Culture

Robin Ince: hurricanes and hangovers

On Robin Ince's 100-bookshop tour, the choice of breakfast confuses, and the bad weather confounds

Beans and toast

The hurricane has turned the vertical horizontal. I have been warned by the woman serving breakfast at the pub I was staying in that I would get nowhere today; she had had to traipse through fields and weave through barbed wire to make sure the Frosties were on the table for hotel guests. I confused her day further by ordering a very odd breakfast: beans and mushrooms with toast on the side. 

She’d never heard anything like it. Where was the meat? How could I not want 37 forms of pig, from rasher to black pudding? I’m the kind of eccentric that steers clear of the abattoir. 

Once, in a B&B in Belfast, when the effervescent owner offered me the Full Irish, I asked would it be OK to just have all the bits that weren’t meat.

“You’ll be wanting our vegetarian special then.”

She proceeded to bring a plate covered in every bread imaginable – soda, potato, wholemeal and more smothered in beans. Her smile was so beatific that I felt I must eat it all for fear of disappointing her.

My centre of gravity changed and my legs buckled under the weight of me. I went on a solo tour of the street murals hoping that I would walk down a street that would fill me with so much fear it might shift something in my stomach, but to no avail. Twelve hours later, I did most of my show leaning against a table. 

Today, I am visiting three shops in the northeast. The 8.22 to Carlisle is running 70 minutes late, that fits well with my timetable, but Carlisle is the end of the line in all directions. I stand on the platform, staring at the indicator board as though it’s a magic eye picture, hoping that eventually the words “cancelled” will be transformed to “five-minute delay”.

I am both determined and powerless, so I resort to my one course of action, tweeting frustratedly. Helen, who owns all the bookshops I am visiting today, thinks she can pick me up if she can find one clear road. I dawdle around Carlisle. The whole town seems hungover. I see four hangdog men pushing pushchairs disconsolately. Whoever they were on Friday night, they are not any more on Saturday morning.

Helen arrives in a small red Fiat that is an apt rebuttal to all the great big boxy cars that dominate the roads. We take the scenic route close to Hadrian’s Wall and slalom around the fallen branches. We pass Sycamore Gap, a tree that stands beautifully alone between the roll of two hills. 

The bookshop in Corbridge is a former church. The preservation order on it means that the pulpit must remain and I stand in it to sign books. The many clerics on my family tree would be happy now. A local optician who is unable to attend has left me some lovely local chocolates to make up for any post-hurricane anxiety. 

We move on to the Biscuit Factory, a Newcastle art gallery with a smashing cafe that is just open enough for salad. Sadly, Whitley Bay has been battered, the streets are full of broken glass and the top of the seaside clock has been blown off. Helen decides to postpone tonight’s gig. She gives me a Patti Smith book to keep me company. Now I have a night alone in Newcastle. 

I am too tired for a Saturday night. I reckon I could have managed a Tuesday, but Newcastle may just be too darn vivacious for me, alone in my specs and duffel coat. I lock myself in my hotel room with a bag of peanuts, a bottle of wine and the last of my luxury chocolates. I listen to Saturday night build; street singing echoes off the sky. 

Robin Ince is an author and broadcaster

@robinince

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.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm
Music

Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm

The Eyes Are The Best Part by Monika Kim review – tension-filled horror debut delivers
Books

The Eyes Are The Best Part by Monika Kim review – tension-filled horror debut delivers

Jenna Coleman on policing the town that MeToo forgot in The Jetty
TV

Jenna Coleman on policing the town that MeToo forgot in The Jetty

Scotland's national poet Kathleen Jamie on why book festivals are wrong target for climate activism
Books

Scotland's national poet Kathleen Jamie on why book festivals are wrong target for climate activism

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives