Johnson Vs Miles

disappear

Would you give us a little info about yourself?
I’m thirty three years old, I have a wife and daughter and mortgage. I look like Ellen Degeneres and dress like a cross between Niles from Frasier and Johnny Marr. I speak English quite well and I work for the NHS. I have a book out, it is called This Is How You Disappear.
And a bit about your writing process?
My previous novella, 18 Days, was written in five days whilst I was delirious from lack of sleep due to the night-time antics of my new-born daughter. I got an idea in my head and loaded up on coffee and wine and just typed and typed and typed. It was a very dark story and rather draining to write. This one was much easier to write. I took the best part of a year to scribble ten stories and although many of them are still on the bleak side, I actually enjoyed the process. The writing is pretty languid and evocative but with a hard-hitting core. 18 Days was like passing a kidney stone, This Is How You Disappear is like finding a razor blade in a chocolate cake.
Following on from the success of your last book, how has this helped you and has there been any negatives to tackling your new book of short stories?
I wouldn’t say my last book was successful. It got loads of five-star reviews, but I didn’t make any money from it. Having said that, I wasn’t expecting to, and I didn’t really care if I did. I learnt a lot from the first one; for example it is idiotic to attempt to write 30000 words in five days while working a fifty hour week and attending to a six month-old baby. Writing this one, I attempted to work on my weaknesses, such as dialogue, and I definitely created many more characters. The negatives were keeping the stories short, a few of them run to 10000 words or more, which strictly speaking aren’t short stories.
Why short stories and not a novel?
I have neither the discipline nor the level of concentration to write a novel. I have one on the back burner, but I’ll write big chunks of it then leave it for ages and forget my train of narrative thought. I will finish it, but it will be when I’ve got less hair and more spare time. It’s said that Martin Scorsese had been waiting twenty years for the right time to do Gangs Of New York, because it was such a monstrous undertaking. It will be the same with my novel.
Could you tell us a little about your new book?
It is a collection of ten short stories and the afore-mentioned novella. It is my first paperback. It is mostly based on themes of isolation and escapism, and I’ve taken a lot of influence from the writings of Charles Bukowski, John Fante and Cormac McCarthy. The lyrics of Elvis Costello also had a huge influence, as did the life and times of Howard Hughes. I’m immensely proud of it, and the story, Paradise, is the best thing I have ever written. As I say above, I enjoyed writing it, which is really rare for me. My favourite part of the book is called Blue and Yellow Stripes, which is an autobiographical prose about my childhood. All the characters in it are actual people, including my mate’s amazingly cool older brother, my then-best mate’s grandmother who couldn’t speak English, and the whole football team from my primary school.
Getting published – what have you done?
Long story. I was approached by my friend and mentor Darren Sant who’d read one of my stories, which was tentatively-titled A Night Out, which was a sort-of throwaway comedy story I’d written based on real events. He offered to put it out as an e-book through his fledgling publishing company, but suggested I write another short story as a bonus, to make it worth the price. Sadly, Darren’s would-be partner moved abroad so they decided not to continue with their plans. I was gutted at this because I thought the bonus short that I’d written, which I’d titled This Is How You Disappear, was one of my best pieces. I decided to write a collection of short stories with a view to self-publishing it as an e-book. During this time I’d started my own website, and one of the contributors, a magnificent author called Ryan Bracha, got in touch and asked if I’d like to contribute to an anthology he was curating and publishing called Twelve Mad Men, which I did. A while after, I decided to chance my arm and see if he fancied putting my collection out himself, because frankly I didn’t have the first idea how to do it. To my absolute joy, he said he would, and due to the fact he’s an all-round splendid chap, I’m now sitting here with a paperback volume of my own work in my hands.

 

Follow Fiona on Twitter @McDroll. Shes very good.

Follow Fiona on Twitter @McDroll. Shes very good. I know she looks pretty bored with my waffling, but that’s my fault.

Have you built on the dark themes from your last book or have you headed in different directions?
Lots of people told me that 18 Days was incredibly dark. My bezzy-mate at work told me she burst into tears at the end, but she does drink a lot of gin so that could’ve been a factor (love you Mel!) I’ve not read it since I finished it so with hindsight I can’t really say, but when I wrote that book I’d completely zoned out and was following a trail, so I didn’t really pick up on it at the time. The stories on this one are quite dark in places, The Holy Dusk Tricolore is particularly upsetting, but there’s certainly a level of black humour in a few of the stories, which I learnt from writing my contribution to the afore-mentioned Twelve Mad Men. The First Aider is particularly malevolent, and it will raise a grin or two. Ditto Nebraska, East Yorkshire, which is the re-write of A Night Out, as mentioned above.
What improvements do you see in your writing ?
I’ve made a conscious effort to write dialogue, because there was hardly any in 18 Days. I’ve also varied from first person to third person in a few of the stories, and as I’ve said, I’ve tried to inject a bit of humour into it. In many ways, I’ve tried to get away from my own style, if that makes sense.
What’s next?
I’m going to do lots of promo in order to try and sell copies of my book, have a rest for a while, then carry on with my novel. Hopefully it will be finished before Putin blows the world up.

Allen Miles, author

 

This Is How You Disappear is published through Abrachadabra Books and is available on Amazon here: http://www.tinyurl.com/disappear2014

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A Certain Kind Of Romance by Paul Featherstone

This weekend past, Hull hosted the 3rd annual Humber Street Sesh, the brainchild of local promoter Mark Page. Featuring everything from live music to silent discos to graffiti artists, it was the coming together of not only the creative people of Hull, but also those who enjoy the local scene and those who may be strangers to it.

