Thursday, 22 June 2017

Talking about big cats on BBC Radio Suffolk

I was recently on Jon Wright's BBC Radio Suffolk breakfast show, talking about the Sunday papers but also about big cats in Suffolk, including an update on Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk. It's been proofread by a volunteer once, I'm working in the corrections, it will go through a couple more proofreads. There's a little bit of work needed on the back cover - "too busy" as my publishers rightly noted. Then there's the pagination for the index and we're all systems go and ready to launch.

You can listen to our chat on the Iplayer until 9 July 2017, they usually send me a short audio clip that I will put on this website. I come in at around 01.23.00 talking about the Curious County's big cats, until 01.29.52. Then I'm on discussing the Sunday papers at 01.37.30.




Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Watching more and more Labour posters go up in Suffolk

FOR THE past few weeks I've been watching with some amazement as yet another Labour poster appears in a new window of yet another house in a particular street in the town of Halesworth, North Suffolk. That's right – Suffolk. Predominently rural Suffolk, in the ultra-safe Tory seat of Suffolk Coastal. Halesworth (population 4,700), just "the wrong side of the A12" – just far away enough from the coast to keep it from being part of the playground of the second-home owners, comes under the slightly more Labour-leaning Waveney District Council jurisdiction, but it's on the northern edge the ultra-safe Tory Suffolk Coastal Parliamentary constituency.


Apparently home-made Labour poster in Halesworth, North Suffolk, a recent addition. House number cropped out.

Normally at election time there are Conservative boards to be seen everywhere round here, usually big ones put up on the edges of big fields by the main road by local landowners. There were a lot of "Leave" signs in the fields on the edges of the big estates last June. This time round they are conspicuous by their absence. I suspect it's not vandalism, they may not have gone up in the first place this time round.

In the seaside village of Dunwich (over 30 per cent of households were second homes at the last count), all the boards in evidence are Lib Debs. But in Halesworth, the gradual accumulation of Labour posters in windows has been really noticeable. In a part of the world where a temporary traffic light put in on a village lane for some roadworks becomes a conversation starter, the appearance of even one Labour poster is a bit of a big deal. At first they appeared in the first floor windows of houses set back a bit from the road, not all that visible. Then, the next day, another. Then another. Then a sort of "Labour window" of a poster, some newspaper articles dissing Theresa May's record on the NHS, and some unfurled local leaflets presenting Labour's candidate for Suffolk Coastal, a young firefighter from Felixstowe named Cameron Matthews.

Matthews is up against till recently seemingly unassailable Dr Therese Coffey MP, widely derided by her constituents whatever their allegiance of lack of one. Dr Coffey has a majority of 25,000 and now serves as Undersecretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs. Like Margaret Thatcher, she was a chemist in the confectionary industry (for Mars). Dr Coffey is from Liverpool, she's still a passionate Liverpool FC fan (so no Suffolk origins then). Her candidacy for ultra-safe Suffolk Coastal was a reward for serial defeat in Parliamentary and European Parliament elections. This is in a seat where most candidates even for District Council elections put something along the lines of "born and raised in Suffolk" on the front of their leaflets if they can.

Private Eye noted Dr Coffey's role in ensuring the future of England's only Oil Transhipment Area, just off the pristine coast of Southwold, where mostly Russian tankers transfer oil to smaller vessels heading for the shallower waters of the Baltic. Also noted by Private Eye are Dr Coffey's famously short MP's surgeries in villages, where she announces through posters that she'll be available on a particular day for all of ten minutes or quarter of an hour, running surgeries practically with the engine still running.

The Conservatives have held Suffolk Coastal since its creation in the 1980s, and the seats that came before it (Sudbury and Woodbridge seat and Lowestoft seat) pretty much since the beginning of time, although Labour took Lowestoft in the landslide of 1945 and held it until the late 1950s. Elections for Suffolk County Council are usually a "blue tide" as well. Labour lost four Council seats in county elections in May, with the annihilation of UKIP accounting for most of the District-wide "blue tide." Suffolk's only upset was in the West of the County, where the West Suffolk Independents took Brandon from the Tories. So confident were the Tories of victory in Suffolk Coastal in the 2015 election that they didn't bother to send a representative to an important hustings in Woodbridge, to the "audible disapproval" from the audience.

