Wednesday 1 July 2015

The medium of tedium

Europe's everyman, living a life of quiet desperation

We have nothing to lose but our interest

It wasn’t that the European Commissioner hearings were boring. Some had interesting moments, usually when the arrogance of some candidates had to cope with the real world, but as tedium went, it was the worst kind. Not dull enough to be curiously engaging, nor with a spark of interest to keep the soul alive.

Dullness is no bad thing. It is a British virtue and one of the ways the sceptic isle has influenced and enlightened a continent. There are two important dates in the dull diary, 31 May and “twice a year, on the day after the Sunday when the clocks change,” when it is ‘Fill Your Stapler Day’.

The former is the annual Boring Conference, started in 2010 and provides “a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked – subjects often considered trivial and pointless, but when examined more closely reveal themselves to be deeply fascinating.”

People have talked about sneezing, toast, IBM tills, the sounds made by vending machines, the Shipping Forecast, barcodes, history and meaning of yellow lines, London shop fronts, the television programme Antiques Road Trip and the features of the Yamaha PSR-175 Portatune keyboard.
Tickets sell out almost as fast as a Kate Bush concert.

But how to keep interest levels down for the other 364 days of the year? The Dull Men’s Club. I just joined, a side-effect of the recent hearings.

Started in New York, where a brave band of folk decided that getting along together and having a chat and a giggle were for them, they began what is now a worldwide crusade to “enjoy simple, ordinary things” without the pressure to be cool, hip and trendy.

One of life’s little rules seems to be that the harder you try to have fun, the less fun you have. A friend wrote a minor post-punk classic on how bored people looked at fairgrounds. You can see the same on any high street, the consumer rush, the bovine addiction to manufacturer created ‘retail therapy’ doesn’t work, they all look miserable.

My homeboys in the DMC may not be drawn to glitz and glamour, knowing that these qualities are as shallow as they are fleeting, that all that glistens is not gold.

They tend to be quiet modest men, who have a quirk that has developed into an interest that has become that most endangered of activities, a hobby.

Remember hobbies? They, like the quirks and eccentricities of the DMC, are celebrations of the ordinary, the mundane made fascinating, at least to one person and an easy going, tolerant community.

The man who collects traffic cones “I always carry a few with me in case I spot a rare one and offer to swap”, the drain spotter, who sees them as part of a network of an underground world we ignore, the man who seeks to catalogue every roundabout in Britain, few of which have any photographic value.

The milk bottle collector who cleans his 20,000 strong collection every April. He doesn’t even like milk but says he meets a lot of nice people on his silver topped quest.

The retired miner who was given some bricks from his demolished colliery and began collecting bricks, ‘The Lawn Ranger’ who collects lawn mowers. Hedge Britannia is a man who is cataloguing Britain’s hedges.

All of these use their interest as a trigger, to travel, meet people and to do that most wonderful thing, live life on their terms, a little modesty, a little self-confidence and, of course, eccentricity.

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