I didn’t make it as I was working, which also explains my absence from this site recently, but a man gotta get paid, you feel me? No? Anyway, my news stream on Facebook has been filled with it enough, to know that is was a roaring success that people want back next year.

A quick glance at the numbers (40,920 at midnight) showed the talk around it wasn’t just hype and that in “dreary, old” Hull there is an appetite for events just like this, if they are done in the right way. Now firstly, I’m not here to be sycophantic about anything or anyone. Lord knows, there are enough writers in this city doing that and if you’re reading this, you know who you are and you’re more of a hindrance than a help as to how people view the cultural scene in Hull, so just lay off the scripture reach-arounds okay? Credit where credit is due though, and the event did set my mind whirling about whether Hull is starting to turn a corner in not only how people view it, but also how the people who inhabit it also view their surroundings and embrace events put on for them?

Make no mistake, the event is one put on off-the-backs of ordinary people with a passion for the city and raising it’s spotlight. David Cameron would love to grasp it as his Big Society, but really, as with anything in Britain, it’s just about the normal citizen fighting back against the daily tedium enforced by a Government all too dismissive of the positive impact that arts and culture can have, not only on the country’s mood, but (and listen up here geniuses) also the economy.

Now, the event of course benefited from warm weather and cold beer, but doesn’t everything in Britain? Imagine London 2012 or Euro 96 or Glastonbury, without balmy summer evenings, and a dripping bottle clutched firmly in hand (if that doesn’t sound too phallic). Yet, an event largely consisting of bands with guitars, when people are so indifferent to said bands with guitars, that still goes on to attract huge numbers should make someone sit up and take notice.

Those who may just sit up and take notice are those keeping an eye on Hull’s City Of Culture bid. Lots of people on the outside (and inside) of Hull laugh at the idea, but it’s not that preposterous. Sure, Hull has it’s problems but the majority of those are dwelled upon by the media etc due to poor PR and to say that Hull is the only city in Britain that is let down by a small minority of idiots or a lack of funding, is downright unfair- that is an epidemic that flows through the whole of the country in 2013.

In many ways, Hull is just unlucky it hasn’t had that huge, great breakthrough artist who defines a musical era to stamp it as a “cool” city that can marketed as such. Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool all have those in the form of the various bands that have imposed themselves on the national consciousness, Hull just got unfortunate that theirs was the housewives favourites- The Beautiful South. Mmmm, music to hoover to…..nice. There have of course, been plenty of fine bands linked to Hull, but people do not flock there as they do as a result of The Stone Roses/Oasis, Arctic Monkeys/Pulp and The Beatles elsewhere.

All of the above cities have nice areas to visit and shop in, and ultimately settle down, but there are large parts of them that you sure as fuck wouldn’t like to walk around late at night, and Hull is no different than that. I live in the Avenues area of Hull, and would happily stay there for the rest of my life. It’s quiet, the neighbours say “hello” and I feel like Richard Briers from The Good Life. Two minutes away is the house I used to rent, where kids smashed footballs against my wall every night, my Sky dish was snapped and someone tried to pull my Sky box through the wall via the aerial at 3am (don’t fuck with my Sky man!). Hull has great bars such as down Princes Avenue and Newland Avenue, that you’d recommend to anyone visiting, that unfortunately can have drunken idiots in them that hospitalise people for no reason in the toilets. These things come with living in a city, and it’s one for society as a whole to try and fix.

Events such as the Humber Street Sesh will change people’s views of Hull and hopefully, there were lots of students at it that hadn’t gone home, so they could spread the good word to those who live outside the city.

These events also suggest that there is siege mentality in Hull by the people who live there, that they are sick of being trodden upon by those outside its borders. Siege mentalities are good, they often breed success. They occasionally breed events like Waco, but mostly success.

As people in Hull finally decide that they are going to prove the doubters wrong, and show them just what can be done here, they are doing what the good people of Britain have had to do for every major event we have ever put on, with the disapproving eyes of the world upon it. As you may have noticed, failure rarely comes. It looks like Hull may have just come out in fine fighting form, you can almost hear the Joe Esposito song from Karate Kid building in the background. I will be booking the weekend off next year to join all my friends at Humber Street Sesh and I’m sure many more will visit as the success grows.

There was a time when there really was nothing to do in Hull, but the bands are coming back and there are more than two options for a night out. Bars are closing sometimes and not every venture is a success, but that shouldn’t dishearten anyone from their path, the booming nineties this is not.

Look, Hull isn’t perfect, I get tired of living here far too often, but to turn my shoulder on it, would be to turn my back on all that is northern, working class and vaguely bittersweet about it, and I’m not about to do that.

To paraphrase Morgan Freeman quoting Ernest Hemingway, at the end of Se7en, “Hull is fine place and worth fighting for”, I agree with the second part…..and who knows, maybe I’m leaning towards the first part too as time goes on?

Paul FeatherstonePaul Featherstone is 31 years old and lives in Hull. Most people call him “Fev.” He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football and music and uses the word “c*nt” far too much in everyday conversation. He spends a lot of his time blagging his way into celebrity parties. He is to be commended for once meeting Jo Whiley and refraining from beating her to death with a big stick. You can read more of his vitirolic comments on http://twitter.com/FevTheRevoff

Why Everything Was Better Before (Part 3) by Allen Miles

I used to be an absolute slave to nostalgia. In my early-to-mid-twenties it had genuinely taken over my way of thinking because I got it into my head that my life could never be as good as it had been at certain points before. I would spend huge amounts of time by myself with a bottle of wine just harking back to times that I rated as the best of my life and I would never look to the future. It was an idiotic and petulant way to behave, but as the hangover count started to slide from two hundred a year to two dozen, it became clear that I was still a young man, and life was there to be lived. So for a while, the nostalgia was gone.

