While I was researching Not Doing, I came across a delightful short film directed by Andy Oxley of Screen 3 Productions for the National Geographic, entitled These Men Love Extraordinarily Dull Things. It features members of online group the Dull Men’s Club who live by the motto “celebrate the ordinary.”
“Life seems to be continually speeding up,” says Peter Willis in one scene. He’s not doing much, except sitting with his hands clasped, enjoying the peace and quiet of a patch of grass by a road in a country village. A bright red post office box stands on a corner nearby. Peter has just been taking photos of that post box, carefully capturing it from all angles. So far, he’s photographed 2,500 of Britain’s 115,000 post boxes. “I like to take in as much of where I’m going or what’s in front of me as I can. It could be an old lamp post, a finger post, a directional sign.” Frankly, Peter Willis, who is a member of the Letter Box Study Group, is a little dull.
Ken Beresford, President of the Roundabout Appreciation Society, is also dull. One of his most exciting discoveries, which made him ‘tingle all over,’ was a roundabout with a duck pond at the centre. Roundabouts are places of peace and tranquillity for Ken, unlike the ‘robotic fascist traffic lights’. “If you suffer from a nervous disposition, or you’ve got heart trouble, it’s the perfect hobby for you. Just to sit back and take in these beautiful pieces of round architecture,” he says. “Sometimes we need to take a step back and just go round the roundabout twice. Slowly.”
In a world where speed and success are celebrated, these men have chosen a different path. While they may be dull, they are not boring, or bored. They are engaged with simple, ordinary pursuits. They don’t collect precious antiques or stamps, but milk bottles, toothpicks and bricks from under hedgerows.
“People ask, ‘this Dull Men’s Club - is it a movement?’ No, it’s not a movement. We like to stay put,” says Leland Carlson, Assistant Vice-President of the Dull Men’s Club. “The Dull Men’s Club is a place in cyberspace where dull men can hang out and share their experiences with fellow dull men. It’s a sanctuary for them, a place they can hide out and get away from the glitz and glam, the hurly burly, all the noise of modern life. We find there’s a lot of joy in just sitting on a park bench. To take my time. Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.”
I am inspired by this little film with a big heart. I think about our world obsessed with speed, performance and achievements … what it would look like if we made space to cultivate an appreciation of ordinary pursuits instead?
What would ‘celebrating the ordinary’ look like in your life?