Notes from Boring2018 A conference at Conway Hall, Holborn, 5th May 2018
Organiser James Ward welcomed us to the eighth Boring Conference, a celebration of the mundane and the overlooked, with his two traditional housekeeping jokes. He also apologised for the lack of a notebook in our goodie bags, because these had been delayed by the supplier and would be arriving on Monday. Had I arrived unprepared this would have scuppered my plans for detailed note-taking, but thankfully last year's notebook still had sufficient empty pages.
11.04James Ward@iamjamesward: The Day Before You Came
James kicked off with a Venn Diagram highlighting his personal sweet spot at the intersection of Mundane Daily Rituals and Songs By Abba. The song by Abba which best exemplifies this overlap is of course The Day Before You Came, a masterpiece of insignificance from 1982, which James was unable to play for copyright reasons. He wondered what news the morning and evening papers could possibly have contained given how tedious 1982 was locally, noted that Dallas had indeed been shown on Swedish (but not Norwegian) television by that time, and confirmed that smoking in the workplace wasn't outlawed in Sweden until 1993. But mostly he focused on murderous conspiracy theories relating to the differing durations of the singer's journeys to (08.00→09.15) and from (17.00→20.00) work, and whether stopping along the way to buy some Chinese food to go could possibly have provided an alibi for the missing hour and three quarters. Hello all. It's nice here isn't it? I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny day in London than sitting in a warm hall listening to James Ward.
11.20Greg Stekelman@manatboring: @manatboring
Conference stalwart Greg weaned himself off Twitter a few years ago, but returned to the medium for a special one-day-only account, offering a Stekelman's-eye view of proceedings from a corner of the stage as Boring VIII progressed. @manatboring started the conference with 18 followers, and crept up to 164 during the day, as Greg provided sideswiping commentary on the talks and, more specifically, the audience. Considerable interaction ensued, resulting in a grand total of 139 tweets, all of which have since been lost because Greg deleted the account in the early evening. All that remains is the reaction of others, the occasional photo, and a few example tweets which I shall drop into what follows. I feel very much like a court stenographer, but one that is blatantly ignoring what the judge is saying and instead focusing on which member of the jury has been paid off by the media.
11.22Hannah Cameron@hancam14: China's Fake Architecture
Hannah is a freelance 3D print designer who used to be a landscape architect, including stints in China where she was minimally responsible for the Shanghai Wonderland Hotel, an underwater groundscraper in a former quarry. Many Chinese buildings are designed to be wilfullyout of context, such as the Ren Building which resembles a Chinese character, the national television centre nicknamed The Big Pants and the People's Daily media HQ widely known as the Giant Penis. Those commissioning new buildings often ask 'Where's the dragon?', for reasons of feng shui, but a panda-obsessed structure proved one step too far. Shanghai's One City Nine Towns planning policy led to the construction of several Europe-obsessed ghost towns, including Hollandtown, a fake Venice, and Thamestown, whose skeletal mock England streets are often used as wedding photo backdrops. Meanwhile Suzhou's double-width dual carriageway Tower Bridge may look impressive, but alas doesn't open. Incredible that the Chinese managed to accidentally create Basingstoke.
11.38Kathryn Ferry@SeasideFerry: Cover Girls
Dr Kathryn is a seaside historian, but chose to focus instead on the mid 20th century phenomenon of the Crinoline Ladies, a nostalgic crafts movement popular from the 1920s to the 1950s. While the middle classes were obsessed by Art Deco, the wider populace preferred cottage style decor, often featuring Victorian ladies with huge hooped skirts and a bonnet. Quality Street was launched at the height of the affection in 1936 with a Crinoline Lady on the tin. Craft magazines offered housewives the opportunity to knit Crinoline Lady teacosies, and even the Betterwear catalogue included a Crinoline Lady Crumb Brush and Tray. A unexpected late revival in the 1970s saw the advent of frilly toilet roll covers, the so-called Cover Girls, as the last gasp of this decorative trend, several of which Kathryn keeps in a cupboard at home shut out of sight of her husband. Crinoline Lady would make a good Suede song. A b-side, really. but these days most Suede songs sound like b-sides.