Yet recently, regular reminiscences have taken place while I’m up late alone on my sofa with another bottle of wine, battering at my keyboard. It all started when I became re-united with my best childhood friend, and co-founder of this site, Martyn. After we left high school, Martyn and I lost touch as he took an apprenticeship and I went to Sixth Form; it sounds like quite a flimsy reason to go our separate ways but it seemed like a huge divide at the time. Over the next ten years Mr Taylor would do lots of very worthy and important things like buying a house, getting married and raising a family, whereas I would spend the decade drinking and behaving like a piece of scum. I did however, end up working with Martyn’s mother-in-law, Dot, and at her fiftieth birthday party four years ago, we got talking again and it was like we’d never been away. Since then, a section of every conversation we’ve had, in the pubs around the area in which we grew up, has been dedicated to stuff we did as kids. Having read Martyn’s Sitting Room diatribe in which he ranted about things not being as good as he once remembered them,  I began to analyze my own recollections of childhood.

The dodgiest character in a TV show since Dirt Barry from Only Fools and Horses.

The dodgiest character in a TV show since Dirty Barry from Only Fools and Horses.

Nothing takes you back to your own childhood like having a child of your own, and when Gabbers is old enough to look back on her infant years, I’d like to hope that she does it with fondness, rather than suspicion. She won’t know until she’s much older that Mr Fox from Peppa Pig is a dodgy, Mickey Pearce-type spiv, or that Madame Gazelle has a picture of the first Velvet Underground album, which features a song called “Heroin”, on her wall, nor will she know that, as myself and my friend Gemma regularly discuss, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is full of innuendo and politics. She just wants to jump up and down in muddy puddles. So that made me think, which of my childhood phases seem sinister or subversive through the benefit of adult hindsight?

I don’t remember the summers. Not a single memory I have is illuminated with the June-to-August  HU5 sunshine until the age of about thirteen. My childhood memories are of streetlights reflecting in October puddles with the stench of Hull Fair hotdogs wafting in on the autumn mist; they are of sitting on walls in the February half term beneath a endlessly grey skies with a couple of mates and just being utterly bored. My very first memory is of watching live footage of Valley Parade burning down in 1985 from my late grandparents’ living room while playing with my “numbers and letters.” My next-earliest memory is being driven in my dad’s tiny red work van to buy He-Man figures from Beal’s down Endike Lane. And there we have the first phase. He-Man figures.

He-Man figures in the mid eighties cost about £3.50 each and were made by Mattel. It is probably the most famous action figure line of all time and obviously tied in with the American cartoon, He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe. As a six year-old, I loved it. So much, in fact, that between the years 2002-2006 I actually modelled my haircut on his. I remember, how, as a callow child, I would get a rush of euphoria at the moment in each episode when Prince Adam would metamorphosize into massive, muscle bound He-Man with the triumphant Top Gun-style music in the background. It was all very wholesome, good vs evil stuff, and no-one was ever killed. So surely there was no adult-only undercurrent here?

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!

Hmmm… ok. Look at He-Man, with his golden bob, sculpted torso, hairless chest and furry little pants. And look at his arch enemy, Skeletor, in his black leather studded basque-type thing and his S&M style-hood. And look at the names of some of the other characters in the show; Beast Man, Tung Lashor, Ram-Man, Whip-Lash, Rokk-On, Extendar and, of course, Fisto. Yep, He-Man is the gayest thing in the history of the universe. No wonder no-one ever killed each other, after that week’s particular battle was won or lost they probably all jumped in a hot tub together and got Teela to serve them Babycham whilst listening to a Judy Garland LP.

Fisto and He-Man. I'm not going to caption this.

Fisto and He-Man. I’m not going to caption this.

In hindsight, it’s actually quite an achievement to get such an obvious homosexual message into a mainstream TV show, especially in Republican 80s America, right under the noses of Jerry Falwell and his horrible friends, but I can’t shake the feeling that the writers and producers of this show were all sniggering behind their hands as I handed my hard earned pocket money over for my brand new King Randor figure, there with his meticulous George Michael-style beard, wielding his magic staff.

After the He-Man figures, and brief dalliances with Transformers and Lego, neither of which I regret, came Christmas 1989 when my kid brother Andy and I received our first video game console, the Sega Master System. We spent pretty much every penny of birthday and Christmas money over the next two or three years on Sega games, which were about thirty quid each at the time, meaning we got about five a year. It was an event when we got a new one, we would take weeks deciding which one to buy after reading the reviews in S Magazine over and over again. All the characters and graphics and artwork were really Japanese-y because there were no British software designers back then, and the manuals made about as much sense as professional imbecile Stacy Solomon trying to explain the theory of relativity.

The tiger has just tried to read the instructions.

The tiger has just tried to read the instructions.

