Opinion

To the Salvation Army, I am now a porn purchaser – but it was a case of mistaken identity

The charity bookshops of Bristol are full of buried treasure, but tread carefully

Slapstick Festival, Bristol

I am at Slapstick Festival. Between talking to Tim Vine about his feature film about a giant moth and Sylvester McCoy discussing his career – from weasels down his trousers to Middle-earth, I walk a couple of miles to the Montpelier of Bristol. It is an area blooming with independent cafes and those shops where you are not quite sure what they sell but they smell beguiling and their windows are decorated with items that are “not for sale”. I could see Bagpuss opening a second shop here. 

The walls are ruddy with “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire Now”. 

On the side of The People’s Republic of Stoke’s Croft, a line by George Carlin is painted in broad strokes, “Property is theft. Nobody owns anything. When you die, it all stays here.” 

After finding books about vampire cinema and hyperrealistic art in Books for Amnesty, I pop into the Salvation Army store. Not much on the shelves save for a Photoplay Annual 1978, adorned with images of Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand and Jessica Lange in the palm of a giant ape. 

At the counter, I am asked, “Oh, where did you find this?”

The assistant’s tone initially sounds as if the question came from a place of, “Oh, I wish I had seen this first,” but I have misjudged that tone. 

I continue boisterously.

“It’s great. It has pages on Kris Kristofferson and a load of stuff about the devil because The Omen had just come out.

I had forgotten it was a Salvation Army shop; I should probably have kept quiet about Satan. She leafs through it.

“I can’t sell this to you.”

I am confused and presume she has found there is a missing page or some damage. 

“It’s fine how it is.”

“No, I am not allowed to sell it to you. Just take it away.”

My face and I are baffled, so I put twice the marked price into the donations box and walk off. 

As I leave, I hear an assistant saying, “Yes, you are quite right. We can’t sell that sort of thing in the same way that we can’t sell alcohol.”

Who is at fault? Is it Kris Kristofferson or the Devil? Ten metres down the road, it all makes sense. I think she didn’t see Photoplay, I think she read it as Playboy

To the Salvation Army, I am now a porn purchaser. I am tempted to return and explain but now they see me as some lascivious perv, I can only see myself making it worse. 

That night, I watch Sylvester McCoy and delight in his mischievous nature as he roams from story to story and then roams the audience to take questions. The Slapstick Festival is a place devoid of cynicism. 

The next day, I sit on stage with Adam Hills and discuss the 10 comedy films he would take to a desert island. He talks of the social progressiveness of Blazing Saddles and the bold way it tackles racial politics, then we show a clip of cowboys farting loudly. 

He is rheumy eyed as we watch the final scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and he talks of getting to know Gene Kelly’s wife after everyone beams throughout the Singin’ In the Rain routine. We all want to jump in puddles afterwards, but the pavements are sadly dry today.

Standing in a pub at the end of it all, ill-advisedly drinking liquorice Sambuca, the effect of 31 events – from Chaplin’s The Gold Rush with a live orchestra to Brian De Palma’s glam-rock reworking of The Phantom of the Opera – is clear to see. People are elevated. This is why comedy should never be considered “just a job”. Not only can it make you happier to be alive, it can even earn you the kind of money that allows you to buy pornography from the Salvation Army. 

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

Robin Ince is a comedian, writer and broadcaster.

His book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £10.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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