Bleak North - The Website of Author, BARRY LITHERLAND


Welcome to my blog


Here you can add some text to explain what your blog is about and a bit about you.

By litherlandb, Dec 7 2014 01:30PM

It is a well known fact that for panic to take full effect it has to occur momentarily after you have been lulled into a false sense of security. It was like that for me on that day at the Millennium Dome.

I had taken my group to two zones and by dint of careful management had emerged from each of them intact. Basic rules were followed:

1. ‘Synchronise watches!’

2. ‘Go everywhere with a partner!’

3. ‘Keep within this zone. Do not leave. Do not pass go. Do not etc.’

4. ‘Meet again here in exactly 20 minutes. Do not be late.’

5. ‘I shall be here – right here.’

6. ‘Now go and may God go with you!’

It is amazing how easy it is for a group of children to simply vanish into a crowd. Within seconds they are simply absorbed, drawn into the mass of bodies, gone. It’s like some science fiction film. You feel a surge of panic but you walk round, trying to look interested in the exhibits. You can barely see for the sweat dripping in your eyes. You don’t see one single child during the entire twenty minutes. Then you return to the meeting place….

…and you wait. Then, in a process which mirrors the manner in which the children vanished, the first pair emerges from the crowd as if from a mist. They appear in front of you as if by magic. You don’t even see them coming. Then another pair appear and another and another. Then one single child emerges slowly. One child is missing.

It soon emerges that the one who has drifted away is my own son, Chris. Part of me is anxious but another part is strangely relieved. It could have been so much worse – it could have been someone else’s child. Then he too materialises before us and we move on.

We have time for one more zone before we head for the relative security of the show, the highlight of the afternoon. We’ll meet the rest of the party. We’ll be able to sit down and rest. I may even close my eyes, breathe deeply, use my yoga training.

It was at this moment that a false sense of security overcame me. I should have known better; the worst was yet to come.

By litherlandb, Dec 4 2014 02:35PM

Suggestion for a disaster movie

Episode 1

It was the best of days; it was the worst of days.

We were taking the whole of our two teacher village school (yes, even the five year olds) on a day out to the Millennium Dome. This was in February 2000. I’m still suffering from PTSD today.

From what I recollect – and much of it is a blur – we set out so early in the morning I thought I was on shift work. Phase one was a coach journey to Prestwick Airport from where (phase two) we caught a flight to Gatwick. From there, having temporarily lost one member of staff, we went on a coach to the Dome (phase three).

I have never seen so many people in one space. If you blinked you lost a child. If you closed your eyes for any longer you lost an entire group. On one occasion I turned my back on one class to focus on another. When I turned round the whole class had gone. I didn’t see them again until we got back to the coach.

We broke up into groups of course. We had about eight children each. After an hour I saw one of my teachers in something that resembled a shop during the first five minutes of a once in a generation sale. She was on her own.

‘Where are the children?’ I asked.

She looked at me. I swear she had aged ten years.

‘I don’t know,’ she said. She nodded vaguely towards the milling crowd. ‘And frankly, I don’t care any more.’

(to be continued……….)

By litherlandb, Dec 3 2014 04:54PM

After 'The Cave' came 'The Island' (to be publ 2015) and now ten chapters of 'The Walled Garden' - all crime mysteries of sorts set in the NW Highlands. All of them changed direction around Chapter 10. The characters start to talk to me. I know them. I feel some sympathy for them and the choices they make. I want the novel to end well for them. For some, however, it can't. That's the tragedy. I can't always agree with what they have to say.

By litherlandb, Nov 28 2014 12:51PM

Random Reminiscences 1

John was a diminutive individual even by normal five year old standards. However, what he lacked in size he more than made up for in volume. He was also wonderfully unaware of the social proprieties that should have governed his relationship with someone as significant as his primary school head teacher.

He had only been in school for a week when he approached me along a corridor. I was busy talking to his teacher. He swung his arm and gave me an almighty slap across the backside and accompanied it with the unforgettable words:

‘Shift your arse, fatty!’

He’s buried under a traffic calming hump in the playground. Fatty indeed!

Random Reminiscences 2

I once taught a boy called ymmij ttocs. I taught him for about fifty days during the year he was in my class. I knew him as ymmij ttocs from the moment he learnt to write his name until he matured and departed for secondary school. Poor ymmij had a bit of a problem. He just didn’t see the point – in anything. His school attendance was so poor that he never once managed to engage in the learning process for an uninterrupted week. He rarely achieved the distinction of consecutive days. Sometimes he would not be seen for weeks on end. The HT of the school tried; social services tried; his parents ….er……didn’t.

