The Daily Telegraph

How mid­dle-aged men ac­tu­ally fill their day…

Like ac­tor Tom Hol­lan­der, Si­mon Mills and his friends have dis­cov­ered the un­par­al­lelled joy of be­ing bor­ing

- London · British Academy of Film and Television Arts · Soho · Tom Stoppard · Finland · Alan Bennett · United States of America · E. M. Forster · Benetton · Tom Hollander · David Nicholls · Victoria Coren

Ac­tor Tom Hol­lan­der cre­ated a brand new lit­er­ary cat­e­gory over the week­end: Pedantry Porn. The un­flinch­ingly hon­est de­scrip­tion of his av­er­age day for a Sun­day glossy de­tailed the hour-by-hour list­less­ness of a rest­ing, mid­dleaged, west London-dwelling ac­tor. De­spite cur­rently star­ring in the BBC’S adap­ta­tion of David Ni­cholls’s Us, Hol­lan­der con­firms that “ow­ing to forces be­yond my con­trol, life has not been as busy as it used to be”.

His typ­i­cal day is joy­fully pedes­trian and Pa­trid­gian; a dreary Dido song made great by Philip Larki­nesque lyrics. In­stead of brag­ging about a pun­ish­ing, crack-of-dawn ex­er­cise regime, the 53-year-old might try a couple of sun salu­ta­tion stretches… “but of­ten I don’t”. In­stead, he re­heats cof­fee from the pre­vi­ous day’s plunger, ex­am­ines his bald spot, sucks his stom­ach in and out, then takes an 11 o’clock nap be­fore in­dulging in a spot of “self-ser­vice”, of an af­ter­noon. Half an an­ti­his­tamine helps him sleep at night but he’ll wake at 3am for a wee in the dark, “us­ing my phone screen to il­lu­mi­nate the tar­get”.

All this should be stul­ti­fy­ingly bor­ing, but turns out to be an ab­so­lute hoot. Why ex­actly? Per­haps it is the gen­tly schaden­freudic buzz of dis­cov­er­ing that, de­spite all their money and celebrity friends, Bafta win­ners (Hol­lan­der won for The Night Man­ager in 2017) go about their days pretty much like we do, with, mostly, noth­ing much of any in­ter­est hap­pen­ing at all.

Even bet­ter for me, I live near Hol­lan­der and of­ten see him in the lo­cal gar­den cen­tre or on his morn­ing mar­ket-stall passeg­giata. I al­ways pre­sumed that the much in-de­mand ac­tor was “grab­bing” a cor­tado “to go” from the Por­tuguese café on his way to a Soho lunch meet­ing with Tom Stop­pard. How ut­terly de­li­cious to learn that his most press­ing ap­point­ment is lis­ten­ing to the World at One on his sofa.

But here’s a chal­lenge, Hol­lan­der: I reckon I can out-dull you any day you like. Life in the slow lane came quickly to me. One minute – in my 30s and 40s mainly – I was on ev­ery­body’s guest list, man about town and MFI (mad for it). Bore­dom was the en­emy; dis­trac­tion, stim­uli and va­ri­ety a life force. The next, I was old and NFI (not f------ in­vited). Now I’m 56, an in­tro­verted, Nor­manno-mates loner with a thing for jazz funk and vin­tage hi-fi, and I’ve been rev­el­ling in the un­ex­pected joy of te­dium for years.

I get a thrill from find­ing a knock­down price on su­per­mar­ket prod­ucts surf­ing the “best be­fore” date. Sta­tionery stores and iron­mon­gers fire up my in­ner Alan Ben­nett. I look for­ward to cut­ting my toe­nails and post­ing letters, and I feel a gen­uine shiver of achieve­ment when I suc­cess­fully re­place a bro­ken elec­tri­cal el­e­ment in the toaster.

My favourite thing on the telly is not some know­ingly woke, 48-episode time travel drama from Amer­ica, but Vic­to­ria Coren’s baf­flingly Seven­ties Only Con­nect know-it-all quiz show on BBC Two. (And, yes, I will take un­be­liev­ably te­dious plea­sure in ex­plain­ing to you that its name is lifted from the epi­graph of E M Forster’s Howard’s End)

What else? I en­joy vac­u­um­ing, do­ing laun­dry and rewiring three-pin plugs, fold­ing my clean clothes and stack­ing them with the care and pre­ci­sion of a Benet­ton staffer from the Eight­ies. When I am away from her, I can pass 10 minutes of a phone call with my beloved girl­friend by ex­plain­ing, at length, not just what I ate for break­fast or lunch, but also the de­tails of its prepa­ra­tion.

My friends are bor­ing now, too. Toby calls me five or six times a day to up­date me on his sched­ule: “Just had a falafel for lunch. Might have a lie down soon.” I am in­ex­pli­ca­bly en­gaged by this news.

Other sub­jects up for dis­cus­sion with my ever-de­creas­ing cir­cle of ac­quain­tances in­clude the ef­fi­cacy of beta-blocker vari­ants, the qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of lo­cal shoe re­pair es­tab­lish­ments and the weather. Oh and I also have one of the world’s most bor­ing names: Si­mon Mills. My porn star name (the name of your first pet, plus the first street you lived on) is no less unin­spir­ing; “Henry Church” is un­likely to go far in the skin flick in­dus­try, is he?

The thing is, my pedantry, pedes­tri­an­ism and predilec­tion for Hol­landaise hor­i­zon­tal­ism (I also en­joy an af­ter­noon snooze), all seem about right for these strangest of times. We need to en­joy and ap­pre­ci­ate the lit­tle mun­dan­i­ties of life, be­cause all the big and ex­cit­ing stuff has been put on hold.

If, like Hol­lan­der, you still lie awake at night de­spite the slower pace, try lis­ten­ing to Sleep With Me, a pod­cast where host Drew Ack­er­man tells a non­sen­si­cal bed­time story that gets pro­gres­sively more bor­ing un­til the lis­tener drops off. Or just come over to mine for a cup of tea. My free-flow­ing sto­ries of kitchen ap­pli­ance re­pair and bi­cy­cle tyre re­moval tech­niques will have you nap­ping like a tod­dler faster than a half-tab of Tom Hol­lan­der’s an­ti­his­tamine.

I now get a thrill from knock-down prices on su­per­mar­ket prod­ucts

 ??  ?? Life in the slow lane: Tom Hol­lan­der, who is play­ing Dou­glas Petersen in BBC’S Us
Life in the slow lane: Tom Hol­lan­der, who is play­ing Dou­glas Petersen in BBC’S Us

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK