Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Festival of History (English Heritage) 18 to 20 July 2008



Friday: We arrived about an hour later than we had planned for and found that we had a vast amount of room, even when we had filled it with the 3 tents and tables. Behind us was Gerry the rope maker, we had bought our frontage rope from him last year, very nice cotton rope to keep the crowds at bay.

Saturday: The day started beautifully and once we had set up, Dr Tooms produced his latest creation, a phenakistoscope, he had reproduced the whole thing to fit into a small cigar box. It took me a while to get to grips with watching the mirrored image but I did get there in the end… and then the rain came. It was one of those cold, wind driven summer squalls that sent the unfortunate Charlie spinning like a top. Thankfully we had brought some plastic sheets this year and although light and easily damaged they were to be very useful. The optics department was effectively closed from that point until some time in the afternoon, Medical Marvels was pretty much hors de combat, Dr Tooms latest exhibits had been reduced to worthless bits of paper, and even the portrait of Mrs Maybrick became little more than a Rorschach Test! This was going to be the pattern, so to speak, for the day and by mid morning I had become a one man show.

In the high wind the plastic sheet covering the specimens looked almost like one of those arty photos of rushing water taken at low speed, had I not been battling the elements I would have written a haiku! On the other hand it also looked a bit like a great stream of ectoplasm disgorged at some insane Victorian séance. All this plastic was held in place by an ovate flint, the Surinam toad and Loretta, the Neanderthal man…or woman, not to mention quite a bit of wishful thinking! Such team work!

My least favourite visitors were a couple of boys who not only asked dumb questions but in between thought that it cool to chuck bits of grass at my stuff while their mother looked on. I could see that the oldest was about to ask another silly question so I told him that he should think very carefully about it since it was going to be the last one that I would answer… he did not think much and it was so pointless a question that my brain automatically deleted it! He was about to say something else but I reminded him that he had used up his last wish and he went off mumbling incoherently. I was saved by some very nice ladies, again.

Amongst my favourite visitors were an Australian couple whose daughter was very keen to ask sensible questions. Amongst another group of visitors was a young lady who asked me if I had a wolpertinger or jackalope. I told her I had retired my one last year, I prefer the mermaid to be a focal point as it has a more interesting period story, I showed her my notes on the subject.

It seemed that every time a group of people turned up the rain followed and we, or rather I, did not get going properly until some time in the afternoon when the rain finally eased off and the ectoplasm could be put out of sight but close enough to grab in an emergency.

Earlier in the day I spotted a couple of gents talking to Dr Tooms, I noticed that one of them had one of those microphones that looks like a chinchilla onna stick, this as it turned out was John Sessions and his sound man Paul and they had tracked down Grymm Tooms for a Radio 4 interview.

John Sessions and Paul returned in the afternoon, during a quiet moment. The interview went very well and will be broadcast on 4th October at 10.30 as part of a series on entertainment. John asked lots of really good questions and between Tooms and myself I think we did a pretty good job of things. It will be interesting to hear how much of the15 minutes or so will get used. As I was talking about the non-descript I unconsciously held it up to the microphone, perhaps I wanted our listeners to get a better view!

Once the show was over we headed for a meeting with Tabulae, I kept saying it so that it sounds like a recipe… sorry. Thankfully we did not have far to go since it was held at Gerry’s. This was a good little do and I met a man who had a pretty little dog that looked remarkably like a small thylacine. I was rather tempted to paint stripes on it and add it to the museum as a living specimen!

Once the dark came we set up the magic lantern show, we had a new production of ‘The Tooms that Time Forgot’ or is it ‘The Time…’ Anyway it was about Crystal skulls and it was chaotic and as random as usual but the crowd enjoyed it.

And then it was time to retire for a very large gin and tonic…

Sunday: It chucked it down during the night and the wind came back with a vengeance and while Sunday started sunny, there was that hint of cloud that thankfully kept away from us. I simply could not warm up, I don’t do well when exposed to constant buffeting from high winds, my head hurt and I could not sum up enough energy to put on my Sunday best. Instead I huddled in my coat and jammed my pith helmet onto my head. My wide brimmed hat would have ended up in Roswell had I bothered to put it on.

I was again mostly a one man show; we gave up on the optics when our original zoetrope turned turtle in a gust of wind. We also had very few visitors, not because there were no visitors to be had but, as we found out, our fans either expected us to be somewhere else or simply could not find us, apparently even Mr Sessions had to ask directions. What had seemed like a good spot was actually in between arenas so we got somewhat by passed as the public went from one show to another.

Things were so quiet that I went for a walk with Mrs. Grymm, visiting a few friends and grabbing a bag of fudge for Dr Tooms. His face lit up like that of an urchin in a Dickens novel when we gave it to him.

In the afternoon while I was giving my talk someone who should have known better interrupted me with “Is that the sabre toothed platypus of Cambridge?” Since this inane question came from a fellow re-enactor who knows me very well I let it drift over me like a passenger pigeon’s last gasp. Call me a pedant but I have problems coping with ridiculous natural history names like: lesser spotted long toed Etcetera from folks trying to be funny. There are enough pointless names given to critters without the need to make anything up, take for example, the green warbler and the greenish warbler, since quite a few Old World warblers are varying shades of green you get the impression that someone ran out of names and imagination!

Amongst my visitors today were two internationals fascinated by the mermaid, the first was a French lady who was with her family and the second was an East European gentlemen who called it a ‘rusalka’, a name I recognised and associated with Slavic fairy tales.

And so the show closed, it had been a rather frustrating event for us, the elements had been rather against us, but it had also had its moments.

This is Prof Grymm stepping into the Turdis to search for the two barred greenish warbler