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. For his previous column, click here.
Norwich is the location for my first signing sessions in a multi-storey car park. It is a brutal and brutalist surrounding to autograph a book on cosmic beauty, and it is all done from the boot of a car.
I am caught between images of the gangster classic Get Carter and a shoot-out scene from ’80s cop caper Dempsey and Makepeace. Twelve copies signed and the dodgy deal is done (it was actually the most convenient place to sign a bunch of books sold online, but I hope I have created a sense of subterfuge you don’t get from Professor Brian Cox).
On the train to Exeter, stood in the vestibule as usual as the carriages are packed and mask-less. In a scene I conjure in my head I am played by Steve McQueen.
I repeatedly imagine a confrontation with a bulky and arrogant man who, despite the overcrowding has spread himself out across two seats, his thighs spreading out like ripe racist camembert.
His son sits in front of him similarly taking up two seats, as the love he has for his luggage is greater than his consideration for other humans. I do not want his seat, this is not the reason I am imagining the Hollywood confrontation scenario, it is the woman who was told that “this seat is taken” (by a cagoule) that I am angry about. She sits on her shawl in the vestibule with me and tells me the story of a friend.
One day, in a tropical storm, the friend took shelter under an overhanging roof. The house owner charged out and screamed that she must get back out into the rain immediately.
A week later, the house owner was rushed to hospital with a life-threatening condition. You will be able to guess who the doctor was who cared for her. Lucky that doctor was not off ill having got soaked in the rain. Arriving at a beautiful bookshop in Okehampton, all memories of the lumpen man are erased by kind people.
After a night talking in Plymouth, I take a cab to the station. The driver tells me about her inquisitive 10-year-old son and all the strange facts he knows. He loves talking about the stars and planets and astronauts. One day, he said to his mum, “You know Uranus?”
“Of course, it’s a planet.”
“No, I mean your anus,” and then he told her just how much it could potentially dilate and just how much could be stuck up your bum. She told him to avoid telling that to the teachers at school. What a terrifying show and tell.
Falmouth is home to Beerwolf Books, one of my favourite bookshops in the country, but it’s a dangerous place. It is a pub too. You buy your books, then have a pint. You must leave now. If you have a second pint then all your willpower is vanquished and you buy another eight books.
Throughout my run in the West Country, people have been kind and gone out of their way to make my tour as easy as it can be. In Somerset, I am offered lifts to and fro by Laura, a mature astrophysics student. She is also a hairdresser. She tells me how people react to her being a hairdresser with astrophysicist ambitions and much of it is patronising.
That is one of the problems of how we place people in boxes. After my gig in Taunton, she tells me some of the ways I could have answered the questions thrown at me and I am now certain she would have dealt with the quandary of time and black holes far better than me.
This is one of the many reasons I love touring, there are always people with stories that change you, and they more than make up for the selfish oafs that love their anoraks and their luggage.
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