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|
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|
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 (www.tyddsteam.co.uk). Hats off to dance group Tap & Sync for allowing the children to join in with the dance moves.
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.
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" (http://www.morrismovie.com). 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