Opinion

Robin Ince: Columbo and killer crabs

On the 100-bookshop tour, there's a reminder of grey childhood Sundays, but the smell of hops offers a more nostalgic trip back in time

Red wine and book

I sit alone with a glass of red wine and a book, hoping I look interesting. In the film, I am played by Henry Fonda Photo: @smrcoun / freeimages.com

Malton is the food capital of Yorkshire and yet, on this Sunday afternoon, I am sat in a hotel room, which seems to have been scented with the fragrance of soapy abattoir or robot sweat, eating a Pot Noodle. 

The town has many cafes, but this is an English Winter Sunday, so the kitchens close exactly as my afternoon hunger pangs strike. The supermarket had a good range of pot snacks though, probably more than you would find in Ripon or Farsley. I’ve also got cheese spread triangles, salted crackers and peanuts, so it is a solitary party. This is like a Sunday of the Seventies, a vast grey chasm with nothing to do, but rather than three TV channels with nothing on, there are 40. I have been warned that only the boring are bored, so I start to poke around in my head until I find something to write, by 4pm I have another poem to throw away. 

I browse the bookshop I am performing for tonight, Kemps, and I am fortunately confused for someone who works there. This is becoming a regular occurrence. I point the customer in the right direction for nature writing and we briefly talk about the artist Laura Knight. There’s a light snowfall before my event and the venue is down a hill. It would be no danger for most people, but I seem to possess particularly slippery feet, I can barely grip gravel. 

The hall is draped in thin bunting which I could use as a springboard to explaining string theory if only I knew something about string theory. This is my 93rd talk and my mind is constantly trying to work out if I am repeating what I’ve just said, what I said yesterday or what I said one month ago. 

I have worked on Sundays throughout my adulthood, but there is always a different weariness and gravitational pull to a sofa opposite a Columbo episode. I finish in plenty of time before closing time… in Leeds, but not in Malton. Malton gets its Sunday night done in the afternoon if the karaoke version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire I heard being belted out at 3pm is anything to go by. Fortunately, I find a hotel bar that is still serving. I sit alone with a glass of red wine and a book, hoping I look interesting. In the film, I am played by Henry Fonda. 

I am not gregarious at breakfast, but sadly, the other breakfast diner is keen on conversation, and my fear of upsetting people means I listen to stories of his past, present and future.

The weekend storms means travelling north again is not easy. Elbows sharpen at Newcastle. I avoid frays in general, so I stand back and watch the competitive anger. I end up with a vestibule all to myself and I am happy here, watching hills and reading Maya Angelou. Arriving in Edinburgh, I hope the smell of hops from the brewery has drifted down to Waverley station, it is a smell that brings with it a montage sequence of all my visits. I love Scotland – northern countries suit my temper, whether Norway, Finland or Iceland. 

As I walk through the streets, I picture all the posters I have seen pasted to the walls during the Edinburgh fringes of the last 35 years – Jeremy Hardy, Eddie Izzard, Hannah Gadsby – and I remember that time when my arm was broken by a clumsy animator and how I nearly went mad through poorly managed painkiller intake and excessive drinking. 

At my bookshop event tonight, I will reunite with a tap dancer who I met in 2006. My first words to her were, “I wondered if you might be free to tap dance while I read from books about giant killer crabs eating holidaymakers on the beaches of North Wales.” People who say yes to this sort of thing are people I stay friends with. 

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 the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
If Rishi Sunak is so keen on our national identity, why is this British icon up for sale?
Paul McNamee

If Rishi Sunak is so keen on our national identity, why is this British icon up for sale?

Stacey Solomon is not afraid of having a go. She even makes DIY look easy
Lucy Sweet

Stacey Solomon is not afraid of having a go. She even makes DIY look easy

How the Northern Ballet's empty orchestra pit perfectly sums up UK's arts crisis 
Naomi Pohl

How the Northern Ballet's empty orchestra pit perfectly sums up UK's arts crisis 

Tories won't let the UN investigate rise of food banks in UK. Labour must welcome them
Philip Alston UN investigates poverty, food poverty and food banks
Alex Firth

Tories won't let the UN investigate rise of food banks in UK. Labour must welcome them

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