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.

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