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Jonathan Sears-Corfield

The Mild Bunch: 11 Men With Extremely Boring Hobbies

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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.

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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