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.

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Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

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iStock
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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