Boring IV


BLOG - Conway

So given that Boring was born as a response to the cancellation of the 2010 Interesting Conference it was good to see it relocate to the lovely Conway Hall, owned and operated by the Conway Hall Ethical Society. I think I must have missed last years event so it was great to be returning to this largely unnoticed corner of London for a day of education and entertainment.


James Ward was naturally up first as the founder of Boring, introducing us to a day celebrating the mundane, the obvious, the overlooked. And what better way to do this than by a journey beginning with the late night viewing of modular buildings on the internet and ending with some of the more obscure elements of the ITV Saturday night entertainment show You Bet! (and it’s even more unlikley German predecessor Wetten Dass..?), all via the identification of a partially obscured Ford Fiesta, which was possibly a Mazda.

[He also mentioned something about a book on the history of stationery which you can pre-order here although it’ll probably also be available in your local tax compliant bookshop].

The Germanic theme continued with Martin White telling us about the over literal translations Germans give their films. And through his further research it seems we can blame Hitler for the fact that the film Airplane ended up retitled as The Unbelievable Journey In A Crazy Aeroplane. He also introduced a Chomskian analysis of a joke contained within the film Mary Poppins, which was a little alarming so early on in the day.

The features editor at New Scientist Valerie Jamieson took an understandably scientific approach to her talk on Boringolgy by taking time out to watch grass grow, observe paint drying and investigate whether there really is nothing duller than ditchwater. Her research introduced her to the supergrass (apologies for that) that rises so quickly you can hear the movement as it grows, the knowledge that the exciting stuff happens in the first 20 minutes of the paint drying process and that ditchwater is teeming with life.

Next was Toby Dignum who I recall largely lost me with his presentation on the square root of two at Boring 2011, this time despite his best efforts I remained lost to his explanation of Conway’s Doomsday Algorithm during his talk on calendars. That said he did provide an aide-memoire, some very fancy powerpoint skills and the knowledge that Walkers crisps always reach their sell by date on a Saturday. 

Ali Coote followed, and was a definite highlight for me with her very personal talk on her time working within the world of the ice cream van. She told us that it was “the best job she ever had”, explained the mechanics of ensuring a correct mix to air ratio, the fact that “every situation is an ice cream opportunity”, the rules and regulations regarding the van’s chimes (which can currently be played for no longer than 12 seconds*) and her pride at being able to hold up to eight 99s in one hand. She also told us to be nice to our local ice cream van seller as they’re often working very hard and “probably need a wee”. 

[*Which resulted in me reading the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs Code of Practice on Noise from Ice-Cream Van Chimes Etc. in England 2013 before dawn this morning.]

Martin Zaltz Austwick then talked about the versatility of the humble egg.

And was followed in turn by George Egg continuing the theme somewhat with the detailing of his experiments in the underexposed art of urban foraging. Improvising a cooking surface with the use of two upturned irons and a selection of Gideon Bibles he proceeded to prepare pancakes for the audience (not all the audience obviously) whilst opening our eyes to the possibilities of haute cuisine without the inconvenience of leaving the confines of your hotel room.


Rhodri Marsden was someone else I’d seen speak at the last Boring event in 2011 – he was hugely entertaining then and hugely entertaining here too. Rhodri was talking national anthems, and began with a rendtition of Britain’s own lamentable effort, the public performance of which was often like completing “a piece of light admin”. He told us that despite its shortcomings it’s a tune shared with Lichenstein and that the last three notes were shared with 26 other nation’s efforts. We also learnt that of the comically complex lyrics of Burkina Faso’s L’Hymne De La Victoire, perhaps unsurprisingly written by its former president Mr Thomas Sankara, and possibly responsible for the nation’s lack of sporting success.

BLOG - Space

Francesco Tacchini, Julinka Ebhardt and William Yates-Johnson from the Royal College of Art then shuffled on and spoke about their Space Relay project, “a hovering object that explores and manipulates transitional public spaces with particular acoustic properties”. Sadly I wasn’t really a great deal wiser on the whys and wherefores but I do now have the rudimentary knowledge required to build a levitating sphere that produces a delayed echo of human activity.

Andrew Male followed with his thoughts on the banality of the books sat upon Eric Clapton’s bookshelf. And then Ben Target, one of the days many comedians, brought things to a grinding halt.

Thankfully Emerald Paston quickly pointed proceedings back in the right direction with a funny and personal talk about a list of names she wrote as a child. Her list of 523 names was split between girls – in alphabetical order running from Anna to Zena and, boys – rather more haphazardly ordered from Gordon to Colin. She talked about how the list had evolved as she moved to her senior school, and that she had played fast and loose with the rules of this list including such unlilkely examples as Hatsheput, Waynetta and Ghandi.  

Next up was John Grindrod’s talk on the The Ladybird Book of Modernism which was never going to disappoint me. He was keen for the audience to dismiss their pre-conceived views of Ladybird books as more than just stories of the well turned out and beautifully behaved Peter and Jane. Ladybird were refusing to shy away from what was happening in the word embracing modernism wherever it could – introducing its readers to the tower block, the motorway and even the nuclear power station, sometimes in baffling detail but always beautifully illustrated. Had I not already been a fan of the work of Wills & Hepworth I would have no doubt that that John’s talk would have remedied that.

Sadly the closing speaker for the second part of the day’s proceedings, Marc Isaacs, couldn’t make the event but this did give us the chance to see his wonderful 2001 film, Lift, in it’s entirety, can’t recommend it enough and the good news for you is that it’s sat up on YouTube waiting for you to watch.


The third session of the day opened with James Ward compering a game of competitive mini four-in-a-row, which was like, but definitely wasn’t, Connect 4, which left many of us wondering why such events are so infrequently televised.

Mark Dean Quinn followed, but sadly lost me very early on – another comedian failing to grasp the spirit of the day. Which perhaps meant I didn’t give as much attention to Nathaniel Metcalfe on his obsession with Deep Roy as perhaps I should have, sorry.

I did however enjoy the penultimate talk from Helen Zaltzman on the inordinately brown recipes featured within the cookery books of the 1950s and 1960s alongside the perhaps less than subtle suggestion that a woman’s place was firmly in the home. She was also able to inform us that “Herrings are much more interesting if they are stuffed.”

And finally came Vincent Connare the typographer who designed the Comic Sans typeface, the creation of which was it seems largely due to the perceived unlikeliness that a dog would ‘speak’ Times New Roman, which is a point difficult to agree or disagree with. Still if it’s good enough for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research

So as ever a very enjoyable and enormously interesting day, comedians largely aside. Hopefully I’ll be back for Boring V.

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