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French Evening Class speaking in tongues?

office

I believe I am reporting a fraud. There is a possibility that it could be something far worse, but let’s call it fraud, if just to ensure my integrity as a witness. Somehow it seems too early in 2016 for anything significant to happen, January always feels formless to me, as if the year is waiting to take shape. Yet something has happened, something that has compelled me to write. Like many people I optimistically made a few New Year’s resolutions over the Christmas period. One of these was to learn a language. Over the previous twelve months I had come to feel my life’s parameters were far too limited, a sensation no doubt shared by many Lethmachen residents, or in fact anyone living in a small town. Perhaps learning a foreign language would open up new opportunities, new possibilities for me? I had decided that to begin with French was the best option as I at least had some experience of studying the subject at school, although little of what I had learnt seemed to stick. It wasn’t that I felt any great affiliation with French culture – there are few French nationals, or indeed any international immigrants, living in Lethmachen. Yet I had to accept I did not really have the confidence to throw myself into anything more exotic, more challenging. I imagined I would find it awkward enough being back in a learning environment after all these years, and I was slightly anxious at the prospect of making a fool of myself in front of the other students.

If it wasn’t for the advertisement I probably wouldn’t have acted and, as is so common, any ambition to change myself would no dount have faded by February. However, the little classified posting in the back pages of The Lethmachen Echo appeared an act of fate. ‘French For Beginners – An Intensive Two Week Course’. Everything sounded ideal: classes were beginning immediately, running 8pm every weeknight, and it would all be over so quickly I would hardly have time for second thoughts. Perhaps the fortnight would give me a taste for a more advanced programme or equally, if I did not enjoy the experience, I could quickly strike it from the ‘bucket list’. Inspired by a renewed sense of purpose, I phoned the number at the foot of the ad, wondering if the ‘limited places’ had already been filled. I suppose the more cautious side of my personality half hoped I was too late, yet after a few cursory questions about my (lack of) language skills, the flat, nameless voice at the end of the line announced I was in. I had heard these type of courses could be quite expensive, however when I enquired the fees they seemed very reasonable; suspiciously affordable I might say in retrospect. Nonetheless I must emphasise they still took my money under false pretences and, regardless of the cost, this amounts to fraud.

The following, frosty Monday evening I walked the twenty minutes across town to Stark House. During the day this rather drab 60’s built office block is home to various insurance and telemarketing firms. Many people I used to go to school with have worked there at one time or another. Yet by night the building is deserted and looks a bit forbidding: I could not see any lights on any levels and the glass foyer was locked up and also plunged into darkness. For a moment I thought I had somehow come to the wrong place, but then I noticed the laminated A4 sheet stuck to the front doors, directing ‘French Beginners’ to a side entrance. After climbing a flight of stairs sparsely illuminated by emergency strip lights I came to a landing and a set of lifts. Following another set of instructions fixed to the wall I took the lift up to the fifth floor and turned right, then left, then right down a dimly lit warren of corridors. A dozen shadowy figures were waiting in awkward silence outside the door of Room 5.17, looking as if they had been summoned to the headmaster’s office. We all briefly exchanged greetings before slipping back into silence, taking it in turns to glance expectantly up and down the corridor, waiting for an instructor we had never met.

The whole class jumped as the door behind them was suddenly flung open and, simultaneously, the windowless room within flickered into light. Our tutor, who announced himself as Mr Carnall, had apparently been in the classroom the whole time, oblivious to his prospective students gathering outside, presumably sitting motionless and mute whilst contemplating the darkness. My first impression of Mr Carnall was that, although he ushered us in with a show of great warmth and enthusiasm, his grin was more like a grimace and he studied each of us as we entered with hard, bird-like eyes. Nevertheless, during his induction speech he was considerate and re-assuring, insisting that none of us should worry if we initially felt out of our depth or struggled with the unfamiliar words and pronunciation. He also advised us to focus all of our attention on this intensive course, and not to get distracted by reading external materials, or be lured into practicing our new found skills on any French speakers. Mr Carnall was concerned that any outside influence could be detrimental to our confidence, as it can be so easy to be misunderstood. We must bear in mind that we were only ‘beginners’, and ‘there are, of course, many different dialects’. On completing his welcome, our tutor insisted we undergo that usual, painful rigmarole of going round the classroom so each of us could introduce ourselves. The majority of those attending had, like me, chosen to take the course simply because they were searching for something new in their lives. A couple of the younger students explained they were considering travelling or studying exchange degrees, whilst the more self-important types asserted they were learning the language for ‘business purposes’. When asking about our previous experience of French (nearly all of us had only fleeting memories of being taught it at school), I now recall that Mr Carnall seemed annoyed when one attendee, whose name I forget, admitted that he had distant relatives in France and had picked up the basics on his occasional visits. Although this student assured the tutor that brushing up on the essentials was what he needed, and he appeared enthusiastic during that first lesson, I noticed he was absent from all subsequent classes.

At the beginning of each lesson Mr Carnall would hand around our text books, in reality well-thumbed photocopied manuals, all of which had to be returned to the tutor at the end of class. ‘L’heure est venue! French For Beginners’ was set in bold text on the front page. The lessons followed a fairly typical format, stirring up vaguely unpleasant memories of school: the whole class reading and re-reading certain passages out loud until they sounded like some kind of ritualistic chant, role playing games structured around strange and unlikely scenarios, listening to audio tapes and watching video clips of strangers going about their lives in cities that look similar to ours but sound uncannily different. Perhaps as a child I had found learning a new language a little intimidating, a little unnerving, but just accepted it. At that age, I suppose the wider world seems like an alien planet. Yet I was disappointed at myself that now, as an adult, I was finding the whole experience even more unsettling than I remembered. It is difficult even with hindsight to pinpoint the root of my anxieties, only I was finding it almost impossible to follow the flow of conversations or the logic of texts; to me the participants in the recorded conversations sounded lost, almost frightened, and the performances of the actors in the videos seemed to imply a darker purpose beneath the bland surface. Matters were not helped by the addition of ‘Malfie’, a cartoon character who appeared in a few panels at the end of every chapter in our texts books. I assume he was designed to lighten the mood, whilst recapping a few grammar points. However, there was something sinister about this faun-like creature who always seemed to be lurking amongst the trees in the middle of nowhere. And what was the purpose of that ominous, dilapidated barn that the artist felt compelled to sketch in as part of the backdrop?

Fortunately, I was not alone. The three-hour classes were always relieved by a twenty-minute coffee break at 9.30pm, when we dozen students huddled into a small kitchen area attached to an adjacent office (I was not sure what Mr Carnall did during this time, but he never once joined us). A number of my classmates admitted, in moderate tones, that they were also finding the course more demanding than they expected, possibly too advanced. We confided that we often found ourselves misinterpreting the subject matter, or reading things into the dialogues that surely could not have been intended. If I ever looked over at Danielle, the woman who occupied the desk next to mine, I was aware that her eyes constantly held a look of bewilderment, sometimes bordering on fear. ‘And what about those ‘Night Tapes’ we’ve been given to listen to at home…’ she said to me during one coffee break ‘Don’t they give you nightmares?’ Frustratingly, at that point our conversation was interrupted by Roger Akeley, one of those ‘business purposes’ people who had soon emerged as the star pupil in the class. He was always seeking to inspire us with unsolicited pep talks and encouraging us to stick with the programme to the end. ‘Believe me, by the time we get to the final test next Friday you’ll really appreciate those ‘Night Tapes’…’ he enthused ‘It makes it all so easy…you can learn in your sleep! I reckon we don’t even realise how much we already know, what is stored in the back of our minds. Those tapes bring back things we thought had been forgotten’. In spite of his determination to sound persistently optimistic, there was something dry and ruthless underlying Roger’s delivery, prone to slipping out if ever someone disagreed with his opinion in class. It was his true voice that I thought I recognised. Had I met him before? It is only now that I realise how much he sounded like that voice on the other end of the telephone. The one that had guaranteed me a place on the course.

The ‘Night Tapes’ are the key to this whole affair; the exhibit I can enter into evidence. These were the only items that were permitted to leave the classroom with us, presumably because Mr Carnall thought it unlikely that anyone still owned the technology to copy the old fashioned cassettes contained within the Walkmans. The idea was that we would listen to these tapes whilst we were sleeping and absorb the knowledge without conscious effort. The cassettes were certainly effective in sending me off to sleep – the monotony of the endlessly repeated phrases and sentences merging into a soporific incantation. These solemn intonations must have continued to run through my dreams for, just as Danielle suffered, I too had nightmares. On waking all I would be able to recall was the imposing outline of a dilapidated barn, framed in silhouette against a rural night sky. Also, other sounds only half concealed by the chanting chorus of voices – the clashing of antlers, the clutter of cloven feet, the excited baying and whinnying of what must surely have been animals. Then the cacophony and the images would be cut dead, I imagine because in my sleep I had reached the end of the tape.

It was on the Thursday night of that second week, the night before the class had to sit their final test, that I received some unexpected visitors. I hadn’t really socialised since New Year’s Eve; obviously my weeknights were now occupied and I typically spent my weekends pacing the flat reciting passages from the ‘Night Tapes’. A couple of my friends had become concerned by my new reclusiveness and took it upon themselves to call round shortly after my return from Stark House. Steven and Sonia arrived bearing a couple of bottles of wine. At first I attempted to politely decline their company, explaining that not only did I have work in the morning but I needed this evening to revise for my French test the following night. There would be no time to swot up tomorrow as I was required to report to Stark House slightly earlier than usual. Mr Carnall had informed us that his company’s ‘Test Centre’ was located on the rural borders of Lethmachen, and he had hired a minibus to drive us out to The Old Tithe Barn. Yet my friends can be very persuasive, pointing out it was too late now to learn anything new, and sure enough we were soon settled down chatting and drinking. Unfortunately, I was completely exhausted as a result of my hectic schedule over the last fortnight, and must have fallen asleep in their company. It could only have been a matter of minutes, yet I was roughly shaken awake to find Steven and Sonia stood over me, their expressions troubled, accusatory. Had I been talking in my sleep? Apparently so…

‘That language is not French! Whatever language you were speaking, it definitely wasn’t French’ argued Steven, an English tutor at International House in Lethmachen. ‘If anything, it reminded me of a medieval English dialect, long fallen from use. From what I could piece together, it sounded like a call to worship, some kind of invocation beckoning something or someone back from the past…’ What I had been murmuring in my sleep were the teachings of the ‘Night Tapes’, yet the words and sounds I had uttered had so disturbed my friends that they feared I had suddenly fallen ill. After the initial shock had worn off, we were all able to laugh about it. Well, at least for a short while. Steven and Sonia convinced me that the classes I had been attending were all part of some elaborate hoax, designed to fleece a few gullible souls of the registration fee. ‘Whatever you do, do not attend the test tomorrow’ my friends cautioned me ‘They’ll probably just try and scam you for more money. Or get you somewhere isolated and rob you. There must be a reason they continued with these fake lessons after all of you had paid in advance’. It was agreed that the next day during my lunch hour I would visit Stark House in daylight, and alert the management company as to what was occurring on their premises after hours. However, when I stormed into the foyer shortly after noon and began ranting about Carnall and his phoney ‘French’ lessons, the staff of Stark House gawped at me as if I had lost my mind. There were no evening classes taking place in their offices, they assured me, that would breach health and safety regulations. They had never heard of this Mr Carnall or had any contact with him. Desperate, almost in a state of panic, I attempted to force those present to listen my ‘Night Tapes’. Unfortunately, at that point, I was escorted from the building by security.

I feel no shame in admitting I was angry…I am angry. Why are there such people in the world, whose only goal seems to be to profit from exploiting and humiliating others? My only crime, weakness if you will, was a cautious desire to expand my horizons, to try and make small changes to my life. Do I deserve to be punished for this? I am curious to know whether Danielle and my other classmates also uncovered the deception. Did they attend the final test at The Old Tithe Barn? Are they now walking around unaware that their language qualification isn’t worth the paper it is printed upon? They were only passing acquaintances; I haven’t heard from any of them or seen them about town since the day before the test. One of my motives for sharing this story on your website is to let them know that if they wish to join forces and lodge a legal complaint against Mr Carnall and his cronies, they will have my full co-operation. After all, in any language, F-R-A-U-D spells fraud.

 

Another teenage couple fall victim to ‘The Writhings’?

lane

If you cast your mind back just a few short months, to Thursday April 30th 2015 to be precise, you will recall the local media reports regarding the disappearance of Flora Logan and Peter Earley. No clues to the couple’s whereabouts were forthcoming and yet, as there were also no bodies discovered, there remained a glimmer of hope for the families of the missing teenagers. Unfortunately, as is common in these cases, when it became obvious that there would be no immediate resolution to the mystery the Lethmachen Echo and its readership soon lost interest in following the story. Life moves on, new priorities arise, things that once seemed they could never be forgotten gradually fade in to the background. That is why, a scant eight months later, I feel the need to remind you of the details of the case.

