At Home in Manchester

Robin Ince's Bibliomaniac Tour Diary

I feel at home in Manchester.

I meet Matthew Cobb at the station and, train delays making it impossible to get to the gallery in time, he takes me to the Vimto statue and Archimede’s looking both elated and insane in his bath under a railway arch.

Matthew refuses cake when we get to Blackwell’s and I wonder if that is why he is too poorly to go on the picket line the following day.

Sadly, I find some heavy books irresistible in the shop, and buy a recent biography of Magritte, Angela Davis’s autobiography and, some what lighter, though not in terms of the story it tells, Stuart Hennigan’s Ghost Signs, about the deprivation he saw when delivery food parcels in Leeds.

I am also given a copy of Adam Farrer’s Cold Fish Soup. I don’t know which to start with, so I dive into all of them.

It is a lovely audience of familiar faces and new ones. By chance, I talk about Abi, who appears in my book when I write about the importance of audiences and the people you get to know. Abi, a great supporter of my work, died after a heart operation. I hadn’t realised that Abi’s sister was in the audience, so I am glad that I did.

I sign books and, as usual, make people wait too long by talking too much as I scribble.

I meet new people and receive cartoons from them and a book from Phillip Carter – “Who Built the Humans?” – he also shows me a lego version of my book cover which is a further delight.

I pop into XS Malarkey, my favourite club in England (The Newcastle Stand a close second), to say hello to Ros and Toby.

It is the eve of the train strike , so the infrastructure is beginning to seize up, and I splash out on a cab to Levenshulme. Carl, once renowned for his self inflating lilo, but now with a fold out bed in his office, plays me some of the comedy show he is editing and we drink some fine wine.

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Paul from Westwood Books kindly picks me up from Levenshulme for my event with them this evening. This gives me FOUR HOURS browsing time in this magnificent bookshop. I adore it and make a pile of maybes. The restriction will be weight, I fear. By early evening, the audience start browsing and I become an assistant. I am browsing anthropology as someone else is looking at “Death”. I ask if she is after anything in particular and, when she tells me her needs, I recommend Caitlin Doughty’s From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. She then moves up to the cannibalism section – I think she has a plan…

We treat to the pub after the talk and I talk to soapmakers about trying to avoid living in a bubble – this sounds like a pun, but it really wasn’t – we argued about diversity and listening to as many voices as possible, not about asphyxiation accidents when the soap machine was turned up to eleven.

After breakfast, I return to the shop to decide.

The pile is high.

Paul shows me some beautiful ephemera he has found in books, including a cheque signed by Charles Darwin that had been a bookmark. Heather tells me about some books they received where the reader always wrote where she had bought them, where she was when she began the book, and where she was when it was finished. Sometimes, they would also contain a short critique. I think it is habit I may take up. Her name was Nicola and sadly she died young, but she leaves traces of herself behind. I now have her copy of Fahrenheit 451.

I start working out what to take and what to leave while I am at the counter. Michael from Warrington comes along with his partner. She has two Margaret Atwoods and how pile includes books on druids and book collecting. He has an excitability that I can appreciate. For some reason, my book which is on the shelf behind him keeps falling down. I tell him it is because it wants to be taken by him. He starts to look at it and Heather explains that I am the author. His face is wreathed in delight. He mentions the Wicker Man and I tell him that my book begins in Wigtown, Wicker Man territory and that I write about the novel that influenced it, Ritual.

We have a photograph together. I think he is quite new to collecting books, but I don’t think his delight will pale.

The final pile includes Penguin Modern Artist books on Stanley Spencer and Edward Bawden, Alan Frank’s Book on Horror Films (I have my childhood copy but the dust wrapper is gone), a Charles Kingsley about Hypatia, the librarian of Alexandria, a book on Darwin’s work about flowers and on and on and on. I teeter to Oxenholme Lake District and start my journey to Chorley.

I left behind Shake a Pagoda Tree, the autobiography of Mike and Bernie Winters, remembering Eric Morecambe’s reply to the question, “what would  you have been if you hadn’t gone into comedy?”

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Prof Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.

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