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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!