Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Rochester Dickens Festival - 3-5 June 2011



Friday 3rd June: We woke up before the first sparrow had so much as uttered a tweet and set off for the Historic town of Rochester. Not long after we left I spotted an all white Norbert, a rare vagrant to the London area…possibly. It was a fine sunny morning and we got to the impressive Rochester Castle by 08:30 which gave us plenty of time to sort ourselves. As we progressed with our setting up it soon became apparent that we had forgotten quite a few things, you know, those essential things like a decent drinking vessel, a table cover…and frying pan for the evening meal. There was also the Case of the Transmigrating Tent Poles, we could not work out why the tents looked odd when we finished until it dawned on us that we had put the poles into the wrong tents. Well, that was a new one for us!

Once everything had been dropped off, it was time for Tooms to park the car. Unfortunately, the only place to do this was in one of the public car parks below the castle, so he set off to find a space. As the crow flies the car park was but a spit away, by car, however, it was something of a tour so that by the time he had found a suitable spot he was not sure how to get back on site. Enter Sybil to the rescue.

Having forgotten to take his walking stick, Tooms improvised by using Gauge's tamping iron instead, tapping his way along the cobbled road like Old Blind Pew in search of the Admiral Benbow Inn. Spotting a public convenience along the way, he remembered the sage’s wise advice “Never passing up the chance to go to the toilet” and decided to take a quick comfort break before the show began. Just as he entered the marbled halls, a loud woman's voice announced "Turn around when possible." That will teach him to forget to turn the SatNav off!

We were going to stay on site and had made arrangements with Heather so that we could stay overnight but then it was revealed that we would, apart from security, be the only ones there. This meant that once the gates closed we were marooned, no walking down to the pub which was only a couple of minutes away for our Saturday meal. And, if most castles are anything to go by, the place is probably haunted…

We were rescued from another Billy No Mates episode by Kay and Tony of ‘Tabulae’ who very kindly invited us to stay with them over the weekend. Kay was running a Victorian visual entertainment which included a rather wonderful phenakistascope that Tony had made.

We soon made friends with a girl and her mum who were selling Gothic teddy bears, amongst other things. Suddenly while we were chatting a ball turned up near my table, I gave it back and thought nothing of it until it came back two more times – this was getting annoying. Having politely asked the kids not to chuck their ball in our direction for the third time, I told them I’d deport the ball to Australia if it came back. Ten minutes later that ball returned, knocked over a framed exhibit on the Medical display and disappeared, hopefully to be crushed beyond use or recognition under the wheels of a pram. I carried on talking to my visitors when I caught a gesture from the corner of my eye – it was the ball’s owner pointing at the tents and there was that bloody ball! This time ball boy had brought reinforcements in the form of a scowling mum who, as I handed her the ball, had the audacity to accuse me of taking it. Ho hum.

Thankfully things got better, well apart from drinking cola from my collapsible cup. These wonderful Victorian inventions seem to be designed for the discerning gent who fancies a quick tipple on his way to the club and not for drinking syrupy, mostly warm, drinks. Put it this way; it is about the size of an egg cup and is not water tight.

And then came a gent who on taking a closer look at Charlie decided to give the poor shrunken fellow a squeeze that, had he had brains they would have squirted out of his nose!!! What is it with people who examine delicate things by seeing how much pressure they can take? I hope he doesn’t do that at antique markets…ho hum…again.

Charlie was in a better frame of mind an hour later when a very nice lady told him that he had “very sexy eyebrows”. When the couple of incidents are taken out of the equation it had been a very good day with lots of people to talk to, although we were never talking to large crowds.

I was glad, however, when it was time to pack up, it had been a long hot day and by the end I was exhausted and gasping for a decent drink that did not come out of a thimble. While I starting packing up Tooms set off to collect the car. In order to survive the heat of the day, the good doctor had decided to wear his "Fu Man Chu" outfit, and it was dressed in this colourful outfit that he set off down the precipitous slope leading from the castle once again added by Gauge's pole in one hand and whilst clinging to the wall with his free hand as he and proceeded downhill in a crab-wise manner. A few yards below him a small group of youths were leaning against the wall in conversation, as youths do.

"Excuse me," said Tooms "Would you mind if I squeezed past you, I'm a bit old and decrepit and need to use the wall for support." They all immediately stepped aside and a couple of them asked if he needed any assistance, which he declined with thanks. Then a couple of the girls started admiring his bright red kimono.

"Wow, this is nice," one said "my Mum's got something like this for a dressing gown. Hey, look at the cool dragon on the back!" It was a very odd moment, and goes to show you shouldn't judge people too quickly.

