Archive for March, 2015

Mystery surrounds the nameless shapes that are seen around town…









I have been reading your website this evening, although I’m a little ashamed to admit it, as my wife has taken my little boy off to the in-laws for the weekend, and by rights I should be living it up in town. Sad to say, I just haven’t got it in me at the moment. So I have been sitting here, having a beer or two, and getting really interested in all the strange stuff I never realised was (or wasn’t!) going on around me. I was thinking how much I would love to contribute, when the thought struck me, actually for the first time, that something weird had happened to me only this week.

This could bit dismissed as parental indulgence, but it is true when you have kids, you do notice things you would not otherwise. It’s the strange way kids have at looking at world. I’m talking about boys especially here, because that’s what I know. What gets me is the way they get things half right. You end up thinking, ‘wow, that’s new’ even as you are laughing at how dumb they can be. It’s like the buses: boys really love them. Not just mine, ether. I’ve noticed it even on the way to work with other dads and their sons. The kids will be asking questions ‘where does that one go?’ and the like, and they know all the numbers, and some of the drivers. They see glamour in it, and it is all planned, and so you can see why. The trouble is, they think all that regularity and effort is magical, when it’s actually dull as anything.

I was walking my boy home from nursery last week, when he provided me with what seemed to be another example of this kind of boyish over-valuation of mundane public phenomena. There is this pretty ugly copper statue on the high street. It’s the one just on from the A-store, the one that looks like an accident in a semi-circle factory. My boy asked, ‘Who made that?’ I didn’t know, and sensing an opportunity for a bit of a public display of advanced fathering, I walked over to the thing and looked at it. ‘Sometimes they have the name of the person who made it on the base’, I explained. We looked but couldn’t find one. My son seemed happy enough, so we walked round, taking in the shapes, and talking about art. ‘I’ll find out who made it for you’, I said. That night, when I was tucking him in, this was in my mind, for some reason, although I think it had probably long gone from his, and I said I would have the name of who made the sculpture by the time I picked him up the next day. I suppose I saw some chance to make some educational point, because I talked about reference books, and record offices and the Internet. I did a search that night, but I couldn’t come up with something. This didn’t surprise me: Lethmachen is not really known for its art, is it?

On my lunch break the next day, I walked the five minutes to Shire Hall, and asked if anyone could tell me anything about the work. They seemed in a rush, but I was told to sit and wait. A few minutes later, a young guy came out, and asked me to follow him. We went down to a record office, all paper based, and he pointed me to a shelf he said dealt with commissions. Well, I didn’t really know what to do, so I started back in the 50’s, and just began pulling out one file after another. I couldn’t find anything relating to any sculptures. There was stuff about the bandstand, and a new mayoral mace, and a ton of other similarly boring stuff. I assumed I was looking in the wrong place. The guy was still in the room, engrossed with another shelf, so I called him over. With a confident, disinterested air, he began snatching files from the shelves, but after a minute, his hand movements, already fast, became quicker still. I don’t know why, but I started to get scared. Then he stopped what he was doing, and looked at me with incomprehension, and something like anger. ‘I’m sorry’, he snapped, ‘I’m going to have to get back to you on this. Please…’ I followed his outstretched arm, and walked to the door, but before I ascended the stairs, I looked back at him. He had his arms outstretched, and was gripping onto the shelves with white-knuckled hands, staring at the lines of dull, brown files.

I found I couldn’t just drop it. When I met my kid from school, I told him daddy hadn’t found out who made the sculpture yet. ‘What should we do next?’ I said. I talked about the British library, and more about the Internet, and the lecturers at Universities who knew all about these things. He gave me a little bit of his attention. I think, already, he can see when something is not going to go anywhere. I don’t know. The incident upset me, to be honest, in a way that I still can’t quite understand. I mean, we all know that public sculpture is usually pretty much anonymous, especially the shite round our way, right? So why does the anonymity of this work seem so threatening? What does it matter, after all, if no one, and I mean no one, knows where it comes from. Any thoughts? Even better, any idea who made the sculpture’s on the High Street?

 Lethmachen Dad


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Poltergeist plagues a shoe shop? These boots are inclined for walkin’….


Although never aspiring to the high fashion end of the market, generations of local readers will hold fond memories of Ambles Shoe Shop. Many of us will have visited its modest premises as children to try on our first school shoes, and perhaps returned as adults when requiring some sensible footwear for a formal occasion. A stalwart presence on the Lower High Street for five decades, there was a genuine sense of loss within the community when the shop finally closed its doors almost a decade ago now. Yet with hindsight its passing seems inevitable: as town centres across the country become increasingly homogenised, there is little hope of survival for a small family business. A Costa Coffee now occupies the location where Ambles once stood. Fortunately for us this sad state of affairs means that an ex-employee and family member can approach us without fear of adversely affecting business prospects or reputation. And so we offer you a historic tale:

‘Obviously this is going back a few years. So I don’t necessarily see things in the same light now, but this is how it seemed at the time. Narrowing it down, it must have been January 1983? Definitely I remember it was right after Christmas, because I couldn’t relax and it had ruined my holidays. Instead of just going back to school for the new term, first we all had to do one week’s work experience. That might not sound like such a big deal, but to someone barely 15 who has never had a proper job before, only a paper-round or two, the idea of the ‘work place’ was terrifying. At that age I didn’t know where I was headed, I hadn’t even considered any kind of ‘career path’. Looking back, maybe I lacked a bit of self confidence; nowadays I reckon I could accept any job without giving it a second thought. Luckily, my Grandad stepped in at the last minute and suggested I spend the week working alongside him in the shoe shop. Although I still wasn’t exactly keen on the idea, at least I was better off than the majority of my classmates. Some of them were actually sent off to work in proper offices, a fate I managed to stall for a few years yet, thank God.