The first game we got, for some reason, (possibly due to my dad being pissed) was Great Baseball, in which featureless players in red or blue would scuttle across the field as if they had severe bowel difficulties and when you actually managed to make contact with the (squarish) ball the TV would make a “crowd noise,” which I’ve only heard replicated since when I tried to make my hoover suck up some cat sick. We would get others over the coming months and years, my favourite one was called Psycho Fox, a Mario-clone in which you guided a P.E. kit-wearing fox over various landscapes with a little black bird sat on your shoulder that you could throw at your enemies. Again, it was incredibly Japanese, again it made no sense and it had bizarre characters in it. But we loved it. The whole shebang of video games in the late eighties/early nineties was a completely alien world, all of it was steeped in oriental culture and myths and what not but looking back now all the artwork seemed so beautiful and the bleepy-bloppy sounds that came from the TV sounded so weird. A year or so ago, I downloaded the SMS emulator for my laptop, which allows you to play these games on your PC, and I bought an HDMI cable, which allows you to plug your PC into your telly, and I bought a joypad off ebay which would enable me to have a go on the games without having to use the laptop keyboard, so there I was, ready for my nostalgia trip, about to play the games I’d enjoyed so much as a nine year old, on the telly with a joypad as they were meant to be played. And…

They weren’t very good.

What an absolute pisser, eh? They were really simplistic, they were unbelievably slow and the sounds were absolutely terrible. One of the worst things about them is that you couldn’t save your progress. If you wanted to finish the majority of the games you’d have to do it in one sitting, which would probably take four or five hours. A nine or ten year-old shouldn’t be spending that much time in front of a tv screen moving garishly-coloured blobs across an equally garish background to a soundtrack that was scraped from the Aphex Twin’s waste paper basket. Why weren’t we outside playing football? I haven’t bought a videogame since 1997, it is an area I don’t have a great deal of interest in, and this, along with the Super Nintendo a couple of years later, is how I think of them. I wish I hadn’t re-visited Sega games. I’ve ruined yet another of my memories. But not as much as the next one.

In early 1992, the advent of Sky television, along with one of the all-time classic Panini sticker albums (obviously Italia 90 was the best ever), meant the latest craze in the playground of Appleton Primary School, HU5, was WWF wrestling. How we loved watching those muscle-bound cartoon characters prancing round in their tights and punching each other in the mullet. I remember the first major event that we all took notice of, The Royal Rumble 1992, which was 30 wrestlers coming out at set intervals and being eliminated by being hoiked out over the top ropes. It was won by the legendary Ric Flair, who basically looked like Lieutenant Drebin from Naked Gun in a pair of black pants, and we all looked forward to his title defence against “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 8. Even though, at the age of ten/eleven, we knew it was fake, we still wondered who would win the matches, we still thought that somehow there was some sport involved. Looking back now, you can’t deny the dazzling showmanship of Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, The Rock and so on, and no-one can argue that it’s very easy to fake what happens at 1:45 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=569DaOPtHd4 but it’s not a sport, it’s never been a sport. It’s a performance, yet at the age of eleven we honestly thought that it was a honest and clean enterprise, involving athletes who adhered to sporting regulations.

Davey-Boy claimed to have got his ridiculous physique from eating lots of Shredded Wheat.

Davey-Boy claimed to have got his ridiculous physique from eating lots of Shredded Wheat.

Jaysus. How wrong we were. With the blessing/curse of the internet, it is very easy to find out what was going on behind the scenes back then. And how terribly dark it all was. To give you the most upsetting example, the WWF came to Wembley Stadium a few months later, at Summerslam 92, which was such a big deal at the time that even the UK tabloids were covering it, there were guest spots on the likes of GMTV, Going Live and (90s classic here) Gamesmaster. The main event centred around the English wrestler, Wigan’s own Davey-Boy Smith, attempting to win the belt from the Canadian Bret “Hitman” Hart. And obviously he did in front of his own crowd in his own national stadium, as it was scripted and it was all very triumphant and inspiring and all the rest of it, but what we didn’t know at the time is that Smith didn’t know what planet he was on during the match, as he’d spent the previous two weeks monged off his nut on a massive crack bender, and Hart, who was his real life brother-in-law, had to drag him, step-by-step, through every routine they were meant to be doing in the ring. Smith would be dead at the age of forty, having been pumped full of steroids for fifteen years of his life, and looking like someone had plugged a bouncy castle pump into one of his orifices and forgotten to switch it off. You look back as an adult on the promo interviews that they all did and realise that an estimated 75% of the world’s cocaine in the late 80s/early nineties was being consumed by these people (the rest was making its way through Paul Merson) and its completely unsurprising to see how many of them are dead today. Many died through drugs/steroids, there were quite a few suicides, and the less said about what Chris Benoit did the better. What a horrible business.

So there you go. Three of my most fondly remembered childhood phases ruined by the benefit/hinderance of hindsight. Here are a few more brief annihilations of my memories:

If you were born between 1979 and 1983, chances are your favourite film when you were a kid was the one that starred this bloke. State of him.

"I wouldn't let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass." People say that to him in real life now.

“I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass.” People say that to him in real life now.

Hero Quest: didn’t understand it then. Don’t understand it now.

When I was seven this was my favourite song. It’s absolutely terrible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAJIAO_NA3E

Rosie and Jim: a few months ago, myself, Mr Alderson and Mr Woodmansey watched an episode of this at my house on a Classic CITV weekend on Sky. It is the most boring programme I think I’ve ever seen.

Fun House: Great show and all, but Pat Sharp’s haircut is the showbiz equivalent of Stonehenge. No-one has quite worked it out.

In closing, there’s a reason why you grow out of things, and it’s because they only appeal to you when you’re of a certain age. So very few things retain that magic that they had when we were young. A period of nostalgia can be like a hangover in many ways: a mild one is a bittersweet reminder of what happened yesterday, and an intense one makes you wonder what the hell you were thinking while you sit feeling sorry for yourself. Some things from childhood are still brilliant; Roald Dahl books, Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, classic Match Of The Day DVDs and Dangermouse are all regularly enjoyed by myself in my thirty-second year, but the rest of it was of a time and a place and can’t be re-visited. To paraphrase Dr Samuel Johnson: “nostalgia is the last refuge of the moron.”

