Some Remarkably Boring Postcards


Steerforth finds that some things can be so boring they exert a curious fascination…

There is a point at which things can be so boring that they become interesting again. 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).

A while go I found a postcard that was so breathtakingly dull, that it made me wonder how it ever came to be printed [above]. 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 Oscar Wilde (allegedly) 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.

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.
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Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

6 thoughts on “Some Remarkably Boring Postcards

    May 19, 2014 at 10:34

    I suppose what we’re seeing are images of the modern, especially the airport-like bus station with the squat skyscraper in the background, and the mise en abyme postcard shop with the suspended ceiling and the lady in the daring trouser suit. Not sure about the scaffolding in Basingstoke though…
    I remember in the seventies seeing postcards of the revamped Stoke bus station – compared with the rest of Stoke it was like that museum in Bilbao.

    May 19, 2014 at 11:28

    I particularly like the card of Basingstoke, which seems to scream ‘for reasons of quality control, a blank panel has been deemed better than the 4th image of Basingstoke’

    May 19, 2014 at 23:07

    I agree with SRP- I bought a lot of boring Soviet postcards when I lived in Russia in the 90s and early 2000s and they really liked concrete, new housing developments, bus stations, plastic chairs, that sort of thing. East German and Czech regimes produced the same postcards, boosting anything that suggested modernity.

    Make of it what you will that they shared this emphasis with a goodly number of UK town councils.

  4. Worm
    May 20, 2014 at 10:17

    These are great! I am seriously interested in getting my hands on the phaidon book now

  5. Gaw
    May 20, 2014 at 21:09

    Just goes to show we were all backward gawpers at some point in time. I wonder what bits of our culture will look bizarrely tedious to a future audience.

    • Worm
      May 21, 2014 at 11:06

      instragramming shots of dinner, live tweeting TV shows, work emails

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