Although, in fact there are no details, only rumour and innuendo. Peter’s car was discovered, abandoned, in a secluded wooded hollow in the early evening of Friday 1st May. His family had reported him missing late that afternoon on receiving a concerned phone call from the school secretary. Peter had not attended classes that day and had therefore missed taking part in a science project that counted towards his final assessment, behaviour that seemed completely out of character to his teachers and peers. Flora’s father and elder sister were both working away that week and her absence was not quite so out of the ordinary. However, at some point during the brief interviews conducted by local police officers, one of their mutual friends had let slip that Peter and Flora had planned a ‘secret’ rendezvous that night. Their destination: a ‘lover’s lane’ on the outskirts of town.

One of the initial stumbling blocks for the search was that this ‘lover’s lane’ did not really have a name. Or perhaps had too many. Yet it did not seem to take long for the police (and journalists) to identify the location that Peter and Flora’s friends had in mind. For, although they may call it different things, the majority of Lethmachen residents would be able to pinpoint exactly where to find this ‘lover’s lane’. Even if, like myself, you were never blessed with an opportunity to spend an evening there, you would be aware of the ‘lane’ as an essential part of local folklore. It is to some degree neglected because it is not a place anyone would choose to visit during the day. The surrounding countryside is unattractive, there is nothing to see there and it leads to nowhere. It is simply a dirt track that lies semi -concealed a couple of miles down Two Sticks Lane, that lonely stretch of roman road heading out of town. Some claim that this dirt track used to function as a bridlepath and was known as ‘The Ridings’. Nowadays, if it is spoken of at all, you are more likely to hear locals jokingly refer to it as ‘The Writhings’.

As I have acknowledged, the written facts are scarce. In the police statement, they announced they had discovered Peter’s car in a natural wooded hollow just off the main track. Its position suggested it had been deliberately parked at an angle that ensured privacy, hidden from prying eyes behind the lush, dark green foliage of the encircling trees and hedgerows. Mr Earley had only recently purchased the vehicle for his son, and the car was found in pristine condition, although the doors had been flung open and the contents of the car scattered about the immediate area. Amongst this debris the police retrieved ‘certain objects of interest’ that they concluded were ‘anomalous to the scene’ and would thus be ‘pursued as lines of enquiry’. What exactly these objects were has never been revealed, presumably to protect the integrity of the investigation. Inevitably this led to increasingly wild conjecture in certain sections of the local press. One version of events, that gives the impression of arising from school gossip, is that Peter’s mobile phone was actually retrieved from the scene. Although this has never been acknowledged by the authorities, the story goes that the phone contained a number of ‘intimate’ photographs of Flora, taken as dusk fell on the very night the couple disappeared. As the light fails in the woods, the camera seems to catch something over Flora’s shoulder, something indistinct within the trees, a dark outline contrasting with her pale skin. Nobody seems certain whether this silhouette may be human or animal but it is said, in the final image, Flora’s nervous smile has faltered into an anxious frown.

‘Evidence of sexual activity and droplets of blood’ were identified both inside the car and in the woods outside, yet Flora and Peter were most definitely gone. Apparently they had either been forcibly abducted or had fled the scene yet, if they had fled, there were no obvious signs to the route they had taken. ‘There is no road through the woods’. Theories the teenagers had eloped for a ‘dirty weekend’ were soon dismissed as days progressed into weeks without the couples return. Gradually, starved of any further information, all but those closest to Peter and Flora began to lose interest and seemingly, even for the police, the case took a backseat. Yet, before we all started to forget, we were vaguely aware that this was not the first time such an incident had occurred. Frustratingly, the dates and names initially eluded me. But a little basic research brought to light what was lying dormant in Lethmachen’s collective unconscious. 1996: Jennifer Thorley and Bram Walden. 1983: Debbie Mackman and Wayne Hobson. 1967: Imogen Bloom and Rich Harvest. There were more, dating back as far as I was able to trace through old editions of the Lethmachen Echo. All were couples reported missing after spending a night at ‘The Writhings’. All had vanished in the spring, typically during late April or early May, presumably as this is when the nights begin to grow warmer. None were ever found. Surely the dates are spaced too far apart to imply the work of some undetected serial killer, and yet the repetitions within this sequence give these disappearances an almost ritualistic feel.

In the wake of the most recent disappearance, and made restless by my own superficial research, I decided to question some of Flora and Peter’s peers about what they thought may have happened that night. Unfortunately, the interviews were compromised by the usual problems when you try to talk to anyone in Lethmachen about ‘The Writhings’. The majority of answers were ambiguous, evasive, or outright hostile. Neither Flora nor Peter had mentioned specific plans for the evening of 30th April, but nevertheless somehow everyone I spoke to knew they were intending to drive out to the ‘lover’s lane’. ‘Nobody ever really talks about that place’ one source, who wished to remain anonymous, told me ‘for a start, it doesn’t even have a proper name. But you just know when you are supposed to go there, that’s all’. When I asked him to explain what he meant, a female companion interrupted, blushing slightly: ‘You know, you just get a feeling, a bit nervous but excited at the same time, like butterflies in your stomach. That’s when you know it’s your turn that night’. ‘Everybody knows about it’ explained another schoolgirl ‘everybody understands what happens there’. But do they really, I began to wonder? After all, how do you discuss a place without a name, a place that must at once be private yet public knowledge, an experience that must be simultaneously intimate yet boasted of in public? In some ways, it is necessary ‘The Writhings’ is kept secret, for imagine the inconvenience if everyone knew of it, if the whole town felt compelled to pull up there on the same night! And yet, the word must start somewhere. Who is it who firsts designates a certain location as a ‘lover’s lane’? How and why do they then propagate this knowledge? Is it passed from lover to lover, like a virus?

There has recently been renewed interest in the case of Flora Logan and Peter Earley. Last month, two local couples ‘hunting for wild mushrooms’ in the vicinity of ‘The Writhings’ unearthed the remnants of a curious statue. On initial examination, archaeology academics have tentatively proposed the statue represents some form of pagan deity, and perhaps was once the centre piece of a shrine dedicated to ancient fertility rites. Intriguingly, this discovery suggests that perhaps the ‘love’ long predates the ‘lane’?