And they don’t make writers like him anymore.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Generation Terrorists (A Glam Symphony In Two Parts) by Allen Miles

“You are pure, you are snow,
We are the useless sluts that they mould,
Rock n’ roll is our epiphany,
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair.”

Little Baby Nothing, Manic Street Preachers

Myself and Mr Potter occasionally get misty-eyed at work after talking with furrowed brows about how we are struggling to pay bills, and hark back to our youth, how we had the greatest job in the world and how life was so easy because our heads were full of magic, we had a decent amount of money to burn and we could do as we pleased. The only three things we spent our wages on were music, clothes and going out. We bought different clothes, listened to different music and went to different clubs, but Mike and I both acknowledge now that those were the glory days. Nothing has touched them since.

Ms McCartney has written her requiem to the glorious days of our late teens. And, in much the same way that Mr Taylor and his wife have given their separate takes on the same story, I’m now going give my take on the glorious year that was 1999.

She’s right. She knows she’s right because she was there. It was all about the music, all about the looks and all about the invincibilty. It was a time when independent shops still flourished on high streets, David Beckham was known for playing football and Johnny Vaughan was seen as the future of television. The 18 year-old Allen Miles? I wouldn’t like to meet him. He’s got an appalling attitude, treats women like shite and for some reason people call him Ally. He looks like a girl and doesn’t seem to get hangovers. He’s frightened of nothing and thinks he’s going to rule the world. What a dick. No, I wouldn’t like to meet him, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to be him.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

Unlike Lyndsay, I never rebelled at school. Although I was a gobby little sod I was quite bookish and nerdy and should have been a prime target for the tracksuit-clad, cider-drinking bullies of my year but I was a decent football player so I was sort-of in with their crowd at the same time. You can’t show the merest trace of flamboyance if you’re friends with those sort of people. The summer we left school would be remembered for the shambolic parties at Woody’s where women never turned up and the never-ending afternoons during which Martyn and I would come up with the name of this website. I spent most of my time listening to Oasis and The Stone Roses, brilliant bands but neither with any real image to get excited about, and my other two most played albums were Stanley Road by Paul Weller, and Everything Must Go by The Manic Street Preachers, which I loved, but didn’t know much about. The Manics were in the press a lot that summer, due to having had their first number one single, and a one night an BBC Up Close documentary about them was due to air. I’d watched the previous week’s episode about Creation Records and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I flicked over to channel 2 and my life was completely changed.

Lyndsay

Lyndsay

Richey

Richey

Having been used to seeing this band in kagouls and slack jeans, to see them in blouses and feathers and military gear and spray paint was jaw-dropping. I bought the rest of their back catalogue within a week; my perception of what music could be had completely changed. Music now had to have a bit of glamour, a band had to be more than just a band. Out went the Ocean Colour Scene, Weller and The Verve. In came The Clash, The Smiths, Placebo and Suede. I got my job at Castle Hill, which provided me with £50 a week and I was also running a racket at college selling pirated Playstation games so I had plenty of money to spend on CDs and clothes. I remember going to the Wyke Christmas Party at the age of 17, me in my Manics T-Shirt that I’d bought when I’d seen them the previous week, watching all the orange Jennifer Aniston wannabes boogying to Another Level and the Spice Girls, thinking, “I don’t want to be here, these aren’t my people.” Who were my people?

Unlike Ms McCartney, I never wanted a gang. I would quite happily be the outsider who everyone sees as a little bit strange and intense and not someone to talk to on a casual basis. I wasn’t one to desperately try and get in with the cool crowd who sat on the sofas in the common room at college when I could hang about in some far flung corner of the science wing with one or two of my grubby football mates instead. I’m not very good at making friends to this day, mainly because I’m a terrible inverted snob. But as it turned out, there were a few more terrible inverted snobs out there. At Spiders, and at Room.

My surrogate sister Sam Hopper had somehow seen some sort of potential in me, and wanted to drag me away from my grubby chav roots. And she had nagged and cajoled and, by the end, downright abused me into coming out with her crowd and I first went to Spiders in probably April 1999, I was 17 years old. I was wearing my Manics t-shirt, and a pair of jeans. I went down there with legendary Hull piss-artist Andrew “Beast” Hawkins, who is now a possibly-insane recluse and hasn’t been seen since 2008. I saw Sam and her crowd in the entrance and the first song I heard there was Kevin Carter. A vodka and coke was 55p. I wasn’t expected to drink lager and belch manfully. I’d be at home here.

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesnt it?

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesn’t it?

At first I’d go maybe once every three weeks. I enjoyed it but was pretty much hanging on for invites from other people. Also I’d taken to spending the odd Saturday night going on massive rambles around Hull with a charismatic and erudite gentleman I’d met at my new job who now calls himself Xavier Dwyer. He turned up on my doorstep one night, having only been introduced about a week earlier, and simply said “Fancy going for a walk?” These walks would become known as The Tours and are among the happiest times of my life. We would have utterly pointless debates such as “Which band were better The Who or The Clash?” or “Is Pablo Honey underrated?” He would furnish me with exotic items such as Radiohead bootlegs and a grainy video import of the then-still banned Clockwork Orange. We talked of one day forming our own band and taking over the world. We had a party at my house where we both smashed the guitars that we could barely play. We went to V99 to see the Manics, Suede and Placebo; I wore a Mecca shirt with the sleeves ripped off because I wanted to be Joe Strummer, Xavier wore a black balaclava because he wanted to be James Dean Bradfield. Glorious, ridiculous, unequivocally romantic memories.

