Hello there, 12:02 on Friday Afternoon and how are you today? You’re listening to The Martyn Taylor Show and we’ve a busy programme ahead of us this afternoon so we best crack on.
Don’t forget, coming up at 1 o’clock, our resident gardening expert Dave Carrots will be in the studio raking over all your seasonal gardening questions. Followed by our musical theatre review with Simon Luvvy at 2.
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In the studio first off today is Allen Miles, local amateur author. Hi Allen.
You may have seen Allen recently in the Hull Daily Mail discussing his first release “18 Days,” which is published by Byker Books. That’s in Newcastle isn’t it Allen?
Well, the place is actually in Oxford, but the bloke who runs it is very much from Newcastle.
But you’re actually here today to talk about your next book, Down And Out On Hartoft Road, which you claim is 98.2% autobiographical.
I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact figures but it’s in that area.
The book obviously reflects on your experiences while on remand in Hull Prison in 1997. It goes without saying that these were difficult days for you?
The word “difficult” would describe my experience very well. I was only fifteen years old and to be thrown into this place with these enormous hardened criminals was terrible.
In what way?
None of them knew how to cook for a start. They were content to eat pies every night and they weren’t interested in broadening their culinary prowess at all. Eventually I managed to teach a chap called Hebbelthwaite how to make a passable risotto but that was about as far as I got. Many of them had no formal qualifications and I found it almost impossible to get hold of a quality newspaper. The thing that struck me most though, was the smell. I think every single one of them wore Old Spice, an awful stench.
Did you ever find yourself physically threatened?
The atmosphere was rather intimidating. On one occasion I was talking to a chap called “Stabber.” He gave himself that name, he was actually called Cyril and he was captain of the B Wing maypole dancing team. I tried to point out to him that the tattoos on his hands were, in my opinion, terribly vulgar. He took exception to this and told me he was going to “lay into to me.” Fortunately a man called Horace came to my aid. He recognised me from my Saturday job pushing a tea trolley round a hospital ward, it seemed I’d become quite chatty with his mother, who was in there at the time.
Yes you mention him several times in the book. What was his mother in hospital for exactly?
Well, it seemed that Horace had asked her to tape Ground Force with Charlie Dimmock for him and she forgot. It was his favourite programme and in a fit of temper he savagely belaboured his mother around the head with her own rolling pin. Dreadful business.
You were of course acquitted of all charges. Could you remind the listeners of the charges that were brought against you?
I was accused of stealing 200 packets of Quavers from the storeroom of the Macro Superstore on St Andrews Quay, with the intention of selling them in the school playground; I was also accused of selling pirated Playstation games, and being involved in the illegal trafficking of twenty-seven Bosnian refugees to come and work as cheap labour on a building site round the corner from my house. It was also alleged that I’d bribed the judge. As you say, all the charges were thrown out.
There has been talk on the internet that you stole your story from your cell mate’s own memoirs. Accusations of which you have denied, but you are being pursued in court for by your former friend for royalties. I know you can’t go into details as the case is still on-going, but how do you react to these stories?
I was furious at first, then when I thought of all the times Horace and I had together I became more saddened than angry. He’s also appealing the fact that his mother made me the major beneficiary of her will. Although the man maybe enormous in physical stature his ego would seem terribly fragile. The bottom line is he never copyrighted anything so nothing can be proved.
How difficult was it for you to get your novella published, being an unestablished writer? I myself was unable to find a publisher willing to work with me for my novel!
Well, Byker seemed a fantastic option for me, I read up on them and was absolutely thrilled. They also came personally recommended by some of my absolute heroes.
Who in particular?
Oh too many to mention; Johnny Marr, Ian Hislop, Noel Gallagher, Jose Mourinho…
You know these people?
Well, I’ve had correspondence with them all. Basically I wrote them all a letter explaining that I was about to sign with Byker and if they had any issues with that they should contact me immediately advising against it. I didn’t get a single reply so as I say I took these as personal recommendations. I have regular contact with the editor, they didn’t want me to change my work in anyway and the contract is very amicable. Most accommodating for one’s first forays into the world of literature.
Oh, I had contacted them and they told me that they only worked with ‘known’ authors but…….
(Interrupting) I think I see what you’ve done here, you may have got the word “known” mixed up with “talented.”
O.k, anyways back to your book. Was it difficult to write about your struggles with drink and drugs, the latter of which led to you having to prostitute yourself, knowing that your family will be reading the book?
Well as you know, my family live in Romania and don’t speak any English so it wasn’t that much of an issue. They know I’ve been published but I told them I’d written a book on bicycle maintenance.
Were they proud?
They were absolutely elated. To own a bike in the village where they live is like owning a Rolls Royce here. I’m told the local artist has sculpted a statue of me from goat droppings.
Getting back to the addictions you had, you’ve spoken frankly about your flirtation with heroin…
Yes I used to have one shot each morning with my Rice Krispies whilst watching a repeat of The Bill on UK Gold. Most stimulating. Heroin never became a problem for me, there were much more dangerous things about to make my life a living hell. I had two major vices in particular.
