Boring? The number 23 bus? Never!
A conference finds unlikely fascination in bus routes, breakfasts, car parks, and even in the humble pint of milk. Susie Mesure at the Boring Conference, London.
Sunday 12 December 2010
Geoff Lloyd didn't mess around when it came to picking his subject for Boring 2010. Short of talking about the East Coast railway's rolling stock, bus routes were probably the dullest-sounding topic he could muster. Likewise, when Ed Ross wanted an item of food to taste-test in front of a roomful of people he settled on milk, because, well, he figured scotch eggs or pork pies would have been a bit racy.
If this sounds like a bad joke, then try telling that to everyone who paid good money to attend the inaugural Boring Conference in central London. There we were, in an overheated room above the Dominion Theatre, to be entertained – unlikely as that sounds from a glance at the running order. Car park roofs? In search of the ultimate tie? Personal reflections on the English breakfast? And these people came willingly?
It would be charitable to assume they'd turned up to try scoring a last-minute ticket for the Queen musical, We Will Rock You. But considering the conference had sold out, I have to assume the 200 attendees knew what they were letting themselves in for.
James Ward, a DVD distribution manager who organised the event, explains that the point is to challenge the assumption that certain subjects are inherently boring. "Anything that seems boring on the surface can actually be interesting. You can find there's a hidden depth."
Really? To an NCP multi-storey? I remain to be convinced, but as I take my seat my father's childhood admonition that "only boring people are bored" is ringing in my ears.
Suddenly, I'm in a panic. What if I'm the only one yawning my way through the morning? Certainly, Jason Meininger doesn't share my qualms. "It was so random I had to come. Plus, it sounded amusing," he tells me.
Amelia Bauerly is a little more circumspect. "I follow most of the people who organised it on Twitter and they're pretty funny, so I thought it would be too. But now," she pauses, looking around at the dubiously dressed males who dominate the room, "I'm not so sure."
Certainly Mr Ward's opening soliloquy on the minutiae of his tie collection – colour, pattern, fabric, width – and how it has changed in the past six months leaves me pretty cold. I try, but I can't get excited about the 36 per cent increase, or the fact that 26.7 per cent of his 75 ties are leather by the year's end and so, "like Cliff Richard's skin, my collection is becoming increasingly leathery". (That was a gag, by the way.) But I'm later assured the talk was a smash hit, his use of statistics coming in for particular praise.
Things start looking up with Mark Hadfield's quest to match 20 beers from around the world with their native drinkers via a session on Skype. So far, he's skoaled an Eggenberg with Jonathan from Austria, but he's got another 19 to go. Ironically, it's Mr Lloyd's "relationships with bus routes" that has me sitting forward in my seat. Or, to be precise, the No 23, from Portobello Road to Oxford Circus, with which he's formed a personal attachment. "I feel proud when I see it on the news. Or if I see it outside the parameters of my route, I feel like it's cheating on me." From the applause he gets, I can't be the only one secretly to anthropomorphise inanimate objects. He explains afterwards: "You think you're crazy for thinking these things, but when you say them out loud, you find you have more in common with everyone else than you realise."
Although Milk Guy – who leads the room through a Jilly Goolden-style taste-testing of full-fat milk complete with breakfast cereal pairing – carries the crowd, Car Park Man ends up as the morning's showstopper. Lewis Dryburgh's take on the hidden beauty of multi-storeys is the one talk that truly paints a dry subject in a different light.
For him, the most boring thing about car parks is how we use them. Rather than park and scarper, he urges attendees to visit their local multi-storey on foot (apparently the top floor is empty for 89 per cent of the week) and once there to treat it much as they would their local park, making sure to enjoy the view.
The only thing he implores is that people keep his tip to themselves. "I'm telling you, but I don't want you to tell anyone else. This is not the next big thing, this is our little thing," he says.
I'd feel guilty, but I'm banking on no one finishing a piece that promotes boredom. If you did, see you up there.
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