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Every Society Breeds The Ghosts It Deserves….

Lethmachen is the most haunted town in England.

 We should know. We have lived here all our lives.

 Yet you have probably never heard of Lethmachen. The town is never mentioned in any book or on any website dedicated to the paranormal.

 This does not mean that Lethmachen is not haunted, it means that people here are afraid to talk.

  A conspiracy of silence? We say ‘Always watch the quiet ones!’

 The purpose of this site is to document the supernatural phenomena of Lethmachen, both contemporary and historical.

Isolated in the schoolyard…has Steven Stander come back to play with us?

playground-2

Due to its limited size (and some would say ambitions), Lethmachen’s schooling system has never expanded beyond the familiar half a dozen institutions. In a sense this is a blessing – the town has been spared the anxieties over league tables, SATS and catchment areas. There is a sense of security, arguably even tradition, in having your future mapped out for you i.e. attending one of the local primary schools before progressing to Lethmachen High School (aptly named as it is perched on the summit of Lethmachen Hill). And yet in today’s climate, with all the expectations placed on a child’s education, perhaps it is inevitable that people will still experience these pressures and express them in some unconscious form? This could explain the similarities evident in the two following accounts, submitted to us independently of each other:

“I was walking to pick my daughter up from school, as I do every day after I finish work. My meeting had run a little late and so I had deviated from my typical route, taking what I imagined to be a short cut down a few side roads. As I was hurrying along an unfamiliar passage, bordered on one side by the backs of houses and on the other by a high wall, I began to hear this screaming and shouting. It started off quietly, but in a matter of seconds the roar grew deafening. Almost immediately I recognised it was the sound of children, so I don’t think it unnerved me too much at first, I just assumed there must be a school nearby. There again, I do remember thinking how strange this cacophony would sound to anyone who wasn’t familiar with the rituals and general commotion of the playground. Those shrieks and cries could almost sound like they were inspired by terror, rather than joy.

Being fairly new to Lethmachen, having moved here through work, I am not yet conversant with all of the schools in the area. However, with a young daughter, I am naturally curious as to what options will one day be available to her, so I followed the sounds, hoping to identify the school I must have bypassed on previous journeys. Well, I know the little, winding streets in Lethmachen can play tricks with sound, yet I was still shocked when I turned a corner expecting to see a bustling playground only to be confronted with a deserted, tranquil cul-de-sac. Even more disconcerting, the moment I stepped out of the passage the racket abruptly stopped, as if someone had switched off a radio. Now, I’ve coped with a lot of difficult situations on my own, and I am not usually one to panic, but I just knew I had to get away from there and I turned and fled. All the way home I had those screams and shouts ringing in my head, only now there was no mistaking these as exclamations of glee, they were most definitely the wails of abject fear. This is the most embarrassing part of all but the reason I went home first is that I was suddenly, inexplicably terrified of picking up my daughter on foot as I usually do. Instead I felt I had to collect her in the car and usher her over from the gate. It was not rational but I just knew I couldn’t face stepping into that playground, being surrounded by all those people that I hardly knew.”

Miss X, Lethmachen

 

“I’d left the office at lunch time to buy a few snacks. We were due to go on a bit of session after work to celebrate one of the girl’s birthdays so I wanted to make sure I had lined my stomach beforehand! Anyway, the newsagents I usually pop into was closed, so I turned a few more corners in search of some little shop hidden down a back street. I actually live on the other side of town, so I soon lost my bearings, and that was when I heard this strange noise. Lots of shouting and screaming, like a battlefield, far away at first but marching closer. This is weird I know, but for a moment I was reminded of this ghost story that scared me as a kid, about dead soldiers. But then of course I realised there must be a school nearby, and it was just primary kids out in the playground after lunch. Only, I couldn’t think of what school would be in this area. Even though I didn’t grow up in the neighbourhood, I have lived in Lethmachen all my life and know all the schools, either from playing football against them or chatting up the girls at the bus stop. So, I guess my curiosity was roused and, as I didn’t have much going on that lunch hour, I decided to follow in the direction of all that screaming and shouting.

