Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Schoenenbourg; Grymm Tooms Abroad III 28th April to May the Fourth Be with You



Wednesday 27th April 2011: As we prepared for take off a rather odd thing happened; I was just taking Esme the Preserved Peruvian Princess from Pizarro’s Palace to the car when I got hung up on the front door, I thought my shirt had caught the door handle but when I looked I found that Esme’s hand was gripping the door edge! It was as if she did not want to go, but I convinced her that it would be very exciting and she would make new friends, influence people etc, etc.

Thursday 28th: Getting things into a smaller car was a bit of an adventure, by the time everything was in place, there was hardly any room for us. There was so little room; in fact, that we had a pretty good idea what it was like to be inside a Renault FT tank. Thankfully there was space under the boot area which allowed us to store our new tables, a bed and Esme’s head. We just hoped that we did not get stopped by someone in uniform.

Within minutes of leaving home the first Norbert was called, sadly this was a duff call by myself and Richard and by the time we left New Cross we were on minus points because, as we discovered, there are Norbert ‘mimics’ out there to trip you up. We call them mimics because they have the same ground colour with white linear logos, think of them as those Lepidoptera that mimic owls – well that spiced up the game play!

We took a different route down to Metz this year, travelling by way of Belgium and Luxembourg. This avoided toll roads which can cost rather a lot when you have limited funds. My favourite interesting town name was a bit Wierde!

Apart from ‘Norbert’, for which we have developed a rules and points system, I tend to keep an eye out for wild life which can be quite interesting from a moving car; raptors such as buzzards and black kites are always a treat but it is the mammal road kill list that proved the most interesting today; badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, a roe deer and a Chinese water deer. I was amazed to see this lying by the roadside and while I was aware of the introduction of this deer into Britain, I had not realised that introductions had been made on the continent. This was a male with an impressive set of tusks and we could not stop to collect it for the museum…ho hum.

And so, we arrived in Metz…and slipped between the Onion Skins of Metzian Confusion pretty much straight away! It is all well and good having a SatNav that takes you right to your destination but when your final stop happens to be a narrow bus lane then things are bound to become ‘interesting’! After some circumnavigating that took us past the amazingly mushroomesque Pompidou Centre, we found a parking spot a couple of minutes away from the hotel.

I managed to win the day 1 Norton game with a score of 26, Janet came second with 23 and Richard, who called far more duff calls than he should have, trailed slightly over the horizon with 15!

Once our rooms at the Ibis were sorted we went foraging for an evening meal, having walked around the block we ended up next door to the hotel at the ‘La Jeep Café’ where we seriously over indulged in food and what appeared to be a bucket of Leffe!

Friday 29th: I could tell I was not in Belgium when I woke up because I could hear a chaffinch singing…As we sat eating, the news constantly reminded us that today was the Royal Wedding, many Happy Returns to William and Kate. There was even a French reporter dressed in grey bowler holding a brolly. I have not seen anyone dressed like that in London for about 25 years.

After breakfast we set off for Schoenenburg Fort, managing to leave Metz without getting pixy led! As we travelled we passed signs for Silly s/ Nied and Bambiderstroff. While I thought that the first was rather quaint. the second set Richard off into a lengthy monologue about the origins of the word Bambi. He wibbled on and on for so long I thought I had slipped into a surreal version of Moby Dick…personally I find ice skating venison a little disturbing.

Another interesting town name we passed as we headed for an Auchan to get supplies was Sarreguemenes which sounds as though it belongs in the Epic of Gilgamesh…just a thought. Anyway we were finally wandering around an Auchan supermarket and what an experience that is! They have a wonderful display of seafood which included live sea urchins, a critter I have not eaten for many years, spider crabs and fresh whelks which are delicious. Unlike the sort of thing one buys these days in London that have had the wobbly bit trimmed and all the flavour flushed out! I could happily live in France just to look at the food!!!

