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Archive for March, 2016

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).

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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   

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