“I’m Bored”

22Nov11

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I missed Interesting earlier in the year because Mrs Weir and I were being alarmed by high sided verges in Devon, so I was inordinately pleased to be able to make it to Boring on Saturday.

If you are unaware of the joys of Boring then let me refer you to the words of Mr James Ward, the organiser of the event : “The Boring Conference is a one-day event dedicated to the boring, the mundane, the obvious and the over-looked. Nothing interesting, worthwhile or important will be discussed at Boring. Following the success of last year’s event, we basically felt obliged to organise another one, so here it is. It’s called it Boring 2011, for obvious reasons. Different things will be talked about by different people and you can listen to them and then go home.”

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James Ward naturally began proceedings and was a definite highlight of my day with a talk on his collection of early Which magazines, (which if nothing else look gorgeous). He told us about their very first product review, which was for electric kettles, and the somewhat idiosyncratic experiments conducted on ballpoint pens in the name of consumer protection. He was funny and sweet and like all the best speakers on the day had an obvious passion for the ordinary.

Tim Steiner then gave us an extraordinarily thorough talk on the world of hand dryers. Introducing us to the three different kinds of hand dryer – namely the warm air dryer, the jet air dryer and of course the high speed, horizontal wiping air dryer exemplified by Dyson’s market leading Airblade. Plainly what Tim doesn’t know about the world of hand dryers probably isn’t worth knowing although given the volume of visual recordings on show throughout his presentation it’s not as if he doesn’t put in the hours. (Tim was also interviewed by Sky TV for his troubles over here.)

Chris TT continued the theme somewhat following with his introduction to the many toilets he’s visited throughout his travels in 2011 – which if you’re suitably inclined can be followed on twitter via the #loo2011 hashtag, (and one presumes eventually #loo2012), hashtag.

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Matthew Crosby then spoke splendidly about ‘Talking, tweeting, not talking and not tweeting about Nando’s Chicken Restaurant’ given that he was unable to talk about his first chosen subject because Tim had got in before him.

Galit Ferguson then became the first person of the day to baffle me, (I’m easily baffled mind), by looking at Budgens ethnographically speaking. No disrespect to Galit but I do wonder whether some of those attending thought that the conference was beginning to live up to it’s name.

Jon Ronson was up next with an excerpt from his Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes documentary, (which I’ve never managed to see), detailing the remarkably thorough lengths Kubrick went to in his search for locations for filming.

And then Peter Burnett closed the first session by talking around a number of themes from his book The Supper Club in which he chronicled everything he ate and drank in a year – an attempt to emulate the great Georges Perec, (more of him later), who attempted, less successfully, to do the same in 1974.

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Toby Dignum resumed things post lunch with a presentation on the the square root of two with which I struggled with despite my love of algebra and his very obvious passion regarding the subject.

Leila Johnston then slowed things down a little, (a good thing), with her talk on the various locations for the film About A Boy which it seems was actually a front for a talk on the fact that About A Boy is essentially about being bored in London rather than about, well, a boy.  For evidence she referenced this quote from the film which probably strikes accord with those of us who’ve ever had terminally dull office jobs in our time :

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job; how do people cram them in ?”

Matt Parker then returned us to a world of mathematics with his exposition on the structure of bar codes and QR codes. Mathematicians seem to have far more energy than I’ve previously been led to believe.

Greg Stekelman gave us his overview of the eleven underground lines found in the city of London, giving us pertinent facts, personal stories and celebrity preferences for each line. The Victoria line was his personal favourite.

Helen Keen asserted that there are “no boring shuttle flights”.

And William Barrett explained the between talk skits he’d been involved in throughout the day, (with Tom Webb), which he admitted had begun to bemuse most, as examples of artificial intelligence attempting to pass itself off as human in conversations.

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Rhodri Marsden, with hat naturally, confessed his limitations in the area of small talk, which was difficult to square with such a funny eloquent presentation. And hey who wouldn’t be intrigued by being asked “Have you been to Lincoln ?”.

[Hat update : As it happens Rhodri was without hat during his talk, as confirmed by the man himself - he was wearing it when I first saw him earlier in the day but for the sake of accuracy I will admit that he was sans hat whilst on stage.]

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Josie Long then spoke passionately and at length about her Alternative Reality Tour in which she and some fellow perfomers, (channelling the spirit of the Ardvark Press), took in a number of towns where nothing really happens – step forward Margate, Isle of Sheppey, East Bergholt, Milton Keynes, Hull, Leicester, Bedford, Gloucester and Bideford.  I like Josie a lot and it’s difficult to argue with such enthusiasm especially when it’s being put to such productive use.

Mark Stevenson’s talk is perhaps best left as an unfortunate but distant memory although it’s odd that a man who wants “to put an optimism of ambition about the future and critical thinking into the heart of culture” can be quite so full of rage.

[Rage update : Making mistakes is easy, realising you have done so and apologising for them is less so - so well done on Mark for going public with this.]

Richard DeDomenici spoke about Health & Safety using the PechaKucha approach ie using twenty slides that appear on sceen for twenty seconds. It was an approach others would have been wise to emulate although I didn’t really understand the point he was making regarding Health & Safety vs. Health and or Safety. That said he spoke entertainingly about paternoster lifts, (which I’ve always been intrigued by), handbrake turns in Routemaster buses and his brief appearance in Basic Instinct 2 so I was more than happy. (There’s some video of his presentation over here.)

Penultimate speaker Felicity Ford, (the big highlight of the event for me), exemplified what Boring was about referencing Georges Perec, (once again),  and his theory  of the infraordinary, and treating us to the comforting sounds of a vending machine at the Oxford Brookes University.

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Then the final speaker Adam Curtis took the stage.

I saw Mr Curtis talk at The Story earlier in the year and he alarmed me a little with his fierce intellect and less than cheery demeanour. So his talk around the work conducted by a man in a big shed in Perivale cataloguing the pieces of broadcasting outside of the programmes held elsewhere was a surprise. He introduced us to a compilation of continuity announcements, close downs, party political broadcast introductions and programme overruns  - “the stitching between”, before sending us on our way with a warning that we are entering into an era of stagnation last seen in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. That said I suppose it was always unlikely he’d finish with a gag.

So boring ?

Well of course not, which was I suppose always the point James was making eh ? Roll on Boring2012.



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