Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Benwick Dickensian Market 19th November



Friday: We got to Mike & Elaine’s at Benwick on Friday afternoon only to find that no one was in apart from Stella looking after the house, and she did not know me from Adam! I suspect that had it not been for the dogs recognising me we would have been told to take our curios elsewhere.

Rumour had it that Mike was going to cook pigs trotters but when we arrived Mike was still in Kettering and I was faced with six frozen trotters which I was rather curious about and wondered if there was some new Fenland insectoid pig around…just one of many bizarre thoughts for the weekend. The stew I made was loosely based on a Spanish recipe which also included chorizo and black pudding. I also added a couple of pigs ears, chopped small, these I have also eaten in Spain but they need a bit longer to cook than the trotters and were not as popular as the rest of the stew.

Saturday: We awoke to an incredibly foggy morning; it was the sort of morning when Feral Nuns are returning to their dens after a night of foraging and feasting on lost visitors to Fenland. After helping Mike dispose of a small mountain of horse poo we got ourselves sorted out and headed into town, actually our show place was a couple of hundred yards up the road.

We arrived at ‘The Five Alls’ where we were met by Becky and ‘Lofty’, who now run the pub and had very kindly provided us with a back room to hold our display. This was a perfect location for us with lots of light and a very nice sideboard which I quickly turned into an exhibit. It was ideal for displaying the platypus, mermaid and furry trout.

While we waited for the kick off at 11:00, Mike and I discussed the virtues of The Ancient Order of Fenland Goat Tossers and the correct way in which a goat is scooped up in a sort of half crouch and then tossed into the air. I could only compare this to Nepalese Yak Twirling in which a charging bull yak is gripped firmly by the horns and then twirled aside thus avoiding disembowelment. Mike is also an expert on the legends of Fenland Feral Nuns as well as the rather odd behaviour of badgers that have evolved to run across roads on their hind legs and are often mistaken for Feral Nuns. Mike told this tale to some American friends and no doubt somewhere out there in Dingus, Kentucky strange tales of Fenland are still told…anyway back to reality.

By the time we started the show, the fog had burned off and we had glorious winter sunshine for the rest of the day. We had a great turn out of visitors who not only had to get past the bar to see us but were keen and eager listeners. When I asked a lady if there was anything she wanted to know about, she told me that she was pretty familiar with a lot of the natural history specimens and that her husband had been a Graptolite expert. Lucky I know what a Graptolite is, or rather was, what I did not know about these odd fossils is that they are often found in oil bearing shales.

We took a break at 2pm to watch The Mid-Winter Mummers do their St George show in which Mike plays the Hero. Having seen this act in a crowded pub on several occasions at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, I am amazed that when all the sword waving is done everyone present has a full set of extremities!

As you know I love to chat about the fakes and hoaxes of the Victorian period but there is a darker, sinister side that I also cover; the extinctions through hunting and the disastrous introduction of alien species, the pollution of waterways that would turn rivers like the Thames into open sewers and the theft of lands leaving native peoples dispossessed and relocated. It was this subject that got Maureen James shanghaied into writing a piece for Smallholder Magazine about the environmental impact of the 19thC. Smallholder Magazine is one of the last places I would expect us to feature…but then I have no idea where all those other photos that folks take end up, which is probably just as well!

Later we met David and Heather who, it must be said, are also champions of keeping eccentricity alive. Heather is into Steampunk and was dressed in an amazing, mostly purple number while David, who grows Brugmansias, also made the little watch wheel brooch that Heather was wearing. We got on so well with them that Mike invited them around for dinner after the show. The thing about Steampunk is that while many folks are not quite sure what it is, almost everyone has had some contact with it through film and novels; it is the alternate Victorian/Edwardian world where time and space travel (H G Wells), Dinosaurs (Conan Doyle) and nuclear super submarines (Jules Verne) are spliced into the everyday world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Mid-Winter Mummers put on another show around 5pm and once that was done we stared packing up. It had been a very successful day for all concerned. And so we exited to a little round of applause from the patrons of ‘The Five Alls’.

I would just like to thank all the staff at ‘The Five Alls’ for their help and hospitality and also Mike, Elaine, Katie and Stephen for a jolly good weekend!!

This is Prof Grymm…wondering what have the Victorians ever done for us?!?