Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
To Zonnebeke or not to Zonnebeke? That is the question April 27th to 30th 2012



Friday 27th April: There was some debate as to whether this event was going to take place. Due to problems at the Zonnebeke Museum, the basement having acquired a genuine trench feel from flooding; the event was first cancelled then redirected and finally settled down in Oost Vleteren. The show must go on! We checked the weather before we left and it did not look promising – nothing to do with us gov! The last couple of weeks have been marred by a considerable amount of weather and the morning we left was no exception as we packed the car the rain came and went.

We stopped off at the Auchan in Calais to stock up on drinks and evening meals. A couple of jars of Potjevleesch would see us through. This is a wonderful meat mix in a jar (chicken, rabbit, veal and pork in a delicious jellied stock) and although usually eaten cold we found a few months back that it makes a very hearty hot meal too. It is a real pleasure wandering the food sections of Auchan, it makes me want to grab armfuls of yummy goodies; sadly the car would not take the impact. Speaking of impact I wonder how effective those little grenade shaped courgettes were in trench warfare…

And so on…on to Oost Cappel to pay homage at the French department of Area 51 in the guise of the Brocante antiques warehouse. You have just got to love this place; where else in the world, apart from an Indiana Jones movie, can you find mysterious ecclesiastic robes, an epidiascope that looks like an anti-aircraft weapon designed by H G Wells, and a stuffed rooster posed upright with wings outstretched wearing pince nez and a white bib! That bird looks like it should be a man wearing a chicken suit, only smaller.

I was tempted by a single elk antler, it was small as elk/moose antlers go being about 50cm from base to longest tine point, but resisted adding it to my collection. We wondered what happened if someone bought one of the elaborate side boards or the wooden fireplace dedicated to M. Eiffel – that last item was about the size of most people’s kitchens. Perhaps they use some infernal machine to levitate big stuff out. I also found a sphere the size of a football with a cross on top of it, it was undoubtedly the largest Holy Hand Grenade I have ever seen and, in the wrong hands, would probably level Ypres all over again!

Richard had printed out a photo of what I was to look for as we headed for Oost Vleteren, it had a windmill in it, but as we approached I could not help noticing that the windmill was not quite where it should be, hopefully nothing more than an illusion caused by the fact that windmills rotate. The event is at the sports centre on the main road so we should get plenty of visitors, I must add that the weather had turned out a treat allowing us to set up under the pine trees at the back of the building. The pitch was great until you got out of the tent and got slapped in the face with sharp pine needles. Moving the tent back a couple of feet soon put that to rights. Richard is sleeping in what appears to be a canteen with a rather odd looking contraption attached to the wall; it looks like some sort of shamanic world tree made of iron and bits of tyre but I suspect it has more to do with wipshuttering than anything else; wipshutter seems to be some sort of archery using arrows that taper from point to feathers. Paul and Debby turned up not long after we did which was interesting since, like the event, there was some debate as to when they would arrive or, possibly, where they were going to be!

The entrance to the sports hall has three rather interesting paintings made by local schools; one is a regular painting –lots of colour and happy faces, the next shows a mythical grey rabbit being with wings and a curly tail and the last, from the Bollekensschool of Gent, has hand prints and a pied horse with what appears to be a rooster tail.

That evening, as I listened to and watched a couple of common pipistrelles, I looked westwards at the glorious display of red skies that promised a sunny day tomorrow…

Saturday 28th: I woke up during the night to hear rain, rain that went on and on…I want my money back on that red sky stuff. It was just as well that we would have cover for this event. We were set up at the back of the main building which, for a sports centre, looks remarkably like a stable. I like to utilise surfaces and features when I find them and there was an elaborate, but decrepit, side board type thing into which Esme the Peruvian mummy and Charlie went into. As it turned out this gave me the opportunity to experiment with Esme’s pose and she ended up in a pose of laid-backness as though waiting for her next portion of Chuño!

While I was chatting with a family I became aware of a strange wailing. I looked around, confused and then noticed the hobbit-sized child standing next to me, hood pulled over his face, mouth wide open and emitting a sound between a tortured, steam-filled kettle and a fox on heat. Although channelling a famous painting he appeared to be enjoying himself.

We saw very few visitors during the cold, miserable morning so every now and then I popped around to the front to see how everyone else was doing. I carried an African fly whisk, in the hope that by swatting imagery flies I would summon up some sunshine but all I got was covered in loose cow tail hairs as the thing started to unravel. Giving up at trying to change the weather, I chatted with one of the Australian Light Horse about where they got their supply of emu feathers – I might have guessed that they came from Edward Bay’s Emporium.

While an optimistic chiffchaff sang his little giblets out to remind us that it really was Spring, Bethan suggested that I build an ark. I considered this and thought it would be really neat to gather two Poilu, two Germans, two Tommies, two Australian Light Horse and an Alsatian cruet set, to name but a few, and save them from the rising waters!

