Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Zonnebeke, Belgium, 24th to 27th April 2015



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 stew.

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 family.

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 precision.

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 a rifle.

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 in drag.

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.