It's now the day before the election, and last time I cycled down that street in Halesworth, we were up to two Labour posters appearing in windows per day. One of them appeared to be homemade, just printed in yellow lettering on a red background on somebody's computer printer. The same day, somebody had come round to the picture postcard village with its thatched houses where I live a couple of miles outside Halesworth, and as I was out they'd left some Labour leaflets wrapped around the handle of the front door. My jaw dropped, Labour have actually gone door to door in a deepest rural Suffolk village of 200 people. Labour even showing their face round there is to say the least a surprise. Even more of a surprise was the discovery of a "Never Mind the Bollocks" poster featuring a photo of May with duct-tape on her mouth and Sex Pistols-style ransom note cut-up lettering, taped to a tree on a dangerous bend on the B1123 road out of Halesworth heading deeper into rural Suffolk, a couple of miles from anywhere.


Yes, an actual Labour poster in the village of Westleton, Suffolk!

More surprising still was the sight of a couple of Labour posters in the "best kept village" of Westleton, on the edge of Minsmere and Dunwich Heath nature reserves. You don't get much more picture postcard than Westleton. Prince William and Kate Middleton even celebrated their first wedding anniversary with a weekend staying at the uber-posh Crown pub there. Labour posters in Westleton? Yes, I kid you not!

A quick look at the Rural Labour Twitter feed, though, suggests that all across the country, the sight of picture postcard thatched cottages with Labour boards up in front of them suddenly isn't all that rare anymore. Plus the odd photo of a farmer working in the fields in tractor, which proudly displays a Labour board fixed to its mudguard. (See also @LabourBoards.)

Slightly North of Halesworth, where Suffolk Coastal constituency ends and Waveney constituency starts, I was in the market town of Beccles for market day and I stumbled across the Labour Party stall. Its activists (there was a considerable swarm of them) told me the seat had only been Tory since 2010, the Tories were holding on to a majority of only 2,000, with everything to play for.

Given Labour's huge growth in membership since 2015, with the huge increase in resources that this brings, I found it surprisingly hard to actually track down Labour in Suffolk Coastal. Woodbridge Labour have an active website, one of their folk music benefits in the early spring of this year allegedly had to turn people away it was so busy. My nearest branch is Leiston Labour (the town, home of Sizewell B nuclear power station, had Communist and Labour councillors in an alliance in the 1930s, many Communist town councillors taught at Leiston's progressive Summerhill School. Leiston was at the time known as "Little Moscow.") Leiston Labour has no apparent contact details beyond a Twitter and Facebook page, it took weeks for them to reply to a DM message on Twitter. I was eventually able via the Labour Party's website get the contact details for Labour Eastern Region, who in turn eventually put me on to the Blyth Valley Group nearest me.

I was also a little disappointed when I went on the Labour Party website to look for "local events" and all they had was some door-knocking in Lowestoft, over 40 miles away, only for me to find the next day via Twitter that Jeremy Corbyn was already in Lowestoft and nearby Gorleston (the hospital, just over the border in Norfolk, was facing cuts.) It was clear that Jezza would be ending his lightning tour of the East Coast before I could even get on a train. To be fair, the lady at the Labour stall in Beccles told me they'd only got half an hour's notice of Jezza's visit themselves.

This lack of even the basics, such as actual contact details, was a point highlighted in a report that came out not long after Corbyn won his first leadership election, entitled Labour's Rural Problem _ Winning Again in Coast and County.

The report, prepared by then shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle, followed the Milliband-era Labour Party's poor showing in rural seats in the 2015 election – they lost one rural seat. Labour's Rural Problem claimed one issue is "not just rural voters' perception of Labour, but more crucially Labour's perception of rural voters. This problem goes from the top of the party to the bottom - for too many rurality is synonymous with Conservatism, and engaging with these communities is at best an afterthought, and at worst a complete waste of time." (is "rurality" even a word?)

Labour's rural problems date back way beyond Corbyn. When Labour lost the mostly rural Copeland seat to the Tories in a recent byelection, my reaction was, What? Labour still had a rural seat to lose? Given Blair and then Gordon Brown and their talent for taking the vote of entire regions or even nations for granted (Scotland, Wales, the North, etc.) it was just Corbyn's rotten luck to be around when there was somehow still a rural seat to contest that New Labour hadn't managed to lose already.


Hand-made "register to vote" poster aimed at the yoof of Halesworth, spotted in mid-May

At the local level at least, though, this time around someone in Labour now thinks it's worth going door to door to leaflet a remote thatched village of 200 people that doesn't even have a proper village hall, never mind a pub, so things may have changed.