 

Patient discovers the dark things lurk behind us all…

loo

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I am not the first to write this I know, but I do apologise for the personal and quite horrible nature of what follows. This all turns on the subject of digestion. I have been plagued by irregular bowel movements for some time. I dealt with this in my own way for a while, but eventually I found myself talking to a doctor and was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I was not even that convinced of this then, and now I really do have my doubts. I altered my diet, and there was a change, of course, but the whole unpleasant experience of evacuating was still something I had to do. Horrible, as I said. There is only so much one can take before alternative therapies are looked for. I went through my quota of cranks before I was directed to your neck of the woods, and to the clinic of XXXX.  You may laugh, but he isn’t that well known beyond your borders. I certainly didn’t know. It’s remarkable how one’s relationship with the internet can change: I was no longer looking for the hidden, but the exposed and present. I wanted to encounter something that offered a way out, and that was that.

The therapy was as odd as you can imagine, and probably the less I say about it the better There was lots of lights, and I lay down on a bed in a dishevelled room, and XXXX sat with me and twinkled and laughed, whilst his assistants took blood, and my temperature, and asked some irrelevant seeming questions.  I left without much hope.

That night, as I was sitting on the toilet, having as little luck as usual, I had a peculiar experience. At that time, I hadn’t got round to shaving the hair around my anus – this is something many of us end up doing – and I felt it – well – I felt it twisting, or uncurling. It is possible for it to do this, I suppose, so for a moment I made nothing of it. The feeling did not go away, however. There was a light but determined movement there, it seemed to me. Well, I stood up, got a razor, manoeuvred myself into a peculiar position, and began to shave, using the bathroom mirror as a guide. I then sat down once more. My skin was tingling, but that could not account for the feeling that followed. It was delicate and groping, and again the sensation was as if something were stretching itself. A moment after, I heard the splash of something hitting the water below.

It was only a few hours before I found myself upon the toilet once more, and it was with growing concern that once more I felt the peculiar sensation in that most intimate area. I focused upon it. Yes, I could feel the soft, cobweb touch, but also a kind of miniature wiry strength somewhere behind it. I knew there was something in my rectum as well, and it was moving. I am aware of the lack of agency that accompanies certain bowel movements, good or bad, but this was something different: it was as if whatever was there was being dragged along, and most determinately not by me. And now, as I concentrated, I found I could identify not a single touch upon my outer body, but four or five points of pressure, and with that a hard lump of something seemed to pull away from me. I turned around and looked: nothing amiss, but I knew something was not right, so I put down some toilet paper and squatted by the side of toilet. At once, it was as if a number of tiny arms, like thick, articulated hairs, were reaching out of me, prizing me apart, and then heaving out a body of matter. I felt this drop, but instead of a thud, there was the slightest tap below me, and – with no more sound than a cheque being written – I caught, for a second, the sight of something, perhaps two inches long, scurrying away. I reached out for it, and, surprised at my own speed, I pulled the door to before it had a chance to escape. What lay before me was nothing but hard, compacted bodily waste. The legs, I realised, had been drawn in. The thing was not unlike a stick insect in that respect, although in its movement and generally physiology, I was reminded far more of the spider.

I am not unaware of the way this will be reported. I decline to add my name for this reason. And I do know that, in the broadest possible terms, I am probably mad. Certainly that is how I will be seen. For this reason I cannot see my doctor. I know what is prescribed on these occasions, and it will advisedly effect my condition. I think it unlikely that XXXX’s cure was biological in the strictest sense. Indeed, the most likely explanation seems to me that I have in some way been hypnotised. If anyone has any genuine knowledge of this area, please get in touch with this website. It might be thought that all is reasonably well with me. I no longer strain, and I do not retain fecal matter, yet the creatures are more terrible than I could ever explain. They have dethroned me – that is the best way I can explain it. They are a foreign force, an alien more profound than fecal matter or food could ever be. My relationship with my partner is coming under severe strain, and more than anything I do not want to lose her. We cannot share a bed, lest the beasts make themselves known. Please help – I am in hell,

Yours X

Do local parents have more to worry about than the latest Ofsted results?

teachers

After the ignoble defeat of his Party of the Fields and Trees in this year’s election, which saw labour and Liberal candidates urge their supporters to back Katherine Knot, their Tory rival, Lord Carrier all but disappeared from public view.

He has recently returned as a philanthropist, or so his press office would have it, bank-rolling a school to serve the Lethmachen area, despite there being no dearth of other providers, nor any existing demand for alternative services. “The Carrier Free School” sees its mission as “widening participation” with a focus on the “total pedagogical transformation” of the under-privileged.

It is not for us to cast aspersions on such a no doubt well intentioned endeavour, and thus it is with regret that we learn that the project has already encountered difficulties. An early Ofsted inspection has been postponed due to a lack of students. The school points out that it had not officially opened its doors when it received notice of the immanent visit, and takes this as an opportunity to launch into an attack on government bureaucracy. This has caused no little confusion, as witnesses claim to have seen a number of children about the premises. Young relations of the newly appointed staff, the school maintains, and has gone so far as to publish admissions data and financial plans in the local paper. The school is set to open in autumn 2016.

Adding to the school’s woes is the recent bizarre footage of various teachers and governors caught off-guard, and behaving in a less than professional manner. There is nothing untoward about the images. In one, Douglas Codswell, on record as a geography teacher, is filmed standing alone and holding a flask. He is biting its lid and talking to himself. As he does, his eyes are fixed and open, and his head bobs from one side to another, punctuating the little sing-song sentences, the precise words of which are impossible to catch.

In another video, Martin Ryder, Deputy Head, and local businessman Marty Reynolds are filmed together. Martin, the taller man, is facing Marty, his arms round him. Marty’s arms are hanging by his sides. The two are circling round, Marty quietly gurgling with laughter, and Martin muttering, again in a sing-song voice.

This peculiar, child-like behaviour has, thus far, been regarded only as proof of the silly and odd nature of Lord Carrier and his various enterprises. To us, however, it carries a peculiar, uncanny charge.

Or is it just your imagination, running away with you?

