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Robin Ince’s 100 bookshop tour: Trains, festivals and Dylan Thomas

Robin Ince on his 100-bookshop tour, encountering topics such as poetry and space archaeology.

To celebrate the publication of his new book, The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity, award winning comedian Robin Ince is doing a tour of talks and book-signings at 100 independent bookshops around the UK. Here he writes about his trip.

September 29: Arriving at Euston Station to start my travels, my thought was: “My god, what have I done?!” In my many manic phases, I commit myself to strange projects then have to face the stark reality that I must do them.

I was meant to be on an arena tour with Brian Cox this autumn, but when that was postponed I decided that sitting back in my attic was not an acceptable alternative and so decided I would do talks at 100 independent bookshops across the UK instead – and all by public transport (I never learned to drive as it didn’t seem to suit me).  

The first destination is Wigtown, a burning torch’s throw from the filming locations of The Wicker Man, now Scotland’s bookshop town. 

The train is packed, so I decide to occupy the vestibule. I am a vestibule kind of person. It suits some fantasy I have of being a train-hopping, 1930s hobo; in my mind I am played by Henry Fonda. I have a friendly chat with an infuriated train cleaner who has to deal with an overstuffed bin.

As he tries to create order, a scattering of grapes rolls out and he swears at each slippery juice bauble. “Come the revolution…” he mutters and we end up talking about John Peel sessions and Billy Bragg.  

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October 2: The Laugharne Weekend is a beautiful festival in the town where Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood. It is just far enough from London to put off the more metropolitan-soiree authors and so gets a better class of counter-culture.

It also has the bookseller Jeff Towns here, a man with a deep knowledge of Thomas, the Beats and an intense love of books. I always buy things I shouldn’t from him and on this occasion that includes UFOs and Commonsense (their spelling) and a 1936 volume from the Occult Book Society on Practical Time-Travel

On the Saturday I perform five shows and, at the end of it all, I wonder: “What would Dylan Thomas do?” So, I go to the pub. On my walk home, the sky is cloudless and the stars are transcendent. I think about how each photon of light has travelled vast distances and been disturbed by nothing on its journey until I have stood in the way. I hope they don’t mind.  

I wonder: “What would Dylan Thomas do?” So, I go to the pub. On my walk home, the sky is cloudless and the stars are transcendent.

October 6: I should have been performing to 12,000 people tonight, instead I am performing to 12.

It is the first physical gathering of the Northampton Arts Lab since the pandemic began. I sit behind an eyebrow-singeing bonfire and read stories from my book about space archeology, geology, the block universe, lucid dreams and ADHD.

I finish by reading a poem in memory of people who shaped me who have recently died and, as I do, the fire suddenly roars brighter. You can call it a coincidence if you want, but I suspend my need for an evidence-based reality for a moment.  

October 8: I time my arrival in Glasgow very badly. It is one hour before a football international and the bookshop I am visiting, Mount Florida Books, is very near Hampden Park.

There are no trains or taxis so, with wheelie suitcase and rucksack and chafing new shoes, I create blisters on a three-mile walk in the rain. For once, I follow the football chants. As long as there is a man draped in a flag ahead of me, I know I am going in the right direction.

I almost miss the bookshop as it does not yet have a new sign and trades under a sign that says “Zaz Tattoos”. Had it still been a tattoo parlour I might have got Kurt Vonnegut on my right arm and Jean Rhys on my ankle. We time the talks around the match and sit locked in the shop while the crowd leave the stadium jubilantly. Then the next audience sneaks in as the echoes die down.  

Just 107 more bookshops to go (of course I didn’t stop at 100).  

Robin Ince’s 100 Bookshop Tour – Cosmic Shambles runs until December 18

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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