Costly Dentist Adventures

Placing dentists by bookshops is just cruel for Robin Ince

My dentist is costly. 

It is not the price of the hourly sessions where he glues my enamel mishaps, it is his proximity to the Notting Hill Book Exchange. 

On my way to have my retainer attended to, I see Luke from the Comic Exchange on the door step of the shop and wave, my eyes clearly revealing that there is no need for conversation as I will be back. 

Sitting in the waiting room, I presume the dentist’s library and pull out a Jonathan Meades short story collection, Filthy English. Halfway down the first page of the first story, Fur and Skin, I read, “what do you think my line is, squire? (i am aping Stobey, the ape, prods ribs)” . I always celebrate coincidence, almost to the point of synchronicity. Stobey was the name of my childhood dentist. I stop reading there. It cannot get better. My dentist talks and I listen, best to avoid adhesive mishaps. 

Once done and dried, I pop into Notting Hill Book Exchange and Luke warns me about unsatisfying horror movies as I leaf through vintage horror comics. I only discovered Lucia Berlin the week before. Her collection A Manual for Cleaning Women is waiting for you now. She is not new to Luke and we express our mutual admiration for her. I am not sure which book broke the seal that crushes all thoughts of parsimony. The hypomania kicks in the moment there is one I must have, and I think today’s first was Anna Kavan’s Ice.

“Set in a frozen world that is gradually being devastated by ever-encroaching ice, Anna Kavan’s masterwork follows one man’s pursuit of a mysterious silver haired girl to the ends of the earth; to the end of everything”. 

I think I first heard of Kavan in an essay by Brian Aldiss who was a friend and an admirer. On the shelf to the left is Philip K Dick’s The Simulacra, which I am pretty sure I don’t have and I know I have not read. The story of an android president with a fraudulent government seems to fit well into these times. 

Then, it really starts to flow. I look through the vintage horror magazines.

I need Monster World with its Son of Frankenstein bonus “complete with rare pictures”.

January 1967’s Monster Mania is a Hammer films special for Ouija boards , hen hatcheries , and head shrinking kits (all of which will be considerably smaller than expected if they turn up at all). 

There’s a Famous Monsters of Filmland previewing The Outer Limits and advertising more hatcheries plus “the miracle of life” which will go on to be remarketed as Sea Monkeys. (How do I know all this? From watching Paul Zenon’s brilliant Edinburgh fringe show, Monkey Business). There are two horror comics, too, Psycho, including stories “This is your life, Sam Hammer, this is your DEATH” and “The Lunatic Class of 64” and sister magazine Nightmare, “The vampire beast stalks out of Hell”. 

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My alibi for these all is that I will be doing another one of my Horror Book Club shows at Abertoir (freshly announced), a superb horror movie festival in Aberystwyth where we will also be recording a new episode of An Uncanny Hour with Madeline Smith, Gary Sherman and Jeremy Dyson.

I round it all off with Panther’s The Newgate Calendar, “blood soaked pages of the most infamous chronicles of crime” , Peter Davison’s Book of Monsters, and The Odd World, “The agony and ecstasy of Lesbian love were an old tale to Claire. Sandy was only just beginning to learn them…”

Luke also advises me to buy The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison, and I do. It fulfils my rule of buying anything connected to Olivia Laing, whether as author, foreword scribe or blurb quote. This time it is blurb quote, “brilliantly unsettling”.

I should have skipped next door’s Book Exchange, but how could I? What if I missed treasure.

The seal was broken quickly by the discovery of Honey – the autobiography of Honey Bruce, the nearest thing to the love of Lenny Bruce’s life. When I was in my late teens, I was a little obsessed with Lenny Bruce.

I would read his routines in The Essential Lenny Bruce, read books by intellectuals about his satire (or intend to read those books) and watch the Bob Fosse movie, Lenny (a VHS present from my pals Carolyn and Heather who also bought a tape of the Red Wedge tour to accompany my revolutionary tendencies).  Now there were further necessities including Chris Petit’s Robinson. Petit directed a film that has become a favourite. For some reason, probably no reason, I didn’t get around to watching his road movie Radio On, a vague reworking of Get Carter, until 30 years after its release. Now I watch it twice a year. It is a Wim Wenders road movie across the westway and all the way to Bristol, accompanied by Kraftwerk and Wrestless Eric.


Staying on the road, there is the New English Library Hell’s Angels sequel. Chopper is dead, but “his girl lives on”. Say hello to Mama.

“Irish Mick cast the chain aside and moved forward. ‘I can do this with my bare hands’, and swung a fist a Freaky’s face. The blow connected with a crunch….”

I also buy a 1965 hardback of Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers with a lengthy Sartre foreword , Venus in Hollywood, “the continental enchantress from Garbo to Loren” and Eileen Myles’s Afterglow. “A ravishing strange and gorgeous book about a dog that’s really about life and everything there is…” writes Helen Macdonald of the book.

Finally, I buy The End of A story by Lydia Davis as I enjoyed her foreword to Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, and Ivana Bartoletti’s An Artificial Revolution.

At Paddington, I discover the trains are sparse and so reroute myself to Henley via my my friend Charlie. Lucky I won’t get there in time for their bookshops too.

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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