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This Ain't Rock & Roll: A Tour Diary By Andrew Mueller - Part 3
Andrew Mueller , September 3rd, 2008 14:54

After years of following artists such as Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and U2 round the globe, our man Mueller has decided to turn his attention on his own tour. From his vantage point in York he plans a solo assault of Scotland.

Andrew Mueller Book Tour Diary

An Australian, such as myself, who seeks triumph in Leeds, labours in a dauntingly long shadow. In July 1930, on his first tour of England, a 21-year-old Donald Bradman piled up 334 runs at Headingley. “As to its extraordinary merit,” declared Wisden of this titanic innings, “there could be no two opinions.” It is humbling indeed, then, to arrive for my reading at the Borders outlet on Briggate, to discover that I have, in a very real sense, equalled Bradman’s accomplishment, at least if one values each attendee at a book reading as worth 55.66 runs, and doesn’t make any deductions for the fact that one is a member of staff, and another is a palpably insane transient seeking shelter from the astonishing rain, who spends most of the time muttering into a mobile phone – a call which, I cannot help but suspect, has been going on for some while, possibly some years, and does not involve anyone else.

Nevertheless, that leaves four honest-to-goodness members of the reading public whose presence has not been compelled by professional obligation or voices in their head, and I am genuinely pleased to see them (I am, following last week’s debacle in Bristol, genuinely pleased to see anybody). I give my explanation of myself, and my book. I Wouldn’t Start From Here is, I tell them, the first history of the 21st century: a publishing landmark. Given the rain, the attendance, and the ever-present, over-arching knowledge that I’m never going to sell a thousandth as much as fucking Danny Wallace, this feels pleasingly preposterous. I do a couple of brief readings: one I haven’t done before, about traipsing around some of the less glamorous reaches of Kosovo with soldiers serving with KFOR, then the reliable crowd pleaser recalling my first meeting with Edi Rama, the extraordinary mayor of Tirana, Albania. Afterwards, a pleasant young chap called Sean wants to argue about politics for a bit. As I have nothing better to do but ink my name into the forlorn pile of books stacked on the table, in the hope that an “autographed copy” sticker will persuade some future passing punter to part with £8.99, I’m happy to argue back. Sean takes his leave, and my scrawling is interrupted by a tall, twitching, bearded apparition in a mouldy greatcoat and deerstalker hat.

“Have I missed something?” he asks.

Not really, I tell him.

“Did you write this?” he continues, lifting one of the volumes.

I did, I confirm.

He – I swear I’m not making this up – whips a magnifying glass from a pocket, and regards the cover intently.

“I’ve never heard of you,” he concludes.

Him and everybody else in explored space, I reflect, as I plod out into the rain, back down a near ankle-deep Briggate, to tonight’s lodgings at the Malmaison hotel. I order room service, and watch a DVD of a recent Australian Rules football fixture which my folks have sent me. The forces of all that is good and righteous (Geelong) vanquish the evil empire (Hawthorn). I reassure myself that this is all going to be worth it eventually.

“Eventually”, happily, turns out to mean “almost exactly 24 hours”. York is brilliant. Not just the event – though the event is brilliant, of which a hopefully sufferable amount more shortly – but York itself. Beautiful, walkable, riddled with fantastic antique bookstores. I find a 1923 edition of Hilaire Belloc’s history of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. I decide that £30 asking price is worth it, on the grounds that it serves as both a heartening totem (it is, after all, a book about conflict by someone who liked to think himself funny) and a useful dose of perspective (in that it reminds that some journeys are a rather greater struggle than the one I am presently undertaking).

When I report to York’s Borders store, things look unpromising, which is to say about like I expected them to look. Just two of the seats arranged in front of the table heaped with books are occupied. The staff tell me not to worry – they’ve been giving this plenty, printing their own posters, building displays, mentioning it to customers, and they’re quietly confident. They’re also absolutely right. By 6:30, all 20-odd chairs are filled – and one of those by a member of the Adelaide branch of my extended clan, who I hadn’t even realised was in this hemisphere. I read the section about meeting Tirana’s mayor again, and a bit about talking to American soldiers in Baghdad just after they’d taken the city. When I solicit questions, there’s an intriguing contribution from an officer’s mess-sounding sort who explains that his interest was piqued because he’d also worked in the Middle East. I ask in what capacity. “I’d rather not say,” he beams (later, after everyone else leaves, he explains himself further, leaving me in no doubt that he’s genuine – however, were I to pass on what he relates, I’d be in the invidious and inconvenient position of having to kill all of you). Others want to know how I’d characterise my politics (“Increasingly bewildered,” I answer) and there’s a good discussion about the intersection of tragedy and comedy. Best of all, at least from the perspective of the author whose ego has, of late, endured a bit of a kicking, there’s an actual queue for signed copies – although I worry whether York’s bookstores, decades hence, will be charging more for unsigned ones.

Nevertheless, as I contemplate the looming conquest of Scotland, I feel like I’d rather be me than Napoleon. Which is unusual.