Does this persistent, gnawing boredom damage us? It’s not a question that’s been asked much in the 150 years since we started moaning about it; even philosophers seem to find boredom boring, preferring instead to concentrate on ethics and epistemology. Goethe reckoned that boredom was the premier creative impulse, and without it we’d never even bother picking up a pen, paintbrush, musical instrument or, these days, a 5-megapixel digital camera. But the average teenager in an average British town on an average Friday night would find themselves hard pushed to value the boredom that’s been forced upon them by modern life. Boredom is the predominant cause of inner city violence, because, tragically, violence is exciting. And that briefest of thrills is increasingly unlikely to be displaced by the prospect of a game of table tennis.
I’m not a philosopher, obviously. I’m just someone who’s a bit bored, so the idea of me offering advice is laughable. But in the absence of religious fervour, class war or complete economic meltdown to distract us, a better way to deal with boredom than desperately pursuing excitement might be to embrace it. Welcome that feeling of mild dissatisfaction. Search hard for the meaning in a visit to a furniture showroom, or Chelmsford, or, indeed, in listening to “Come On Eileen” 15 times in a row. In a recent documentary on Channel 4, Amish teenagers from the US were introduced to a group of Londoners of the same age. In one beautiful scene, two Amish girls were working on embroidery and singing a folk song in a London flat, while their contemporaries, more used to spinning around Soho or gyrating to the sound of Tinchy Stryder, gazed at them, transfixed by the exquisite calm. Eventually, one of the British girls muttered something along the lines of: “Maybe I would like to make a quilt, innit.” And, you know, it’s only one step from that to: “This doily is totally bangin’.”