Culture

The book tour that's taken me to heaven and Hull

As Robin Ince's epic tour of British bookshops comes to a close, this time Hull really is the end of the line

The Humber Bridge

Ah! Humber. The bridge is an iconic symbol of the lovely Hull. Photo: Andy Medcalf/Shutterstock

I love Hull.

I have an affection for places that are the end of the line.

I love seeing the Humber Bridge as we approach the terminus and Philip Larkin’s poem of place, Here, plays in my head.

Though my visual imagination used to have Larkin and the knitwear of The Housemartins, the self-proclaimed fourth best band in Hull, at the forefront, a new image usurped that after reading musical pioneer Cosey Fanni Tutti’s memoir Art Sex Music

Like so many I have met from Hull, there is a beautiful understatement of the remarkable in her work. She writes of an Adonis gardener who would mow the communal lawns topless as the girls
worshipped him.

He was Mick Ronson, the musical genius who would become a Spider from Mars. 

I am near the end of my tour, just a few days to go, which is why I drank one pint more than usual the night before. 

JE Books is the smallest bookshop on my tour. It is situated in one of those old shopping arcades that reminds you of when a high street had shops owned by many people rather than dominated by two or three corporations which are all probably ultimately owned by a big American hedge fund company.

There is no element of surprise in those generic stores, but this arcade is a place of potential delights, whether you are looking for sound equipment or a whoopee cushion (that’s from Dinsdales Joke Shop – “We sell laughter – keep smiling”).

Julie, who owns the bookshop, is just the sort of person you want to meet when you are doing a Monday morning 11am book signing with a slightly blurry head. She is ebullient.

She has worked in a bookmaker’s, the civil service, taught English at the University of Hull and has a
PhD on the novels of Jeanette Winterson. Like all the other booksellers I have met, she always knew her destiny was to have a shop of her own. 

There is no room to sign in the shop, so she has set up a table outside, with a chair with a hot water bottle on it in case I am cold, a blanket, hand disinfectant and a box of chocolates. What author could ask for more? 

On top of that, people come and we run out of books. Though I am in a hurry to get the train, I cannot leave without browsing and, as ever, I find there are books I must have. 

Of course I need a 1950s Penguin Guide to Devon to compare and contrast Ilfracombe, as well as a David Foster Wallace interview and one of Richard Allen’s lurid skinhead books from the early 1970s. 

This is the end of my north of England leg of the tour, I recline in my seat as I pass the Humber Bridge enjoying a soft centre and falling into the dubious pleasure of pulpy youth culture written by a middle-aged man. 

“Billy shrugged and settled back against the Cortina’s upholstery. At 21 he was beyond reach of the do-gooder society’s leniency. Beyond the screaming newspapers.”

My next destination is Warwick Books. I arrive at 5pm, but all is closing now, save for the light at the end of the square where the bookshop throbs. 

Tonight’s event includes cheese cubes on cocktail sticks and prosecco. We are having a party. 

Like Julie, Mog and her wife Pauline knew they had to run a bookshop. It buzzes with recommendations, and I do not leave empty-handed. 

The reasons for my sciatica are not hidden, but piled around my house – the possibility of shelves long since gone, but what a way to drown.

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.

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