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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

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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

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