The first was Green Giant Sweetcorn. I was once casually strolling down the tinned food aisle of my local branch of Morrison’s and I put six cans in my basket, with the intention of making some fritters that I’d seen Delia make on TV the previous evening. All of a sudden I noticed a rake thin Spaniard who I would come to know as Miguel beckoning me. He asked me if I liked Green Giant sweetcorn and obviously I said yes. He then told me he could get hold of “the proper shit, direct from Minnesota.” As I was in a rather vulnerable frame of mind at the time I agreed to try it. It was incredibly powerful, much stronger than the supermarket issue. Before I knew where I was I was spending £2000 a week on my habit.
Harrowing stuff. And the other…?
Lemmings the video game?
Well, it’s a video game for most people but to me it became a way of life. Everything that I held dear went out of the window. My girlfriend left, I lost my job, I had been served an eviction notice but I didn’t care. All I could think about was the next level. I saw lemmings in my dreams, on two or three occasions I actually went out for groceries dressed as a lemming, I was an utter mess.
What was the lowest point?
(Long silence) My computer overheated and shut down. I snapped back into reality to find that every single square inch of the floor was covered in empty tins of sweetcorn. It wasn’t even Green Giant by this point, it was just anything I could get my hands on; Princes, Heinz, anything… There was exposed bone on the tip of my right index finger from repeated clicking of the mouse. It transpired that I’d been playing Lemmings and eating sweetcorn for fifteen successive days without sleep. When I think back… the amount of milk piled up outside my front door… (looks like he’s about to cry)
Are you okay Mr Miles?
(Braces himself) Yeah I’m alright.
I’m sorry, a question I must ask is how did you manage to stay awake for fifteen days? Was it inspired by the high carbohydrate content in the sweetcorn?
No, I’d ingested almost a whole kilo of cocaine.
And the prostitution?
Well it wasn’t as tawdry as you are implying, I merely provided an escort service for lonely single people, male or female. Back then, before the sweetcorn took hold, I was viewed as somewhat of a looker, and people would take me to social events in order to elevate their stature.
In chapter 7, you state that while you were “on the game” one of your regular punters was, and I quote, “A Local Sports Star”. Care to elaborate?
Well he called himself a local sports star, he actually had ideas way above his station. It turned out he played 5-a-side at National Ave Cricket Centre. Wayne, his name was. Very charming man, and not unattractive. Frankly I was amazed he needed to use my service.
Did you become close?
Yes we did. He used to buy me all manner of expensive gifts; suits, fine wine, he took me to see Simply Red in concert once, a wonderful evening.
Are you still in touch?
No. One evening he bought me this spectacular diamond ring, which he presented to me at the top of the Eiffel Tower as he was tying his shoelace. I took it with enthusiasm at the time, which seemed to make him ecstatically happy, but a couple of days later I decided it didn’t suit me, I don’t really wear platinum, and I sold it at a pawn shop to buy more sweetcorn. I felt a wee bit guilty after that so I ignored his calls until they stopped.
Right, O.K. You’re cleared of the charges, cleaned up your act, you get a job with the N.H.S, you’re settled, and then the bombshell in chapter 11 happens. How did you deal with the disappointment?
I wouldn’t describe it as disappointment. I found out that the people I’d known as mum and dad for twenty years had in fact adopted me. I would describe it as jaw-dropping shock.
How did you react when they told you?
I broke down and sobbed. I had absolutely no inkling at all. I simply could not believe I had no genetic link with these people. They had given me so much influence throughout my life.
In what way?
So many ways. My father played me records that would become engrained on my heart; James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, I still love them now. When I was a child my mother would read to me the poetry of Maya Angelou at bedtime and take me to her gospel church on Sundays. When I was thirteen my father gave me a copy of Dr Martin Luther King’s biography which I read a hundred times. Such beautiful memories. I still can’t believe they weren’t my real parents.
So then you tracked down your real parents to a small hamlet in Romania. Yet they didn’t seem too welcoming?
Not at first but then we didn’t know a word of each other’s language. Fortunately Miguel put me in touch with Ilie Dumitrescu, who had become a Green Giant addict during his time at West Ham, and he kindly provided a rudimentary translation service.
Yes, I’ve seen the photo of your family re-union that was taken in the squalid Romanian village where they live. It looks ghastly.
No, that photo was taken when I flew them over here, during a shopping trip to Leeds. Its not really a relationship I have an interest in cultivating, to be honest. Once they found out I earn a decent wage they have been bothering me day and night to send them money so they can buy a cow. I’ve taken back their surname, obviously, but I’ve anglicised it; it was Milescu.
Oh, I see. What was your surname under your adoptive parents?
Really? M’Boko would seem rather a… Oh shit… Sydney! Sydney!
Is there a problem?
Well, I’m afraid my producer has fallen asleep so that will have to conclude the first part of our interview Mr Miles, do you have a song you’d like to request and perhaps dedicate to someone special?
Yes, I’d like to request If You Don’t Know Me By Now by Simply Red, and it’s dedicated to my former client Wayne. So terrible when a man of such tender years takes his own life.
Thank You. We’ll be back with more from Allen Miles in the next episode of The Martyn Taylor Show. Stay tuned for Dave Carrots and his advice on growing a really big parsnip this winter.
18 Days is available through Byker Books at http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx
Check out their range of other hard-hitting titles at http://www.bykerbooks.co.uk/
In Part 2 Mr Taylor and Mr Miles discuss Mr Miles’s less than triumphant return to Romania, his spell in Alcoholics Anonymous and his inadvertent harbouring of a member of the IRA…