11.55Paul Squires@paulsq: British Leyland brand identity 1970-1987
Paul first learned to read using brand names on the backs of cars, so it's perhaps no surprise that he became a car-obsessed digital strategist. He ran us through two decades of highly questionable rationalisation decisions by British Leyland, who in 1970 engineered motor vehicles with no parent brand. There was no car called the Mini, only the Mini by British Leyland, with the Maxi and the Princess suffering similarly. The ubiquitous Sherpa, as the Leyland van from Austin Morris, somehow managed to combine three brands in one vehicle. But the British Leyland marque was always tarnished by poor quality and industrial unrest, so perhaps Graham Day's obfuscation strategy in 1987 proved wise. Masterbrands need strength, Paul concluded, so always be unrelentingly constant. It's good that people are raising awareness of cars with no parent brand. It's so tragic and yet it's still happening today in 2018. Shameful.
12.14Sophie Scott@sophiescott: The Watergate Gap - an acoustic analysis
This rigorous audio analysis proved a conference highlight. Professor Scott works just up the road at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and was last year's Royal Institution Christmas lecturer. She has a Richard Nixon obsession, and recently dragged her family to his Presidential library for helicopter selfies. Her key interest is the Watergate tapes, specifically the 18 minute gap created when secretary Rose Mary Woods "accidentally" erased a significant chunk of a presidential interview on her Uher 5000 recorder. The 'blank' gap includes overlapping Loud Buzz and Soft Buzz sections, both caused by a faulty bridge rectifier, spectral analysis of which suggests at least 10 separate erasures in at least two different rooms. No way could Rose have knocked both record buttons with her toes, however agile she may have claimed to be. I look forward to a museum dedicated to finding out who Photoshopped Jeremy Corbyn's hat.
12.30Mikey Georgeson@mistersolo: Wall stains/Acheiropoieta
Who hasn't stared at a damp patch on a wall and pondered whether it might have a deeper significance? Mikey has accumulated several, usually as photographs sent in by members of the public, and believes they represent drops of experience beyond conceptual cognition. Acheiropoieta means 'made without hand', and yet these amorphous embellishments somehow remain imbued with cultural significance. Dina Osinski's stain somehow resembled a lion man, or perhaps De Loys' Ape. Elizabeth's irascible ceiling mark appeared when a neighbour in Brighton refused to update their guttering. Emily Jones' aesthetic blotch was perhaps not specifically enhanced by writing 'Etc.' on top of it 36 times, but it was almost lunchtime so nobody minded too much. This is very much like the Gallery section in Take Hart.
2.05Louise Ashcroft@louiseashcroft1: On Hold
Making her third Boring appearance, after previously eulogising about the Stratford Centre and the Argos catalogue, Louise turned her attention to all aspects of the call centre experience, despite being the only member of her family never to have worked in one. She drew parallels between supervisors lording over desks of employees and angels overseeing the classical vision of purgatory, each a mass ritual with rewards dished out for compliant behaviour. We each spend 40 days of our lives on hold, on average, a period of time with significant resonance in many major religions, but with the phone version compartmentalised into numerous moments of reflection. For research purposes Louise attended a recent Call Centre Expo at ExcEl, where industry leaders promoted chatbot solutions because they never ring in sick. When we ring a call centre, she argued, we really want to talk to a more knowledgeable version of ourselves, hence the lengths employees in south Asia go to absorb European mannerisms. Louise ended her marathon talk with an attempted singalong to Opus Number 1, Cisco's ubiquitous hold music, written by a 16 year-old in his garage in 1989. I can't remember a time in my life when this speech wasn't happening. That's not a complaint. I am lost in a web of call centres.
2.40Alexander Baxevanis@futureshape: Doormats
Returning home and stepping out of the lift on the wrong floor inspired Alex to take a closer look at the minor differences between flats in his 22-storey block. Specifically he walked round photographing all the doormats, then compiled a database of his findings and undertook both quantitative and qualitative analysis. 53% of flats had a doormat, he found, intriguingly skewed towards the top half of the building. Only 47% of the 1-bed flats had doormats, but 56% of the 2-bed flats, and 100% of the (only) 3-bed flat. Comparing his data to Land Registry figures revealed that doormats were more likely outside the more expensive properties, so perhaps buying a doormat is a cheap way to add thirty thousand pounds to the value of your home. More intriguing was Alex's classification of doormat design, his taxonomy dividing up into geometric, representational and textual (the second category further subdivided into abstract and figurative). 10 doormats simply stated "Welcome", but only one welcomed visitors to the Batcave. Three pairs of flats unexpectedly had matching doormats (but in one case rotated through 180°, forcing the question, what is the correct orientation for a doormat?). You can download Alex's data and investigate for yourself here (and read his full illustrated speech here). If I had a million pounds for a flat, I would line every wall with doormats. Each one larger than the last.
