The Mild Bunch: 11 Men With Extremely Boring Hobbies
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
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
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.