The funny thing is, it was almost as if the sounds were approaching to meet me half way! But every time I got close, they would drift off again, and I never once saw anything even remotely resembling a school. I thought maybe they had opened some new private place I didn’t know about but, having checked later, I found nothing. The worse thing was how hostile those shouts and screams sounded, like I was being surrounded by a pack of wild animals, although all I could see were empty streets and houses. No way was this the sound of children playing games and having fun. It was more like every voice was screaming in pain, as if a whole bunch of kids had fallen off a ride. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I turned that last corner and recognised my surroundings again. And, at that very moment, all that screaming and shouting suddenly stopped. Even so, when I got back to the office, I really felt out of sorts, and I am usually the joker on the team. For some reason I just wanted to be alone, so I lied and said I had some important stats to concentrate on, and took myself off to one of our spare meeting rooms. All afternoon I imagined my colleagues were gossiping about me and looking at me strangely. In the end, I didn’t even join them for drinks, and I am usually the life and soul on those nights. Instead I went straight home, I suppose because I couldn’t get that horrible screaming out of my head. But I don’t get why I would imagine such things? It’s not like I ever had a problem with school. As far as I remember I loved school. I always tell people that. I was popular, I was in a gang. But I couldn’t sleep that night and, as I lay awake listening to drunken parties stumble down my road, my mind kept going back to this kid I knew at primary school. He was always getting picked on and at break times he would stand on his own in the corner of the playground, never joining in with the games. Steven Stander, that was it, although I can’t remember if that was his real name or just what we used to call him. Hadn’t thought of him in years. But ever since I heard that strange shouting and screaming last week, I almost feel like he has been haunting me.”

Mr X, Lethmachen

Lethmachen residents take to the polls on whether bats should leave or remain…

swarm-1

Comment One:

The decision over the fate of the bats in Lethmachen church has been upmost in our minds of late, and as we have, as a community, finally resolved the issue, it is felt by all of us at Lethmachen Haunted, that the many strange and intriguing narratives the controversy has thrown up can at last be addressed. The input of the Party of the Fields And Trees has, of course, been a central (if I may say, inflated) area of interest, yet there are many other hidden areas of experience that the events have brought to light. As a publication that is neutral on political matters, until recently we had decided to pursue a policy of silence.                               

Here, then, the first post related to what has popularly become known as ‘the bat massacre’    

Jon Hawkes, MA, acting editor.

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

It is important that it is understood from the off that I have little interest in the supernatural, and that, further, for me, organised religion is comfortably at home in that category. My knowledge of my husband’ s proclivities in this area date from a note I woke to find after staying at his for the first time (he gracefully submitted to the couch): he had gone to the Big House, and I was instructed to find breakfast. Well, by then, I was hooked, poor me, and it was not long before we went up there together, in front of witnesses.

For many years – ten at a guess – I could classify my husband’s faith as appropriate. Sunday morning was never much to me in the way of public activity, and he never put pressure on me to attend. There were fetes, but not too many.

It was the bat massacre, or the debates leading up to it, that tempted him to something more. I think anything else I would have seen coming. When we first heard, it seemed such a natural matter, the church hardly figured. He was there among the banner wavers, and I too for a while, but those first few big meetings turned into regular, smaller gatherings, and then this became a vigil, and it was he who kept it, almost always. Another woman might have thought there was another woman, but I knew better. Or thought I did.

One night, after he came home, I moved to salvage something, and so I had prepared a meal, and I opened wine, and I talked of bats, and listened. What did I hear back that made me cry? Not the fact of the animal’s impending doom – because even though we all said it could not happen, and even thought that to ourselves, somewhere I think we knew that, for some horrible narrative necessity, it must  – and not the viciousness of human nature, or the stupidity of opinion easily held. It was simply the pity of it all, I suppose, the pity of him, and us.

At the time, I thought the effect my crying had on him – and the effect really was superb – was that of a woman to a man. I was so vulnerable, and he untouched, and it was that that touched him. Not that he touched me. But he stopped, and looked, like he had not looked towards me in six months or more. And his hand even reached out, and a finger extended, and this to almost an inch of my cheek. He was soon out again, of course, but when he returned, something had changed in our relationship. The tension was no longer there. He did not back away from me. He didn’t avoid me. He did not, admittedly, become tactile, nor did he rush into conversation. He said little to me, perhaps even nothing. But he would look. And he was entranced.  One night, he placed a little tray of milk and sweets at the foot of our bed, and bent his knees, and stayed that way a while, before moving quietly out. I listened for him on the stairs but heard nothing. When he did not attend on me – and there were hours when he did not – he seemed comfortable with this. He was no longer worried about me: a husband not worried that his wife was alone. I saw it as a blessing.

After the tears, and with this new arrangement, I began take an interest, and that was how I came to read the papers, and then unroll the posters, and turn the banners, and visit the website. It is strange what need allows  – strange even in those who beliefs might lead one to assume a low threshold on belief to be in operation, but, yes, a statue had indeed begun to weep in Lethmachen Church. It really was the first I had heard of. My husband undoubtedly saw this as a sign: every sparrow that falls, and all that.  He had quite a group behind him. The virgin was on their side, weeping for all her worth to stop Lord Carrier and his ilk.

That there was a connection could not be denied, and, yes, it might have been, and might be still, that I had been elevated in his eyes by the statues tears, yet my sense of it remains firmly pointed in the opposite direction: my tears had enabled him to pin me for an object. If I cried, and if this made him feel…well, anything….then it was a situation encountered once before at least, and recently. Conclusions could be drawn, roles cast, and peace returned. What else was there to think, but that emotional woman are made of stone, or that stone is fashioned into the shape of emotional women?

I left without a note, packing my belongings, at least the ones I could stand to see, in the two suitcases we had taken with us on our honeymoon, the same that had contained my worldly goods when I moved in.  A day or two later, so I have now heard, they killed all the bats.

Comment Two:

Lethmachen Haunted is not touched by political bias, as was made clear in our most recent post. It is with due caution, then, that we approach the subject of the recent environmental intervention at the church. We take the reaction to this from some quarters to exemplify the worst excesses of contemporary irrationalism, and the following report is very much in the spirit of Charles Mackay’s Madness of Crowds.  The very name attached to recent events is illuminating in this regard: ‘bat massacre’ introduces a subtle anthropomorphism, while removing the cull from the variety of contextual factors that grant it genuine significance.

The facts in the matter are plain: the bat population in the church had recently increased to an unsustainable level. The fabric of the church was suffering, services were regularly disrupted, and the balance of our local ecosystem had been tipped. The suggestion to put the matter up for an open vote, it should be remembered, came from the church itself. Clearly there had been a misjudgement of popular opinion on their side, but that hardly signifies. What is remarkable in all of this is that the defence of essential democratic principles has fallen to the Party of the Fields and Trees, while supposedly liberal voices have proven themselves shrill advocates of the most evasive of elitisms. Although the vote was close, there can be no doubt those in favour of intervention carried the day with a clear majority. In my understanding, this demonstrates not the blood-thirsty nature of our town, but the care and responsibility with which the populace approached their decision. Rather than advocating simple, knee-jerk environmentalism, the vote ensured the richness of our natural and ecclesiastical heritage would be safe-guarded. The argument can be repeated against criticism of the presence of children at the event.  Protecting our environment is not always ‘nice’. Hard choices are required, and I for one am gladdened by the site of young people – even very young people – taking active responsibility for the management of the world around them.

What I personally find fascinating is the extent to which the liberal left have been shown to have embraced the conspiracy theory.  The appearance of Lord Carrier seems to both unnerve and embolden them. It would seem, according to prevailing narratives, that the hearts of men can be known from their faces and posture:  modern phrenology, indeed.  Carrier is said to have whipped the crowd into a state of glee, and that certain councilmen went about their subsequent business with an almost childlike verve, and this can be attested to through third-party examination of external features. I see nothing untoward in the five minutes of mobile phone action that has been made available. When I invited some friends round the view the footage (over a couple of cool ones, it has to be said), we noted some just enthusiasm, but nothing more sinister than that.

More bizarre still are the sightings of the dark, winged figure, with the glowing red eyes we have been bombarded with. Amusingly, more than one witness noted the encounter was on  – shock of shocks!  – an evening noted for its ‘blood red’ sunset! Ta da daaa!! Research would no doubt find a correlation between political persuasion and encounters with this (how else to name it?) batman. Calling John Keel! Strangest of all, of course, is the contention, most vocally endorsed by Tony Cribb, (see last week’s post) that the Mother of God has weighed in on the batty side.  With weirdness of this magnitude, you can bet there is more to come!

Jon Hawkes, MA

Acting editor

 

Comment Three:

In recent posts, our acting editor has stressed the importance of impartiality. It is to demonstrate our commitment to this ideal that we include the following correspondence. 

The Editors, Lethmachen Haunted.

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I have now seen some of the footage from the recent ‘bat massacre’, presumably the same material discussed by Jon Hawkes in a recent editorial on your website. Massacre is the least of it, that much is clear, and I am disturbed by the attempt to domesticate or differ the action.

Even before we get to that grim spectacle, however, a word or two about the process that led to it. I have a number of friends who voted ‘yes’, but from talking to them they had not sided with extermination. Most felt that the proposition ‘Should the church be cleared of bats?’ should be resolved in the affirmative through relocation. In any case, the vote is not binding. Councils in the UK, along with central government, do not function in their every decision through popular vote. Systems are in place that attempt (!) to ensure coherence in provision. If we follow public opinion at every turn, the council would find itself in the unenviable position of having to uphold and destroy a range of local services (ok, perhaps this is the position they presently do occupy, but you get my meaning!).