Our tent almost died in one of the gusts but I saw it just in time to save the day. I was cold, run down and rapidly losing the will to live, thankfully the day was saved by Debby’s chicken chasseur of which I must have eaten half my own body weight! I only hoped the cold would allow me to use up all those extra calories in time for the restaurant in the evening.

Sometime during the afternoon Frederik turned up decked out in the dress uniform of the Don Cossacks. I ended up chatting with Frederick for some time about the Russian Civil War, I read a book on this confusing, brutal conflict a few years ago and, quite frankly, I soon lost track of who was fighting who.

At the end of this trying day for all, Burt went round with a jug dealing out a welcome Totorum for all. Once packed we headed for Ypres and the Menin Gate ceremony. There was, once again, a great turn out despite the weather, although the orchestra of our previous visit had been replaced by a bugler.

The next port of call the "De Ruyffelaer", that wonderful little restaurant where we ate two years ago, I could not for the life of me remember what I had ordered for starters – as it turned out Debby had written out a list of choices. The onion soup, my starters was excellent, as was the shank of pork. As we sat there, replete with good food, Milo turned to Bethan, and touched her stomach, she reacted with a warning - “Don’t tickle me or I’ll stab you in the face!” Well, that got our attentions! Lucky it was an affectionate threat…

Patrick drove us back to Oost Vleteran, I remember nothing after getting in the car, as I was either briefly abducted by aliens or simply fell asleep after battling cold, wet weather followed by fantastic food and a couple of beers.

Sunday 29th: It looked as though the weather was going to turn for the better as we prepared for the day ahead, but by the time of the ritual of the Sunday Blanket Sale took place around our pitch the weather had turned again. As things were being set up I surprised a brown rat scurrying along the wall. I looked at the rat, the rat looked at me in a sort of haiku moment before darting for what passed for the nearest shelter – which happened to be Janet’s skirt – before heading for something more permanent. Animals also featured in a conversation with Burt, apparently one of the many rabbits in the area had snuck into his tent in the early hours for a dump!

It is always interesting to look at what turns up at these little gatherings; rusting helmets, shells, grenades and reproduction uniforms. Paul, who has no shortage of interesting items, acquired a machine gun.

While I was talking to Burt after the sale, he suddenly took out his whistle and blew the gas attack alarm, immediately the troops around him grabbed their gas masks and put them on. There was quite a variety of these horrid things with examples ranging from early to late models. I was least impressed by the type that is basically a cloth bag with mica eye pieces and dipped in anti-gas chemicals. As I returned from this interesting excerise I noticed a group called Boyau des Marmites, I guess they are an aquired taste!

We had a lot more visitors today and once again we got over the language barrier with a combination of mime, mono-syllables and the usual improvisation. One of our visitors was a re-enactor portraying an American, as we chatted with him; his sergeant called out, “What are you doing over there, Private?” “Learning history, Sergeant!” he called back, a reply that cost the poor man ten press-ups in full kit!

Just after lunch, once again provided by Debby, we had a couple of visitors that may have come from some twilight zone; the first went up to Doctor Tooms and said “ Debby told me to come and see you about the cheese grater story” thankfully the sudden appearance of civilian visitors stopped this debate in its tracks. And then followed a surreal few minutes when a phone was produced and a bizarre Rowan Atkinson video was called up…

As the day progressed we were aware that the weather had changed, it was sunny and the wind was drying out the canvas from the previous day’s onslaught of weather. We accepted this with quiet words of praise just in case the Cosmic Trickster heard us and sent another deluge. Dry canvas at the end of a weekend is a luxury that makes it all worthwhile. While we packed I found an angleshades moth and, once everything was sorted, we moved indoors before we settled down to an evening meal of Potjevleesch and decent beer.

Monday 30th: This morning we had the indulgence of a hot shower and, after breakfast, headed for Ypres. It proved an uneventful journey up to the point when a huge red lorry went by; I just had time to read the name on the cabin – ‘Porkytrans’, the instant images that ripped through my head were far too surreal to reveal to our humble readers! We did see a couple of other double decked pig transports but none surpassed that first experience. Perhaps we can add this as a supplement to the Norbert Rules although shouting “Porkytrans!” at speed might have some safety issues!

At Ypres we headed for the Menin Gate; I had been given a mission by my mate Mike to find a relative, I had been given some pretty vague instructions: Edmund Ashton/Aston, London Fusiliers. Once we found the London regiments we found only one name that match – Rifleman Ashton. E. 12th Bn, London Regiment, Rangers on panel 54. The only Aston we found was Aston. W. of the Post Office Rifles. We went up to the upper levels of the memorial and just as we were about to leave I heard a couple of swifts, the first of the summer, screaming over the river. The return to Calais was, apart from a few Norbets, pretty mundane although we did stop off at Auchan once again for interesting foods.

Many thanks once again to Kristof for his invite and adopting us and many thanks to Debby for all the hot grub that warmed the bivalve molluscs of our cardiovascular systems!

This is Prof Grymm in search of interesting animal transports.