Friday: As is always the case with the start of the season
we managed to forget something; the ice blocks were still snuggly
stored in our freezer at home. At Folkestone gremlins renewed
their presence when they displaced Tooms’ passport just as
we were getting to the check point, seconds earlier it was firmly
in hand and now it was gone. Tooms even got out of the car in the
unlikely event that it had fallen out. I couldn’t help but wonder
at the security aspects of leaving one’s vehicle at passport control.
I found the passport lodged between the front seats just in time
to avoid an interesting incident.
We got to Calais without any further incident although
we did pass a rather odd scene; two men standing on a bridge over
a canal, between them was a large sofa. It struck me as a very novel
way of dumping a body…
We arrived at the Passchendaele Museum in the early afternoon,
it was sunny, the air full of the song of blackcaps and chiffchaff
and the security barrier that had been installed was firmly locked
in front of us and nobody was there to let us through. After a few
minutes of standing around muttering about seedy
buns, the barrier suddenly lifted and we went in; the only magic
here was that Kristof had the remote for the gate and had
been watching from afar!
We were back in the Great Marquee and it seemed that it
was going to be all ours allowing us to expand our exhibits throughout.
Thankfully the drains had been sorted out and the miasmal stench
was not to be part of the show this year. A couple of jackdaw nests
were tucked under the eaves of the museum and the young birds begging
for food made an eerie sound that reminded me of oilbirds.
At the "De Ruyffelaer" our group seemed a little thin on
the ground this year but there was no stopping the usual interdimensional
flow of conversation which ranged from food to the intimate intricacies
of training for strip search security at airports. For a tiny moment
my brain took me back to that misplaced passport event earlier in
the day…With an inward shudder I returned to my delicious rabbit
Paul took photos of each course as it arrived, I could
almost hear his thoughts as he pointed his camera at each culinary
presentation; “That’s it, give me succulent, glistening wabbit,
mmm…yes, a dribble of white wine balsamic…” Why it made me think
of ‘American Beauty’ I shall hopefully never find out – that
was one of the most tedious and pointless films about flower arranging
that I have ever seen.
Back at the museum we sat with Paul and Debby for
a while but it was too cold and windy for bats as well as humans
and we soon gave up and headed for our respective tents.
Saturday: I woke up to the creepy calls of hungry jackdaws
and when I looked out at the world there was a grey dampness about
things. By 09:30 there seemed to be hundreds of people going through
the park; cyclists, hikers with more than one stick, joggers carrying
doughnut shaped water bottles and even a few people simply going
to work. I watched a group of English students pondering on why
a man was urinating into what appeared to be the head of a ballistic
missile, at least that is what the grey, conical urinals reminded
me of. As it turned out, three of these students became our first
visitors because I shanghaied them into looking at the mermaid.
There is a question that we have been asked on several occasions
over the years: “Why are you here?” meaning what the heck do mermaids
and man eating bears have to do with The Great War? Well,
it’s like this, we were there at the orders of the British,
French and Belgian high command and, depending on
where the front line was, we were also there on the orders of the
German high command. Not everyone understood this and one
or two were not amused…but that is a different member of the royal
I met a lady who owned a Chancay
doll, although up to when she asked me what my specimen
was she had no idea what she had. She had picked it up in a car
boot sale and the lady who sold it to her had got rid of it as she
thought that it was creepy. Likewise, she was also thinking of selling
it. When I explained what the dolls were and the materials used
to make them she had a change of heart and decided to keep it.
The post dinner International petanque was interesting.
At one intense moment, Raphael made a perfectly poo throw
and swore in a combination of German and Italian;
I seemed to be the only one who picked up on this bit of international
profanity. The whole game seemed a bit of a hustle to me - I always
watch the various teams and I couldn’t help noticing that the winning
team, composed of Belgians wearing outdated Napoleonic
uniforms, had someone who knew how to chuck a shot with considerable
There was some sort of ANZAC Day VIP event going on at
another site of the museum but whatever was being played was lost
in the sort of sound that displaced internal organs. Despite all
the noise it was an excellent night for bats over the lake as it
was warm and still. Debby was most impressed by her first
experience of Daubenton’s
bats feeding over the water.
Sunday: As a collector of many things I am fascinated by
what people find interesting. I took a look around the market to
see what was on offer; little mementos that had once belonged to
young men eager to kill other young men, helmets, grenades and items
rusted beyond use. I later caught sight of Paul carrying
a mangled rusted item that a hundred years ago had been part of
Debby told us a rather curious story this morning; having
drunk a considerable amount of herb infused liqueur last night she
had woken up with something of a thirst. She reached for the nearest
water bottle only to discover that Paul had used it during
the night…oops, too late!
After breakfast the Grymms took a morning stroll, a lot
has happened to the park since we first came here four years ago
and there are well laid out paths that take you around the lake.
The only interesting bird that we found was what turned out to be
a mallard x pintail hybrid. The male northern pintail is a very
elegant looking duck and while this hybrid had inherited most of
the markings his shape was all chunky mallard.
While there was the usual turn out of re-enactors at the church
service this morning there was a definite lack of locals. I doubt
if the weather put people off, we had sat through worse. Afterwards
we gathered for coffee, waffles and a warm tipple. Tooms
had added tweed skirting to the front of his mobility contraption
to hide the day glow orange frame. From the front it made him look
rather like Davros
Once we opened up for the public we were pretty busy throughout
most of the afternoon, our attendance levels being helped by the
rain. I met a young French re-enactor who collected vintage
clothing. He is only sixteen and already has a vast wardrobe of
clothing recovered from house clearances and boot sales. As I said,
it never ceases to amaze me what folks collect. Tooms found
himself under the glare of three little girls, lined up Russian
doll-style; apparently they were curious about the glass eye display…
I went out for a breath of fresh air during a quiet period and
watched the uniform display. There was a slightly surreal Miss
World look about the somewhat damp line-up…”and what do you
like Poilu Paul?”, A Gallic shrug is followed by “I enjoy
long sentry duty up to my hips in cold, putrid mud and throwing
harsh words at the Bosh. Oh, and world peace…”
Finally it was time to pack up, as I walked back to the car with
Richard I took my phone out to check the time and a tiny
droplet appeared on the screen, it looked like it was going to rain
and we still had canvas to pack. We decided that getting the tent
down was essential so I headed back. We had the tent down and dragged
into the marquee within 10 minutes, a couple of minutes later the
heavens opened up into a persistent piss down.
There was a sort of post event fatigue about us once everything
was packed; it was too much effort to go anywhere and too cold and
wet to bother. By the time that Paul and Debby returned
we had succumbed to cold camping lethargy and crawled into our beds
to keep warm in that huge empty room.
Monday: It had been a cold and miserable night and when
the alarms went off we slowly came to life and, as one by one, we
unfolded from our beds and put feet to cold decking. A couple of
us felt as though we had slipped into the opening scene of ‘Alien’
- let’s just hope that no one gets a space crab down their throat!
Despite the cold it was a glorious spring morning and we were
soon packed and on our way to Calais for lunch and shopping.
This is Prof Grymm reminding you that in the tent, no-one
can hear you pee.