Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Festival of History (English Heritage) 24 to 26 July 2009



Friday: Soon after we started packing the car for our journey to Kelmarsh it started to rain and this deluge followed us most of the way North. Every now and then, in a surreal Blade Runner moment, we would come out of grey dingy skies into bright sunlight with cool cloud effects.

After a long and circuitous journey we finally arrived and set up camp mostly in the rain, somewhere in my head was the image of a waterproof coat hanging in a warm room. Having learned from last year’s windy experience, we pitched camp so that the tents acted as a wind break, we also used part of our old, decrepit tent to make a backing between two tents.

There were only two of us on this trip, Cassandra has been busily growing a gall stone for the museum and was recovering from its recent removal. I’m sure you will all agree that such dedication is beyond the call of duty.

We were camped on roughly the same spot as last year and next to us was a huge Viking encampment, there was a black dog wandering about called Loki and they even had a boat…was it really going to be that wet this weekend?

It had already been a long day and we soon set up our new firebox and chilled out with a beer followed by a huge helping of home made chilli. We were later joined by my mate Mad Mike, a Viking of some notoriety I hear. We had a great time and enjoyed copious amounts of gin n tonic, just in case Mike’s malaria returned, as well as a few beers and the company of Craig and Jo. Craig is the only American Viking I have ever met and since Norsemen got to the ‘New World’ long before Cristobal Colon I’ve got no problems with that.

It had stopped raining soon after we had finished setting up and thankfully stayed that way…and so a fine evening was had as we sat, chatted, drank and watched the flames trying to feed on damp wood.

Saturday: Kelmarsh is probably the hardest event that we do, you are sorting stuff out as soon as you fall out of bed, getting as much of the museum out ready for the visitor and preparing breakfast, knowing full well that it is going to be a very long day.

I had been away from the museum for a few minutes and when I returned I noticed that my display looked slightly different – my grizzly bear claw had gone walkabout. We put up barriers to stop the public touching our stuff so it is a bit of a blow when you realise that the pathetic spraint that stole from you is another re-enactor. If they had wanted it that badly I would gladly have given it, instead they had snuck off with it. Put it this way; your efforts have got you karmic skid marks and about £5 worth of resin. Enjoy.

That was not a good start to my day but the public soon cheered me up as did the arrival of Paul and Debbie. I noticed that Paul was not wearing his usual pair of ‘Class A’ shamanistic mind altering trousers, which was relief; it was a sunny morning and I doubt if my gin addled brain could have survived.

The gents of Fanlan Uri were looking very dapper today in their new and colourful Landsknecht kit, and Philip contributed a beautifully made eyeball to Medical Marvels. This item was popped into the orang utan skull giving it a definitely insane look.

Amongst my visitors today was a young lad who jumped in with lots of enthusiastic information every time his sister asked me something so that I couldn’t get a word in crossways with him. I gave up in the end and breathed a sigh of relief when they left. They were followed by one of those kids who ask “Is it real?” and just as you say “Y…” you get “Is that real?” ad infinitum…by the Lord Harry! Was it really going to be one of those days!?

We decided that today we would have a proper lunch break, usually when Cassandra brings us food we stand about, eat and still answer questions from people who think re-enactors have copious amounts of energy and get their nourishment from the etheric medium! So we prepared our food, toasted the queen and sat down to our Sweeny Todd Specials. We agreed that it was really hard to just let people browse the exhibits but that is what a museum is about after all.

The Tooms Wind Break worked remarkably well and we did not have to chase anything. We were soon back in action until, slowly, people started to drift by in that time to go home sort of way. It was just before closing that I ended up chatting to a family whose daughter was not only clued up on things but asked sensible questions. I got her on the coprolite and when I told her what it was she sneakily wiped her hand on our rope hoping that she wasn’t spotted! That performance was superb. And so saying good bye to these lovely people we put the museum away and had a well deserved rest…hang on was that a Jawa waving a light sabre in the Viking village? We had obviously been out in the sun too long, that or else there been a secret ingredient in those pork pies? No we were safe; the Vikings were having Star Wars themed evening - these were not the Vikings we were looking for.

It was soon time for our meeting with Tabulae but when we got there we had been misinformed – Gerry the Rope Man had told us 7:30 but it was not due for some time…so back we went and had our evening meal. Mike popped over and joined us. He was a bit shocked as he tucked into the chilli, I didn’t think it was that hot – I’d only put in a mild Mexican red, a chipotle and a couple of habenero – OK, so the last of these varieties measures 10 on the Chilli Richter Scale.

And then we returned to our meeting, last year Gerry was right behind us, this year he seemed miles away and by time we got there we were both bushed. It was great to see Don & Kathy ( of Heuristics), but as Kathy chatted to me she could see that we were both losing the plot, I had reached that point where your eyes drop but you can still take part in conversations, it really was time to sleep.

Sunday: The first thing that we noticed as we set up this morning was that the wind had changed direction and was now blowing straight at us, the only advantage to this was that anything blown off the tables would end up in the wind break and not the tournament arena.

As we ate breakfast Mike came over for a chat and as he chatted with Tooms I realised that these two are almost identical in their early morning mode which is to talk relentlessly in a budgerigar-like nonsense sort of way! Speaking of which…I met a lady today who has a fear of birds, thankfully the huias were stored away – the last thing I wanted was a distressed member of the public. By an odd twist of conversation we ended up talking about Tibbles and the Stephen Island wren; “I suppose that was my therapy session!” she said before she left.

For the first time ever Charlie was not on show not because of the wind – he had survived worse deals - but because of a recent programme about shrunken heads on TV and I was getting fed up with people talking about it and little else.

As you know I love to quote silly things that people say over the weekend and my favourite was “This is a zoetrope, from the Greek, ‘zoe’ meaning ‘animal’ and ‘trope’ meaning ‘movement’, so you have moving animal” –was I really hearing this? I distinctly recall that zoe means life…the purveyor of this was none other than Dr Lazarus Tooms himself, evidently Kelmarsh Fatigue was setting in.

Possibly the most bizarre question of the season so far came from a kid who wanted to smell my pith helmet, that was too much even for me…

It started to drizzle in the latter part of the afternoon, lightly and then persistently, we started putting stuff away. As we gathered our delicate items together Victoria Guest from the Petersfield Museum arrived, she would like us to visit some time and this was the first time that she had seen most of our collection.

And so we packed up in the wet, I think that this is probably the first time that we have ever taken home 90% of our stuff either soaked or damp. That included my formal clothing because I had forgotten to bring my waterproof which was at that very moment still mocking me from a hanger at home!

We had once again survived the Kelmarsh Ordeal of Wind and Rain.

This is Prof Grymm, in search of California’s state mammal.