As we continued our journey we were suddenly warned by a “risqué de Bouchon” sign, a couple of hundred metres another sign virtually screamed at us: “! Bouchon” – if you don’t speak French one’s first impression is that a furry, snarling beast will leap out of a hedgerow and eat you…

Exciting critters on the road were a very nice male yellow wagtail, red and black kites, Montague’s harriers, sparrow hawks, buzzards and storks…but no bouchon… I was rather disappointed when I found out that it was not an animal after all! (It means traffic jam.) Only two Norberts were seen and Richard won with 5 points

We arrived at Scho’bourg at 12:30 and were met by Paul & Debby. While we waited for Marc and Eric to arrive, we tucked into a custard filled flaky cake that we bought in Hagenau and washed it down with a delicious, sweet weak cider. There was a stage set up for performances over the weekend and Richard just could not resist cambering up there and doing ‘Putting on the Ritz’ from ‘Young Frankenstein’, let’s just say he was not playing Victor Fronkensteen!

Gradually other folks turned up, the guys from Fanlien Uri arrived and a rather large gazebo thing that needed assembly. Marc and Eric arrived, I was a little dismayed to discover that for the last two years they thought I was Richard!! While the gazebo thing was being erected we set up camp on the little central green oval. It was not until we had got virtually everything in place that Marc changed his mind about the location as we were going to be in the way for the Sunday memorial service, fair enough, but then we had to move everything to the main area under the trees. We could have left it until morning but decided to get it over and done with straight away. From our last experience here it would probably rain. Paul very kindly helped shift our tents, beds, gear and then the museum which went into the bowels of the fort. Despite having set up twice we still got ourselves sorted before the big white tent was fully rigged!

Later we set off, with Paul, Debby and Jelle, for the nearest town and our evening meal. We found the Pfaffenschlick, one of those quaint family run restaurants whose owners are under the impression that you have trekked miles and not eaten for several days. There is an amazing candelabra made of red deer antlers in the middle of the dining area…and a stuffed tawny owl on one of the walls. I had the escargot, I have eaten snails several times in the past but this was the first time that I have eaten them in a restaurant. My main course was the stewed rabbit saddle which was wonderfully tender and delicious. The rabbit came with a side order of spaetzle, a stumpy, flat, home made noodle. These were excellent but as a side dish they were excessive, there were about six portions for three of us. The local asparagus, which is about the size of a church candle, is also very yummy. Needless to say there was no room for desert!

By the time we left, the impending storm had reached us and it was chucking it down as we made our way back to the fort. It never quite turned into the spectacular display of our previous visit.

Saturday 30th: We woke up to a fine sunny morning, although it had rained some more during the night. I must have been particularly tired as I managed to sleep through the tawny owls calling nearby that seem to have woken everyone else during the night.

Paul was representing a very different aspect of French troop this year; the goumiers, North African colonial troops portrayed in the excellent film ‘Days of Glory’. He was dressed in light, mostly striped, clothing over which went a heavy striped woollen burnoose type coat. Apart from the British model steel helmet and ammo pouches there was little in the way of a uniform.

This morning’s treat was a trip to Casemate Esch, a small fort on the Maginot Line that had seen some heavy action and taken some pretty unpleasant damage as a result; I would not have liked to be tucked away inside one of these concrete buildings during a bombardment. There is a Sherman tank parked on top as a memorial to the action that had taken place here in 1945. I was intrigued by the Renault FT turrets that had been dug in as observation posts. We made quite an interesting group of visitors; Edwardian city folk, Belgians dressed as Australians, colourful landsknechts and a walking deckchair.

We then returned to the fort and after a lovely lunch prepared by Debby, the Grymm Tooms Trio descended into the depths to set up. The temperature in the tunnels is 120C, which is OK for a while but after several hours of sitting around you start feeling the cold and it was great to go topside to warm up like lizards in the sun.

