Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Fleece inn, Bretforton, 29th September to 1st October 2006



Friday: This was a special invite from ‘The Dixie Volunteers’ and it was going to be a living history weekend for us – the public, should they turn up, were just extras. This was their first event as an independent group so Scooby was a bit apprehensive, as one would expect. We were camped in the orchard behind ‘The Fleece Inn’. There was a very good turn out and by early evening there was a very impressive street growing.

The scenario: 1862, outside Richmond, Virginia, and a bunch of civilians are caught up in the War Between the States. For my part, I was taking my collection of curios and natural history specimens to a meeting of the ‘Megatherium Club’, I failed to mention, in case they thought I was a spy, that the members of this obscure group were based in Washington!

Laz and I spent quite a bit of time around Mick & BJ’s rather amazing store and, as with many of these projects, it seems to have acquired a life of its own, possessing Mick and compelling him to add more and more things to it. During our socialising we failed to notice that the evening had drawn in and I ended up sorting out the food in the dark. The equinox is long since gone and it is now dark by about 19.30.

Saturday: For some odd reason the local cattle bellowed their hearts out continuously and this bovine serenade was to go on through the night. I once camped in a wood in North Wales where a single bull hollered like a beast deranged once it got dark – very creepy. “Cattle in the night, they mooed together, lowing ‘til first light...” eat your heart out Old Blue Eyes!

I put my specimens out around mid morning and had fun chatting with a few locals and visitors who turned, amongst them were Jackie and Monty and Jackie’s dad with whom I had a chat about all sorts of stuff.

Generally the weather was against me and I soon had to pack most of my stuff away. When the rain became a bit more persistent I gave up and popped into the ‘The Seedy Beaver’ to lose some money. This establishment had a selection of games on offer which included poker, keno (an early form of bingo) and the somewhat unfathomable game of Faro. Actually I did remarkably well at a dice game called ‘chuck-a-luck’, Dr. Tooms and I played with a tall gent with a scary eye while Boot was cashier.

Once I had fleeced the gent and left Laz somewhat needy for cash I left. The weather had cleared and the sun was shining so my museum came out again for about the third time today. I got a few groups of people but then the customer of the weekend turned up. It was obvious from the start that this cheeky character was going to be a challenge, he fired lots of questions trying to catch me out and I am proud to say that I was on form and he didn’t!

“Is that Barnum as played by Michael Crawford?” he asked. When I told him it was, there was a triumphant gleam in his eyes, “So you have heard of Michael Crawford then?”

Still in character, I replied; “Of course, he is the butcher down the road who looks just like Barnum”. I then showed him a convenient photo of Barnum, who, it must be said, looks nothing like Michael Crawford.

My sharp witted visitor then read my latest exhibit: an empty stand with a notice that tells the visitor that ‘this exhibit has been removed for cleaning’. He had a chuckle at that but then told me that in the future there will be a woman called Madame Tussauds and when you go to her museum you will see lots of these notices.

“I think,” I replied smugly, “That you will find that she has been dead for some time now!” (Madame Tussaud 1761 to 1850).

The Great Auk story was hard work, he kept laughing at it! “Hang on”, I cried, “This is a tragedy! It is like ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, it’s like the moment when Achilles ties Hector to his chariot! You’re supposed to dampen your sleeves with tears!” I really enjoyed this session and the banter got a good crowd.

Preacher had a surprise for the Colonel, and indeed everyone else, he brought along , a young lady who was going to play the violin for us (apologies in advance if I got fiddle and violin mixed up – I failed music!). She may be an experienced folk musician but I wonder if she has ever done a gig in a gambling den for a bunch of Confederates before. Her wonderful playing certainly added more atmosphere to our little camp.

Just as we were setting up our lantern there was a loud and passionate protest from the ladies outside ‘The Seedy Beaver’. Earlier they had descended on that den of inequity to drag their corrupted lads out into the night and now they stood there with placards hollering “Say no to sin!” - of course I heartily agreed and told Angela that our show was not only good clean fun and full of cocoa but was also sponsored by ‘The Ladies Temperance Movement’ – after all you’d never see a professor in such a place.

What with me making things up as I went – mostly inspired by the audience – and Dr Tooms dressed like some hybrid offspring of Ali Baba, several of the 40 thieves and Confucius (Smoking cap, black silk Chinese shirt and trousers, Persian slippers and a red silk Chinese robe) - the show was its usual mayhem. It is beyond me why ‘Birds and their Nests’ is so popular, I guess it just gives folks a chance to scramble the natural world a bit. When I got to one of the weaver bird slides someone shouted that the nest was a leg of ham...With barely a pause I continued “ Passer hamlegensis builds an interesting ne...”

“What? Hamlegensis!” cried Van from the back, “you’re making that up! You are a charlatan and should be tarred and feathered!” trust ‘The Richmond Enquirer’ to spot that one!

Once the show was over everyone chilled out and enjoyed more of Ceri’s fantastic music. I watched her play for a while, the fingers of her left hand moved rapidly over the strings with almost hypnotic effect.

Apart from us there was also a ‘60s night in the pub. Mick came back and told us that he had bumped into someone dressed as a hippy and both of them claimed to be from the ‘60s! Hard to imagine that in a hundred year span you would have such an incredible change in fashion. Later I went up there with Dr. Tooms, he was a little concerned about his attire. We need not have worried, our first encounter was with a chap who wore an Afro wig the size of a small planet, “Bet you haven’t seen this combination of colours for a while” I said. He looked at us for a moment, then sort of moaned out, “Oooh noooo...they said it was an Anadin!”

Sunday: I was woken up during the night by the most incredible deluge. Perhaps those lowing cattle had called it all stopped by the morning and we got up to a nice sunny start to the day. Laz and I enjoyed a fine breakfast while several people ambled off to the church service in their finest.

I was trying to figure out what to do when the weather made up my mind for me; it became cold and overcast with those lavender clouds with whitish edges that always mean business.

The intense weather soon left me on the edge of a migraine and I needed some rest. I crept back into my tent, for a moment pondering on a haiku by Basho but I spoiled the effect by knocking over my supply of gunpowder tea, the little pellets scattered across the tent floor like the droppings of a horde of mice.

It was time for a snooze and I slept on and off for a couple of hours and all the while a marvellous thunder storm whipped around the village. When I finally woke up I felt refreshed so headed for the pub for a cold cola to wake my brain up. It seems everyone else had the same idea and the place seemed to be full of time travellers. Preacher came in “Anyone seen Noah?”

Most of us came to pretty much the same decision, it might be a good idea to start getting our gear together to leave, there was no telling how long the rain would last, the water filled dip into the orchard was now about the size of Windermere and there were the cars in the next field to take into consideration.

We had a lot of fun with Jerry’s van: the wheels spinning free and gouging themselves deeper into the soil mashed an unlucky cowpat into oblivion and sprayed the remnants over us as we pushed and heaved to free the vehicle. We were lucky weather wise as it remained fine and sunny throughout the packing and where possible there was plenty of teamwork to ensure that people got off home.

I would just like to thank the Dixie Volunteers for the invite and congratulate them for a great first event.

This is Prof. Grymm leaving you with a haiku from Basho

This grassy hermitage
Hardly any more
Than five feet square
I would gladly leave
But for the rain