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Robin Ince’s 100 bookshop tour: Tattoos and Deliveroos

The sharing of stories is a moment to savour on the comedian’s bookshop tour

Chorleywood Bookshop was the bookshop of my childhood. It was here that I coveted the Doctor Who novelisations and Star Trek fotonovels in the children’s section, and sometimes stole money from my mother’s purse to buy books of sordid black magic stories. Later on, it was where I would buy the first popular science books that would set me on my career of interrupting physicists on Radio 4.

There is a thrill in returning to your childhood bookshop as a published author. Unless no one turns up for your event. That would make clear that the schoolboys who bullied you at the bus stop were right. Fortunately, the shop is full. After my talk, I am shown a beautiful tattoo. It is on the arm of someone you would not immediately imagine would be inked in, but ever since Judi Dench had a tattoo for her 81st birthday, all bets are off. 

This mother’s tattoo is intricate and beautiful and the connective tissue to someone she has lost. It is an image of our galaxy, not an easy tattooing task, with an element of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and a quote from Douglas Adams. An experience like this is one of the many joys of the 100 Bookshop tour. I stand up in front of people and spill out stories and then afterwards, people give me their stories. Such times crush cynicism and should be savoured. 

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Douglas Adams’ hugely influential Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began in the next town to Chorleywood, Rickmansworth. It is probably its greatest claim to fame apart from the fact that Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley briefly owned a wine bar there in the late ’80s.

Earlier in the day, I was in Gerrards Cross. Lacking an ’80s pop phenomenon opening a wine bar, its claim to fame is that the local cinema is where Sid Boggle and Bernie Lugg take their girlfriends to see a “nature” film in Carry on Camping. After signing some books, while browsing and eating biscuits, a customer pops in and asks if I can help with Paddington Bear, so I do. After we have found the right book to send to her granddaughter in Perth, she asks how long I have worked there. I explain that I don’t. She asks what my book is about and serendipitously I say, “things like the nature of time”.

“Oh, I am doing a philosophy course on that, I better buy your book.” And she does. I am glad that I look like a bookseller. One day, I will be doing a book signing and then I will blend into the shelves and never leave the shop. 

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Day 31

I am in close proximity to organic carrots for the first event of the day in Market Harborough. I’m playing a room above a new eco village, so I browse chutney and honey rather than books before this talk. I had no expectations of Market Harborough, I have played a nightclub with a lit disco floor in Kettering and the National Space Centre in Leicester, but I’ve not stopped here before. It is pretty, even in the drizzle. On the way back to the station, I see an Age UK bookshop and pick up a book by Houdini about psychic mediums, something about the quest for the holy grail and a Jungian guide to grotesques. All of which I believe I will read as I buy them, though they are likely to join the teetering pile of intentions. 

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In Leicester, I walk a picturesque route along the river to the Space Centre, suppressing my fear of a swan attack. A couple of friendly Deliveroo riders speed by and say hello and I look down as I pass a couple smooching under a lamppost looking like a pencil sketch on a 1930s song sheet.

At this time of evening, this is a path for covert meetings. It feels right to be walking in this old world before being confronted by a gleaming building celebrating our hopes of going to Mars. 

There are no new tattoos to see after the show tonight, but a happy conversation with a shy young person who has recently become inspired to study horticulture. We talk about the time Charles Darwin made his son play the bassoon to some earthworms, just to check their hearing.

@robinince

Robin Ince’s 100 Bookshop Tour – Cosmic Shambles ended its run on December 18

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