Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Detling Military Odyssey - 25th to 27th August 2007
 

 

 

Friday: We arrived Friday and once we were set up took a promenade around the sutlers. Tooms and I found a dealer of antiques who showed us many wonderful little items and explored a box of Victorian pennies. It was amazing going through those coins, some of them smoothed to mere negatives, and noting the dates - 1863: Gen. R E Lee claims it’s all his fault as the tide rushes to Cemetary Ridge, ‘76: Custer makes a tactical error at the Greasy Grass, ’79: Chelmsford makes a tactical error at Isandlwana and Michael Caine & Stanley Baker get a VC’s at Rorke’s Drift. ’88: several unfortunate women are butchered in Whitechapel, 1901: the Great Lady crosses the Styx. We were thoroughly engrossed, except Cassandra, who having more sense, wandered off and left us to it.

Saturday started foggy and then warmed up to a glorious morning. We were, of course, woken up by a bugle – I never could abide that sort of enthusiasm. Amongst our first visitors were a couple of girls who were also in possession of a programme, since we could not remember when our talks were supposed to be I had a look at their copy. I was in for a surprise, for there under Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum was a detailed description of our actions with 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment in WW2, our training for ‘Operation Thursday’ and the 2nd Chindit Expedition. It seems that we were also “...valuable translators and guides.” Once again, our fame is far reaching: At Kelmarsh we were missionaries for Her Majesty spreading the word of Grymm & Tooms in Africa and now we have mules trekking our way through S E Asia to boldly go where no GrymmTooms has gone before! I wonder if that mule from Kelmarsh had anything to do with this...

I was having a chat with a couple of the hoplites during a break when one of their crew, Elaine, ran up waving a camera, “this is too good to miss it’s like something from the Land that Time Forgot” she said taking a couple of snaps. As we walked off it was pointed out to me that in the background was the ‘gents’, Prof. Grymm, it seems had been stitched up good n proper! The moral of this tale is: Do not talk to men in dresses before checking your surroundings and do not trust Greeks bearing cameras!!

As visitors went it was an odd day, we hardly saw anyone. Perhaps they were all catching up on missed BBQ’s, at one point it looked as though the same 40-50 people were going around in circles. We were in the barn with a water supply and several times I saw visitors filling their water bottles from the tap, I’d like to know just how much of the stuff they could stomach as I found it quite unpalatable and it made a lousy cup of tea.

It was finally time to pack up and in that great tradition of packing up I had a couple of visitors. I had not seen anyone for nearly an hour and this mother and daughter were so interested that I unpacked some of my things again. I showed them my new Surinam toad exhibit and the girl asked me if it was in formaldehyde. I could not lie to a child who knows about such things and told her that it was a model in water. It had taken me ages to make as the material I used for that ‘preserved critter texture’ is so soft and sticky prior to baking that I had to keep putting the thing in the freezer every ten minutes!

Once again we were La Columna’s neighbours and they very kindly invited us over to dinner. We were served loads of yummy ham and vegetable soup that had been cooked in something the size of a small bath tub. After a couple of helpings of Digger’s soup and Rob’s freshly baked bread cooked in the embers, we celebrated Bryony’s birthday and then a flagon went around that was mostly rum with coffee in it, it was simply referred to as coffee as it moseyed around the group throughout the evening. It was potent stuff, especially when it was backed by a couple of cups of red wine and a beer or two. In the synchronous way of re-enactment we realised that we knew at least two of their members from ACWS and Soskan. Many thanks to Jan, Digger, Rob and the rest of the La Columna crew for their hospitality and a wonderful evening.

Sunday: I was hoping for a lie in on Sunday, but just as I was in that half sleep state grateful that the bugler probably had a hangover, when there was a blast of air horn from a passing juggernaut! There really is no peace for the wicked! Passing Laz’s tent on the way to the toilet, my “’mornin’” got a kind of growl that contained some discomfort, I remembered that he had drunk a considerable amount of ‘coffee’ last night and was still at it when I headed for home.

Some time after emerging Laz stood in a bleary eyed sort of way and said “At least his nose wasn’t broken” he had drunk more than he should have and was now quite delirious. After some haggling I managed to get out of him that Digger had fallen into his tent and banged his face. Thankfully he was OK and sporting a duelling scar across his nose, actually he was so OK that, despite his coffee consumption and accident, he had sprung out of his tent as sprightly as a whippet!