Another failing Labour's Rural Problem identified was the tendency of mobilising any of its rural supporters that they did find to go door-knocking in the towns, as if the rural seats were a write-off. The report gave an example of a case where this happened – enthusiastic rural Labour activists were sent to a nearby "marginal" urban constituency to campaign, Labour did appallingly in that town and actually better in the rural constituency they'd emptied of activists (although still not enough to win it.)

As we speak, I've just called Suffolk Coastal Labour (I got their number from Eastern Region, now that I found out Eastern Region existed and they're actually answering the phone.) They confirmed that they're directing supporters in Suffolk Coastal to go to door-knocking on the day of the General Election in the constituency of Ipswich. This isn't because they've written off Suffolk Coastal though, it's because Ipswich been a swing seat or a "bell weather" seat as long as anyone can remember, for so long, in fact that a young journalist called Charles Dickens was dispatched there from London to cover an election, his experiences there inspired him to write The Pickwick Papers. The seat's changed hands eight times in the last century.

Only the dismalness of the then Labour candidate for Ipswich lost them the seat in the 2015 General Election (some had then tipped Labour to take it, they're fighting Ipswich with a different candidate now.) Ben Gummer, the current Tory incumbent, is an impressive foe, though. Like a lot of East Anglian Tory MPs, he's positioned in the green wing of the Tories (yes, they have one!) and his comments in defence of immigrants and against xenophobia immediately post-EU referendum show he's a far from typical Tory.

There's also a more practical reason for rural activists to go door-knocking 30-odd miles away in the County Town. Most of rural Suffolk is "left behind" _ literally. There's so little public transport left in the county. If you haven't got a car, it's actually easier to get to Ipswich than to other parts of rural Suffolk!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Encounter with a Bengal cat


Henry the Bengal cat


I've heard a lot about Bengal cats, and how Britain's big cats are supposed to be misidentified Bengal cats, how the genes of Bengal cats and other exotic breeds are supposed to have got into the feral cat population and turned them into something altogether different... and bigger. I heard that Bengal cats were real characters, they liked to go for walks on leads, and that they were such a handful behaviourally that they were often abandoned. I recall reading Big Cat Rescue saying that they used to get call-outs from people saying there was a "Florida panther" on the loose, attacking Alsatians and in some cases frightening old ladies, but when they got there it was often just an ever so slightly bigger than usual Bengal cat that had gone AWOL or been turned loose.

Legends tell of how the original Bengal cats, hybrids of the Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis) were named after one that was found in the Bay of Bengal on the approaches to Bombay (Mumbai) by early East India Company sailors, swimming out towards them. Like most exotic stories on the origins of exotic cat breeds, it's probably nonsense. (Burmese cats weren't originally from Burma, but from Thailand, "Bombay" cats were bred in Virginia, and so on.) We know they were deliberately crossbred. The UK Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 came in largely because Bengal cats (and wolf dogs, crosses between dogs and wolves) were turning up in the country, with the authorities unsure how they would turn out, the law banned wolfdogs (they're now legal) and required a license for Bengal cats that had more leopard cat genes than "F4" (fourth generation). Bengal cats are known for their "confident" temperament (a bit of an understatement!) Breeders sell them for anything up to £800 each.

I finally got to meet a Bengal cat face to face. He lives somewhere in the Blyth Valley in Suffolk, looked after by a fosterer. He came from a smaller house at the other end of the same village, but he obviously decided he didn't like his accommodation and fancied living in a bigger house and garden nearby, so he abandoned his humans and moved on in his new chosen home - fairly typical Bengal cat behaviour, I am told!

He is very vocal, quite friendly, and the two things that really struck me about him are that he is very muscular - at first glance he looks a little on the overweight side until you see that he is all muscle. Secondly, his fur is very short and shiny, it has a different feel to most cat fur. His back is also different to a mainstream domestic cats - a bit more arched. His toes seem a little longer too. The vestigal pad that most cats have towards the back of their paws is much more pronounced.

And check out his markings - quite unlike anything you'd see on a domestic cat - those leopard-like rosettes!


Bengal cat rosette markings


And impressive-looking cat indeed, but if I hadn't been told he was a Bengal I'd have difficulty distinguishing him from an ordinary domestic cat. As for his size - a large, muscular cat but not even as huge as some of the long-haired, captured black feral cats I've seen in the county. Suggesting that British big cats are misidentified Bengals is a bit of a stretch but for one characteristic I've noticed - we British are absolutely hopeless at identifying big cats.

