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WesternSFA


Dull Men of Great Britain
by Leland Carlson
Ebury Press, $17.95, 96pp
Published: May 2016

I wouldn't have considered myself a dull man, but everything is perspective and I identify pretty strongly with some of the examples in this book, which was compiled by Leland Carlson for the Dull Men's Club as a way to celebrate the ordinary.

This is a small size landscape format book with a set of very brief chapters to introduce us to a variety of gentlemen whose hobbies are, shall we say, a little unusual.

Many of them collect things that perhaps nobody else collects, which I have a great respect for. Beyond the usual stamps, coins and books, I personally collect a whole bunch of odd things: fandom convention ephemera, editions of The Friday Rock Show (off air since 1993), ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books, antique home computers, Mexican comics, giftshop pencils, bottles of stout... and that's not even starting into what the better half collects.

Suddenly, I feel a kinship to dull men included in this book, such as David Morgan, who collects traffic cones; Stan Hardwick, who collects lawnmowers; or Jude Currie, who collects tax discs. I wouldn't collect any of those but I appreciate that they do, that they know their subjects well and they keep on slogging until they've built the best collection they can.

Such things don't have to be physical objects that sit on copious amounts of shelves. They can be achievements instead, like visiting every nation in the world or every bandstand in Great Britain. Why spot trains when you can spot train stations and travel across the country to do so? I'd totally be up for that sort of challenge. Imagine the people you would meet and the places you would see on a journey like that?

I have even more admiration for those who use their hobby to give back. John Potter likes numbers and, when Thomas Cook stopped publishing the European Rail Timetable after 140 years, he took up the task himself. The collections here sometimes become museums, even if they're a postal museum contained in a shed. Michael Kennedy spends a couple of hours a day moving rocks to keep the sea wall off Hunstanton as strong as it can be. Much respect.

One common factor that riddles these chapters is a constant search for truth and accuracy, even if such a pursuit could be, and probably is, laughed at. John Richards is here, he who founded the Apostrophe Protection Society and won an Ig Nobel Prize for his troubles. This book was published in 2015 and I'm very aware that he has since shuttered that society, which is a comment on the sadness of today's education systems.

I had not heard of John Barnard, Graham Jackson or Myrddyn Phillips, though, and I'm very happy that this book introduced me to them. They climb hills, a worthy pursuit on its own, but they climb hills that they think might really be mountains. In the UK, there's a threshold of 2,000 feet and their task is to tackle the hills just under that mark and the mountains just over it with £10,000 of surveyor-grade GPS equipment to see if any corrections in status are due. If there are, they send their findings in to the Ordnance Survey to be confirmed or denied. It's an odd service, to be true, but it's a service nonetheless.

With every page introducing me to a new and unusual dedication, this is just the sort of book I always wanted to be in. Maybe I could make a new American edition after finally getting round to chronicling the white crosses of the southwest. For now, I guess I'll just enjoy all of this supposed dullness, a dubious term in my book, vicariously through these pioneers.

My biggest problem with the book is that it isn't very big. It's inherently a sampler, each subject merely getting a page of text and a photo opposite. I have no doubt that Carlson could have made this twice, thrice or even ten times as big without dredging the barrel and I kind of wish he had. And yes, I'll be signing up for the Dull Men's Club. We can do that online, it seems.

Thank you, Coilean, for this fantastic gift. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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