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The conversation that set in motion this chain of events was hardly memorable. A chance meeting with a childhood friend who I had not seen in years. That perhaps makes the incident sound more romantic and more significant than it felt at the time. In fact this individual had never been more than an acquaintance, even when we had shared a classroom back at primary school. We both spent a couple of years lingering on the fringes of the same gang – that is all. No doubt this explains why our adult conversation soon grew so strained and awkward. We had literally run into each other during a busy lunch break, both of us impatiently scouting for seats in a crowded café. He seemed to recognise me immediately, which must have instantly put me on my guard. A little bit of background: I am one of those rare souls from our hometown who has spent most of his life living and working away from Lethmachen. Yes I returned a year or two ago, but to be honest the demands of my career have allowed little opportunity for nostalgia and I never had the time for looking up old friends. Nevertheless I suppose it was only natural that our conversation was quickly directed towards those people we once had in common. It was not my intention to be rude or dismissive, but I genuinely struggled for something to say. At first I could not summon up any of the faces of the names mentioned, nothing but an indistinct blur of half formed faces in school uniforms. Then, out of nowhere, something came back to me. ‘Matthew Dolly?’ My companion fell silent, and studied me noncommittally, as if I had said something mildly offensive or inappropriately intimate. No, he did not recall anyone by that name. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Matty had been as insignificant as we had been, just another boy on the margins, never the centre of attention with the boys or a favourite with the girls. If my memory served me right, he had actually been subject to a certain amount of teasing, on account of his effeminate surname and a nervous stutter.

My companion left shortly after, suddenly recalling that he needed to be back at the office in time for an important meeting. It meant nothing to me – the conversation had been stilted, inconsequential, and I did not expect to give it a second thought. However over the next few days it kept cropping up in my mind at the least opportune moments: in the middle of a delivering a corporate presentation or in the middle of the night. I suppose I was being oversensitive, guilty about not having been more open towards my old acquaintance. I found myself dwelling over every word uttered as some people are inclined to do. Why had he not remembered Matthew Dolly? The more I thought about that strange boy the more long forgotten details I was able to sketch in. Yes, on the whole he had simply been a face in the crowd – one of the substitutes for the football team or an anonymous shepherd during the nativity play. And yet there had been a handful of occasions when we had actually spent some quality time together…alone. Once Matty had turned up unexpectedly at my house on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t even aware he knew where I lived. My family were out – I had played up a slight cold to avoid having to trawl around the shops in the town centre. Matty and I spent three or four hours making up games in the attic, hunting through dusty boxes I knew I was not supposed to touch. It had been fun, but I remember I made him leave before my parents returned. After all, I was supposed to be ill. There was another time when I returned his visit. He lived with his grandmother in this old house on the hill that everyone thought had been empty for years. Matty invented some kind of treasure hunt because he had acres of overgrown gardens and lots of empty rooms. In one of these there were lots of dolls. Nothing but a heap of china dolls, lying neglected upon the floorboards, their eyes fixed on the door we had inched open.

Thankfully as the busy weeks passed I gradually forgot all about Matthew Dolly, resigned him to history once more. Then one evening recently I was enjoying a meal with my parents in a local restaurant. It was something they said that stirred everything up again, that raised the gnawing sense of doubt that has plagued me ever since. It began with the most casual of remarks. Perhaps these things often do. My parents were already in the preliminary stages of organising a small New Year’s Eve party for a few of the neighbours. It was a tradition down their road that each household took a turn as hosts as this year was the turn of my parents. This led to a discussion of the gatherings they used to host when they first moved to Lethmachen, and I was about five years old. As I grew older, and I assume my parents felt successfully assimilated into the community, these little soirées became few and far between. Yet they were a significant part of my early years, when every weekend I would be dragged out of bed to meet the assembled guests. As a nervous child, I always found being paraded in front of a crowd of slightly drunk strangers quite intimidating. My parents understood this and so, my duties over, I would then be permitted to retreat to the kitchen with a glass of lemonade and a plate of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There was one person I always enjoyed seeing though, who would pop his head into the kitchen with a friendly smile, either to tell me a joke or to smuggle me a handful of peanuts he had pinched from the glass bowl in the living room. He was, I think, a work colleague of my father’s. That is, I had never seen him around the area so I assumed he was not a neighbour. Somehow he seemed younger than the other party guests and his name was David Christmas. I shared this memory with my parents.

‘There was no such person, you must have imagined him!’ Both my parents were adamant about this, insistent even. Suddenly, inexplicably, my thoughts flashed back to Matthew Dolly. There seemed to be a connection, something I had overlooked. Could it be that I had imagined them both? Before I had time to consider the implications, my parents had proceeded with the conversation. No, they had only thrown a few of those evening parties, and there had been nobody present called David Christmas. Perhaps it was one of their friends playing a joke, although they could not imagine from my description whom it could be. Anyway, as they had explained, they had never really felt comfortable hosting those events, full of people they soon discovered they felt nothing in common with. If anything, the experience had only made them feel more isolated in their new neighbourhood. Instead they had soon settled on a more sedate arrangement with a certain couple they had become particularly friendly with. Did I not remember June and Geoff Ainsell? They used to come over for a meal every other Saturday night? No, try as hard as I might, I could not picture these people at all. I was about to say so when something terrible dawned on me. Perhaps my parents had imagined June and Geoff Ainsell, much as it appeared I had imagined David Christmas and Matthew Dolly? Should I dare suggest this possibility to them? But how could I? Too much time had passed, it would only upset things.

For I was beginning to recognise there was always a fragile sense of narcissism in the developing of an imaginary friend. A need to reassure ourselves that an imaginary friend lived only for us, that only our behaviour could impact upon their mood, that we alone could appoint a time for their final dismissal. Yet what if this belief were mistaken? What if imaginary friends were non-exclusive? What if in fact they were as indifferent to you, as sporadic in their interest, as ‘real friends’ so often were? Perhaps their needs were as fleeting and fickle as our own and they would only ever be peripheral characters in our lives. But then, how to identify an imaginary friend, to distinguish them from a real one, either at the time or with hindsight? Would there be a tell-tale sign in the purpose they served, or would their true nature be almost unobservable? How many of the people I had thought I had known in the past had in fact only existed in my imagination? For many weeks now I have been able to dismiss this anxiety, to get the fear out of my head.

