CLOSE
Jonathan Sears-Corfield
Jonathan Sears-Corfield

The Mild Bunch: 11 Men With Extremely Boring Hobbies

Jonathan Sears-Corfield
Jonathan Sears-Corfield

Are you an average man fed up with the flash and spectacle of modern life? Are you looking for a place to revel in the ordinary? If so, the Dull Men’s Club might be for you. Founded in New York in 1996 by accountant Leland Carlson, the club describes themselves as “passionate about the everyday, unglamorous things in life,” such as public transportation, vacuum cleaners, gardening, and the correct use of apostrophes.

Last month, Ebury Press published Dull Men of Great Britain, a book featuring 40 profiles of British club members who are notable for their mildness. (A follow-up is planned for the United States, and nominations are currently being accepted.) Far from being depressed about their lack of glamor, these men are “dull and proud”—they’re determined to find the beauty in even the most banal parts of life. 

“In the 21st century, we tend to believe that the fast pace of life is a good thing, that boredom strikes when things remain the same,” psychology professor Mark Coulson of Middlesex University writes in the book’s foreword. “But the proliferation of choices offered to us, from cars to smartphones, from partners to what to watch on TV, actually paralyses us, leaving us miserable and filled with regret.” The solution, Coulson says, lies in giving up the chase for an ever-more-exciting life, and instead finding “serenity in a singular passion,” as these men have done. Even if that passion is traffic cones.

With mini-features on men who are delighted by bricks, drains, and watching paint dry (really), Dull Men of Great Britain may be the perfect gift for the fiercely normal man in your life—or the woman who loves one.

1.  ANDREW DOWD, TRAIN-STATION SPOTTER 

A math teacher from Manchester, Andrew Dowd’s claim to fame is having visited all 2548 railway stations in England, Scotland, and Wales. His quest took him four years, and involved driving 36,000 miles (ironically, he found that it was cheaper to visit train stations by car). He photographed all of the train stations he visited, but admits: “Most of them are not all that interesting.” 

2. DAVID GRISENTHWAITE, LAWN MOWING DIARIST 

David Grisenthwaite has kept a record of every time he’s mowed the lawn since 1984. Although his diaries may seem unremarkable (or perhaps alarmingly obsessive?), his records have been studied by climate change researchers working with the Royal Meteorological Society, which found that average annual lawn-mowing period has increased by a month and a half over more than three decades of mowing. Grisenthwaite also records the amount of garden waste he produces, and memorizes bus tables “for fun.” 

3. DAVID MORGAN, TRAFFIC CONE COLLECTOR 

David Morgan (pictured at top) collects traffic cones—and not just a few. According to Guinness World Records, he has the world’s largest collection of the pointy road accessories. His hobby is not entirely random, however: Morgan works for a plastics company that manufactures the cones, and his collecting began during a legal dispute in which he was trying to find examples to prove his firm had not copied a rival. “Everywhere I go, I collect them …” he says in the book. “There are so many different shapes, sizes and colours. And the models are always changing. The best ones come from village halls and undertakers. Undertakers look after their cones.” 

4. JAMES BROWN, VACUUM CLEANER COLLECTOR

Most kids hate chores, but James Brown was passionate about vacuuming from the age of 4. By age 8, he had convinced his family to let him have his very own vacuum. Today he works selling and repairing the appliances, and his collection now numbers more than 300. Guinness says he has the world’s largest collection, and no one else has ever held the record. On vacation a few years ago, Brown eschewed big city attractions to visit Cleveland, Ohio, home of his favorite vacuum cleaner model, the Kirby.

5. KEVIN BERESFORD, ROUNDABOUT ENTHUSIAST 

Kevin Beresford is president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, a group he founded in 2003 to promote respect for the traffic circles he calls “an oasis on a sea of asphalt.” Beresford has published two books, Roundabouts of Great Britain and Roundabouts from the Air, and spends most of the year traveling around Great Britain to find and photograph roundabouts for his annual calendar, Best of British Roundabouts.

6. NEIL BRITTLEBANK, BRICK COLLECTOR 

A retired mine safety officer, Neil Brittlebank has been collecting bricks since 1996. His collection now includes more than 300 bricks, which he collects from disused collieries, demolition sites, and abandoned buildings (he also accepts donations). Many have come from brickworks that no longer exist. Brittlebank argues that bricks are artifacts of the nation’s industrial heritage, and thus deserve to be celebrated. 

7. ARCHIE WORKMAN, DRAINSPOTTER

A former foundry worker, Archie Workman now spends much of his time finding and photographing drain covers in South Cumbria, where he lives. He says he finds their geometry fascinating. In 2014, he produced a calendar of the drain covers for his local parish, which reportedly became an "overnight sensation." (Proceeds were used to buy tools to clean the drains, as well as wild seeds to encourage attractive vegetation nearby.) 

8. JEREMY BURTON, OBSESSIVE TRAVELER AND RECORD-KEEPER

Baylis Media Ltd.

Jeremy Burton has collected cigarette cards, tea cards, bus tickets, bus numbers, and train numbers. After a career in information technology, he’s now a frequent traveler who obsessively documents his trips by counting the number of miles flown, number of flights, number of airlines, airports, countries, continents, etc. He’s visited more than 100 countries, and is a member of the International Traveler’s Century Club, which exists to celebrate just such an accomplishment. He has also lost his luggage 30 times.

9. JOHN POTTER, RAIL TIMETABLE COMPILER

The Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, sometimes called the “rail bible,” supplied travelers with schedules for 50,000 train, bus, and ferry connections in 5000 locations—or at least it did until it stopped publishing in 2013, a victim of corporate downsizing. After being published for 140 years, the sudden end of the guide was a blow both to travelers and readers who enjoyed imagining journeys from the comfort of their armchairs. 

John Potter, a former member of the Thomas Cook editorial team, re-mortgaged his house to buy the rights to the timetable and the software used to compile it. He now publishes the rescued timetable, which can be ordered from his website, and says he enjoys entering all the train numbers and times. “Some people think numbers are dull,” he says in the book. “I find them interesting.” 

10. NICK WEST, BEER CAN BUFF 

Emma West

Nick West collects beer cans, and has been doing so since before he could legally purchase them. He specializes in British beer cans, of which he says there are 150 to 250 new issues a year. He displays his cans in a special area and in a specific order, as he says in the book: “by brewery, brand and date of release. This means that whenever I find a new can I am continually moving the others around. Sometimes it can take me over an hour to add a single can.” The collection currently numbers over 7500 cans, and Nick says that he only needs to add about another 1500 to cover every British beer can ever produced.

11. PETER WILLIS, MAILBOX PHOTOGRAPHER

Retired mailman Peter Willis is devoted to photographing every example of British mailboxes he can find. So far, he’s snapped more than 2500 of them over the past decade. He has a list from the Royal Mail of the locations of all 115,000 mail boxes in the UK, and his son has programmed the locations into a portable GPS device that beeps every time it gets near one. He says he’s come to terms with the fact that he won’t be able to photograph every mail box in the country, but says he still gets a “little thrill” each time he crosses one off the list.

All photos courtesy Leland Carlson unless otherwise noted.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
arrow
literature
12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Bell
arrow
Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios