Archive for July, 2013

Disease and madness blights environmental protest…

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The news that one of our contributors has been involved in a major local story would usually be a cause for celebration at the office. As we are sure you know by now, the case of Owen Solomon is not one that warrants such a reaction. We considered spiking this story, out of respect to Owen and his family. Jon Hawkes, Owen’s long time investigative partner, persuaded us to go to press with this, however, going so far as taking on the lion share of research and writing duties. Here is his report:

‘‘Owen and I have known each other for the best part of twenty years. We met at school here in Lethmachen, and apart from the few years he spent studying at Oxford, have kept up a relationship of mutual support. From initial, tentative and library based ‘investigations’ into the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs, to our nationally recognised research work on CCTV, and on the growth of NLP in local educational institutes, working with Owen has proved exciting and illuminating in equal measure.

I was not surprised at Owen’s decision to protest the development at Wayland’s Wood. He has always had an interest in things environmental. Even to someone like me, it was apparent that the water board’s decision to tear down the ash trees to improve access to the pumping station there was foolish, especially considering the dieback outbreak this year. Two weeks ago, and nine days before the work was set to begin, Owen built a platform in the midst of the tallest ash, packed a radio, telephone and provisions, and prepared to sit it out. Initially the water board were worried; one protestor can so easily lead to many. Owen had misjudged the mood of the town a little, however. Although there was some sympathy, no one actually had the balls to follow him up the tree. There were attempts to talk him down, then a couple of heavy handed scuffles, after which he made the decision to tie himself to the largest branch he could find. Everything was set up for a big confrontation. I came to see him four days in, and he was in good spirits. I had a go at some of the contractors, and generally tried to show solidarity. It was all to the good, it seemed to me, and I was even toying with the idea of coming to join him if things got really hot. Anyhow, two days before showtime, I got a call from Owen. He was very distressed, and, to be honest, not making much sense. Owen has had some issues with his health in the past, so I was worried. On seeing him I became more worried: he was demonstrating all the symptoms associated with a psychotic episode. Interestingly, his train of thought kept turning on our investigations in Lethmachen. The police and an ambulance had been called. The cops told me what was afoot, and, I’m afraid, I did not object. These situations are difficult to get a handle on when you are actually there. Owen was untied, and taken down from the tree. He kept calling for me. The last words I heard from him were: ‘Give me another day. You can have the XXXXXX tree then. I’m almost there. O God! I’m getting it. I’m almost there’. I recorded them on my phone. Owen is currently in Coney Lane hospital, where he has been officially sectioned.

Here is where things get murky. When the cops were up the tree, they noticed the ash was suffering dieback. The decision was made to cut it down with immediate effect. Now, I had seen no evidence of this four days before. In fact, I had not seen any yellowing of leaves until the moments immediately after Owen was cut down. Coincidence? I think not. Murkier still: what made Owen relapse just at that moment after ten years without incident? How might we establish if he had ingested anything he should not have? If he is clean, would the contractors condescend to tell us if any untoward words were whispered during the long hours of the dark?”

We have one more thing to add: this is not the first time the trees of Wayland’s Wood have been blighted. It was here that the greatest number of elms was destroyed during the outbreak of 1974. Economic stagnation, terrorism, strikes, a lurch to the right: is it simply that we have turned our wheel full circle?


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A haunted war memorial. Is Banksy to blame for everything?

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Due to the saturation coverage across the local media, most people in Lethmachen will be aware of the recent desecration of one of our war memorials. As soon as the news broke the expected outcry was not slow in coming. Although the vandals have yet to be officially identified, Lethmachen Echo’s letters and comments pages immediately pinpointed those responsible as being ‘youths and girls’, most likely influenced by the unfortunate mainstream success of ‘urban artist’ Banksy. It could prove telling if a survey was taken noting how many local residents actually ever visited the memorial in question, as it was not the grand Second World War monument in the centre of town that was defaced with graffiti, but the rather isolated, forlorn looking iron cross that honours the fallen soldiers of the First World War. Located in a secluded, tree lined courtyard adjacent to the primary school, it is very rare to find any garlands left at the foot of the structure, or indeed to see anyone paying their respects to those who died so long ago and far away. Perhaps you might glimpse a Council employee sweeping up the undisturbed leaves, and some afternoons stumble across secondary school children playing truant. Yet I doubt even the older members of the community are regular visitors, or could recite any of the names inscribed on the tarnished brass plaque.

Of course this is just not a local problem. No doubt the growing readership beyond our boundaries could list a number of similar incidents across the country. However, what happened next could perhaps only happen in Lethmachen. Uncharacteristically but unsurprisingly, the usually thrifty Council officials assured the public that, although the damage was beyond repair, they would replace the memorial with a more sturdy, striking monument that would elicit the awe it deserved. A small team of workmen were assigned, and on dismantling the memorial unearthed something unexpected. It was discovered that the WW1 memorial had been constructed around what appeared to be another memorial of much older origin. A memorial to what remains unclear, in spite of the involvement of Ian James and his colleagues from Lethmachen Museum. Occult expert Dr Neil Cross has speculated that pagan rites were once practised at this spot, involving the deflowering of a May Queen, and that the adolescent vandals were unconsciously re-enacting this rite. These claims remain as yet unsubstantiated. What cannot be denied is that on prising off the brass plaque and removing the limestone blocks at the base of the memorial, workmen found encased within a glistening, vertical slab of granite stone, ‘like a miniature version of one of those Stonehenge things’. Standing four foot high and possibly carved and positioned with intent, the mineral qualities of the stone are yet to be indentified. Certainly, it in no way resembles the ashen limestone that forms the bedrock of Lethmachen. The strange, runic symbols carved in to the polished surface are also yet to be deciphered.

The Council have yet to confirm whether they will be removing this ancient standing stone, or simply designing the new memorial to encompass it once more. Most likely it will end up in the local museum, although so far I have found all parties reluctant to comment. In the meantime the stone has been left in place, a lonely vigil amongst the overarching boughs, visible from the road as you pass by if you glance through the opening in the trees that leads from the pavement into the courtyard. And already the stone has been making a name for itself. Just last week the following report was communicated to us, although the witness did not want to be identified: ‘It was late, the early hours, I admit I had been drinking. But what happened next sobered me right up. I was making my way home along School Road, the streets are always deserted at that time. As I was passing where the war memorial used to be, I thought I heard someone whisper my name from the courtyard. It was a mild summer night, only a faint breeze now and again, and I thought maybe a couple of neighbours were enjoying an alfresco drink. So I stepped through the opening for a look. It’s such a small place, it was obvious straight away that nobody was there, all the shadows were made by trees and it must have been them I heard whispering, because then they rustled again in the breeze. Apart from that it was still, silent. Smiling at my imagination, I was about to turn and leave when that weird stone caught my attention. It hadn’t been there last time I was here, it was still the old cross. Anyway, for a second I thought I saw something glinting in the dark, perhaps the stone itself reflecting the moonlight. For some reason this made me curious, I can’t explain why, but it was almost as if I had no choice but to walk up to the stone for a closer look. Standing there in front of it, I suddenly felt this great weight upon me, pressing on my shoulders, and before I knew it I was kneeling down, bowing my head. I don’t know why I did that, but it was as if I had become too frail, too old to resist.  After a few seconds I managed to steady myself and I raised my eyes to the stone, and you know those symbols written on the stone, the ones they mentioned in the newspaper? Well, for a fleeting moment they weren’t just random lines and drawings anymore, they had joined together to become names. And as I read the first row, it dawned on me they were all names I knew. Or rather they were names I had known once, but almost forgotten. Names from my past, people I no longer knew. I didn’t understand, because even if these people might be dead to me, they couldn’t all be dead in real life? The impression only lasted a second, perhaps it was nothing but a trick of the light, yet it made me feel so queasy, so empty that I just knew I had to get out of there, leave right away…’.

Merely a drunken hallucination? There will be those who dismiss it as such, however we received a remarkably similar account mere days later, from a completely independent source. This witness experienced almost exactly the same phenomena in the courtyard, only much earlier in the evening, whilst it was still light. Although also wishing to remain anonymous, be assured that this individual was completely sober at the time, and holds down a respectable job as a school teacher. Yet she too saw names. ‘It took me a while to realise where I had heard of these people before, in fact it wasn’t until much later that I put two and two together. Then it clicked. I am sure it was the register for my class at primary school’.

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Neighbours upset by the pet shop noise

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Last night police were called out to Bloodworth’s Pet Shop for the third time in a fortnight. As on the two previous occasions, officers were responding to a barrage of concerns and complaints called in by residents living close to the shop. They arrived to a hysterical clamour of whoops, shrieks and howling, however this for once was not the result of the crowds spilling out of Chiaroscuros nightclub.  It was immediately apparent that this barbaric cacophony was emanating from Bloodworth’s, not only upsetting the neighbours but making it impossible for them to sleep. On approaching the darkened shop front, PC Batts peered through the crowded window display and witnessed what he described later as ‘a vision of what hell must look like. All these wild eyes and snarling, salivating maws leaping out of the shadows, hurling themselves against their cages’. Fortunately the swift arrival of proprietor Harry Bloodworth, alerted by a friend living nearby, succeeded in calming down his stock. Once he had switched on the lights and murmured a few comforting words to his extensive menagerie, peace and tranquillity was soon restored.