Once the museum was packed we set off for Kay and Tony’s place and to top off a day full of things misplaced and forgotten, Sybil took us on one of her mystery tours that ended in a country lane which also happened to be a cul-de-sac.

Finally we were sitting in Kay’s lovely garden enjoying a pond sized gin-n-tonic and listening to the calls of ring neck parakeets. Tony had told us some time ago that he had been making a camera obscura and tonight this wonderful contraption got its first outing. I thought obscuras were small but Tony’s creation stands about nine feet once the oak legs are extended. Even with makeshift covers around the frame the image reflected from the ‘periscope’ mirror onto a white surface was impressive.

Saturday 4th June: The warm, slightly hazy start to the day seemed to have very quickly turned into blazing heat and by mid morning I was starting to wilt a little. I set up Esme this morning; she sat between the tents grimacing at the public, not much else you can do when you are a desiccated latex mummy missing a nose! Just as I finished setting her up I heard a familiar voice and saw Stuart from Laredo, he was very soon followed by Jolene and many of the others. While most visitors in period dress portrayed a Dickensian box of chocolates, the Laredo folks, by contrast, were dressed in the shabbiness of the slums; rags, blackened teeth, scars, dodgy diseases and a one way ticket to Botany Bay. As we chatted it became obvious that young Morgan had found true love as he flirted with Esme and even gave her a kiss, things must be really bad in the slums!

We had a couple of surprise visitors, a couple who we had met at Detling some years ago and had turned up just to see us! We are honoured by such devotion from our fans and it is always great to chat and show off new exhibits. They mentioned Quex Museum which has a rather interesting collection of specimens. A little while later another couple mentioned Quex, how very odd…must check it out some time.

I had been working throughout the day and late in the afternoon I took a breather and headed over to the Kent Cider Company to partake of a very refreshing half pint of Gala/Bramley. While I enjoyed my cider I chatted with Mark and Serena and he told me that they have an orchard near Conyer, which brought back memories; I used to do quite a bit of bird watching down that way many years ago. One winter we were there with a good friend who told us that there would be ‘snow flurries’ – he was a great birder but a lousy weatherman as we got caught in a blizzard that literally left icicles hanging from my beard and eyebrows!

Well it was almost time to close up and our last visitors were three French ladies who talked to us for some time. When I showed them my ‘unicorn’ skull I got a comment from the youngest that unicorns do not exist, so I went through the unicorn thing…my skull is from a roe deer with a stunted and deformed right antler, the left has grown to the centre of the skull giving a unicorn effect. An interesting point about unicorns is that in early drawings it is portrayed as a cloven hoofed animal with a beard, therefore it was a goat (watch A Kid for Two Farthings and you’ll see what I mean). I wonder when unicorns became horses. All modern portrayals show a horse as in the dream sequence from Blade Runner… The Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is another unicorn (the scientific name literally means: Nose horn one horn).

Just as we were about to leave Tony had a confession to make; early today he called Norbert and realised that he was alone in the car! Well, I did warn him about the addiction of the Norbert Game and the consequences of lone Norbert spotting.

Sunday 5th June: Day three started out pleasantly enough and then gradually changed to overcast and followed by persistent rain. I really don’t like being out in wind and rain. What few visitors we had did not hang around for long and as the weather got worse we were reduced to plucking specimens from under the dripping ectoplasm. We eventually retired to our tents for lunch. Thankfully I had the foresight not to put out Esme, she would never have forgiven me!

What impressed me was the song and dance routine by the local kids. These youngsters braved the elements to perform songs from ‘Oliver’, which is probably the only Dickens novel to become a musical…can’t quite see ‘Bleak House’ as a thigh slapping song and dance number somehow.

Yesterday we had baked and today we were cold and wet, time seemed to have slowed down too and I could have sworn that we had been standing around for over an hour but when I looked at the clock a measly 20 minutes had gone by…this was going to be a very long afternoon. We were rapidly losing the will to live and by 2 o’clock were considering packing up. But the show must go on so we made the best of things. Finally the long stringy cheese of boredom gave way and it was time to pack up and run away to a nice hot coffee.

We said goodbye to Kay and Tony and, as we got ready to leave Tooms put the car radio on to check for hold-ups. What we got was a strange clipping sound that I recognised as a noctule. We looked at the possessed radio and then I realised that at the exact moment that reception had kicked in, I had knocked my Ipod which went straight to a bat call I had played for a visitor…it had been a weekend of quite a bit of strangosity!

This is Prof Grymm in search of a lost hammer