Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Royal Gunpowder Mills American Civil War Society 19th - 20th August 2006



Friday: Laz and I arrived at the Mills on Friday afternoon. There seemed to be a very good turn out for this show and we were set up on the Civilian/Union Street next to Stewart’s field hospital and opposite West Point. Once our homes were ready, I went about preparing our evening meal. While we ate our chilli, a couple of fallow deer bucks came out onto the grass, they really are very tame; several people got close enough to feed them.

We spent the evening on the Texas Street; I was very chilled out but also knackered and kept dozing off. The thing about dozing is that you still hear conversations in a surreal sort of way, the oddest subject I heard was ‘the Cottingley Fairies’...or maybe I had eaten too much blue cheese again.

It was a very nice night with a good show of stars in the almost cloudless sky. It’s a sad fact of life that you have reached the state of an old gaffer when you turn to your friend and say, “When I was a kid the sky was so black you could see the Milky Way and the only things that moved in it were a few planes, bats and the odd UFO looking for victims to try out Hoover attachments on.”

Saturday: Some of our neighbours were looking a little odd this morning; Phil and Andrew were sitting by the fire dressed as women; they were ‘protesting’ that if women could dress as men then why can’t men dress as women? I made a general announcement, introducing Andrew as “Artemisia, the Bearded Lady of Thrace!”

We had a good turn out of public. I had some interesting folks who giggled at the mention of Barnum and his Mermaid; it turned out that they were from Connecticut where he was born. One little girl was freaked out by the mummified cat and a boy told me about Mary Anning and her ichthyosaur.

For the post battle display, Stewart, Laz and I did a sort of joined up talk starting with Stewart talking about Civil War medicine and performing a gory, squirting amputation followed by a short bit on head wounds before passing onto Laz who talked about more cranial damage than you can shake a stick at. Or in Mr. Gage’s case shove a stick through!

And then it was my turn, I did the usual false fossil bit, the gripping and tragic tale of the last Great Auk and then moved onto the Neanderthal skull. This is one of my favourites. Just as I got to the bit where the Cossack becomes Homo neanderthalensis the heavens opened up! It was the only real rain that we had all day and it chucked it down for about 5 minutes, just long enough to wreck a few pictures, dampen the exhibits and disperse the crowd.

“That’s what happens when you agree with Darwin!” shouted Dr. Tooms.

There was no sign of the deer in the evening; you would think that decades of listening to various detonations would have made them immune to a few bangs from a re-enactment group.

Back by popular demand was the Grymm Tooms Picture Show, we were going to set up a screen between two tents but as soon as I had it rigged up someone put something extremely combustible onto the fire and the screen went Super Nova! Plan B was the back of my tent...

For my Natural History slide show I did Mammals for a change and as usual Laz put these out randomly so I had no idea what was coming next. To be honest the show sort of ran itself; someone makes a comment and I try to fit it in.

“...and the next slide...ah, yes, the aye-aye...” I was going to say quite a bit about this obscure lemur, I even remembered the scientific name, but as soon as the slide was up everyone went into three verses of “Singing aye aye yippee yippee aye!” I gave up. But for the sake of science, and all that, the aye-aye is best described as a gangly, bug eyed cross between Lewis Carroll and a cat in a storm drain which goes by the wonderful name of Daubentonia madagascariensis. Amazing as it may seem this critter has a Convergent evolved doppelganger living in New Guinea and Queensland known as the striped possum (Dactylopsila trivirgata)...which is, by comparison, very cute. Oh, and did you know that Daubenton also has a bat?

As we sat by the fire enjoying the ambience of the evening, Sergeant-Major Glen turned up, slightly influenced by fermentation, to apologise for the behaviour of one troublesome member. As it turned out we had not seen this chap and Glen was evidently on the wrong street! There was quite a debate about various things which by some horrid twist in the undergarments of life turned to bread and buns...this debate went on even longer than the previous one with Glen’s theory being that buns are made of bread, therefore they are ‘bready buns’. I think that at one point we expected someone to turn up to apologise for the previous apology but instead Mike called the Provost Guard on his mobile to come and take Glen away! It got very surreal and I had not touched any cheese.

Sunday: I was greeted by yet another odd sight when I crept out of the tent in the small hours: the sad damp remains of many ‘bready buns’ were scattered around the fire and West Point had a cannon pointing at their store. Obviously the Sergeant-Major had returned with some hard evidence while at some point during the night some young US troops had been corrupted into planting the cannons in various parts of the camp. We saw them returning the guns, each wearing a pair of underpants on their heads...hopefully their own. The French Kepi having been replaced by the US kacks! We were told that part of their punishment was to do any horrid chore that we could think of.

Laz and I took a few hours out in order to take a trip around the Mills on the land train. This is an amazing place, some of it looks like some ancient lost city in the tropics. I was most impressed by the bridge that was now mostly tree.

By the time that we returned it was time to set up the museum and get to work. We met Brian (of Gunpowder Mills) a couple of times during the day and Liz came by to take a few pictures of my mermaids – on display for the first time together were my original ‘Feejee’ mermaid, my new crawling Sinister Siren of the Seas and the Jenny Haniver.

We sat back and watched the battle, the afternoon was glorious and there was a strange contrast of bangs and flashes on the field while very close to us over 20 large dragonflies soared and hunted just overhead.

Kerry the Seamstress went on the field as a man, having started out the day as a one would expect...she then returned and rapidly transformed into a woman again and thankfully remembered to remove the 5 O’clock shadow make up too. I did suggest that she could join Grymm Tooms as the ‘Incredible Transformational Woman!

The post battle talk went very well and with out any hitches although I did keep one eye on the sky when I got to talking about the world famous Neander Valley Cossack!

It had been a great event and, despite the some times odd weather, I think that every one had a good time. One lady who saw my collection knew what the fork really was for; a friend of hers has one! That’s at least two that I am now aware of...well, I never!

Your humble servant, Professor Leonidas Grymm