Charles Nevin: Dull men do the most interesting things

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The Independent Online

Any sensible analysis of the ills presently besetting the world would have little difficulty pinning much of the blame on an excessive and misdirected use of energy, both political and environmental.

If we are to survive, generations raised on the ceaseless search to narrow the gap between desire and gratification will have to appreciate the attractions of restraint. The signs are not altogether hopeful, despite the warnings from Sir Nicholas Stern and the US electorate.

Last week, for example, in Paris, 1,188 people attempted a simultaneous kiss, Italians in Treviso created a 186.3 metre-long line of pizzas, while in Toronto, 2,000 Canadians linked arms to dance a cancan. This was Guinness World Record Attempt Day, described as a chance for everyone to share "the kind of eccentric Britishness that underpins Guinness World Records". Forget the empire: what about that for a legacy?

Slightly more encouraging was the news that, according to an EU survey, the average Briton spends five hours, 23 minutes and 42 seconds a day sitting down. But while this was a good 11 seconds more than the average European, we are still some way behind the Dutch, who rest theirs for six hours and 48 minutes daily. And let us not forget that Holland is flatter.

You, of course, will argue that, over the years, much wasteful and excessively energetic activity has been set off by people sitting down. So I was pleased to see one harmless sedentary activity was a little safer after the news that Hornby is rescuing Airfix from its sticky position.

Elsewhere, Toronto redeemed the national reputation by staging the world championships of one of the world's most restrained sports: "rock, paper, scissors". There are, I feel, very few decisions or disagreements on any stage, large or small, that would not be better settled by a count of three and competing hand formations.

I have also come across an organisation new to me, surprisingly you might say: The Dull Men's Club. Its website is monochrome, reports soothingly on such things as the varying rotation of luggage carousels, and has links to sites featuring Ukrainian bus stops, lawn sprinklers and replacement vacuum cleaner bags. Splendid; I can't believe, though, that women wouldn't be just as interested: did you know ketchup leaves the bottle at 25mph?

But we must be wary of confusing restraint with dullness. Considerable energy, for example, is about to be expended in the Bosnian town of Bijeljina, where they plan to erect a large monument to their most important product, the cabbage.

It also leads to the belief that doing anything is better than nothing, which has provided some further fascinating facts highlighted in one of our reports last week: did you see that New Labour has added 3,000 new crimes and 114,336 pages of new laws to the statute books since 1997, equivalent to 205 copies of War and Peace or seven editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica, and weighing more than two John Prescotts?

This, as it happens, was pointed out by Sir Menzies Campbell, often himself sneered at for being dull. Sir Ming wants to get rid of unnecessary laws, control orders, identity cards and the ban on demonstrating near Parliament, to replace bad restraint with the good. He's got rid of his one Jag, too. And if he just sits down more, the Lib Dems could be in with a real chance of my vote. I notice also that there are Airfix Jaguars available.

Comedy looks just like this

Psychologists on humour: dodgy. Freud thought laughter the release of prohibited impulses, but, as Dodd (K) says, Freud never played the Glasgow Empire. Now Dr Anthony Little of the University of Stirling has produced the perfect funny face from 179 facial features of 20 comedians. But it's not a funny face. And it bears as much touted resemblance to Ricky Gervais as a photofit. For a funny face, see Dodd (K) supra, or just Tommy Cooper's, left. His face was so funny it was unfair. He also had the perfect comedy character, being both mad and mean. My favourite story is Barry Cryer's about Tommy and a barman disagreeing over some change. "You don't understand," said the great man. "It's not the principle of the thing, it's the money."

* What a lot of icons we've got! As well as the ones hailed daily, we also have "Icons of England", "the first project by Icons Online, a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to develop projects that provide stimulating interactive ways of exploring different cultural landscapes", sponsored by Culture Online, a division of the Department for Media, Culture and Sport which works "with a variety of project partners to create highly targeted interactive resources".

Splendid. Given that, I'm surprised English isn't among the Icons, which so far include Dr Who, Westminster Abbey, Hedges, A Cup of Tea, and The Weather. Meanwhile, Kate Moss and Sir Michael Caine have been voted two of our top 10 Living Icons by viewers of The Culture Show on BBC2.

All of this somehow reminds me of another "Icon of England", a robust, historic and really rather restrained part of our "social fabric": the V sign.

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