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.