 

Is cleanliness next to godliness? Or next to something very different?

bath

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I had the strangest experience in the bath last night. I realise there is a supremely rational explanation, but I would really prefer another, for reasons that will become clear. The twist is simple: when, after washing my hair with an old cup whilst sitting in deep, warm and soapy water –this a throwback from childhood – I lay out flat and submerged my head.  On doing so, I heard – with great clarity – the ringing of a little bell. Ting, ting, ting. This sound was small, like a jewel, I thought, but perfectly distinct. It was a tolling, not a shaking nor a rattling. Is there a possibility this is something a little more romantic than tinnitus or madness? If anyone knows, they are sure to be a regular reader of your wonderful site…

All the very best, Nigel Scrimp

We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help Nigel. In the meantime we asked folklorist and friend of the site Nigel Lawrence Tuns-Smith for his take on the bath time bells:

Bells are uncanny. The bell is bound to the science of metallurgy, forever associated with occult practice. Imagine: you are out upon the common lands. No one is about, and all it is possible to encounter is mud and sky, the occasional trees or low lying shrub. If you say up there a while, an animal might come into view, having lost its way.  Before that: a sound.  The dull, sway of a bell. No other person is about, but that sound is sourced in iron, and where there is iron, there are human hands, and the spark of invention.  In a moment, human agency has intruded in a space you know is bereft of all human life other than your own. A spectral presence. Taken another way, that chime can speak of man’s departure, and that brings its own specific fear. The bell can sound through chance, not design, through the movement of air, or the swaying of bovine shoulders. It is an instrument of the human, but its note does not need to be consciously willed. The striking of a bell can thus seem automatic, deathly, a human art extrinsic to the human. The repetition of the thing supports this. The ringing of the bell goes nowhere. In one sense, it serves no purpose. Of course, it draws attention to itself, and thus to whatever it is bound, yet this really is nothing. Its purpose is to announce existence. It achieves nothing. That is why, I think, it has its place in ritual. It is the pointlessness of the thing that isolates it from any wider meaning: it has the terrible cleanliness essential to any ritual object. The danger is that this pointlessness can return in ways that are not desired, drawing attention to the emptiness of whatever ritual is to be enacted. It is not only that the bells, as signifying nothing themselves, fail to adulterate the wedding, but they sing out and repeat wedding’s insignificance, its lack of difference, the extent to which it is beyond anyone’s control. The bell is extrinsic, as I have said: the terror of it always comes back to that.

Of course, ‘the bell under water’ has a long standing tradition in British folklore. The drowned church mourns the passing of a golden age, and celebrates its persistence, whilst warning against a loss of faith. The knell is heard from an element other than water: it reaches the ears of those upon the land. Nigel has encountered something different. As we know from the song of whales that sounds travel swiftly beneath the waves.  Is it that these particular sounds have traversed a great distance? Or is it that distance is precisely what is not an issue. The bell is with Nigel, not attached to some other place, some lost way of thinking.  If this is a keening, what is to be lost? As all devotees of the Tarot know, death does not have to mean death in its most literal sense. Yet, I think, it is well that Nigel, concerned as he is with tinnitus and madness, is sure to be visiting his GP at the earliest opportunity…

A ghostly stare plagues a man during his most private moments…

 gents

I find I must begin with a slightly embarrassing confession. This does not start in a very auspicious place: let me take you to the gents toilets on The High Street, Lethmachen! I was sitting in one of the cubicles the other day, and I suppose I must have been there for a while, because I got to thinking about the door in front of me, specifically about its size. Why do they make them so small? The obvious reason, I guess, is safety: you don’t want a child trapped in there. Yet it seemed to me that there are other advantages in having gaps at the floor and the ceiling. For a start, they must make unsavoury types less likely to engage in their preferred activities. I guess they cost a little less as well. That sounds silly, but I know a thing or two about economies of scale.

Anyway, that was that, or at least it should have been, but this seemingly trivial subject was returned to me later that evening when, in a distracted moment, I found myself contemplating the door to my guest bedroom. This room does not enjoy much official use, to be honest, and since I have been living on my own, I spend quite a bit of my time in it. Well, I was watching television, as is my want, when my eye was caught by the rectangle of glass at the top of the door. My home is rather large, and I find it disconcerting to leave all the doors open, so I had a good view, and it occurred to me that, rather like the gaps at the bottom and the top of toilet doors, this was a design feature to which I had not previously given much consideration.  I suppose it was there to let in light. This was not for the benefit of the bedroom, as behind the door there was only a small, enclosed corridor, containing three doors that led variously to my lounge, study and bathroom. Could the feature, then, really be there to illuminate such an insignificant place, and then only during those hours when the door was closed? It seemed absurd, and I looked on some more, hoping, in the most general way, to understand.

It was then, for the briefest moment imaginable, that there appeared to me two vast, brown eyes, looking through the glass, searching, yet horribly placid. They were not floating, but set within a vast, masculine brow. As I say, the vision was over before it began, the memory of it being, it seemed to me, all I had from the first.

I was struck with fear, really quite pinned to where I sat. I have never felt anything as intense, certainly not in my adult life at least. What disturbed most was not the knowledge that I was exposed, or even the sheer size of the threat, but the incongruity of the space in which my adversary must have been located. What contortions had that body, even momentarily, had to endure. And why, considering this, was there no pain registering in those vast, mild eyes?

If anyone else has experienced similar, I would, of course, like to know. Somehow I doubt it.  This is more generally a warning: these things can creep up on you. I am now more careful than ever about what I look at and what I think.

Radio Dada? A pirate signal haunts the airwaves…

radio wan2

I am probably making something out of nothing. The concerns I am about to raise, the phenomena I am about to document, may merely be the result of some technical issue or even an overactive imagination. It is true that I have not been sleeping well recently. I suppose I am in an awkward phase of transition. My new shift at the warehouse means more pay but also means that I have to work unsociable hours: I clock in at 6pm and never get home before 2am. As you will understand, this had completely disrupted my familiar sleeping patterns, and so this could account for the strange things I have been hearing recently. Some of your readers will no doubt immediately conclude that my evidence is unreliable. They will point out, quite correctly, that I have only heard these things when I am alone and when I am probably over-tired following a long, physically demanding stint at work. After all, who doesn’t imagine things at that time of night? Sometimes when I am still sleepless in the small hours of the morning, it feels like I must be the only person awake in the entire country. I suppose that explains why I like to have the radio on. It is comforting to hear another voice or a piece of music, and when they have other callers on the air you do feel there is still a community out there, even at that time. As I said, the radio was a help, a comfort….at first. But lately I have started hearing things, and I am not convinced these sounds are all in my head. Have any other listeners experienced what I have?