As that monumental summer turned to autumn, I was going to Spiders every Saturday, and by this time I’d met Ms McCartney, Ms Spavin-Haigh, Arthur and unbeknownst to me then, the lanky ginger guy who would be my best man ten years later, Dr Dave Salmond. So this, along with my long-time birding and boozing partner Woody, was now my crowd. How unspeakably beautiful we looked! A year previously I had been a tracky-bottom-wearing grubboid who spent his weekends watching repeats of The Thin Blue Line on UK Gold, now I smeared my eyes in kohl, donned my shiny blue satin shirt and copped off with so many girls it was a disgrace. I had a playlist that by tradition I absolutely had to play before I left my bedroom at seven o’clock every Saturday night.

This Charming Man – The Smiths
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Going Underground – The Jam
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – U2
So Dead – Manic Street Preachers
White Riot, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, London’s Burning, I Fought The Law – The Clash

I never ever had a hangover, but I realise in hindsight that was because I didn’t drink very much. I could go out with thirty quid and come back with plenty of change. It wasn’t about the drinking, it was about the euphoria of being part of something, looking fantastic and feeling, as Lyndsay has already said, completely invincible. Fearless. We were in thrall to Richey and Brett and Brian Molko, and we all tried to impress each other by quoting Camus and Sartre, even though we wouldn’t read them for another five years. I would shamelessly plagarize any gimmick from whichever androgynous tortured genius I favoured that week; Brett’s single braid in his fringe from the Stay Together video, Johnny Marr’s polka-dot shirt, Nicky Wire’s white jeans… When a new lost photo from this era emerges myself and Mr Salmond more often than not find ourselves wincing at the pair of ponces that stood in our eighteen year old shoes. It was a different age though, and at the time we thought we were the cat’s pyjamas. And we were.

I do that, sometimes...

I do that, sometimes…

That December was the last month of it. I remember one day me and Xavier were both off work and we walked all the way into town from his house down Arram Grove to go record shopping. It was snowing and the grates down Beverly Road were spewing steam into the frozen air, a proper winter’s day. I bought a load of Suede vinyl and Manics memorabilia from Disc Discovery down Spring Bank and arranged to go to Room on the night. I walked round to Woody’s house with a Suede song called The Chemistry Between Us in my head, and I knew as I walked that these were the glory days. This was the peak of youth and these were the days that I would remember in years to come when I was old and bitter and sat typing at one in the morning. More than any other song, that one encapsulated what it was like to be young and pretty with a head full of colliding stars, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but as 1999 became 2000, something was lost. After we got back from Cardiff the make-up and glitter went in the bin, and the gang mentality seemed to dissipate. We still went every Saturday but something had changed, like it was an obligation rather than for fun. The silks and satins would be replaced by Mecca jeans and Converse work shirts; I somehow acquired my first long-term girlfriend, and twenty disastrous months later I would find the Manics and Suede replaced by Nick Cave and Scott Walker, alone in a flat I couldn’t afford, an eviction notice nailed to my door, having drunk myself half to death as I waited for the next angel to come and rescue me.

Lyndsay writes of how important it is for any young people to feel they belong to something. I never wanted that. My memories of that period are defined by the feeling that I didn’t want to belong to anything. I wouldn’t join any club that would have me, as Groucho Marx once said. But for those eight or nine months in 1999, I genuinely believe that on a level of sheer euphoria it was as good as my life ever got. The three chaps I have spoken of in this piece; Dave, Xavier and Woody, remain, fourteen years later, my three best friends, and occasionally, we speak of those times as we down our warm pints of mild in a “food pub” or a “cafe bar” and sneer disapprovingly as we watch the trendy teenagers of the day sleep walk their way down the streets as they play with their smart phones and listen to their mp3 players. Me and Woody, in particular, often kid ourselves that it isn’t we who have got old, rather it is the clubs that have gone downhill. (“Now, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) All four of us will have contretemps about how we dressed, whether we looked silly or looked cool, and whether it is ok to listen to Generation Terrorists when you’re thirty-one. One thing we always agree on though, and we’ve both used this word already; we were utterly invincible.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

Why Everything Was Better Before (Part 1) by Allen Miles

For those of you who don’t know why our website is called Sitting On The Swings, myself and Mr Taylor were among a number of children who grew up on the Bricknell Avenue estate in Hull, and on the periphery of that estate is a small playground and playing field known unofficially as County Road Park. It would be the social hub of our pre-pubescent years and Martyn and I grew so attached to the place that at the end of our last year of high school and the summer of exams and decisions, we would drag ourselves there practically every day in the early afternoon and literally sit on the swings for hours, drinking Sunny Delight and talking about the previous night’s fare on the Paramount Channel, which we’d stayed up until four a.m. to watch. We did this because a) we were hopeless with women, b) we had absolutely no money and c) we had nowhere else to go. When I started this site up a few weeks ago I thought it would be a nice idea to use an actual photo of the swings themselves as the backdrop so I wandered down there one afternoon when I was off work during the week, camera phone in pocket, to take my pictures. I live quite a way from there these days and have no reason to pass the place in my usual routines and so I hadn’t seen it for quite some time. When I got there something seemed so wrong about the place. It was still recognizable from as I remembered it, but everything had been ever so slightly tweaked somehow. An iconic image from my childhood had been interfered with and it was disturbing, sterile and rather sinister, as if the Mona Lisa had been photoshopped.