2.58Hayley Stevens@Hayleystevens: Insects caught on CCTV
Hayley is a real life ghostbuster, a sceptic who delights in debunking hokum with science. She listed some of the warning signs to look out for when presented with spooky evidence, include an urge by the narrator to shoehorn in local folklore, and completely ignoring all inconsistencies. Most filmed hauntings are usually badly focused people, floating dust, trees or insects - all misinterpreted by the human need to see meaning in the random. Hayley showed us a selection of videos lauded by the gullible, including Casper the friendly ghost 'cleaning tables' in an empty pub in Penrith (really an insect on the camera) and a ghost child 'jumping over a car' in Nottingham (really an insect on the camera). Americans in gas stations, it seems, get more excited about these sightings than most. An insect caught on CCTV often looks like Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian Beale on Eastenders.
3.15Giles Rhys Jones@gilesrhysjones: 3 Words To Address The World
Britain has 42 different Acacia Roads, only one of which was the notional address of 80s cartoon character Bananaman. Meanwhile Mexico City has as many as 632 Juarez Streets. But other parts of the world have a far more serious locational problem, because 4 billion humans have no form of street address whatsoever. It's hard to send an ambulance to a specific point in a shanty town, for example, and lives can be lost as a result. Ex-adman Giles's solution has been to divide the planet up into millions of 3m squares, and to give each a unique three word address. My seat in Conway Hall turned out to be 'urgent.stuff.dogs' when I checked, while a row or two away were 'punk.entry.parent' and 'hopes.alarm.brief'. The what3words system is currently available in 26 languages, with Chinese and Japanese to follow, and is particularly big in Mongolia where nomadic people use it to open bank accounts or to get Pizza Hut to successfully deliver. Unambiguous location will become ever more important with the advent of autonomous vehicles, and your next Mercedes Benz already has the w3w system fitted. I didn't even know it was legal to make a speech while wearing a baseball cap.
Break: Followed by an audience participation game of Snap, using oversized cards, which might have worked except that at no point were two identical cards consecutively revealed.
3.59John Grindrod@grindrod: Hook - The Brutalist Hampshire Town That Never Was
If the LCC had had their way in the 1960s, 100000 people would have found a home in Hook New Town in Hampshire. Instead these plans exist solely in a book drawn up to showcase the project - John sourced his rare copy from the University of Wisconsin. Dozens of appealing line drawings illustrate features of the proposed high-density settlement, from its 1-mile-long town centre to the raised pedestrian decks of the hyper-urban suburbs. Cars (invariably Citroën DSs) were restricted to ground level, or hidden out of sight. This was middle class housing for the John Wyndham generation, where blurry humanoids interacted socially on concrete highwalks beneath a black sun. But in the end Hook fell through, because it proved cheaper to expand Basingstoke and Andover instead, and various design elements were shifted off to enhance Thamesmead. The 7000 homes built in Hook since have none of the heroic modernist charms of these gestural illustrations. Their loss, our gain.
4.14Peter York@PeterPeteryork: Peter York's Storage Unit
The conference climaxed with a lengthy bravura speech by style guru Peter York, impeccably dressed in navy jacket, pink shirt and green tie. He led us inside his Edge City storage unit, far more capacious than your average Big Yellow lockup, to see the stacks of possessions he no longer has space to house at home, but one day might. Peter's parallel repository includes a substantial amount of rectory furniture, dapper clothing, kitchen implements, unwatchable VHS tapes and innumerable wood-effect document boxes. Where, he mused, does this place him on the continuum? At one end are the pathological hoarders who die unnoticed in their overrun homes, and at the other the decluttering gurus who urge us all to live in fashionably bleak homes devoid of meaningful objects. Peter admits to being driven by The Joy Of Things, whilst recognising that for today's hypermobile rental generation, Stuffocation is alas never likely to be a problem. A generous round of applause, fractionally before five o'clock, rounded off what was surely the most consistently interesting Boring Conference yet.