Mostly, I try and sleep during the day. I find it impossible to go straight to bed when I get home, which is typically about half two in the morning. It takes me at least a couple of hours to unwind, especially if anything has happened at work, if the orders have been packaged wrong or if I have had a bit of a run-in with one of the managers. These are the kind of things that trouble me and keep me awake; they race around my mind in circles if I attempt to just lie there and close my eyes. So before I retire, I like to have a quick drink and switch on the radio. The local station, Radio Wan, is the one that I found most soothing. At that hour they mostly broadcast talk shows, interspersed with the occasional record, usually something light and familiar. Not being young anymore, by the time I get home I am hardly in the mood for banging party anthems! Anyway, the topics discussed are mostly local issues, or simply just local residents phoning in to confess their problems or air their grievances. One night they may cover pedestrianization and parking permits, the next infidelity and terminal illness.  Even if you do not agree with their opinions it is nice to hear from other people when you are sat there alone in the dark, these other voices you know are not too far away. It makes you feel less isolated. Thinking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the trouble started. I probably was not even aware of the initial signs. They were so quiet, so subtle, like the way the dawn creeps up on you.

All I heard at first was static. Or what I took to be static – an irritating wash of white noise, as if I hadn’t tuned in the station properly. Over repeated nights, this would fade in and out of the listed programme at irregular intervals, until I found myself listening more closely to this interference than I did the conversation or the music. Half consciously, I began to recognise, to identify certain sounds. What could be mistaken for whispering was actually atmospheric sound. To be precise, it appeared to be a field recording of nearby Lethmachen Hill. Over the years I had taken a number of strolls up there, and I became convinced the distortion on the radio was in fact the sound of the trees up there swaying in the wind, the boughs creaking, the leaves rustling. Although I had never before heard them at night, I was certain that was how those trees would sound. It was as if the hill itself was broadcasting a signal; communicating. The more intently I listened, the more I drew from the ambience. There was the soft gurgling of what must be a woodland stream, and the grunting and whinnying of what must be small animals scavenging in the undergrowth. Most chillingly, I often heard the drawn out, plaintive, practically human cries of what I believed to be foxes.

Frustratingly, these snatches of sound have been infrequent and indistinct. They also seem to be repeated in random order, making it difficult to judge if I am hearing something for the first time or the fifth. As the days passed, I became increasingly impatient with the deejay and his callers, longing for the precious minutes when they would dissolve into a symphony of sighs and groans as the wind and rain swept through the hidden alcoves of the hill. I admit there are nights I spend hours waiting beside the radio, poised with pen and paper beneath a solitary desk light. You see, I have become convinced that this pirate signal is trying to communicate something, that the hill has a story to tell. Only of course the details are almost impossible to communicate on our wavelength, meaning that those who listen need to assemble the narrative from any clues that can be deciphered. For instance, on half a dozen occasions I have heard the same brief melody repeated, either hummed or whistled as if at a slight remove. It is possible, however I don’t think this is just stray music transmitted by a neighbouring station. Recently, my patience has been rewarded. Now, there are words. Just a single exclamation at first, evolving gradually into distinct, individual words. Finally, I have been able to hear what are apparently broken sentences, perhaps a conversation cut short? ‘No…not tonight…another night…’ I thought I heard a hushed voice say. ‘We should be getting back…it’s getting dark…’ she repeated. Then I think, in the background, an answer in a lower voice. Muffled, almost indecipherable: ‘There’s no hurry…’

That is my story. My motivation for writing to your site was the hope that other readers could tell me if they have shared a similar experience whilst listening to Radio Wan late at night? Is it just a problem with the local transmitter or the reception in this area? Do other people feel they are being communicated with, or is it just me? I appreciate that at that hour the listening figures are probably low. I did recently confide in a colleague at work. He is always very quiet and keeps himself to himself, so I figured he could be trusted. Yet he just responded by shooting me a very wary glance, and when I tried to go into the details of what I was hearing, he looked genuinely frightened and avoided any further interaction.

Location, location…apparition? Exclusive residence hides a dark past?

haunted2

It was only upon discovering that the house had been rebuilt that I felt the need to write to you.  I am not even sure why this is significant. Following the renovations, the place is almost completely unrecognizable as the derelict ruin that still haunts my memories, and my dreams. Now the house exhibits an air of opulence: an array of expensive cars parked up on the driveway; the whitewashed stonework of the Georgian facade boasting sculpted pillars and elegant balconies. It even has a new name: Hillcrest Villa. Yet it was all very different in my day. I am not even sure the building had a name back then, not a real one. People called it all sorts of things: Hill House, Tower Lodge, Yews Court. But to the children who attended nearby Lethmachen Primary School it was known simply as ‘The Haunted House’.  I remember we used to talk about it all the time, especially during the summer, when the teachers would march us up the hill on a nature trail. Our route would typically skirt around the back of the property, and every child would take turns peeking nervously over the crumbled stone wall, pinching and kicking at each other whilst inventing terrible stories.

As for me, these days it is the familiar story. Trying to balance work and family life occupies most of my time, so I rarely have the inclination to venture across town and visit the neighbourhood where I grew up.  In fact, I only happened to be crossing Lethmachen Hill that day because I was attending a meeting out of town and had been diverted by the latest set of roadworks. As my car struggled to the peak of that steep incline I happened to glance off road to my right. And that was when I saw Hillcrest Villa. You know how it is when you return to somewhere you once knew. You immediately notice if anything looks different, even if you can’t exactly remember how it looked before. It almost feels like a personal insult that changes have been made in your absence! Well, my first reaction on sighting Hillcrest Villa was ‘Ooh, that’s new!’ Only the next moment I realised it wasn’t. In fact it was very old, and I knew it. You see, in spite of the shiny new facelift, in spite of the gentrification with the chandeliers and works of art I glimpsed in passing, nothing had really changed. I still felt this horrible, oppressive sense of fear when looking at that building, even though it had attempted a disguise. That afternoon I gave a terrible presentation at the executive meeting. All I could think about was The Haunted House, and what had happened there so long ago. I mean, what had happened to me. When my eldest daughter mentioned your website, I thought that perhaps by sharing my story it would become just another story, and no longer belong to me. I am tired of keeping it all to myself.

