Thursday, 29 June 2017

Straw bear workshop: beer-infused poems and prose

Pic: Kev747 at Wikipedia, 14/1/2008
The Whittlesey straw bear festival happens in January. Banned due to public order issues in the first part of the 20th century (the ritual involves beer and some rowdiness), this tradition was revived in the 1980s. Leanne Moden, a performing poet I met on a Michael Brown's poetry walk here in Cambridge, led a workshop at the Cambridge Museum yesterday, part of a UNESCO project that wants to make heritage (and specifically museum collections) come alive through their stories...

Pic: Museum of Cambridge (Facebook page)
So here is what I produced yesterday at this inspiring session...

First draft with keyword exercise:

Bountiful bales
Blonde, brittle and wirey
Sun drenched compacted blocks Scents of summer and wild rabbits

These first verses were then transformed into bear-related ones - these were shared with the group aloud:

The bountiful bear
Blond, brittle and wirey
Sun drenched, merry dancing
Scents of summer, whiffs of beer and wild rabbits
Then I wrote this poem, inspired by an object on this table of artefacts:

A post shared by Simone Castello (@simonecasuk) on

Whittlesey here I come
Bear beer bottle in careful hands
A heirloom that comes out but once a year
then retires to dust-free darkness
After some more creative exercises, I came up with these two prose pieces...

The blind bear
I can hardly see as I am led into the crowds. It's thirsty work being a straw bear. My mouth has dried up. It might be winter outside but I am stifling inside. I do a merry step and groan, the straw suit is so heavy. Someone passes me a beer, God Bless, I pour it into a slit and smack my lips, bliss! My stomach grumbles. I can smell sausages grilling, spicy chicken wings... this brings me back to my village, the summer BBQ after the cricket match on the green.

A cool breeze tickles the straw, a gentle caress on my grass armour. My face feels prickly but I can't scratch the itch so I nod happily when another beer comes my way and skip merrily ahead. The costume feels less heavy now, I walk faster and I stumble. Oh dear, but everybody is laughing with me and strong arms are helping me get back on my feet in a jiffy.

Bear necessities
Yesterday I saw the straw bear at the Coop, led by a young man with tattoed arms. He had a shopping list in his hand, tattoes even on the knuckles.

"Do not forget the beer, Dave!" Said the bear.
"Don't worry, mate, it's all in hand," Dave replied.

He winked at me while he picked up three bottles of ale from the alcohol-free shelf. Poor bugger, I thought, that is vile stuff, he is no mate of yours, that Dave.

And that is all folks! For someone who does not drink much, there are a lot of boozy references... lol. If you want to see more of my creative writing, visit or if you want to see the commercial stuff.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Father's Day sorted! Eating at Prezzo & a Sugru kit for the 'difficult' dad

It has been a busy time. As the academic term concludes my inhouse contracting work is over and I am back working from home. I am currently writing an article on branding for SMEs and looking for more writing opportunities. So this blog is a refreshing oasis where I can leave business at the door...

This post is an entry for the BritMums #PrezzoLaFamiglia Challenge, sponsored by Prezzo

Family dining - Prezzo style

With Father's Day approaching, it was really lovely to be offered a chance to sample a family menu at Prezzo. I am Italian by origin and grew up in a restaurant run by my grandmother so I do have high expectations... I had tried Prezzo before with work colleagues, if going to an Italian restaurant I usually order pizza as I can make pasta at home (and my British partner can after stealing my recipes). We do not eat pasta often because Michael is a meat and two veg man and he is the cook in our household to the surprise of friends and family.

Prezzo Cambridge is located by Magdalene College near the waterside. It was not a sunny evening so it looks a bit glum in the picture but it's a lovely location. When we arrived, Michela got stuck into the kid's activities, printed on the children's menu.

This is a very clever thing to do as children are not as patient as adults so keeping them occupied when you order and wait for the food makes for a relaxed family table. We are not the sort of parents who let their child ran around the restaurant hassling other customers or making a huge amount of noise... so if she is busy we can ditch our supervision role. We were sent a voucher to try La Famiglia sharing dish.

The voucher entitled us to a starter of garlic bread, soft drinks, La Famiglia sharing pasta bowl and ice creams. My partner went a la carte drinkwise and ordered the Peroni beer, I had Panna still water (not many restaurants in the UK serve it) and my daughter chose Sprite. Here are Michela and Michael stucking into the garlic breads, which were more like pizza. My daughter was not as keen, the issue is the added ingredient of caramelised onion. She does not mind fried onions now she is older but the overpowering sweet taste of those onions put her off. I liked the variation but I agree there was too much onion on it, which had a kind of chutney, jammy appearance. But moving onto the main thing.... the huge bowl of yummy pasta! There was general consensus here that it was al dente, with generous amounts of meaty Bolognese sauce. We are a family of three but I think it would serve four or even five. It is bigger than it looks in the photo. We were defeated by it...

Michela brushed up on her fork skills. She is half Italian, but we do not have pasta often enough - as I said the cook is British. But of course the highlight has to be the ice cream... There is a choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry - we ordered one of each.
Here are the ice creams in their dinky bowls. Michela is taking her reviewer's job very seriously, savouring slowly with her spoon. Our spoons visited all the flavours. Personally I think chocolate came top. Michela thinks that the strawberry flavour tastes like Chewits.

During our meal the service was attentive and friendly. Here is our main waiter, Ziko, who posed with us. Michela thinks he is very nice.

 Father's Day... what to give to a 'difficult' man?

Michael is the man who has everything, with few hobbies... a right nightmare to buy presents for. I give him a cheque at Xmas so he can buy what he wants. For the other occasions we go out to a restaurant or we buy him funny gifts. We have already tested Sugru and he liked it, so I was delighted to receive this Sugru kit. Retailing at £10 online and at high street retailers, it is perfect for the Father who likes to fix things. The kit comes with an idea booklet to stir those creative/practical juices...

For those who do not know Sugru, it is mouldable glue - available in many colours - that turns into rubber. It bonds with wood, glass, metal and ceramic. Some people even used it to fix waterproof shoes.... It is also electrical insulated...