With the Shingle of Southsea Holmesian Society celebrating its fifth anniversary this December, now seemed like an ideal time to get to know one of our more prominent members a little better. Paul Thomas Miller (The Entire Canon) was our founding member and is much loved by all of us. However, little is known about his early relationship with Holmesiana. For that reason, we sat down with Paul, who graciously agreed to be interviewed in place of the usual monthly meeting.
PTM – How did you first become involved in Holmesiana?
PTM – I was born into it. My great-grandfather – Sebastian Colin Ungulate Miller – was the partner of Arthur Conan Doyle when they opened the Bradford Pickled Egg Works in 1894. The plant was well known at the time as the backbone of the British Empire, pickling anything up to a hundred eggs a day in order to keep the wheels of Victoria’s global provinces moving. Naturally, Doyle became great friends with my great-grandfather and stole many of the best Sherlock Holmes plots from him. My great-grandfather didn’t mind this as he was fiddling the books at the Pickled Egg Works and was making a small fortune on hokey returned jar deposits.
PTM – You’re a natural Holmesian then?
PTM – Yes. With the egg works still operating today and the obvious Canonical pickled-egg-Sherlock-Holmes connection, it was predestined that I would take an interest in the world my family has been so much a part of for four generations.
PTM – Do you have any souvenirs of your great-Grandfather’s time with Doyle?
PTM – Oh yes. By far the most prized possession is the very egg that Doyle wrote the opening lines of The Hound of the Baskervilles on, before pickling it.
PTM – How was it pickled? Brine, distilled vinegar, malt vinegar?
PTM – Oh, distilled vinegar, obviously. This notion that one can pickle is brine is a fallacy. Fake news of the sort only America could come up with. Monstrous. Honestly, I don’t know how these “people” can looks themselves in the eye.
PTM – Does the ink on the egg not taint the flavour?
PTM – Not at all. Being squid ink, it actually enhances the meaty tones of the egg.
PTM – So, with all this Holmesian history in the family, it wasn’t surprising you’d end up joining some societies. But what made you start your own one in 2018?
PTM – Well, yes, I did join other societies, and I think they are great. The spirit of friendship is wonderful but I felt they all had the same problems.
PTM – Which were?
PTM – Well, for starters, they all required me to leave the house if I wanted to attend any meetings or society events...
PTM – Not something you are fond of, then?
PTM – No. I’m a big sitting-down partaker. I’m also very, very important. I’ve always thought that if something is worthwhile, people should bring it to me. But the other thing that the other societies get wrong is letting the wrong sort of people in.
PTM – And who would you say the wrong sort of people are?
PTM – The ones who aren’t me.
PTM – Yes, I wanted to chat with you about that. Your society has only ever had one member, is that right?
PTM – One human member, certainly. We did have a brief dalliance with allowing a headless mannequin to join us, but in the end, even her attitude was unbearable.
PTM – I think we can all understand that. Other people are awful, aren’t they?
PTM – Yes. Awful.
PTM – Yes.
PTM – Awful.
PTM – Yes.
PTM – So you formed the Shingle of Southsea?
PTM – Quite right. I sent myself a newsletter declaring the creation of the society and I’ve never looked back.
PTM – Really. No regrets at all?
PTM – Oh yes. Lots. But at the end of the day, the pickled eggs make up for all that, don’t they.
PTM – Rather. So, since then you’ve been doing a great deal of Holmesian work. What would you say was your proudest achievement so far?
PTM – I think that would have to be the discovery of the Doyle and Miller lamb-fighting arena in the basement of the Egg Works. It was customary back them for the workplace to be more than where you earned your money. Factories were the hub of a community. Your employer and your colleagues were like an extended family. So your workplace would have a canteen, maybe a bar and generally some sporting facilities to encourage the workers to socialise together. Doyle, as you know, was a massive fan of blood sports, and Sebastian Miller was rabid in his loathing for sheep. It was inevitable, then, that they would install a lamb pit in the building. I’d always heard rumours of its existence but no one had ever been able to find it. So I did a bit of research… a bit of poking around… and eventually I located it.
PTM – Wow! That must have been exciting. How did you manage it.
PTM – Well, for as long as I can remember the basement door had always been marked “Dangerous! Do not enter!” But on a hunch, I did enter. And there it was. A 10 meter wide lamb-fighting pit, with seating all around the outside. Enough for a thousand people. It turned out that the danger was just a wasp that had got in during the war, but it had died since then, so it was fine. There was a desk in one corner with a great big leather bound ledger where they kept all the stats from the lamb-fights. Obviously, I looked up the details of my great-gramp’s fights and he did OK in the ring, but it was Doyle who showed the real skill.
PTM – Oh really? I knew he was a big sportsman, but I didn’t know he was a good Lamber.
PTM – Oh yes. In one particular fight he managed to slaughter three dozen day old lambs with nothing more than a screwdriver. And remember, they didn’t have cross heads in those days. It was all flat head. Apparently, the foreman kept dumping the bleaters in at a rate double anything anyone had seen before. Everyone went crazy. They were begging the foreman to stop, saying no man could cope with that much ovine aggression, but the foreman and Doyle had agreed it all before the match and he knew what he was doing. Five minutes later, covered in fleecy gore, Doyle crawled out of the pit, leaving a lifeless broth of lamb behind him. The crowd roared in glee as Doyle spat a chunk of lamb ear on the floor. And that’s how he came up with the plot for Silver Blaze.
PTM – Gosh. Doyle really was a stand-up guy, wasn’t he? So what are the plans for the future of the Shingle of Southsea?
PTM – Well, I’m seriously considering closing it down, once we reach the five year mark.
PTM – Oh no! Why?
PTM – Well, as this interview shows, I’ve clearly run out of things to write and each month it just gets more and more difficult to sit down in a room with myself and make small talk.
PTM – But surely, all of Holmesiana would fall apart without the Shingle of Southsea to give them something to aspire to?
PTM – Good point. I’ll take it into consideration.