Our first visitors were a couple who were very intrigued by the Dr Tooms Spirit Lamp, a little contraption with a light bulb used for séances. While they were trying to work out the fakery of this I joined in to show that I had no props to make the light go on. I then took the lamp to Esme and showed that she responded to questions. We allowed them to hold the lamp and check it and even when the gent held it over the mummy he got no result. This was just a fluke…I think…but it left him totally baffled.

Later Paul came down and we had a lot of fun talking to Esme, he too could not see how it worked and even lifted up a sandaled foot to check that he was not standing on a pressure pad. It seemed that despite Esme’s reluctance to come she had found her niche!

We were bemused by some of the visitors; as they came out of the lift they looked at the little train and then took lots of photos of the gated display of spanners and other oddments but ignored us completely. Perhaps we were such an odd collection that the brain simply did not recognise us, a bit like Death in the Disc World novels…

Later we were visited by members of the Poilu de la Marne group; we had met some of them at Zonnebecke last year. They were fascinated by our new exhibits and for a couple of them it was all new so they were pretty amazed by Charlie and the platypus but when I held up the mermaid one of them was so agog that he forgot a typical French exclamation and simply said “Ohhh shit!”

We finished off in time to catch the last couple of acts by the local group and then settled down for a quiet evening. We sat with Fahnlein enjoying local cheese, bread and a bottle of Corbierres. Things got very exciting when a common noctule flew high over the clearing with its characteristic clip call.

Sunday 1st May: I had once again slept through the tawny owls but I did wake up to the drumming of a great spotted woodpecker and the flutescent calls of a golden oriole. I went out to look for it but for such a bright bird they can be very hard to find and this male proved to be completely elusive.

I discovered that Paul and I are very similar in our obsessions; while I can spot a bird or a roadkill at some distance from a moving vehicle he can do the same with an overgrown concrete bunker, possibly to the amazement of our friends and long suffering better halves!

There was a memorial service in the afternoon and Marc delivered a speech thanking us for being there. Wreaths were laid by Paul, Janet and Arno with the accompaniment of French veterans. Debby once again provided lunch and then we again descended into the cool tunnel to bemuse and amaze. My favourite visitor was a very nice lady who spoke excellent English and chatted with me for some time. We talked about language and she was impressed with my French pronunciation of some of my exhibits, sadly being able to say fourche cannibale and ornithorynque is of little use when asking directions or ordering a meal!

Dr Tooms on the other hand had a rather odd visitor, a lady who asked “Why are you here?”

“We were invited” and “These are Chinese lotus shoes”

“Why are the Chinese here?”

“Because we brought them”

“Why are you speaking English?” at which the good doctor wished that the earth would open up and provide an escape route!

And so things came to a close and we packed up and ascended into the warm light of a wonderful afternoon. We were in time to see the Hunspach Dancers perform a couple of their folk dances. The costumes worn by the group are awesome and we chatted with the group’s leader who showed us a series of photos of the order of wear and colours representing the marital status of the women. The men wear fur trimmed caps that have a somewhat Asiatic look about them. The fur looked familiar to me and when I enquired I was told that it was ferret winter coat.

And so Schoenenbourg 2011 came to a close, we said good bye to Marc, Eric and Caroline, Kristof and Enge, Kristof’s parents, Nicholas, Alan and Mick of Fahnlein and, of course Paul and Debby. We would also like to thank Debby for feeding us again. And then we were off for Metz. On the way we passed several herds of Highland cattle, which struck us as an odd cow to find in France, but then you get Charolais driving through England…For some peculiar reason only known to Sybil the SatNav we ended up going through the town of Bitche with its rather old fashioned railway station and imposing citadel.

We ended our journey in exactly the same parking space that we had on Thursday outside the offices of the Prefecture de la Region Lorraine, even the mangled cigar stub on the cobbles was still there.

Monday 2nd: As we sat at breakfast we could not help noticing the somewhat Arthurian headlines: ‘Bin Laden est Mort’ and, as we ate, the same bits of footage and information were recycled continuously. What was sadly lost amongst all this was the death of Sir Henry Cooper, one of those British institutions, who, apart from boxing, advertised a dry aftershave and had his voice pointlessly dubbed in ‘Royal Flash’. We couldn’t wait to escape.