Turning to the footage from the massacre, the idea of it documenting sober and righteous action is almost instantly dispelled. The video begins with a noise that blots out all others. A grinning face then pulls back from the camera, revealing the darkness to be the proximity of lens to mouth. Distance is achieved, and other sounds can be heard, the noise now singled out as a guttural, stupid cheer. The figure in front of us then swears (‘F**k yeah!’), and runs away, kicking something on the ground as it does, all the time twirling a baseball bat.  Moving quickly towards one group, made up of a man, a woman, and three kids, we see the tallest of the group drawing a plank across the ceiling above him, the other 4 stamping on the ground about them. The focus changes, and the camera pans into a corner, near the ground. It takes a second or two to make out, but one of the kids is getting the camera to focus on a large bat, and three tiny, large eyed creatures behind it.  I hope I am wrong, but I think these are probably its children. The frame is then filled for a moment by the child’s back, then settles over its shoulder, to see its boot stamp on the mother’s face, five times in quick succession. Two of the babies flee as best they can, but one stays, whether out of love or fear, who is to say, and the boot comes down again, stops just short, then descends once more, to laughter so loud it blots out all the other terrible noises.  A voice cuts in then, screaming ‘Get the other f**ers. F**k ‘em. F**k ‘em up’. That the voice, high and reedy, is that of a child is disturbing enough. But the camera pans round once more to catch the one offering instruction, only to fall upon Counsellor Marty Reynolds. He is there only for a moment. His face is close, and excited, and it is – surely – his mouth moving as the soprano cry carries on. This lasts a matter of seconds, and the sound is momentarily distorted though the movement of the mike, but the effect is singularly strange. I paused the video at this stage (00.58.46 on the YouTube video attached). Take a look. I know we all look odd when a video catches us mid-action in this way, but there is something haunting in that face, something awful and familiar, surfacing in, or manifested by, the features. Something I have seen somewhere else. It is a kind of glee, and a concentration, a face that is wholly public, yet utterly unknowable. Whatever. It is the face of the bat massacre, and J. Hawkes should be ashamed.

Yours, 

Ken Lawson.  

What lies beyond the finishing line for local runners?

runner

Training for a Marathon is not, I concede, the most gothic of situations, yet it has afforded me a strange experience that, with I must say a little trepidation, I now wish to share with you.

As you know, the Lethmachen Marathon is two weeks away. I have been training for the best part of a year, spurred on, as I know many are, by the death of a loved one. I fell into a regular pattern of preparation: two short, fast runs in the week and a long run at the weekend. This I really did begin to look forward to, despite the challenge. My route took me through Wayland woods, out across the rolling hills south east the town, then back up along the main road, finishing off with a fair few suburban streets. I knew this 16-mile trek followed the bare bones at least of previous marathon circuits. A month ago, however, the finalized route was displayed on the Lethmachen Running Club website. I don’t think I was alone in being rather shocked at this posting, as the route had been dramatically altered. We now turned away from Waylands, running up past the old quarry, then into the farmland to the southwest. Unlike the agri-business plots to be found to the north, and directly to the south, these are seemingly unplanned affairs. each field takes no more than four or five minutes to cross, and that means there are many styles. The ground is undulating. I love hills as much as the next runner, but as a challenge I work out up to, conquer, then leave behind. These gradients never really break upon one, but for a few miles they never probably level out either. It is tough going. The first few weeks, I began to run a six-mile section of the the route after work, three or four times a week. I saw many other runners at that time, and we would greet each other in the usual way, and, unusually, we would often stop, and complain about the paths. I had a couple of days leave, so I took these, thinking that I could get a bit more experience of running the route in the afternoon sun. It was even harder going, but at least I began to get used to the uneven ground: yellow Lethmachen stone, or impacted dirt paths, with lines of grass often trailing down the middle, dividing it into tracks too narrow for anyone but a child to traverse with any comfort.

One night, a week or so in, I lay in bed going over the work of the afternoon. I found myself thinking especially of small section of the route. It begins with a pretty steep slope, concreted over, as it is used as an access to a farm. This takes it out of you, but in an enjoyable way. You can get real purchase because of the concrete, and I like the feeling of getting my back that extra bit straight, keeping a good technique in the face of the additional effort. At the top of this, the path curls to the left, past the farm, then to the right, and here, in what is always beautiful countryside, there is a site that quite takes the breath away: an old, tree covered path – a hollow-way – heading downhill.  It is so very green, and still, and the end of the path cannot be seen, as it dips and then ascends again from its lowest point. Now, as I say, this is a beautiful thing, but in the memory of it, just then as I lay in bed, there was something else, something extra. It was like – and I do find this hard to describe – but it was like an animal had turned and fixed me with its gaze. Not that I recognized some hidden consciousness in the path, but rather, an otherness that was only in the movement and the gaze: a still, silent, surface thing. And as I began to follow, in my mind, the journey that was to come, I was, quite without reason, filled with dread. I had run to the base of the hollow-way, then, before it ascended, as the new map dictated, I took a left, up a little incline, to a field of barley, with a path cut through it, its edges indistinct among the hazy, swaying, golden sheaves. The path ended across the field, in a dark hole within a thin line of trees. The sun had begun to press down upon me. Beyond this field was another, again of barley, and then another brief respite under dark green trees, before a further field, open to pasture, above which sat a farm, seemingly out of time, idiosyncratic, and uncaring as to the judgment of any other, and at the far end of this field, finally a road. But the idea of reaching that seemed very distant.

