Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beyond Boring

There is a point at which things can be so boring that they become interesting again, thanks to the grim fascination they excite. That applies to people too. When I was a student, I had a temporary job as an assistant in a reference library. One of the members of staff was a man in his 50s called Gordon, whose only topic of conversation was the weight restrictions of different bridges in Richmond-upon-Thames.

When I talked (or rather listened) to him, I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience. Could someone really be talking about something so dull, without even a twinkle in their eye?

I even wondered if the problem was mine. Did I lack a normal, natural curiosity about civil engineering issues? I was very young and still didn't know how the adult world worked, but I soon realised that the reason Gordon frequently talked to me was because everyone else had quietly sneaked out of the staff room within half a minute of his arrival.

In hindsight, Gordon was probably on the autistic spectrum (and not in a good way).

Today, I found a postcard that was so breathtakingly dull, that it made me wonder how it ever came to be printed:

If you ever find yourself in Western Australia, make sure you pop into St Thomas More Catholic Church and Centre in Margaret River. As you can see, clockwise, they have a confessional, kitchen, toilet and showers and a morning Mass chapel.

I would love to know what possessed someone to produce a postcard that included shots of stainless steel kitchen sinks and a bathroom. Perhaps civic pride produces a blinkered perspective.

That would certainly seem to be the case in this postcard of Basingstoke:

When I first saw this picture in the wonderful Phaidon book "Boring Postcards", I thought it was a joke. Who, in their right mind, would produce an official postcard of a town featuring images of scaffolding and hoardings? In one picture, there are hoardings on one side and a sale on the other, recalling the old Osacr Wilde (I think) quote about going from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.

Presumably, several people saw this card before the print run was approved. I can only assume that Basinstoke is so awful (and apparently it is) that the council officials responsible for this card were inured to the images' ugliness.

The Phaidon book also includes this picturesque view of Exeter Bus Station:

And this enticing view of Solway Firth:

I particularly liked this postcard:

I seem to remember a grim holiday in a "chalet" when I was four-years-old, a few miles away from a nuclear power station. For chalet, read prefab, or gulag - these awful holiday camps were more like open prisons.

However, this is my favourite image by far:

It's a postcard of the place you're buying the postcard of the place you're buying a postcard of the place you're buying a postcard of the place you're buying a postacard...

It's all done with mirrors. Why anyone would want to produce a postcard of the giftshop that sells postcards I don't know. In the hands of a conceptual artist, it could be a very amusing postmodern joke. But in this case, I suspect it's the work of someone who is interested in the weight restrictions of local bridges.


Anonymous said...

I love the coffee mug ring on the first black and white post card. I often wonder why anyone produces so much of the tat in shops now - but some one must be buying it, just as they must have bought those postcard.

We need to teach the younger generation how to be discerning!

simoom said...

I know this wonderful book. My brother has it, and of course we all laughed at these cards - so boring they cross over into the realm of fascinating. Still, there is something faintly terrifying about them too. Because what they capture is somehow more true than all the other picturesque postcards we buy to send, that make the view from the hotel so much more stunning than it actually is. As a teenager I stood around on our local bus station in the company of a lot of biddies in 1940's hats & coats with shopping bags. There was a lot of drizzle, backs of terraced houses and a really terrible cafe full of solitary blokes smoking fags. The bus was always late. If I ever feel unhappy with my lot, I connect to the CCTV webcam that overlooks the roundabout and this same bus station. It refreshes only once in every 5 minutes, but it's still there, as intractable as any boring postcard, and it gives me the heebie-jeebies just watching it.

Brett said...

Marvelous! I am really, audibly, laughing out loud.

Perhaps the church postcard shows off the fruits of a hard-won fundraiser. A before and after collage might have been more dramatic.

I have to believe that the Basingstoke card was done by some creative type holding down a soul-deadening day job, and who knew that no one higher up was really paying attention.

They remind me of several reels of prints I found from a trip to Germany in 1978, taken with a Minolta snapshot camera. Now, their awfulness makes me want to post some of them.

Steerforth said...

You must! I shall be waiting in eager anticipation.

Annabel Gaskell said...

I absolutely adore the Phaidon Boring Postcards. I love the way they're presented as art, and that makes them very special indeed!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I love the postcard of the service station shop (which looks more like a library at first glance). An important piece of social history, irony aside!

The church kitchen and loos has its own quaintness as well.

The Boring Postcards book was excellent - I bought a copy for my father the moment it came out and he couldn't understand why anyone had thought them 'boring'!

suzcc said...

It’s not quite an out-of-body experience, unless of course the mind has gone into relapse from having viewed them. Still, everything has its positive and negative points of view, which I look for the good in all things. So one can say positively these pictures caught not only our attention, but yours too. I think people just want to share “something” with someone else, no matter its beauty or its subject. Isn’t it great that we have a choice in what appeals to us? By connecting with others a feeling of belonging and giving is felt, which is why I’ve written Mommy’s Writings. Who knows? It might well be meaningful for someone. Steerforth, just be grateful that everyone appreciates things in a different light. People, places, and life are interesting. Isn’t it? I enjoyed visiting your website.

Suzanne McMillen-Fallon, Published Author, would you like a sandwich?

Richmonde said...

Post those boring Germany photos!

sukipoet said...

quite a chuckle

Isobel Frances said...

Haha, i bought a postcard the other day of Basingstoke and wondered if it had been discovered by the internet before, googled it and stumbled across this! A different postcard but very similar style... Basingstoke looks fun... the others are good too.