The Bibliomaniac Tour BeginsRobin Ince's Bibliomaniac Tour Diary
My plans to read Alan Moore’s Illuminations in the vestibule were thwarted by the inconsiderate nature of human beings.
Though there were plenty of seats available, a surprising number of people were traveling with their imaginary friend. For this reason, I found myself talking with a manic depressive about the dog he loved and lost for the entire journey. He was a pleasant fellow. Though he had had a drink, I could see no reason why people refused to let him sit down. He wasn’t singing sea shanties or heavy with vomit. He had found himself still; awake at 6am and decided it was time to visit his mum. We talked of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Coen Brothers and the band Toto (and also Seaview, who I have never heard of but was told to check out). Though I was a little frustrated that I had no time to read, he seemed to need to tell his story and there will be plenty of time to read Alan’s short stories. He asked for a hug and then we went our separate ways at Manchester Piccadilly. As someone obsessively worried about happiness, I am glad he felt he was happier when we disembarked.
I have packed my bags for another week away. In the hope of stemming my sciatica and occipital neuralgia, both book based injuries, I have cut down on the publications required for my bookshop talks, though Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin and Ernest Thesiger’s Adventures in Embroidery remain necessities.
Arriving in Hebden Bridge, the first person I see has a leather stetson, beard and billowing purple dress that a bishop might wear when letting their mitre down. I love Hebden Bridge. I admire the moss and lichen on the walls, the allotments, and the bathtub and bollard that guards the runner beans.
I stop off at the Oxfam and buy Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know – “a work of dazzling insight and deep psychological succour”, Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman – “wjhat happens too theories of patriarchy when autobiography dead with a working class father who isn’t important in the world outside the household” – and I bought yet another copy of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart. Introducing me to this novella was when of the best things Morrissey ever did for me.
“My dear, my darling, do you hear me where you sleep?”
The Book Case has promised mulled wine to lure the bibliophiles in. I meet lots of delightful people and two authors insist on purchasing their books for me – Stephen May gives me Sell Us The Rope and Zaffar Kunial, who is up for this year’s TS Eliot Prize and who I last spoke to in a Suffolk field about cricket, gifts me England’s Green.
I am frustrated not to have total recall on people who have been to events before. I knew I had met Judith before, but where? I think Dunbar’s number is right, we are not wired for more than 150 human associations, at leats that is my alibi. I had shared a train journey with Judith back from Manchester and Lynn had been in the audience of that gig too. Lynn tells me that she was surprised at that gig as she had no idea who I was and expected me to ramble on about astronomy or some such and was not expecting the chaos of my mind (which she found preferable to her expectations). I am frequently told at events, “I’m so sorry, I had bio idea who you were, but I came along anyway…” and I rather like that. I am a marginal figure, not a celebrity, and I am glad that for that reason I still have the element of surprise.
I also meet an illustrator who is now a builder and Jonny, who looks like he should be in an excellent band and if he is not, he should form one.
Later on, a baby called Rowan pops in, the most ebullient lad I have met for a while. I ask his mother if we are the lucky ones seeing the best of him, and she says “no, he is always like this”.
Back to the sturdy station and I am pleased to see that on this occasion no one has been sick across platform 2 (my previous experience of the platform).
On the tram to Chorlton, a young woman with the face of a 1960s Czechoslovakia film star gets on. The pal she has left on the platform runs along with the tram briefly, larking about, and she smiles as if in love, then puts her earbuds in and returns to the stern face of public transportation.
No one sits next to the man with the homemade facial tattoos who keeps laughing and coughing.
I meet Carl at the tram stop and when I introduce him to the bookshop gang in the pub they declare that he is “Lilo Carl” from my book and he is.
Another lovely gathering and we talk of Jean Rhys and Nico and Mark E Smith and Alan Moore.
I mention Alan’s beautiful words about his recently departed friend and ally, the brilliant artist Kevin O’Neill – “I’m going to miss him like I would miss sunsets” – and I see that John, why has helpfully added footnotes about Richard Boon’s music career earlier on in the talk – had clearly not heard the news of Kevin’s death I am sorry to break it to him like this.
I sign for a while, dragging out the process with my relentless chatter. A young person is buying a book for their dad who loves books, “I have no idea who you are, but I saw the event was about books and bookshops so I came along”. She tells me that she feels lucky to have a mum and dad that she loves so much and that are really good friends. She took her dad for a holiday in Berlin and her mum for a holiday in Budapest, one was more boozy than the other. I hope my son might say this of me when he is a grown up (not the boozy bit, the other bit).
A few of us settle in the bar below and, unlike my previous 100 Bookshop tour , I allow myself an extra pint of Guinness as we talk about the excellence and humanity of Kathryn Mannix, whose books Listen is, as far as I am concerned, a must for anyone who wants to think about grief and how we talk to the troubled and those in pain.
Back in Levenshulme, Lilo Carl has now become compact sofa bed Carl, the world moves so fast.
We eat a takeaway and watch Bernard Manning’s funeral.
Signed copies of Bibliomaniac are available now at cosmicshambles.com/shop with exclusive art cards.
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 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.