The Straw Bear Festival

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As we already approach the third week of the new year the bad news is we’re still in deepest mid-winter in the UK and it’s cold enough to freeze the proverbial ‘you know what’s’ off a brass monkey. However,the shortest day of winter, December 21st, has already passed us by so from hereon in, nights are getting shorter and days longer and more importantly for me, thanks to the small Cambridgeshire town I live in, mid January also offers a welcome injection of colour and merriment in the form of the annual Straw Bear Festival. This weekend has seen the sleepy little town of Whittlesey come alive with visitors and townsfolk alike partaking in some good spirited drinking, street dancing and general good cheer as it celebrates its 38th Straw Bear Festival. Undoubtedly one of my favourite times of the year, it is this annual festival that provided the inspiration behind my own interpretation of such an event in my debut novel, 183 Times A Year, which takes place in the fictitious town of Great Tosson. And, just for your enjoyment, I include an extract below as well as a few photo’s I took this weekend. 

“My self-indulgent melancholy is temporarily hindered as I push my way through swarms of people gathered along every street. Our small and usually quiet town is bustling and bursting at the seams. An infestation of locals and visitors alike follow the bear made of straw – enthusiastically entertained by an entourage of storytellers and street acts. Musicians provide a melodic din across an eclectic sound of instruments. Bagpipes, Harmonicas, Maudolin’s and Hurdy Gurdy’s intertwine with the heartbeat of base and side drums to well known songs such as the The Curly Headed Ploughboy and the Old Drove Road.

Flamboyant costumes of the Morris, Molly, Rapper and Long Sword dancers inject a welcome relief of colour into the drab and dreary backdrop. Technicolor tatter-coats dazzle the eye, as do some of the more eccentric waistcoats, rosettes and neckerchiefs. Others sport flashing, neon armbands and some wear straw hats while others show off black bowlers or top hats. Women predominately fashion layered, ankle length skirts that rustle with every twist and turn whilst men prefer knee-length breeches. White handkerchiefs are waved ceremoniously and whoops and cries of varying voice are thrown up and caught on the wind. There is rhythmic clash of metal from the Long Swords complimenting the hollow collision of clay pipe wielding Morris dancers.

I look across a flock of faces and pick out Dad’s. I continue to push my way through the throng of good spirits, hoping some of it may actually rub off. Enticing smells of mulled wine and roasting hog hangs heavy amongst the atmosphere of pagan abandonment. Joyous escape from fuel bills, job losses and pay cuts. A brief but hedonistic trip into carnival and Mardi Gras.”

Copyright © Eva Jordan 2015

If you’d like to know more about this wonderful festival or the history behind it, click here.

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Number 11 – My book review

 

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Book Review – Number 11 by Jonathan Coe 

Publisher – Penguin 

Number 11 is the eleventh novel written by Jonathon Coe, and although this is my first Coe read, research suggests it has all the hallmarks of his previous novels in that most of his work has an underlying preoccupation with political issues, often expressed comically in the form of satire. Number 11 is a bang up to date, state of the nation satire.

Starting with best friends Rachel and Alison, Coe takes us on a social and political journey beginning around the turn of the century. For the most part Rachel remains the main protagonist throughout, however, Number 11 is not really plot driven or character driven but rather a number of loosely connected short stories or episodes, where Rachel, predominately, has some link as does the Number 11, whether it’s a bus route, a house number, a table number at a function and also, not surprisingly, number 11 Downing Street.

The characters and their unfolding stories are used, in the main, as vehicles for Coe’s brilliant social commentary. His targets are obvious one’s but deservedly so including; corrupt business owners, bankers and politicians, social media – including cyber bullying and trolling – and reality TV. Coe also looks at the effect of austerity on the poor – be that housing shortages, a lack of decent job opportunities and the rise of food banks – compared to the unaffected super-rich with their many properties – often standing vacant – with garages alone valued at just under half a million pounds, used for storing cars never driven.

‘I feel,’ Rachel said, ‘that there’s my world, and there’s their world, and the two co-exist, and are very close to each other, but you can’t really pass from one to the other.’

Number 11 is a brilliantly social commentary about the current state of our nation. Coe is a great satirist and I often found my mouth lifting into a wry smile, however, I also found myself feeling somewhat deflated with his depressingly accurate observations about the absurdity of modern life. Therefore, it is not a particularly cheery read – and nor should it be. It also descends into a tale of horror towards the end, which although interesting, somehow felt disjointed with the rest of the book. I don’t think this book is for everyone, however Coe’s prose throughout is brilliant and I for one would recommend it.