Monday, 13 January 2014

Straw Bear Festival, Whittlesey

There are two Charlton games I always look out for when the fixtures list is published in the Summer, but perhaps for the opposite reasons to most fans.  The first is the Boxing day game.  I'm usually not in London on that day so it means an early start and a long drive down in freezing weather if we are playing at home, rather than a short trip up the road from my Christmas location to watch the Posh at London Road.

The second is the mid January game which again I hope will be an away fixture as it clashes with the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesey (near Peterborough).  This year's game against Barnsley meant that it looked like I would be giving up my first home game of the season.  With apologies to the Barnsley fans who made a long and costly wasted trip down I still get to see this fixture at a later date!

Straw Bear is a custom relating to Plough Monday when a man was dressed up in straw and paraded from pub to pub for the amusement of the locals.  It has now grown to what I believe is one of the eminent folk dancing events in the country.

The Straw Bear
Forget your wassailing in Kent orchards, this is full blown folk with Morris, Mollies, Rappers (no not that kind - sword dancers to you and me!) and Appalachian clog dancers in abundance plus the Fenland equivalent of the Yeti being led around the town on a leash.

Now before you laugh, don't knock it until you've tried it.  Being rammed against the wall in a pub, trying not to spill your pint while six sword dancers whirl around within inches of you is no mean feat, especially after a couple of beers have been sunk.  Folk dancers are a thirsty and discerning bunch when it comes to real ale and the festivities conveniently centre around the local hostelries so its a good excuse for a local pub crawl disguised as a cultural event.

Pretty Grim Morris Group

Whittlesey (or Whittlesea if you're a real local) in normal. times is blessed with a large number of pubs for a town of its size virtually all serving quality ales.  During Staw Bear they go full on with many holding their own mini beer festivals and most stocking seasonal Straw Bear beer brewed for the festival weekend, which is also used to make the batter at the local fish & chip shop.  So it would simply be rude not to take advantage of such an event.  All I can say is don't knock it until you've tried .  Its a great day out for all the family with plenty of events and opportunities to join in should you so wish.

The events start off at the George in the town square where the first pint is an obligatory Straw Beer brewed by Elgood Brewery especially for the festival while watching the Rivington Morris go through their paces.

On a short trip along Market  Street we encountered the  Wichmen Border Morris with their blacked out faces and excellent ivy leaf hatted musical accompaniment.  I've never managed to get a pint at the Black Bull as its always rammed so we tend to wonder further out of town to watch Tylers Men amongst others at the New Crown who have a decent selection of regional beers including Woodford's Wherry and Oakham's Straw Bear Ale.

Pig Dyke Molly

A brief stop outside the Ivy Leaf club saw us catch up with local group Pig Dyke Molly who for me encapsulate the spirit of Molly while dragging it into the 21st century.  You can't miss their distinctive black and white costumes.

The Letter B
Then on to two fantastically named pubs in the form of the Hero of Aliwal and the Letter B, just across the road from each other.  I've never managed to get inside the Letter B as its so small but a good chance to watch the Bourne Borders with their excellent pheasant plumage in their hats.

Back in the town centre the Falcon open up their out houses in the garden to reveal a selection of casks while inside a Mummer play entertained the crowds.  It was here that I heard the bad news about the Charlton game and so it was with a wry smile that I tucked into a pint of Wolf Brewery's "Granny wouldn't like it", picked purely for the name but an excellent dark red but rich and fruity beer.

The pavements of Whittlesey weren't built for tap, so the Apalachian clog dancers ply their trade on a large square of wood inside Childers Hall where they benefit from the acoustics.  In the freezing cold weather this was a chance for us to warm up a bit inside with a pint of Barn Ale, an excellent session pale ale at 3.9% from another local brewery Tydd Steam Brewery (  Hats off to dance group Tap & Sync for allowing the children to join in with the dance moves.

Bourne Boarders
We finished off at the Bricklayers Arms where a choice of Elgood Brewery ales met us if we were still thirsty.  A pint of Golden Newt looked like it would be a standard pale ale but had a fuller malty finish that came as a surprise (a few more ingredients in play other than the standard Maris Otter).

Beer of the day was Oakham Ales Straw Bear Ale and dance troop of the day were Pig Dyke Molly.  Boo of the day went to the Stevenage Sword (who are an excellent group) for the apparent non-appearance at the Hero of Aliwal.

Haddenham Hoofers

If after all that you're looking for suitable evening home entertainment along the same theme can I recommend the film "Morris: A life with Bells on"  ( It stars Derek Jacobi and is a hilarious spoof on the world of Morris dancing.

Oh about that New Years Resolution on quality not quantity, well there's always next year!  I look forward to seeing you all at Charlton's FA cup game against Oxford on Tuesday.   COYR.

Apologies if I have the names of any of the dance groups wrong, it was a long day and I wasn't taking notes!  Please contact me and I will be happy to make any corrections

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Quality but not Quantity please

The title of this blog piece is my new years resolution, let me explain.

I've had a storming 2013 in terms of the real ale experience. As well as the Great British Beer Festival I've managed to get along to a few specialist festivals in local and not so local pubs.  I've trawled the taverns of Greenwich and found an excellent new local in the form of RLAs serving cask beers only from London Breweries (see for more details) as well as explored a few new breweries such as Hopstuff in Woolwich and the Brixton Brewery.  I've even found time to visit specialist cask and keg bars such as the Pelt Trader near Cannon Street, Crown & Anchor in Brixton and the Old Red Cow in Smithfield, all in search of a decent pint. All this comes at a cost as my head has invariably found on a Sunday morning but we all have to suffer a little to help our struggling economy don't we?