We were pretty busy this morning and had plenty of curious people eager for knowledge. A common question is “Did people really believe these things were real?” this is referring to the fakes. I think it all depended on one’s social status, gullibility and education. Bear in mind that all these cross social boundaries, after all Barnum’s ‘Feegee Mermaid’ had originally been acquired by a Captain with a serious gullibility issue! One visitor came up with: “So you are a con man selling...”
“No we are a museum”
“So did people believe you when you sold...?”
“No we are a museum and the fakes are just that for historical purposes.”
“So when you travelled around selling...” maintaining my scientific reserve I screamed very loudly and ran around the padded cell I keep in my head for such occasions. I was in serious need of a lie down and a large gin and tonic!

My sanity was restored by a wonderful girl who recognised the Surinam toad, and even called it by its scientific name Pipa. Then she spotted the great auk photo and knew what it was too, I was so thoroughly impressed I asked if she wanted to do my talk! I then chatted to a gentleman who looked remarkably like the explorer Percy Fawcett. I also chatted to a German soldier about the museum; it took me a while to work out his uniform, black with silver death’s heads on the collar and yellow piping. “You’re in tanks, aren’t you?” “Yes, reconnaissance, not the ‘other guys’” he told me, the uniform was based on a hussar regiment who wore black and had a death’s head on the head gear.

We took a bit of time out and went for a walk, which sort of stopped at the Hoplites, not exactly a long walk since we were virtually neighbours! We watched one of their Scythian allies weaving a braid. How anyone came up with doing that to wool is beyond me, it looked decidedly mathematical – several small squares with holes in for the wool to go through are turned to achieve the pattern and that, I am afraid is as technical as I can make it. I was also lucky to find a replica Fijian war club amongst some African tourist type stuff, lucky I recognised the ‘rifle stock’ shape of these lethal weapons. I have yet to find something suitable from Africa for the collection...or Burma...

I found a nice scrap of fur for the non-descript. I have wanted to give it a ‘face lift’ for a couple of seasons but been unable to find a bit of fur that matches the original at Walton Hall. In our wanderings we also found a non-flying full size model of a Neuport and a Sopwith Camel, while chatting with the owner I was offered a DR1 for £7000. The oddest sight was a WWI German in picklehaube and blue and white stripped bathing suit...very surreal.

As we returned to the museum I stopped and chatted with the Flint Knapper, I tend to called him Otzi after the famous iceman that he portrayed several years ago. He donated a couple of very nice ovate hand axes that he had made – “I’m sure you’ll think of a story to go with them” It did not take me long to remember something interesting about flint knapping...but that is another story.

For some strange reason Military Odyssey put it in our contract that we were to do a magic lantern show, odd really as this is an invite only show. We had a good turn out: the Greeks sat in the front to harass and harangue, Mark from last year and Otzi brought their families along. Before starting I announced that the rumours spread by the Greeks were untrue and that my constituency and missus would stand by me – that, hopefully, is as close to politics as I shall ever get! Considering that we had not done a show for almost a year we did very well, even if I say so myself. But I think that the honours go to Dr Lazarus Tooms for his amazing recital of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’.

Monday was another strange day with few people visiting us; perhaps folks were simply wandering off puzzled by the fact that we had neither Bren guns nor mules. These lulls at least allowed us to chat with other re-enactors and do a bit of shopping. We also got wind of something interesting going on at the Hoplites so we ambled over around 3pm to watch. After the talk on hoplite war fare Ash came forward and told a fascinating tale about his shield which bears an image of the centaur Chiron. Once his Homeric tale was finished he went on bended knee and proposed to Pat. She accepted and the crowd cheered!

It was soon time for the parade so we got ourselves packed and sorted before setting off. As we waited a picture was taken of me in full Prof Regalia outside a Portaloo...but that too is another story, to be revealed in the next episode of Grymm Tooms Adventures. A kid told me that the cubicle was occupied so I told him that I was not going in but putting together a Guide to Portaloos of the World.

This is Prof Grymm wishing Bryony many happy returns and congratulations to Ash & Pat.