Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Yaxley Festival Weekend 18th & 19th May 2013



Saturday: We arrived at St. B’s Hall early enough to set up and were met by Fran who let us in to the hall and showed us round before leaving us to our own devices. I was not feeling too good and was very uncoordinated. I wanted to set up Esme the Mummified Peruvian Princess but she was not having any of it; what should have taken a couple of minutes of cloth origami became a frustrated fight with sheep skins and blankets until I finally gave up and shoved the whole untidy sagging mess under the table. To compound matters my clothing did not seem to fit this morning and the wrong pants resulted in further entanglement, but enough already! On with the show!

We were joined this weekend by the guest appearance of Malachi Sternberg, a renowned East End folklorist who brought along a few items. Amongst these was the only known specimen of the Fenland Newt Man, a bizarre amphibian of the fens that may, or may not, have once been associated with the demons driven out by St Guthlac of Crowland. In fact, his statue shows him standing on what may well be a newt man.

At the official opening of the event, there was a parade down the high street which included a very interesting looking Green Man and once that went through, we had a constant stream of visitors to our little museum. I asked several people who the hall is named after but no one seemed to know who St. B was.

I met a gentleman who handed me what, at first, appeared to be a lump of coal but on closer inspection I could see that there were seams of amber running through it. He told me that he was thinking of making something out of it but I was not sure how the specimen would carve since the amber runs in random waves. Of course, any mosquitoes in it would yield DNA from giant amphibians…newt man anyone?

I listened to Malachi tell tales of the Famous duel of Wandsworth Bridge, which involved the waving about of a pair of fine duelling pistols, and a couple of Sudanese knives that were used by young ladies to protect their virtue. There were also tales of Fenland Goat Tossing and the association of the sport with St Guthlac who, allegedly, chucked the devil in the form of a goat across a ditch.

On the subject of duelling and chucking, Malachi had a recently acquired personal curio; whilst jogging in his human persona someone threw something at him from a passing car which, thankfully, missed and bounced off a wall. On inspection, it was found to be a can of garden peas of a cheap unknown brand and, to add insult to almost injury, it still had a tombola ticket taped to it!!

Something quite odd happened during the day; a member of the public with the inability to read ‘Do Not Touch’ signs picked up Dr Tombs skeleton foot showing how it fitted into lotus shoes and ‘cured’ it by unfolding it into a normal foot before placing it back - “There I was, a courtesan of the Empress Dowager and some bugger cures me. Not so much as a by your leave! ” As prizes go it is up there with the dingus who nearly crushed Charlie at Rochester.

We were busy from the start of the day, even before we had officially opened. It had been a great day and we were told that the festival was going very well outside with plenty of visitors and trade.

Sunday: We left Benwick a little later this morning since everything was ready for us when we arrived. The first thing that I did was to drag Esme’s sorry remains from under the table and assemble her; it took about five minutes! We assumed, quite wrongly, that just about everyone who wanted to visit us had done so on the previous day but within a few minutes of opening the doors we had a steady stream of people coming through. Yaxley is obviously bigger than it looks.

While explaining the basic rules of sla-hal, the bone game, I told the young lady I was talking to that it was played by the natives of the American NorthWest, mentioning the Haida and Tlinget as examples of tribes in the area. Somehow I scrambled my words in such a way that she thought I had said “hide and sling it”

Malachi had bought along a few more curios today, one of which is a Masai blood bowl in which cow’s blood and milk were mixed for a meal. He also borrowed The Club that Killed Capt. Cook although at some point during the afternoon Malachi came to some misinformed conclusion that the article was a fake! How he could doubt the veracity of an item with a P T Barnum label on it is beyond me!

While I was chatting to a gentleman, who is also a collector of curios, he told me that he had found a small piece of amber in coal. Now what are the chances of meeting two people who had found amber in their coal supply in as many days?

Well, it had been a great weekend and the weather had been fabulous, it is hard to imagine that we are almost half way through the year and we have been subjected to high, cold winds almost throughout the whole period. I was up this way on the May Day bank holiday and the first swallows had only just arrived in the area. This weekend I saw the first swifts – they are about three weeks late.

We would like to thank Fran & Paul for their help and letting us use the hall for our museum, Stewart Howe who designed our poster with a wonderful jenny haniver on it, and also special thanks to Mike (Malachi), Elaine and Katie for their hospitality.

This is Prof Grymm in search of amber bearing coal deposits.