I looked round trying to work out what changes had taken place, then decided that I ought to leave ( It was half two in the afternoon, I was wearing a long black coat and waving a camera around in a children’s playground; I probably didn’t look too savoury.) When I looked through the photos on my laptop upon returning home, I realised what it was: everything looked so much safer. Where once the surface under the swings had been merely concrete, now there was slabs of that horrible rubber tarmac stuff that gets ridiculously hot in the summer. Opposite the swings, if I remember correctly, there had once upon a time been a slide, which, even taking into account how the memory distorts these things, must have been a good seven or eight feet tall. This had gone, replaced by a small, chunky climbing frame type thing that stood no more than five feet off the ground at its highest point. A few weeks later, I was taking my daughter to see my mother so I took the long way round and once again walked through County Road Park. Looking around with scrutiny this time, I deduced that it was almost impossible for a child, or anyone for that matter, to hurt themselves in this place. And thinking deeper, I realised this was because if someone did get hurt here, the council would get sued, the newspapers would be involved, and Cherry Healey would have recorded a BBC Three documentary about it within days. Without wishing to sound like my father, it was so different in my day…

I first started going to County Road Park when I was about eight, nearly nine years old. The summer of 1990. The summer of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, Spatz, The London Boys and Salvatore Schillaci. Barmy, balmy evenings. We would be allowed to go to the park minus parents. No-one was worried about paedophiles back then, as they were all working for the BBC. The whole aim of going on the swings was “trying to get level” which essentially meant you would build up so much momentum that the chains of the swing would be horizontal, parallel to the ground. It was dangerous and that was the thrill. We knew that if we fell off we would hit the concrete and break a leg, so we didn’t fall off. If we had have fallen off, our parents would have blamed us, told us off and hugged us while we tried not to cry. They wouldn’t have even dreamed of suing the council. Kids aren’t allowed to make mistakes anymore. They are not allowed to get hurt, they are not allowed to get mud on their knees, they are not allowed to learn common sense. If you got hurt, you would realise how you did it, and you wouldn’t do it again. For example, when I was nine years old, my best friend was a lad called Hiu Lam. One day he was running towards our classroom, which was a portakabin situated on a raised platform, accessed by a few large, flat concrete steps. He tripped up, fell onto the steps and scraped his face from forehead to chin. He had huge graze marks right across his features for about three weeks afterwards. Did his parents attempt to sue the school? No, of course they didn’t, they accepted that their son had had an accident at school, as so many kids do, and put some Savlon on his face. Hiu Lam himself would have learned not to run up the steps again. Today, if that had happened, some new-age interfering dick would have run to the local paper and started an online petition to have the entire school knocked down and rebuilt completely out of cotton wool and foam rubber. And probably would have succeeded.

Next to the park, there was the abandoned shell of a social club. We as kids disagreed whether it had been called Golden Quay or Rosie O’Grady’s (it had in fact been called both.) We played there regularly, and to be fair, in hindsight, it probably was quite a dangerous place. Certain areas of it were in total darkness, it stank, and it was always in danger of collapsing. We never told our parents that we played there, as we knew that we weren’t supposed to. One day, I was there in the middle of the afternoon with one of my friends; I can’t remember who but I think it may have been Stevie B, and in the centre of the open space which I now realise had probably been the dancefloor at one time, me and Stevie noticed some discarded hypodermic syringes. It was a terrifying sight for a couple of ten-year-old kids. We didn’t know why we were so shocked, we just knew that we didn’t like it. I remember it like it was yesterday; we didn’t speak, we just looked at each other and walked out into the daylight. We knew, we knew, that we couldn’t go back in there anymore. It was off limits. Kids are not stupid.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

 

McCain Oven Chips and The Decline Of The English Language by Allen Miles

Since I was a small child, the thing that I’ve been most interested in is the English language. I read avidly from infancy, I wrote obsessively as soon as I could pick up a pen and anyone who, in my opinion, was a master of my native tongue I would idolise. I don’t just mean authors either, I mean people like Barry Davies, who could describe a football match as if he was a poet giving a guided tour of the Louvre; Ian Hislop, who could craft his words into a rapier with which to skewer the egos of ludicrous Conservative politicians; and my all time absolute hero Peter Cook, who’s use of wordplay in his twelve part “Life In Pieces” sketch with Ludovic Kennedy is the most agile and quick-witted piece of comedic writing that we will ever see.

I personally have been a sports journalist, a lyricist, a poet, a blogger and an author. I have had work published in every field I’ve just mentioned. I have written intensely personal things to individual people that have made them happy and made them cry. Words, when used properly, can stir these emotions in people. I remember an occasion when I was about fifteen when my maths teacher Mrs Wattam had kept me behind after class because she’d been perturbed by my loud-mouthed teenage remark that I had no interest in figures. She sat me down and spoke to me like an adult and then showed me an unbelievably complicated piece of algebra which she wrote down and explained to me. Then she said “Don’t you think that’s great how it all fits together and works out so perfectly?” and I replied, with honesty, “No, I don’t find it interesting.” You see, with figures, you have ten digits that have limited values and can only be endlessly repeated in various combinations. With words, the possibilities are endless. With figures, the life you can aspire to is accountant, maths teacher, general nerd. With words, you can be a War Correspondent, Screen Writer, Music Journalist… Words are beautiful, romantic and emotional.

And somehow, recently, someone has got hold of words and turned them into something to be used to fuck us over.