However, in my ageing years there is only so much a man can take and I've decided that the order of the day is quality over quantity.  No more rubbish beer, no more squeezing one more in for the road and maybe the occasional half of the 7.4% porter rather than a couple of pints (oh why do you make it so easy to drink?- the guilty culprit knows who they are!).  Luckily when it comes to quality food and wine I'm afraid I am a weak willed individual so I'm not too sure how long this will last.  I'm predicting that resolution will last until around mid February at the latest!

I'm also hoping that it's going to be Chris Powell's new year's resolution too.  With the recent takeover there has been a faint whiff of resources being available to the manager and the temptation is to splash the cash.  At least he only has to keep this one until the closing of the January transfer window.  However, its all too easy for a manager to go on a spending spree, buying supposed star players that happen to be free.  We saw it with Iain Dowie who acted like the proverbial kid in a candy store buying anyone and everyone with little or no thought as to the consequences.  Charlton suffered both in footballing and financial terms as a result.

Chris seems to know his stuff, picking out a solid league one winning side when he had the cash to do so.  More importantly, this collection of individuals quickly gelled into a close knot squad, vital for any successful campaign. He has also been quite shrewd in the loan market with the likes of Cameron Stuart and before him
Danny N'Gussen, Ricardo Fuller and Danny Haynes.  It hasn't all been plain sailing though, he's had his fair share of loan players that have had few minutes on the pitch and the likes of Fuller while undoubtedly a class act have been too expensive in terms of minutes on the pitch with their potential for injuries.

It doesn't sound like the new owner is going to shower Powell with vast amounts for the transfer kitty but it looks like we'll have a small amount to spend but the priority surely is to shore up the current core of the squad whose contracts are going to run out in the summer.  Once that's done I still don't think we need to be too rash in our signings as there are a number of good players that Charlton already know very well that could be available to us.

Cameron Stewart must be close to top of that list and media reports suggest that Charlton are trying hard to keep hold of him but it will have to be an outright purchase.  This is no bad thing.  Secondly, with loanee Marvin Sordell sidelined through a hamstring injury why don't we turn to Jonathan Obika again.  He still appears to be nowhere near joining the Tottenham first team but was still banging in the goals in a friendly on Tuesday against a Charlton under 21 side.  Perhaps Tim Sherwood might have a different opinion on his squad needs to allow us to bring him in again.

Another former loan player that has sunk away from the limelight is Emmanuel Frimpong.  In fact, since returning from his loan at Fulham he has not featured in any of Arsenal's first team games except as an unused substitute in August.  I have to admit I am unsure about his qualities but I do know that many Charlton fans regard him as a talented player.

All this is before we look at the players available in M. Duchatelet's stable of clubs in Europe.

So Mr Powell, if you are listening, if you keep your resolutions then I'll keep mine (at least until the close of the January transfer window!).  Is it a deal?  I won't be at the Barnsley match on Saturday as I have commitments elsewhere which will be revealed in next weeks blog update.

Is it still "Come on You Reds" or have we changed it to "Allez les Rouges"?

Monday, 6 January 2014

A Promising Start as History Repeats itself

The promised takeover seemed to go pretty smoothly and we are now officially in the hands of Belgium millionaire Roland Duchatelet.  However it seemed like only a day went by before certain parties were already knocking the deal, questioning which companies he had actually bought, whether the ground was included or whether other shareholders were still involved. Be under no illusions, Monsieur Duchatelet didn't get where he was without being a canny investor.  He already owns a stable of investments and we can be guaranteed that he has bought lock stock and barrel of the club, so lets put the silly rumours aside please.

 Initial signs look promising. We have a midfielder immediately on loan from Standard Liege in the form of Astrit Ajdarevic and a Premier a league quality pitch cover duly arriving which is currently pumping hot air to dry out the ground. These things don't come cheaply (one of the reasons I suspect why we haven't borrowed the "Super Soaker" from the Oval again) but was set up promptly. It's going to take more than a few days to dry out the water logged turf so the rescheduled game on Wednesday is unlikely to go ahead but whatever day it's held I will be there, if only to see our new loanee and the rest of the squad get a good run out.

I'm sure many Charlton fans will agree with me that the next step is to secure Chris Powell's tenure as manager by renewing his contract as well as that of certain key players. I'm not expecting many approaches during the current transfer window but it would be good to tie down the core of the squad before there is too much uncertainty in players' minds as the end of the season approaches.  Who knows we might even be able to hold on to Cameron Stewart which would be a bonus in my mind.

I'm also pleased that Richard Murray has retained his position on the board. A true Charlton fan and business man I know in my heart that he has the club's best interests at heart and must have had some frustrating times over the last year.  It's good to see him unshackled and willing to talk to the supporters (see the Charlton Supporters Trust website for more details) once a few hurdles have been cleared. I'm sure it will make interesting listening!  I also hope that this marks a resumption of management communication with fans and other stakeholders in the club, something that I think we can all agree was poorly handled by the previous incumbents.  Mr Jimenez has published another blog on the Huffington Post ( explaining his reasons for selling the club but again it would have been nice and won him some plaudits if he had communicated this to fans first.  I am sure that Mr Murray will ensure that our new shareholder will take note from this.

Its starting to look like we have our Charlton back again!

In other news we are once more playing Huddersfield again in the FA Cup, provided we beat Oxford of course, both of whom we have met in this season's Capital One cup!  If you have time take a look at the exasperated but amusing tweets between the Charlton and Huddersfield official twitter feeds on the matter.  Its good to see that even official tweets can have a sense of humour and long may it continue!  I wouldn't be surprised if they don't get allocated permanent spaces in the car park, so regular are the visits these days.