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.