My fellow S.O.T.S. blogger, Paul Featherstone, used a fantastic word in a recent e-mail to me: “hoodwinked.” Our mother tongue is being bastardised by immoral shits in the advertising game to hoodwink us into buying and/or doing things that we don’t need to.
When I was at the tender age of 16, a careers advisor told me that my calling in life was to be an advertising copywriter. Even then, that kid with all his naivety and colossal personality flaws rejected that pathway, due to having something called a soul. I did not want to turn into some self-righteous prick who wore driving gloves, clicked his fingers at waitresses and spoke to his girlfriend only to check whether she’d turned the dishwasher on, nor did I want to change my name to Marcus or Lance. If you have ever seen an episode of Mad Men, you’ll know that the USA has been a society that has revolved around advertising since the fifties. In England, we are not a society based around advertising, but we are becoming a society that is being manipulated by language.
Let me give you an example, the other day I bought a bag of McCain Oven chips. As I rarely eat oven chips these days, I consulted the cooking instructions, expecting to read something roughly like this:

1. Pre Heat Oven to 220 Celsius
2. Place chips evenly onto baking tray
3. Cook for 12-15 mins until golden brown.

Basic, shorthand instructions. Simple, clinical. A concise direction of how to cook these chips. But no, some advertising tools using their advertising tools had come up with:

1. Warm up your oven to 220 Celsius
2. Spread your chips in one layer on a baking tray
3. Pop them in the oven for 12-15 minutes until they’re all lovely and golden and brown
4. Enjoy!

Now, I’m sorry, but it seems to me that there is only one thing happening here: this bag of oven chips is trying to be my friend. There is no other possibility, given the words and phrases that this bag of frozen comestibles is uttering to me, probably in the voice of Caroline Quentin in one of her “attractive menopausal woman” roles. Warm is so much cosier a word than heat. Warm is what you get when you’re wearing a cardigan, or you’re in bed with a hot water bottle and some cocoa. Heat is what you find in the fiery cauldron of hell. Also, the repeated use of the word your. Your oven, your chips, your friend, your very own less-than-5%-fat soul mate. So vomit-inducingly personal. Then we have to “pop them in the oven!” Like when your dear old primary school teacher with her glasses on a string of beads used to say “Pop it on my desk.” After the 12-15 minutes, which presumably you’ve spent cuddled up on the couch watching Last Of The Summer Wine with your now slightly emptier bag of oven chips, they’ll be “all lovely and golden and brown.” Oooo… all lovely and golden and brown, words that make you feel like dear old grandma is wrapping a big woolly blanket round you while Grandad throws another log on the fire. Then, we’re told to “Enjoy!” With an exclamation mark. Can someone tell this bunch of pseudo-new age arseholes at McCain that no-one enjoys oven chips. We buy them because we are either too lazy or too fat to cook proper chips. And I wouldn’t even want to be friends with a bag of proper chips, let alone oven chips. So as far as I’m concerned, oven chips can knob off.

It seems to be mainly the food and drink industry which is most manipulative with their use of words. If you buy an Innocent smoothie, for example, where once a fruit drink would have been labelled something like “Apple and Blackcurrant,” the heartless bastards at Innocent, again conning you into thinking that they’re your little buddies, badge their equivalent product “Apples and Blackcurrants.” How does the plural make it sound somehow softer and nicer? Evidently it does, but how? How have these people somehow managed to slip our collective sub-consciousness this linguistic Rohypnol? Its all about tweaking perfectly standard phrases just that tiny bit to make us fall for their crappy product. I’ll give you another example that just crept up on me a few weeks ago.
Myself and most of the people who write for this site live in a city called Hull in East Yorkshire in England, and for those of you who’ve never been, it is not a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis like London or even Manchester, it is a dockside industrial community of about 230,000 people and the nearest major city is sixty miles away. Around the turn of the millenium, the local council embarked on a so-called re-generation project which wasn’t terribly successful, but one of the upshots of it was that a street on the edge of the city centre called Princes Avenue unexpectedly became very prosperous, and many local entrepreneurs opened a series of horrific things called cafe-bars. They are designed to make vacuous egotists feel important. Now, if you go into anyone of these establishments for your lunch, you can peruse the trendy chalk-board menu and you will notice, in fact you probably won’t notice because it’s done so subversively, that anything on the menu that is fried is referred to as being pan-fried. Why? I’ll tell you; its because the word fried on its own brings to mind images of grease, chip fat, cholesterol, clogged veins, heart-attacks, ugh its bad for you don’t eat it go jogging instead! But with pan-fried its:

“Pan-fried? They fry it in a pan? Jesus they know what they’re doing here don’t they? This is a classy place.”

Justin walks over to the bar to be served by Troy the barman, who is six foot five, shaven head/designer stubble, wearing a skin-tight black tee-shirt and has a tattoo of Che Guevara on his neck.

“Hi there bud, can I get the Pan-fried Fish Finger Sandwich and some homemade chips please?”

“Of course, sir”

“How many fish fingers do you get?”

“You get two sir.”

“Ok. How much is that?”

“Six pounds ninety-five, sir.”

“Six pounds ninety five?”

“Well, they are pan-fried, sir.”

“I suppose you’re right. While I’m at it, you know that out-of-date Polish lager that your governor bought off those Latvian sailors for twelve quid a barrel in the Green Bricks the other night?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well tell me its a wheat beer from the Czech Republic, serve me it in a vase and I’ll give you £4.10 a pint for it.”

“Ok, sir. I’ll bring your food over in about an hour and a half.”

“Thanks.”

Words are being twisted and corrupted by people who want you to buy things. You are a target market. Every word that you see on a billboard or tv screen is put there to make you try and spend your money. And I maybe naive and romantic, but words should not be used to make money. What of beauty, emotion and feeling? What of love, Mr McCain Oven Chips guy? What of love? People like you have caused the English language to suffer the most spectacular fall from grace in the history of the world.

Actually, the second worst.

As we all know, this was the worst.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014