We headed for the town centre; our mission was to find the restaurant where we had eaten two years ago. We could not remember the name of the place but it was easy to find and we were pleased to see that the restaurant was still there. After a coffee we pondered on what to do next; the Chapel of the Templars, which had eluded us last time was in fact no longer there, no great surprise really since Friday 13th was not a good day for the Order.

We found somewhere for our picnic lunch at the park near the Bridge of Death and then, while Richard wandered off for another coffee, we set off to walk along the Moselle with its excellent stock of fine chub. Afterwards we returned to the hotel for a siesta before Janet and I went for a walk along the Selle stopping briefly to admire the Pompidou Centre.

In the evening we headed back into town for dinner…and what an adventure that turned into! There is something about Metz that creates some sort of glamour that gets us lost, we ended up somewhere near the Marshal Ney Square and, as we drove up what seemed to a be a pedestrian area, I could not help thinking that we had slipped into a level of ‘Carmegeddon II’, all it needed were a few sheep and penguins to finish it off!

As we searched for a car park near the Cathedral, we suddenly found ourselves hemmed in by bollards in front and a small silver car behind, there was nowhere to go and suddenly a little lady was standing next to my door. Expecting a moment of Gallic road rage, I wound down the window; my fears were unfounded as she smiled brightly and asked, “Are you English?” Having crossed the language barrier her next question was “Are you lost?” and then “Follow me”, which we did. This Saviour of Lost Tourists led us back to the nearest car park and then, as we were paying, she did a sort of fly by to make sure that we were safe and sound, I waved a thanks to her and she waved back, no doubt going to tell her grandchildren about the odd lost people she had rescued.

So…The Restaurant Tartarie…We started with quiche, absolutely delicious; light pastry with its fantastic egg, ham and cheese filling. Well, I said it a couple of years ago, I know, but it has to be said again; real quiche, and not the limp, damp crap we have in Britain, is a dish not to be missed. The main course arrived; and, as my choucroute was lowered before me, I gave an inward cry of despair, there was a great pile of sauerkraut with a slab of bacon, a cut of ham, a sausage and balanced on top was a chunk of hock, as if this was not enough there were three boiled spuds on the side. It has been a long time since I ate my own body weight in food but somehow I managed to finish all of it. Our waiter was most impressed. Afterwards I thanked the manageress, telling her that we had been there two years ago and that I had just consumed the greatest pile of choucroute ever! She threw her arms up and laughed with joy at the foreigners who had returned!

Tuesday 3rd: We set off early for Calais, our penultimate stop before home. There was the usual Metz confusion in trying to leave, at one point Sybil simply gave up directing us, leaving us stranded amongst the one way systems, but, with Sybil back on line, we finally escaped the clutches of Metz.

Apart from a couple of storks, a sparrow hawk and several buzzards it was a mostly unremarkable journey. I would have loved to go to the Musée de la Préhistoire en Wallonie where, it seems, one can learn to use an atl-atl and knap flint, but sadly it was too far out of our way. We arrived in Calais in the early afternoon and after stocking up on a few bottles of wine we headed for our hotel. The days Norbert results were a close run thing with Richard getting 14 points and us getting 16 each.

Wednesday, May the Fourth Be with You: We left Calais Ibis early…I wonder why they have poppies on their carpets instead of long legged wading birds sacred to Thoth…As we headed for the terminal Sybil went into one of her remote modes and we soon found ourselves heading for the lorry terminal, which, as it turned out, is several miles from where we wanted to be. It took a while to get our bearings and as we headed out of the lorry terminal we saw several other cars arriving, obviously Sybil was not the only SatNav in a strop that morning. And as we passed those other confused drivers we could only say “This is not the terminal you are looking for!” It was, after all, Jedi Day.

This is Prof Grymm shortly going on a diet!