I don’t know if I had felt terror at the time. Perhaps I had. Certainly, the thought of running that way again is a terrible one to me, and so it remains. I don’t think I could do it. This is greatly depressing.  But why?  Why does this journey, up the concrete hill, down the hollow-way, left, diagonally, across the fields of barley, with their little wooded locks, and out through the pasture of the old farm, inspire such dread, that I would throw off six months of sweat to put some distance between us?

I suppose the obvious answer is that this was something of a prophesy. Was all my training moving me towards a heart attack at that precise point in the race? This seems unlikely: I am fit, and careful. And anyway, this seems too mundane, too neat an answer. The emptiness of the way, at that hour, may contain a more telling possibility: I had come upon a place that neither I, nor anyone else, was required to see. At that that time, it was a path that did not need to be seen, and this, perhaps, is what an unseen path looks like: it brings into one’s mind, of course, the spectre of one’s own insignificance, and the whole environment, therefore, shimmers with death, or something like it. Finally, and here is a strange thought, it occurs to me that the terror of the place could only ever be felt by one running at something like the pace that I was keeping. At walking pace, or with the speed of a bicycle, there would be no sense of the path before one both still and looming, that feeling of being both enclosed and exposed, of being funnelled towards some strange, uncanny end, and of knowing both human effort, and the stunning indifference of a world that could and would know nothing of this. The haunting nature of the place would only come forth for a runner. It was a trap – perhaps – designed to catch us, realized by our singular activity. What to make of that, I do not know…?

 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Teachers claim to be besieged by absent children

climbing

There has been extensive debate concerning the expansion of CCTV surveillance in our small town, both on this site and across local media. One particularly contentious element of this project has been the placing of cameras in and around Lethmachen Primary School. Some parents have voiced concerns that their children’s development will be hindered by this round the clock surveillance, bearing in mind that this generation already has to suffer the constant scrutiny of social media. Yet the opposition claims that this unflinching vigilance is essential to protect the pupils – a deterrent to those who may seek to sexually exploit or otherwise endanger the children. Regardless of the pros and cons of the argument, the installation of CCTV in the school grounds has certainly had a dramatic impact on the following story.

Shortly before 10pm on Friday 18th March, three teachers from Lethmachen Primary School burst through the doors of their local police station. They were covered in cuts and bruises and clearly in a state of distress. Although their names have not been officially released, their identities are well known within the community, all being native to the town and indeed former pupils of the school where they now teach. We therefore feel it is permissible to reveal that the individuals involved were two members of staff (one male and one female) who double as sports instructors plus a third teacher who supervises the school drama productions. Interviewed separately, all three gave identical accounts. To celebrate the final day of term, a ‘Sports Gala’ had been arranged to take place in the gym, immediately after school. The three teachers had not only accepted the responsibility of supervising the gala, acting as referees and awarding trophies, but also assumed the caretaker’s role of securing the premises at the end of evening. Inevitably, the sports event had overrun and the last, straggling parents and pupils were not out of the gates until gone 8pm. By that hour it had grown dark and the teachers admit they were completely exhausted. Following a quick circuit to check all windows and doors were locked, they retired to the staff room to share a well-deserved bottle of wine. A few minutes later, the trouble started. “We never intended to hurt the children” all three would later repeat, catatonically, in their police interviews “We only wanted to protect them”.

But what exactly happened at the school that night? In an attempt to stifle the bizarre rumours circulating, on Tuesday the Lethmachen police force took the almost unprecedented move of holding a press conference to request help from the local community. Taking centre stage amongst the flashbulbs was Mr Cottingley, Head of Lethmachen Primary. Mr Cottingley used the opportunity to defend the credibility of his staff whilst also appealing directly to parents. “I ask each and every one of you, yet especially those families from the Dalton Estate and surrounding areas, to look deep into your hearts and vouch, with all honesty, that you can account for your children’s whereabouts on Friday evening”. In an attempt to trigger memories and bring further information to light, the police also went public with the CCTV footage taken from the school cameras that night. Unfortunately, this footage immediately went viral and was widely mistreated, which led to it being withdrawn from the local constabulary website (however, it can still be viewed at www.teachersgofuckingnuts.com) In its place the police have now provided an edited, downloadable transcript of the events captured by the cameras. Please find a synopsis of this transcript below. A word of caution: as any of us who have seen the footage can attest, not once does any child appear in frame, either in interior or exterior shots, not even when the teachers appear to be reacting to an intruder. The children are never seen or heard, only the staff. Folie a deux? Mass hallucination? Some on-line commentators have gone so far to suggest that the teachers succumbed to a rapidly escalating strain of ‘cabin fever’:

8.27pm: The three teachers can be seen sharing a bottle of wine in the staff common room. Teacher C leaves the room to use the bathroom across the corridor. A few seconds after his departure, Teachers A and B leap to their feet and rush across to the window, apparently reacting to a noise loud enough to startle them, yet inaudible on the CCTV footage. The window of the staff room overlooks the front yard and the school gates, an area monitored by an external camera. Teacher A seems to witness a number of figures loitering in the darkness outside, whom he seems to identify as school age children “What are they doing out there at this hour? Those kids from Dalton are just allowed to roam wild. If I had my way they would all be under curfew…” Teacher B comments: “Ignore them, they’re just a bunch of chavs. Let them have their fun. They’ll all be pregnant or in prison by the time they’re eighteen anyway…” (Nobody is visible in the CCTV captured by the external camera).

8.39pm: Teacher C staggers back in to the room, apparently having suffered an injury. Distracted from the window, Teachers A and B come to his aid. “I was attacked, he was waiting outside the cubicle” gasps Teacher C “It was some young kid, came at me with his nails and teeth. I didn’t recognise him, he wasn’t one of mine, not the sort of child I’d cast in the play. His clothes were scruffy and they smelt old. I had to drag him off me, to overpower him, I had no choice. We were fighting, I must have dunked his head in the toilet bowl…held him there…then I realised he had stopped struggling.” Teacher C appears to break down in tears at this point. Teacher A and B prepare to investigate, ignoring Teacher C’s pleas that they should remain together in the staff room. (We next see the couple head down the corridor, but thankfully the council drew the line at actually installing CCTV in the toilets).

8.45pm: Emerging from the toilets, Teachers A and B share a confused exchange, having apparently found no sign of an injured or dying child. They linger in the corridor, appearing to listen to sounds again not picked up on the CCTV. Then, without warning, there is a sudden outbreak of chaos. Teachers A and B begin to frantically whirl and gyrate around the corridor, spinning into the walls whilst lashing out at empty space. Their body language gives the impression they are trying to protect themselves from attack. Gradually their reactions grow more violent, until the two staff members seem to gain control of the situation. Ultimately, their actions suggest they are forcefully herding some smaller bodies into a nearby cupboard full of cleaning supplies, then locking the door. Teachers A and B run back to the staff room and in turn lock themselves in.

8.52pm: Obviously in a state of some excitement, the three teachers can be heard engaging in tense, almost hysterical conversation, as they discuss what is happening to them and their options for escape. “It’s not just one of them, there’s a mob. They’ve broken into the school, a whole litter of them…” Teacher B explains to Teacher C. “Did you see the size of some of them?” Teacher A asks the others “Disgusting. Obese. No wonder I didn’t know their faces. Not likely they’ve been picked for any sports team I’m in charge of”. “But there were also some really girly looking boys” Teacher B reminded him “I doubt you’d see their names on the list for any first team either”. Meanwhile, Teacher C has drifted back to the window. “Look, there are more of them gathering out there…a dozen now at least. Why are they here? Haven’t they got anything better to do? Piano or clarinet lessons? Theatre rehearsals? We’re under siege…we’ll have to break out…”

9.20pm: Cameras monitoring the school playing field around the back of the main building capture the fleeting image of three people sprinting wildly across the damp grass. Their voices echo breathlessly in the darkness: “That child in the bathroom…” stammers Teacher C “When I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck I glimpsed a name sewn into the back of his school jumper. Adrian Petts. Doesn’t that ring a bell?” “Yes, but that’s impossible” rasps Teacher A “Petts was at school the same time as us, that sickly little kid that everybody picked on.” “The one who killed himself?” Teacher B asks as they stray out of shot “Didn’t he hang himself from the monkey bars our last morning of Year Six…?” (The climbing frame referred to still stands on the playing field, just out of range of the CCTV. For the three teachers, its skeletal outline would probably have loomed into view at the very moment we lose them).

