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Archive for February, 2017

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

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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

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

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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.  

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