I spent today at Boring 2012. Now in its third year, in the words of conference organiser James Ward, Boring is “a day dedicated to the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked.” During the introduction he also told us that this was to be “the most boring one yet” and “I can only apologise”.
Here’s what happened.
- James Ward himself was first up, talking about self service checkouts and unexpected item in the bagging area. Did you know that the first self service tills were introduced by Marks & Spencer in 2002? James presented a guide to self service checkouts that was useful as it was amusing, followed by a small collection of till receipts (or, ‘purchase certificates’ as he encouraged us to think of them) for things he didn’t buy.
- Peter Fletcher presented a clever invention, an ode to letterboxes including “inner portcullises of sharp bristles that repel anything but the most rigid of paper items.” A beautiful look at letterboxes from a poetic ex-postman.
- Ben Target performed an untitled performance art piece on rollerblades, to the accompaniment of a reading of ‘tables of weights’, which was evocative of Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, but with more rollerblading. Rachel was in tears of laughter. James calmly moved us on with “well, it’s not every day that you see that.”
- Leila Johnston presented her collection of IBM tills, of which she has collected over 40 photographs and wants you to share your own. Notable moments included the “white IBM ePOS 300; my Moby Dick” and revelations about Leila’s heavily IBM influenced childhood growing up in Greenock.
- Ed Ross shared “how I like my toast” including a comparison of various toasters and a proposed standard rating system from “warmed bread” up to “German rye bread” which is apparently very heat resistant.
- Rose George informed us that the least boring object in our houses is our toilet, and the rather sobering fact that 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to a toilet.
- Neily Denny shared memories, maps and photographs of five breakfasts, which ranged from delicious to disgusting.
- Helen Arney started the afternoon by telling us about the features and specifications of the Yamaha PSR-175 portable keyboard (discontinued) in a provocative and entertaining live demonstration.
- Roo Reynolds (that’s me!) shared some of my collections in roughly chronological order, which you can actually read all about here.
- Greg Stekelman talked about being short and one of his favourite websites, celebheights.com, including some hilarious and carefully selected quotes which I wish I’d written down.
- Charlotte Young had prepared a short study of the contemporary celebrity culinary expert on television including surprisingly detailed dissections of both Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal.
- Andrew Male talked about yellow lines and their relation to the Festival of Britain and post-war zoning regulations.
- James Brown enthused about one of his favourite TV programmes; Antiques Road Trip.
- Rhodri Marsden shared a confession about, and several examples of, the soothing and soporific world of ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) videos; a whole subculture about which I’d previously been blissfully unaware.
- Elise Bramich informed us about tube carriage numbering. Did you know that London Underground trains going North or West have even numbers, while those headed South and East are odd, with the exception of the Bakerloo line and anywhere with loops? She also talked about Vampire Numbers.
- Emily Webber shared some of her carefully curated set of over 1000 photographs of London shop fronts, which she has been collecting for a while.
- Alice Bell talked about the Science Museum (where she used to work) and why museums are boring, except that she was so enthusiastic and eloquent about them that I don’t think she convinced us, or even herself, of this theory. “The technologies of the past which we chose chose not to have show us other possible futures we might have had.”
- Kathy Clugston revealed the arcane world of The Shipping Forecast, a subject about which she knows a great deal having read the forecasts on Radio 4 for some time. As well as being a great example of ASMR, Kathy impressed us all by reciting all 31 sea areas in order. More facts I can’t allow to pass un-noted: The shipping forecast is broadcast four times per day (5:20, 12:01, 17:54 and 00:48), For each area, you get the following four pieces of information: 1. wind direction / 2. wind strength / 3. precipitation / 4. visibility. Veering = clockwise, Backing = anticlockwise. Imminent = 6 hours hence, Soon = 6-12 hours, Later = 12-14 hours. “You can’t get excited when there’s a hurricane!”.
- James W. Smith finished off the day by talking about the benefits of walking to work which is “the only sort of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, and therefore the only sort that I’m willing to do”. In the evenings, “I don’t drink much any more because of the cat…” James has calculated that a 3.3 mile walk = 7152 steps = 1 hour = 19ml of saliva, or 376.42 steps per ml. James ended with a rather thoughtful and touching encouragement to try walking to work.
Enormous thanks to James Ward for inviting me but most of all for putting on a brilliant – and not at all boring – day.