Something fishy going on in the world of children’s publishing?

stickleback

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

You will probably recognise my name from such best-selling titles as The Johnson Book of The RomansThe Johnson Celtic Sticker Book, and The Complete Johnson History of London. Yes, I am the celebrated children’s author and historian, Sara Stickleback.

Last year, on the release of The Johnson Book of the Georgians, a work the Johnson publishing house found a little daring due to its focus on one of the seemingly less popular periods of our history, I was tempted to write a work that genuinely went beyond the frankly quite tiresome accounts of Kings, battles and (ha ha) toilets. I worked on a proposal for The Johnson Book of The World Turned Upside Down. It was to cover the beliefs and practices of Ranters, Levellers and Anabaptists, amongst others, but with a focus on Winstanley to give a ‘famous men’ gloss that would make it commercially viable. The proposal was rejected, and quite rudely so, I felt: children have no interest in C17th religious dissidents, apparently.

A little unnerved, I tried again. This time The Johnson Book of Historical Pets. My initial email was met with much warmth, and I was asked to turn in a detailed treatment. I decided to focus on prince Rupert’s hound, of course, and that War Horse, but I added some less well known characters, and Vinegar Tom, and then, thinking as I often do about the hardship endured by Magellan, I imagined myself partaking of those weevil wreathed biscuits, and I thought that, of course, I would have kept one of their number at least for company. So I imagined myself there, and came up with names for all concerned, and that went in as well.  I always like to have at least one page in each of my books dedicated to ‘recovered voices and minor perspectives’, and I know my publishers heartily endorse this focus. I will indicate how women’s voices, and the voices of children, for example, have been silenced within a history penned by men.  Expansion would no doubt go down well, I thought, so I framed my history from the perspective of the animals, and, as far as I could, I stayed true to the voice I caught emanating from the gap within the record.

As my treatment was not mentioned again, I tried once more, but from a different angle. The personal touch is promoted by the Johnson company, so I began, and then fully completed, The Johnson Book of Stickleback Pets, a history of animals with whom I have had shared my life. To offer some context, and to avoid the pitfalls of a too human centred narrative, I included the history of these individuals up until the 7th ancestor, and beyond where I felt able, and open to receive the information necessary to the task. Children, I am told, also like the mysterious. So I have penned The Johnson Book of the Wis. Ah! The Wis! They watch, and always have, so I am surprised we have not turned to them before for our histories.

There is more to come. As my publishers have seemingly better things to do then engage my efforts, however, I thought this a good opportunity to contact your good selves. The Lethmachen History of the Fields and TreesThe Lethmachen Sticker Book of Damned Exchanges.  The Pop Up Lethmachen Red Book. The Complete Lethmachen History of My Wanting. I await you response…

Yours most sincerely,

Sara Stickleback   

Are sinister forces at work behind the scenes of local music festival?

festival stage

The origins of ‘The Old Duddy Music Festival’ are shrouded in mystery, some claim secrecy, yet it has been an important date in the Lethmachen calendar for generations. Most likely it commemorates some significant event in local history long since forgotten, its true meaning assimilated into a generic celebration. But that does not mean that the festival has been without its controversies over the years, in fact until recently there was a fair amount of organised, vocal opposition to its annual staging. At odds with most of our home-grown events, the ‘Old Duddy Festival’ actually drew people from outside the area, and a central concern of its detractors was that, as a free festival, it attracted the ‘wrong types’ to Lethmachen. There was usually some trouble with the police, complaints about traffic congestion and lack of proper facilities, besides which these ‘outsiders’ didn’t seem to dress or to think like us. Impromptu ‘all night raves’ would inevitably follow the official festivities, and the music heard drifting or reverberating across the town and fields would be unfamiliar to most ears, seeming to hail from another planet, or at least another country.