We’re going back twenty years now. That morning everyone in my year had received their GCSE results. That evening, as we were all still too young to get into any pubs or clubs, a party had been arranged on Lethmachen Hill. I don’t remember much about the actual party, partly because of the alcohol, partly because I imagine it was pretty dull. There were probably stories circulating for a few weeks afterwards, exaggerated tales of who had been sick and who had had sex, but by then I had already decided I was too old for such gossip. Instead of returning to school for A levels, I had made up my mind I wanted a job. This party would be my last experience of school life, of my childhood. Tomorrow my life was going to change. At some point in the evening, about half way down a bottle of vodka, I realised that I needed to mark this momentous occasion in some way. There needed to be a significant ending that I would be able look back on and recognise in years to come. Drunken logic dictated that Chris would fulfil this function. He was a boy in my class who had liked me for ages. The other girls were always winding me up about ‘the chemistry’ between us, although in truth I only really saw him as a friend. Still, I kept flirting with him on and off throughout the party and we ended up walking off alone and stumbling down the hill together in the dark. He was showing off in front of me, little suspecting I did not intend to see him again after this night was over. For me this was an ending, not a beginning.

Straying from the path, we soon lost our bearings and found we were approaching ‘The Haunted House’. When I was able to focus, I could just pick out its low silhouette crouched amongst the surrounding trees. In the dark the place looked even more desolate, as if it were the remnants of some stone age dwelling, rather than the shell of some Victorian town house, gutted by fire, as was told in most of the stories. Of course the stories were what we immediately started talking about, the conversation suddenly steering away from how short my dress was or how it would be fun if we went to explore what was behind those bushes. By our age, nobody really believed those stories about ‘The Haunted House’ anymore. Even at primary school they had become so contradictory and confused that you had your doubts. Tales of drowned witches, phantom highwaymen and headless horsemen had somehow all got mixed up in the legend, and even I recognised the latter had just been drafted in from ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. The version of the story I knew best was that there had been a murder in Victorian times. A father had murdered his wife in an upstairs bedroom and then waited for his children to get home from school. On their return he had stormed downstairs, picked up the boy in one hand and the girl in the other, and thrown them on to the roaring flames of an open fire. Oh, and another thing. When the father stormed down the stairs he had been wearing a mask cut from the face of the dead mother. No, no, no, argued Chris, quite animatedly. That was not the version he knew. His story was at once more plausible and more sordid: something to do with an illegal abortion racket and police corruption. But seriously, between us we had heard dozens of variants, ranging from fairy realms to flying saucers.

The result of this conversation is that Chris and I became convinced that we had to break into ‘The Haunted House’. We couldn’t believe that, as far as we were aware, nobody had ever attempted this in the past. Suddenly it all made perfect sense. We had a purpose in life, we would make history. Predictably, Chris insisted on trying to impress me by dramatically wrenching away the rotten boards nailed across the nearest window. There was no glass, just a gaping hole that yawned an even deeper darkness than the night outside. The two of us slithered clumsily through the jagged space and dropped to the floor. As you would expect, once inside there was nothing to see. Not only was the hull pitch black but it smelt dank and there was no furniture, no carpet, no character. We loitered awkwardly for a few seconds, trying to think of something funny to say and trying to imagine what we could do next. I certainly wasn’t having sex in here, no matter how drunk I was. ‘OK…right. I think it’s time to go home…’ I began to slur when Chris abruptly hushed me. Yes, now I could hear it too. A dull, muffled vibration of sound rising from somewhere up ahead. As if summoned, we took simultaneous steps forward. Could I also now make out a frame of pale light in the far corner, as if a door had been left ajar?

We opened the door and walked in. The living room was brightly lit and cosy, neatly arranged with a chintz sofa and an ornamental table piled high with board games and books. An open fire raged in the hearth – this was the sound we had heard. Fascinated, I stared deep into the fire, watching the tongues of flame spit and surge higher. Chris touched me gently on the arm. On the mantelpiece stood a gallery of family portraits: two parents and two children stared out from the sepia tinted photographs. The mother’s smile always appeared strained, as if she felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Everything about the room felt impossibly warm and homely, just for a moment. Then I realised it all felt impossible. My sensation of content had been broken by the sound of heavy footsteps above us, pacing the upstairs room. Did this house even have an upstairs anymore? No, I couldn’t recall seeing one from the outside, the roof had sunken in. This couldn’t be. But there in front of us was a flight of stairs, ascending. Suddenly, a savage, unseen voice rang out from the top of the stairs – threatening, not welcoming.

‘Children, is that you? Are you home?’

I can’t remember exactly what happened next; I didn’t drink alcohol for a while afterwards. When I heard those footsteps slowly begin to descend the stairs I must have instinctively turned to run. There was something wrong with the way they sounded: heartless, lifeless, weighted with a burden. I think they even had this weird echo. Anyway, I swear I grabbed Chris by the arm and tried to drag him with me. But he refused to move. He was frozen to the spot, staring blankly towards the stairs with this horrible expression – a mask of disbelief and yet undeniable belief. In that split second, he looked to me almost as if he had suddenly realised that this place was his home, that he had been stupid to have ignored the stories, or been unlucky to have heard the wrong ones. He had been part of the myth all along and it had come back to claim him. I guess I just panicked. I fled the room and scrambled through the dark next door until I reached the window. Outside, I must have dashed blindly down the hill for a distance, careering through hedgerows and undergrowth (my body was covered in cuts and bruises when I woke late the next morning). Then a sudden wave of guilt had swamped me and I stopped running. How could I have left Chris there on his own? I turned and sprinted back up the hill as fast as I could. But when I reached ‘The Haunted House’ there was nothing there. Once again it was just a dark, dismal, empty shell of a building: holes in the roof, damp in the walls. I couldn’t find that brightly lit, inhabited room and I couldn’t find Chris. In fact, I never saw him again after that night. Of course I had never intended to see him again but that didn’t stop me feeling guilty. Later I heard rumours that he and his family had relocated, left town during that summer. I hope this is the truth.

Most of the time, when I think about what happened at that house, I can convince myself it was all a dream. Even today, if I ever drink too much, I often have dreams where the night continues as if I had never gone to bed, and then in the morning I have to pick apart dreams and reality. Perhaps this is what occurred? Perhaps Chris and I just parted ways after the party, yet because we had been talking about the legends of ‘The Haunted House’, I then went home and dreamt about one of them? I mean, it couldn’t be that out of that jumbled mess of stories that have been told over the years, one of the stories was actually true? And so that particular story returns every now and again to assert its truth? As I said at the beginning, I thought I had buried the memory, the guilt years ago. But for some reason seeing that house rebuilt, renewed….well, it brought it all back again. Sometimes I worry I will open the wrong door and find myself back in that warm, cosy room, as if I now too belong to the myth. I suppose that was one reason why I wanted to give the story to you?

Mystery surrounds the nameless shapes that are seen around town…

sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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