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
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
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
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?!?