Our efforts were largely futile.

Anyway, Ymmij, if you are out there ti dluow eb doog ot raeh morf uoy.

Random Reminiscences 3

I particularly remember a cook in one of my smaller schools who had an unfortunate disability. She just could not spell. It was doubly unfortunate therefore that she insisted on advertising each day’s meal on a large menu board. The older children loved it. There were competitions to be the first to spot new or familiar misspellings. Sossages was a favourite closely followed by a whole raft of alternatives for sandwiches. She was perplexed by all things Italian. My personal favourite came on the day she wrote the following in huge letters on the board, as if it were a special treat

‘Chickin curry followed by Apple Pie WITH ARSEOL CREAM!’

I had to retire to the staffroom. I had no choice. One can’t look dignified with tears streaming. She followed me to ask how much cream I would like with my apple pie. I couldn’t help myself.

‘Piles!’ I said.

By litherlandb, Sep 28 2014 12:09PM

This is from chapter five of my third novel. It is based on true events, albeit given a slight makeover to ensure they fit the book. Ben, in the extract, is the teacher...........

Ten year old, plump, piggy eyed Patrick lay on his back on the floor. His face, judging by the vivid crimson tones it had achieved, was close to boiling and his eyes, like some form of ignition device, flashed in dangerous proximity to the gases that he was emitting forcefully from his mouth. His nose was temporarily decommissioned due to the superfluity of blood which was streaming from it.

Stephen, - cool, untroubled Stephen, - had returned to his table and was calmly continuing a detailed sketch of a two-masted schooner of the late eighteenth century. The space before him was tidy; nothing intruded from the nearby spaces occupied by other children. His pencil was sharp and his paper clean; his fingers nails were neatly filed and, along with his carefully combed fair hair, complemented his overall look of precision and composure. His eyes, however, had an unfortunate ability to remind you that a mind which worked best at temperatures significantly below zero lay close behind them, and cast shards of splintered ice through the blue. His composure stood in noteworthy contrast to that of his recent adversary and, apart from noting and removing a small amount of blood from his knuckle, he appeared completely unconcerned.

Ben sat astride the boy on the floor and held the child’s arms above his head. Just beyond the outstretched hands lay a broken, wooden chair which Patrick had been on the point of delivering to the crown of Stephen’s head. Ben’s timely arrival, at the end of break, and his subsequent feat of agility, had disarmed the boy and, after a fashion, temporarily neutralised the situation.

However, he was acutely conscious of the unbecoming nature of his present situation and felt it important to take steps to reposition himself behind his desk as soon as possible and certainly before he was discovered; before that could happen he had Patrick to deal with. He had also to re-establish some degree of control over the excitable group of children behind him.

He had been in the school for several weeks now and had grown accustomed to these little outbursts from the emotionally charged Patrick. They followed a predictable pattern. Someone said something unsavoury to Patrick, who responded in kind to someone who said something more, quite often regarding doubts about Patrick’s parentage, which elicited a further response from Patrick which often as not generated a rapid series of pushes then punches. The outcome was predictable. Patrick bled.

It was something of a mystery to Ben why a child, who had never been known to actually win a fight, could, nonetheless, continue to engage in them with such optimism and regularity. He was either seriously deluded or had some significant emotional issues, whose potency was such that they far exceeded the powers of education to rectify them. Ben suspected the latter to be the case.

The difference today was merely the protagonist. Stephen was not someone you messed with. The others viewed him as a herd of antelope might view a cheetah walking in their midst; at any moment he might attack. The attack would occur on the slightest provocation and would have a predictable outcome. If, like the antelope, the victim had a sufficient burst of speed to outrun the initial attack run, he would probably be safe. Stephen would very quickly forget the provocation and, by the time class resumed, would be strolling once again, peaceably, amongst the herd.

It took a rather foolish antelope like Patrick to actually approach Stephen and suggest that his muscular frame, savage jaws and predatory looks were a mere front and that although he looked like a cheetah, ran like a cheetah, attacked like a cheetah, bit and tore like a cheetah and generally won like a cheetah, he was actually a marmoset.

RSS Feed

Web feed