Queen, of course I had to run the gauntlet that was Mr John Brown (Bryn). Still once I had crossed his palms with a few high denomination, but perfectly useless, Norton I notes I managed to get the two together. Her Majesty was not amused when she was presented with a proposal of marriage by the Emperor but he did get to pose for a photo with her. Joshua Norton really did write letters of proposal to Queen Victoria (Mattie) and to the Queen of the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, in case his London love turned him down. When I wrote an article about Norton a few years ago it was because I had heard his title mentioned in an episode of CSI Las Vegas, without knowing I had started that article on the anniversary of Norton’s death and now, finally, in a strange sort of way I had got him to meet Queen Victoria.

While croquet play was stopped by rain, the tea party with copious amounts of sugary things carried in the cock fighting room. No blood, feathers and flying giblets this time, but a collection of very nice dresses and Her Majesty’s lady in waiting (Alice) passing cups of tea and plates of cakes.

After the tea party we returned to the croquet field to have a couple of games. This is such a great game, I have only played it once before and, like your granny’s chicken soup, seems to have several variations. As we played, a family watched and then the father asked if they could take part in such a fine sport. So we had a couple of games with them and since they were such nice folks, I invited them back to a special showing of the museum. Out came the box…ditch the dozy wasp…and out came the Mermaid, Charlie & Co. My fine Pterodactylus kochii specimen had, at some point, become a double act, having split across the model but, the show must go on. When I finished the father did something unusual, by way of thanks for my time he offered me a rather decent tip which I declined politely, explaining that it is against our rules. As I often say – there is always someone worth doing a last show for.

The rest of the evening was spent by the fire and while I was quizzed relentlessly by the knowledge seeking Harry and Morgan, Jolene pottered about and, occasionally, spontaneously combusted as sparks landed on her dress. We finished off the evening by toasting marshmallows. Having had a deprived childhood (violins…) I never got a chance to do this so Morgan explained the art and science of impaling squashy sugary lumps and shoving them into a fire. The trick is to keep them in just long enough not to become coal!

Monday: We packed early and said goodbye to our hosts, what a great weekend it had been. We met Kim who may, or may not, have thought that the glitches in the picture show were carefully rehearsed parts of the act…if only!

This is Prof Grymm keeping a weather eye open for wasps in my beer!