Police suspected that the animals had been disturbed by an intruder on the premises and yet were unable to find any sign of forced entry. Encouraged to take a quick itinerary of the shop, the owner was initially confident that nothing had been taken, both the safe and the till remained intact and untouched. Following a second survey however, Mr Bloodworth realised with some distress that the cage housing a rare breed of rabbit, an American Blue, had been torn open and the animal was missing. PC Batts suggested that all the evidence pointed to an inside job, someone who knew the value of certain breeds and perhaps also had access to the shop. This was impossible, insisted Mr Bloodworth, as only he and his three junior members of staff had keys. Jean Laughton had worked alongside him for nearly twenty years. Obviously his son Nathan was beyond reproach. Even their Saturday girl, Gemmy Picktree, although she had only been with them for a month, had already demonstrated her loyalty. About three weeks back, she had reported for work even though she had broken her collar bone! Besides, Bloodworth explained, teenage Gemmy lived miles away, somewhere rural beyond Duntisbrooke Leer. He had her a set of keys cut precisely for that reason. There was only one bus from Duntisbrooke, and that departed at seven in the morning, meaning she often arrived an hour before everyone else. At least now she could let herself in and make a cup of tea whilst waiting. Nevertheless, Bloodworth admitted he was concerned. In the past they had apparently arrived in time to frighten the thief into fleeing the premises. Yet the disappearance of the American Blue proved the criminal was growing in confidence, growing familiar with the layout of the shop. Could the culprit be a regular customer? Bloodworth assured the officers he would remain vigilant and improve security.

This was the story that Harry Bloodworth related to the local police. However, there was some additional material that the pet shop owner only felt comfortable sharing with us, for fear of ridicule. A self confessed ‘superstitious man’, yet certainly not a credulous one, he provided us with details of an earlier experience his intuition told him may be connected to the break-ins. ‘Something that not many people know, even those who spend a lot of time in the shop, is that I have a hobby that occupies a lot of my spare time. Basically, I breed fancy rats! You’d be surprised how many shows and competitions are staged around here, especially in Flinchley. My collection, my nursery is located above the shop, in the attic. Nobody really ventures up there except me; we keep all the overstocks out the back or in the cellar. Well, one night about three weeks ago I was up in the attic after the shop had closed, tending to the rats, and I suppose I had not noticed how late it was getting. All of a sudden there was this racket downstairs: the animals restless, then growing defensive, frightened, some aggressive. The only thing I could compare it to was the time this wild, stray dog got loose in the shop. Although I’d heard nothing, my first thought was some kid had come to rob the place, either that or I had left the back door open and a fox had slipped in. Earlier that evening I’d been putting a new cage together, so I had a hammer to hand. Planning to take the burglar by surprise, I didn’t turn the lights on below me, just crept quietly down the stairs in the dark. A couple of boards creaked underfoot near the bottom, and the next second I felt something rush past me, around my legs. It was headed up the stairs and as it brushed past I felt this sensation beneath my outstretched fingers; a hide of coarse, matted hair. Presumably it was some breed of animal, although not even I could tell you what. My first priority was to check all the animals on the shop floor. By the time I switched on the lights, everything out there had grown calm again, although with hindsight the American Blue acted a bit skittish. There was no sign of any intruder and I had bolted the back door after all. Racing back upstairs I discovered all my rats looking agitated and cowering in the corners of their cages, but neither hair nor hide of the animal I imagined had brushed past me. There is little space or comfort in the attic, it is a bit of a hovel to be honest, but good enough for me and the rats to pass a few hours each night before I head home. I had left the window open that night, because of the humid conditions we’ve had recently. If a creature had wanted to flee it could conceivably have leapt from the window, and descended via drainpipes and jutting lower ledges to the ground. The window frame was rotten and appeared to have recently splintered, as if under some weight. Down below, in the overgrown back garden, I thought I detected some faltering movement and some faint whining, but it was too dark to see clearly and you can imagine the noise with Chiaroscuros only round the corner. Later I made a circuit of the premises and the only possible access point was an open fanlight in the staff loo. But this was up too high for a fox, and too small for a man’.

Mr Blackwood approached us with the hypothesis that perhaps poltergeist activity could have played a part in this incident and in the subsequent break-ins. It is certainly a matter worthy of further research.

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