But those were different times. Five years ago, local business entrepreneur Sol Baron purchased ‘Pleasant Farm’ and its sprawling acres of land from the ailing Idle family, who were struggling under heavy debts (most Lethmachen residents will have known the farm as ‘Idle Farm’ or ‘Idol Farm’). By scaling down staff and streamlining output, Mr Baron soon engineered an upswing in the farm’s fortunes and one of his first, most profitable initiatives was securing the rights to both the name and the staging of ‘The Old Duddy Music Festival’. Traditionally the festival had been located in The Parish Hall and was a rather small-scale, some would insist ‘underground’ or ‘subversive’ event, featuring a cosmopolitan line-up lured by word of mouth. However, by manipulating the methods of crop rotation on his lands, Mr Baron was able to make available a sea of fields in which to re-settle the festival. Through this means he was able to dramatically expand the festival, whilst simultaneously attracting more investment through increased advertising and alliances with big business. The result has been an unprecedented success. ‘The Old Duddy Festival’ has rapidly become a beloved, household name and attracts thousands of consumers every summer. In contrast to the old days, the line-ups now boast the most expensive stars in the industry and the on-site stalls are operated by big name brands rather than unknown amateurs. Naturally all this activity has led to a huge hike in ticket prices, but this does not seem to have affected its popularity in the slightest. “It’s all about re-branding” Mr Baron explained to The Lethmachen Echo “When I was growing up, even people in this town didn’t really know what ‘The Old Duddy Festival’ was. I certainly never went. Most of us thought of it as this scary gathering of weird people from strange places who liked arty, obscure things. But I recognised there was an opportunity there. All the name needed was a bit of polishing, a cleansing of its undesirable elements, so to speak. Of course promotion is important too, it is vital for the investors, but also for your potential market. With a bit of television coverage, a bit of radio, you can sell the idea to the ordinary punter. Once they are reassured that attending a festival is not a frightening thing, once they see that the people next door are doing it, then they don’t want to miss out on the experience. And of course you don’t have to be a business mastermind to realise there is no profit in a free festival. People are too savvy nowadays; they know that if something is free then it is not worth having. No, they would rather pay for something and get a decent, professional product. That said, nobody could claim that the ‘Old Duddy Festival’ has become safe and boring; believe me it’s still a bit of a walk on the wild side! Those fields can get really muddy you know!”

There are, as always, dissenters to such accepted opinion. Some claim that Mr Baron is in fact offering a bastardised, diluted product – that he has betrayed the very essence of the original festival whilst profiting from the historical associations of its name. Unsigned musicians without industry backing claim that slots on the bill are no longer available to them. Independent traders are finding that they have been priced out of their pitches by the likes of Starbucks and Subway. Simmering just beneath the surface there are other controversies, other conflicts, that could perhaps have even more serious implications. The statistics are alarming: the last three years have seen a small but consistent rise in the number of ‘missing persons’ cases linked to the ‘Old Duddy Festival’. It is possible that this trend could be traced back further yet, due to the nomadic or anti-establishment lifestyles led by many festival-goers in the past, this has not been documented. However, those who have disappeared over recent years are all affluent professionals or students from upper middle class backgrounds – the type of people whose absence will be reported. At the time of writing, as another summer, another festival season approaches, these cases remain unresolved. Indeed, there is no firm evidence that any of the individuals concerned even reached the ‘Old Duddy Festival’ as intended. Yet an apparent eye witness to one such disappearance has recently come forward with his own version of events. True, the student himself confesses to being ‘under the influence’ of various substances throughout the weekend, nevertheless this does not mean we should dismiss his entire story as without merit:

“We had wandered away from the main stage. For some reason they had booked one of those hip-hop or grime artists – you know, the kind of music that nobody here wants. We ended up somewhere round the back in this big, empty field – just me and Jezzer and Izzy. You could hear the sounds of the festival in the distance but they were fading fast, being overtaken by the natural silence of the night. We were all pretty wasted and I remember that, just before it started, Izzy had said ‘‘Amazing! Look at all the stars!’’ We all stood quiet and contemplated for a moment, and that was when we first became aware of this faint, unearthly music. Although we immediately tried to categorize it, to put it into some historical context, none of us could find the words or pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. Perhaps we were all hearing something slightly different because I remember Jezzer said he could hear singing along with the instrumentation – “a voice that sounds really old, even older than the voice James Bay uses”. At times it seemed like the music was everywhere, all around us, yet the three of us instinctively, unconsciously took the same path across the fields. I don’t know, perhaps we had all been hypnotised…sort of compelled. Personally, I think I was following some weird strain of pipe music. It was nothing like the indie music I would usually listen to, instead it had a sort of dark, foreign air, like something I had heard whilst travelling. Oh and there were smells too, scents that seemed to be rising from the earth…exotic, enticing aromas of cooking; spices and herbs that we all failed to identify, although we enjoy good food. “The music…it’s coming from underground!” whispered Jezzer. “Yes…yes…there are cracks in the earth…I can see lights…I can hear voices” agreed Izzy enthusiastically. My friends were a few feet ahead of me. I must have tripped on a tussock…fallen…passed out. Like I said, I was pretty out of it that night. But before it all went black I’m sure I caught a final glimpse of Jezzer and Izzy descending into one of those glowing fissures in the ground. Either lowering themselves or being pulled down, I can’t say for certain. Only when I came to in the dawn there was no music, no subterranean gullies, and no Jezzer and Izzy. I was cold and alone – lying on my back in this barren, dew soaked field in a kind of ring of weathered grass”.