There are also regular reports of an "Ocelot-like" big cat in Cambridgeshire. From a long way off, could this be a Bengal? And any possibly already huge feral cats out there would definitely start to seem more big cat-like a few generations after an injection of genes from those shiny, muscular, arch-backed Bengal cats.





Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Back cover image for Mystery Animals




Here's a draft back cover image for Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk. It's waiting for some text, the CFZ logo and the ISBN bar code. All provisional, of course. There will be an explanation of the photos inside the back of the book. Copyright: Matt Salusbury 2017

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk update - new accounts of sightings, maps


Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk should be out soon - I'm currently grappling with pdf pre-sets for print and the pagination. Here's on the last illustrations I've done for it, a map of sightings of "lynx-like cats" in Suffolk.

I've heard testimony from several people recently who've seen big cats in Suffolk, regrettably in most cases these won't make it into the book, it's just not possible this late in the day to squeeze in additions. A taxi driver recalled seeing a black leopard in Wrentham about ten years ago (there have been other such cats in the neighbourhood), a local woman thinks she might have glimpsed a big black cat on the Blyford Road towards Dunwich Forest (again, other sightings locally).

There have also been some curious goings-on involving a video said to have been received by a famous red-top national newspaper of a video of a black leopard from Hintlesham (just east of Hadleigh). For whatever reason, it's not been published and the journalist concerned hasn't got back to me.

I'm still surprised to be receiving testimony from people whose family members (usually their dads or grandads) claim to have had encounters with Black Shuck. The latest was from a man from Rattlesden (near Bury) who says his dad "many years ago" collided with Black Shuck one night on the A140 somewhere between Ipswich and Stowmarket. He got out to take a look, and found... nothing. He also described, in daylight the next day, finding some strange deposit "like eggshells" on the bonnet of his car.

I'll keep you posted on the progress of the book, with hopefully an announcement before too long. Meanwhile, you can follow developments at @MysteryAnimals on Twitter.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Fortean Traveller: The Cutty Wren, Middleton Suffolk

This Fortean Traveller article first appeared in Fortean Times, FTFT 348, the Christmas 2016 issue

‘Twas the night after Christmas…


Old Glory molly side asssembles in The Bell Inn car park

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, also known as St Stephen’s Day, is named from the “box” (a monetary tip for the past year’s service) traditionally given to the postman, the dustman, the paperboy. It was the day the poor box in the church was opened and distributed, hence the name. (Nothing to do with a pugilistic sport, in case you were wondering.)

But there was one group usually left off the Christmas card lists of respectable folk and who weren’t given a box on St Stephen’s Day. These were agricultural labourers, the lowest of the low. They had no choice but to go in disguise at night and extort some sort of tip by means of what officious railway station announcers call “aggressive begging”. Following a recent revival of a possibly ancient ceremony in a village not far from the Suffolk coast, St Stephen’s Night has become the night of the morris dancers gone bad. In Middleton cum Fordley on Boxing Day, it’s all gone a bit Wicker Man.

On a night illuminated by a Suffolk moon so bright it blinded you to look at it, I was among a crowd of around a hundred punters gathered in some excitement to witness the St Stephen’s Night ritual that is the Cutty Wren.

Originally, young agricultural workers would scour the local hedges and furze (an old English word for gorse bushes, still in use in East Anglian place names) in search of a wren. Sometimes the wren would be put in a cage among a thicket of foliage on the end of a pole. More often they’d kill the wren and nail it to its pole among its foliage. Wrens spend much of the time close to the ground in hedges, so this simulated its habitat.

The wren on the pole would be paraded around the village at the head of a troop of blacked-up molly dancers, molly dance being morris dancing’s evil twin from the East of England.

The East of England “molly” variant takes its name from the “molly”, one of the lead pair of the “side” – the team. The side performing the Cutty Wren at Middleton go by the suitably chilling name of Old Glory. The molly is a usually a terrifying-looking, blacked up older man in drag, wearing a poor Victorian woman’s long dress and bonnet, with some distinctly male boots to match. Forget embarrassing Black and White Minstrel Show blackface, molly dancers blacked up look more like SAS commandos ready for a murderous night mission. The molly’s usually the orchestrator of clandestine molly mischief.

