Closed Bookshops and Amy Winehouse

Robin Ince's Horizons Tour Diary

We ate in Brian’s favourite restaurant on Monday night. It is usually full, but tonight it was nearly empty.

It used to be staffed by by welcoming late middle aged Chicagoan men who also carried with them a vague sense of threat when they told you how the Monkfish would be filleted.

The party behind us were led by a man whose delivery suggested a fondness for himself.

During a particular loud burst, Steph’s face winced to such a degree that her facial muscles could be hear across the restaurant. Within seconds, we were asked if we might like to move, and so we did. 

Walking back to the hotel, Brian is in a questioning mood about fashion outlets and stops to quizzically peer into boutique windows while asking, “but who on Earth would wear that?’

Back at the hotel, I lay on the bed and sped through the channels. For a while, I rested on a station showing the story of a man who was shot in the face by a 15 year old and how the two of them found some level of emotional recompense. A few channels up, I found Amy, the documentary on the tragedy of Amy Winehouse. There is a beautiful scene of her duetting with Tony Bennett. She is terrified and viciously self critical. He is the class act.

When she edgily says that she doesn’t want to waste his time, he replies, “have you got somewhere to go? I haven’t”. It reminds me of all those figures that become tragic and our spoken of with great respect when throughout their life they are repeatedly eviscerated by the press and by us. It is warning reminding us to elevate compassion for those who are only trying to entertain us and our rarely prepared for the trial of being a media plaything.

I wake up at 3.15am. Too early

I wake up and am immediately thankful that I managed to fall sleep again, though when I see it is only 3.45am I am less cock-a-hoop. 

I risk another Melatonin and am woken up by my laundry returning at 9.45am. 

I am exhausted despite having taken no exercise in any dream I can recall. 

I join Steph and Brian for breakfast.

Brian explains John Wheeler’s paradoxical bag of gold in between his eggs and hollandaise sauce as he walks me through a black hole world which appears to have finite parameters and yet contain infinite universes. 

I talk about wrestling movies. 

I feel ragged and come close to me generating an alibi for the boxing in the park. 

Under blossomy trees, we punch and stretch elastic with our limbs. I survive the hour.

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It is one of the best things I have learned from touring. On top of slowly building up knowledge about the information that is required for a Universe, I am less fearful of exercise.

I was terrified of sport at school. I was so aware of my potential to fail that a flow state was quite impossible. Aware of every limb and sinew, disaster would await whether attempting to vault a horse or strike a ball. The bullying sports teacher has done a great disservice to many of us who turn away from fitness fearing derision or shame. I am glad that at my son’s school, those less sporty are encouraged more than they are mocked.

A school comes to play ball in the park near the blossoming trees where we are resuscitating our hearts. After ball, they are sent to lap the park and I spot the two podgier boys who make no attempt to run but are engrossed in conversation (I imagine about Dr Strange) and I am reminded of my childhood (probably talking about Bigfoot in The Six Million Dollar Man or Mad magazine though).

There is a soundtrack of bells ringing as the ice cream men cycle around with their lollies announcing a happy plague of ice pops.

Sodden and salty, we return to our hotel, stopping at a Starbucks where, as usual, we panic when asked what size we want and whether syrups are required. Steph has taken to ordering whatever has just been ordered as some baristas and coffee counter staff are already thrown by our strange accents. I am fascinated by the cabinet of food facsimiles on display in Starbucks that manage to do quite the opposite of entice. There is almost a fascination in ordering something just to say of it is as much a ghost of bagel as it appears to behind glass.

Social media makes the British newspapers inescapable, I view the way that even the slightest semblance of honour can be transformed into duplicity by the hack servants of their tax evading paymasters.

After a small amount of creativity and looking at the work in progress of Natalie Kay Thatcher, a wonderful artist who is creating maps for Bibliomananiac (and also did the Feynman cartoon for the Monkey Cage book, How to Build a Universe – Part One).

I have just enough time before the soundcheck to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art while Brian has his nap. I like the ideas that the artists are aiming to explore more than the art they have created which might be due to a mixture of haste and tiredness. At one point, I find myself in the parafictions exhibition asking, “but is it art?” – I mean this in the most pragmatic sense. A stuffed linen bag was placed on a wooden bench with a phone leaning against it.

What did it mean?

It meant someone had carefully balanced to get a selfie of themselves appearing to be in. Large Jeff Wall photograph of a re-enacted nightclub queue.

I was very impressed by the Bani Abidi exhibition – The Man Who Talked Until he Disappeared which was witty, dark and illuminating. In one room, there were the letters found a retyped from Indian soldiers fighting with the British in the first world war.

Image from the MCAL Bani Abidi: The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared

“Do not think this is a war. This is not a war. This is the ending of the world as told to our forefathers in The Mahabharat”.

When films are made which give some sense of the ethnic diversity in the trenches, there will be caterwauling from the usual suspects who consider it woke or politically correct to attempt to portray a truth rather than recline in a nationalistic delusion.

Abidi’s other work included a short film about a man trying to get the record for opening the most walnuts with his head and a series of pastels of journalists whose writing has seen them erased. In each frame, we see a little less of them.

I had plans to walk the 4 miles to The Atheneum as my Cosmic Shambles pal, Trent, told me of a brilliantly dishevelled shop called Bookman’s Corner. I told him that he must not encourage me and he, deviously, replied that he wouldn’t tell me about the first edition of Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons that he once picked up there for $7.

After planning my route, I am saved when I discover the shop is not open until 1pm on Thursday. Fortunately, we are leaving at 11am on Thursday.

Bookman’s Corner, Chicago

I wonder what treasures I may have found. I will dream my way through the shelves.

On the sidewalk, a young woman is busking and sings an Amy Winehouse song without putting a note wrong.

The Athenaeum is a historical theatre and the toilets make that clear with a urinal that could have been placed there by Duchamp.

Tonight’s audience questions include –

“If there are infinite bubble universes in the multiverse, what is in between? Does time exist in between the bubbles? How would one travel between them? Is it a bit like traveling beyond the galactic barrier in Star Trek?!”

“From my 7 year old son: how many universes have there been?”

And one more Star Trek question

“What is the science, if any, behind the Kirk/Picard sling shot around the sun to travel into the past, in Star Trek?”

Plus plenty on wormholes and singularities.

Brian has a lovely time. I regret the thickness of the scientifically specific cardigans I wear during the show. It’s been a hot day. A few more like this and this knitwear will be gamy.

We end the day talking about mortality while eating Mac n Cheese.


Listen to the Horizons tour podcast, Taking the Universe Around the World HERE

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 book, The Importance of Being Interested is out now.

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