As customers you may think of Ambles as a little shoebox of a place. Upstairs, I’d be the first to admit, the shop floor was a bit cramped. There was hardly any room for a fitting area and bear in a mind we also had a staff kitchen and bathroom squeezed in round the back. Yet this space is the only space the public saw. Below stairs we had a basement that seemed to stretch on for miles; row after row of rickety shelves, filled to the rafters with boxes of shoes – most identically blank, but for a sticky label. Grandad did not entrust me with too many duties at the counter; I think he could tell I was nervous when it came to dealing with people and money. My sole responsibility was to collect the boxes from the basement, then return them if the sale fell through or the shoe didn’t fit. Although we weren’t exactly run off our feet, business was fairly brisk in those days. So I would spend most of the day struggling up and down that narrow flight of steps that led to the basement. It was dark down there, just one bare bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling, and I remember always freezing cold. Cold like only concrete can be. Sometimes Grandad got impatient with me because I kept the customer waiting too long. It wasn’t really my fault; it could be difficult to find the right aisle, the right shelf, the right box. There I was, stumbling around in the gloom, squinting at the details on the order slip, or clutching a solitary shoe like it was some kind of genie’s lamp. But I suppose I did get distracted now and again. I would find myself standing still and staring up at those towers of boxes, as if I were admiring the pyramids. It’s difficult to explain what I found so fascinating. Perhaps something to do with the privacy of it all? This was the first time I was surrounded by objects that were not my own, objects that other people wanted. They were not meant to stay with me, yet I didn’t have to let them go unless I chose to. They could end up anywhere.

At first I wondered what I had been so anxious about. Work experience was not that bad; in fact I was surprised how much I was enjoying the role. My mind raced ahead: I could even picture myself doing something like this in the future. It was on my third day that things started to go wrong, and I knew I had been right to be on my guard all along. Descending to the basement that Wednesday morning, I suddenly felt like an impostor, like I was not wanted and had no call to be there. Switching on the light at the foot of the steps I was greeted by a black pair of men’s shoes, neatly positioned directly in front of me, stood distinctly apart from any shelving. For some reason they made me think of of a soldier reporting for duty or a pet expecting an owner. What made me uneasy was that the shoes looked like they had been deliberately placed, yet I was certain I had been the last person in the basement yesterday. When I locked up I had left the place tidy. Anyway, I gingerly picked up these shoes, like they were some sort of dead animal, and placed them back on the right shelf. Must be the elves helping the shoemaker, I smiled to myself, and didn’t think much more of it. Trade was fairly slow that day, and I had no call to return to the basement until closing time. This time when I switched on the light I saw something different. A pair of women’s shoes, white stilettos, placed where the men’s shoes had been before. Assuming I must have left the shoes lying around, I impatiently snatched them up and replaced them in their box. Only when I turned to leave did I notice the same pair of men’s shoes was also out again. Yet this time they were lurking in the corner, in the shadows, half hidden instead of standing in plain sight. It was almost as if they were waiting, watching for something.

On the Thursday work got even worse. When I went down to the basement I found the white stilettos out of their box again. They were scattered at the bottom of the stairs like they had been knocked down whilst trying to escape. For a moment I thought of Cinderella, but then I noticed the bloody footprints. I followed the footprints away from the fallen stilettos, across the concrete floor, until they led me to the far, dark corner. There I found hidden that same pair of men’s black shoes, also out of their box once more. Of course I was in the middle of collecting an order so I had no time to either investigate or tidy up before I was expected back upstairs. Then. when I came back twenty minutes later, there was no sign of either pair of shoes or the footprints. Everything was back where it should be. Could this be Grandad’s idea of a joke? It didn’t really seem in his nature, he was never one for jokes. Perhaps a dissatisfied customer, playing a cruel trick?  But how would they get back here without us noticing? Actually, what I was reminded of most of all was that film ‘Poltergeist’. It was new around that time and I had seen it on pirate video over at Uncle Ken’s. I didn’t sleep well that night. My mum reckoned it was because I was overtired from all the hard work I had been doing, but I didn’t tell her the real reason. On my last day I was dreading having to go back down to that basement, but at the same time I didn’t want to disappoint Grandad. Creeping down the steps, I thought I heard a weird kind of struggling noise in the dark. And when I switched on the light I must have cried out loud. There were two black shoes suspended in mid-air, kicking about like they were being strung up from the rafters, although I couldn’t see a rope. Suddenly one shoe dropped and smacked against the stone floor like a dead fish.

I don’t think Grandad, God rest his soul, ever understood what had upset me so much. He probably assumed I was simply finding full time employment too challenging and too stressful. Perhaps he was right. Noticing I was missing, he had come down to the basement to check on me. Although I tried to explain, to his mind there was nothing to see but a pair of shoes, lying discarded on the floor. Still, it was nice of him to keep me upstairs on the counter for the rest of the day. I remember a strange coincidence that happened late that Friday. During my last few hours in the shop, we sold both those pairs of shoes, the black slip-on’s and the white stilettos. I remember because I served the woman and then the man, although Grandad went to fetch the boxes. You’ll never guess who the female customer was – Suzy Dawes – that girl who was murdered. As far as I know, they never caught the bloke who did it. People say there was a suspect, but he topped himself before they could bring charges. Apparently the police were convinced it was a local man, which I find hard to believe’.

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