The molly dancers’ sinister look is emphasised by the fact that during their whole grim performance, the molly dancers never, ever smile. Members of the side who aren’t in a particular dance stand right in front of the audience starting straight ahead but avoiding eye contact, like a line of cops on “public order” duty. One member of Old Glory told me that in days of “pre-modern dentistry”, you’d avoided smiling at all costs during “muggings” (begging expeditions) as a smile was “like a bar-code”, the gaps in your teeth allowed your landlord or the vicar to identify you. Another feature of Old Glory that sets them apart from the more genteel morris teams of a traditional English summer is that Old Glory only ever dance on winter nights.


The Cutty Wren in progress - molly dancers of the Old Glory side perform in the moonlight, under a "no flash photography, lanterns only" policy. Someone's broken the no flash rule here!

How old is the Cutty Wren? “Cutty” is believed to be an ancient word of Celtic origin. The famous tea clipper ship the Cutty Sark at Greenwich is named after the way too short – “cutty” is “short” or small”– child’s linen undergarment or “sark” worn by Nannie Dee, the witch in Robert Burn’s poem Tam ‘o Shanter who appears on the ship’s figurehead. Some trace the Cutty Wren ritual back to the Iron Age (possibly mythical) “Year King” who ruled for a year and who was sacrificed – probably not literally – at the end of each year to renew the crops.

There’s a whole catalogue of Cutty Wren songs and poems, the English one is thought to date back to at the 14th century or possibly much earlier. The oldest written version is a 17th century Scots song and there is an (English-language) Irish Cutty Wren ballad and versions in Welsh, Breton and Manx. Before the Middleton Cutty Wren’s opening dance, the man in blackface in a flat cap carrying the wren on the pole shouts out the best-known Cutty Wren song:

“We’ll hunt the wren!”/Says Jack-of-the-Land/”We’ll hunt the wren!”/Says everyone/The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
/On St Stephen's Day was caught in the furze
/Although he was little, his power is great
/So up with the kettle and down with the plate!” The kettle is a pub tankard, and the plate is the molly dancers’ collecting plate, although it’s now a box on a strap carried discreetly under the arm of the “box man” who also carries the wren on a pole. He’s extra tall for the purposes of gentle intimidation.

Old Glory’s revived Cutty Wren at Middleton can be traced all the way back to 1993. We seem to be in the middle of a Cutty Wren revival, days before I attended the Middleton Cutty Wren, Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy’s new poem The Wren Boys was published in the Guardian, describing lads from the turn of the twentieth century - the glory days of the Cutty Wren tradition – catching a wren and going begging. There’s even an obscure short story from a BBC Worldwide official Doctor Who adventure book, in which the Second Doctor and his assistants Jamie and Victoria land in a suitably atmospheric Middleton on Boxing Day 1906 to find themselves in some sort of terrifying scenario. (FOOTNOTE: “The Cutty Wren”, Doctor Who Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas, BBC Worldwide, London 2008.)

But going back (or forward) to our 2015 Middleton Cutty Wren, the absence of small children was noticeable. They’d been locked up to stop them getting nightmares at the sight of the terrifying Old Glory side on their silent, torch lit funeral procession, interrupted only by the occasion single, solemn drumbeat. (When I enquired about the Cutty Wren at The Old Bell pub earlier, one of the regulars described the forthcoming “frightening the children” procession.) Some dogs shut indoors saw the silent blackface march of the torch-wielding molly side pass by their living room window and went nuts.

The male molly side were scary enough – the dancer from the lead pair who wasn’t in drag wore a suitably gothic horror top hat, as did the deliberately non-entertaining master of ceremonies. But the all-girl band that accompanied them (molly “orchestras” were traditionally all-female, and the women used to teach the dance steps) was just bizarre. They were blacked up and wore long black trench coats, with black veils around their broad-brimmed hats, which were decked with generous mounds of ivy and other foliage. This gave them the appearance of an evil chorus line from The Muppet Show, and the orchestra played from deep in the shadows, adding to their sinister mystery.

After the short procession through the village, the molly dancers and punters formed up in the car park in front of The Old Bell pub, which has a noisy gravel surface for some of the dances that involve deliberate stomping. “Stomping the Ground” is the title of one of the dances. Others include “Nelson’s Revenge”, and then there’s “The Buck” which realistically simulates rutting stags with horns locked in combat, complete with shouts of “Ooh!” that mimic the bellow of a red deer stag. The deer rut throughout October, just down the road on the Westleton Heath RSPB reserve, is an annual tourist attraction.

“The Buck” is, of course, another excuse to unnerve people by simulating a fight. The dances are purposely graceless, jerky and plodding. A lot of dance moves involve burly blokes grappling each other, because this whole performance is really a subtle show of physical force and intimidation designed to get the vicar, the squire, the landlord and the respectable shopkeeper to put some money in the box you thrust towards them so they can be on their way.

The master or ceremonies in his undertaker’ s top hat introduces the first dance by explaining that “We are but poor ploughboys… under my arm I have a small box.” These days, though, proceeds of the Cutty Wren go to charity.

The eight-strong female orchestra hidden in the shadows has a few “proper” instruments - tin whistles, accordions and a kettle drum, but the percussion section plays the sort of deliberately shambolic equipment you’d expect the families of “poor ploughboys” to come up with – a skiffle, washboards and an Australian-style “lager pole” – a broom handle with tin lager bottle tops loosely nailed to it, which jangles when struck on the ground.

When the Cutty Wren’s “wick lanterns only, no flash photography” convention is occasionally broken, the Old Glory dance team are fleetingly illuminated, revealed as men in late middle age in blackface, wearing the waistcoats and neckerchiefs of farm labourers circa 1900, with some horse brasses with the wren design from the old pre-decimal farthing coins. In their white shirtsleeves and trilby hats, they molly dancers look more like one of the “ultraviolence” gangs escaped from A Clockwork Orange than Wicker Man.



A final circle dance with the crowd as The Cutty Wren comes to an end. Molly dance side members in blackface, the wren is on a pole surrounded by foliage

The man carrying the Cutty Wren on its pole tells the story of how Britain’s migratory birds chose a King via a competition to see who could fly the highest. When the golden eagle showed up, all the birds dropped out, leaving only the wren, who’d just made it through the scrum of onlookers by accident. The wren won by riding on the back of the eagle, and became the Friend of the Poor, symbol of resourcefulness triumphing over power. The retelling including some very modern references to bird focus groups and the Home Office granting Leave to Remain to bird migrants.

The Cutty Wren is part of an East Anglian revival of morbid morris dancing. Old Glory sometimes team up with the local Rendham Mummers, whose performances include the play Death Comes A Knocking. And also from Suffolk Coastal District comes the blackface mixed morris side Pretty Grim, inspired by the dances of the Welsh border but with a goth-punk vibe. Its name comes from the fact that “the boys are pretty and the girls are grim.”

The Cutty Wren usually assembles at around 8pm on St Stephen’s Night (26 December) at the Village Hall, Middleton, Suffolk IP17 3NG (also known as Middleton cum Fordley, not to be confused with the other Middleton just over the Essex border). There are no trains or buses on Boxing Day. Old Glory’s website features a calendar of events and some unsettling video from their previous Cutty Wren performances.


Matt Salusbury is regular FT contributor and author of Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk (CFZ Publications, 2017)

(More photos and links to be added shortly)

© Matt Salusbury 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Cutty Wren, Middleton, Suffolk - in Fortean Times FT 348



"The wren, the wren! The King of the Birds!" The Cutty Wren - a wooden model of hidden in foliage on the end of a pole - is paraded as the Old Glory Molly dance side prepare for their final circle dance with the crowd in the car park outside the Bell Inn, Middleton, Suffolk.


My "Fortean Traveller" article on the Cutty Wren, Middleton, Suffolk is in the current issue of Fortean Times, FT 348, the Christmas 2016 issue, on sale in newsagents now - but not for much longer! When the "First British Serial" rights have expired (when the January issue's out), it will be on this blog in full.

I regret I won't make it to this year's Cutty Wren in Middleton (Suffolk, IP17 3NG, as ever it's on St Stephen's Eve, the evening at the end of Boxing Day (26 December). There are regrettably no trains or buses on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, and add at least an extra hour to get you back on the Abellio Greater Anglia holiday season replacement bus services. If you can get wheels to get you there, it's just off the just off the A12 at the Sizewell turn, just north of Yoxford, assembling at around 8pm at the Village Hall for a sombre torchlit procession through the village to the Bell Inn car park. Leave your dogs and kids at home, they'll be terrified!

Old Glory continue their No Respect tour with performances exclusively in the dark on winter nights in the region until 3 February. A programme is here.