A curiously unremarkable journey

I set off for the bay at around eleven o’clock, knowing that this was going to be my final walk. That awareness brought with it a certain pressure, and a feeling that somehow today ought to be the pinnacle of what I was doing. If everything went well, today would be the most uninteresting day of all, and everything I’d been struggling with over the last few weeks would be resolved. In short, today would be the very definition of an uninteresting experience.

But as soon as I’d made the descent through the hotel grounds and onto the beach, I realised that it was never going to be that simple.

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To start with, it was a beautiful summer’s day. The sky was a clear, intense blue; the air was fresh and hotter than it had been for weeks. The Saint Lawrence river stretched magnificently away towards the horizon, and the mountains in the distance loomed serenely above it. The grass, the rocks, and the pools of water underfoot formed a terrain of infinite variety and texture. This was not a mundane start to the day.

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There were other people about too.

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After I’d been walking for a while I remembered why I was here and tried to focus a bit more on the ordinariness around me. I found myself able to concentrate on the more unremarkable stretches of sand and rocks and grass, and, to a certain extent, began to find them a little boring.

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I continued like this for a while, steadily progressing along the bay. Then I ventured inland a little, partly because I was aware that I was retracing a previous journey’s route a little too closely, and partly because I’d caught sight of a shed, which seemed a good opportunity to disengage with the beauty of nature for a while.

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The shed was locked and was surrounded by waist-high weeds, but otherwise looked the same as all the other sheds round here. Next to it was a sloping field with some farmhouses at the top. For a few seconds I contemplated changing direction completely and heading up to the farmhouses, but then I realised that they were the same houses that lined the main road to the village, which I’d walked along many times already. I had no desire to look at them all over again, even if it was from the opposite side, so I opted to continue along the beach instead.

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Just then a bird rose up over some trees, and, assuming at first it was a seagull, I decided it was uninteresting enough to photograph. But then, as it got closer, and seemed to circle above my head, I saw it was a bird of prey.

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It really was time to get back onto the bay, I thought to myself, and back to the task of seeking out banality and boredom. Majestic birds of prey hovering weightlessly in the air a few short metres above my head were definitely not what I was looking for.

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As I continued along the shore I began to reflect on why it seemed necessary to be alone on these endless journeys into the paralysing no-man’s land of boredom. It was probably because other people were too distracting, I decided. When boredom becomes a joint activity, it loses its force: you tend to make a joke out of it with whoever you’re with, you start entertaining each other, or maybe decide to put an end to it by going somewhere else or doing something more interesting. I tried to remember whether on a recent four and a half hour car journey to Montreal with D and P I had been bored at any point. Sure, there were moments, but they’d always been interrupted by a conversation, or by a new song on the car radio, or by idle comments that progress was being made towards the destination, all of which had the effect of shifting the mood away from solitary sufferance.

Shared boredom certainly existed, but that was not the experience I was trying to summon up on these directionless walks. I wanted my own, private boredom, my own subjective sense that at a given moment nothing in the world was interesting enough to shake me out of my existential inertia.

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I took another short detour at this point onto a small headland, and then realised that I’d taken exactly the same detour last time I’d come this way. Everything on the headland was the same, except that someone had tipped over a bench that I’d noticed last time had a “private” sign attached to it.

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By the time I reached the quay, I could hear music. I remembered it was the Fête des chants de marins this weekend, apparently one of the cultural highlights of the summer in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. I didn’t really want to get involved in anything like that, but short of turning round and walking back the way I’d come, I didn’t have much choice, as I was heading straight for it.

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There were lots of people about, soaking in the atmosphere of the festival. Bands, tents, food, picnic tables, market stalls, families, music, dogs, boat races were all around. On another day I might well have enjoyed the spectacle, but today I had other things to do, so I spent a few minutes trying focus on the least interesting aspects of what was going on instead.

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But it was an almost impossible task, so I gave up and decided to head in the direction of home.

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What lay before me, I began to realise, was my very last journey along this long and tedious road. This awareness seemed to lend the familiar roadside walk a different air. It seemed to pass by much quicker than normal. In fact, it was hardly boring at all.

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I did notice however that it had become almost impossible to pay attention to anything along the way. I had, by now, examined almost everything along the route. I’d weighed up how interesting or uninteresting everything was. Every lamppost, kerbstone, house, field, stretch of empty road, glimpse of the river, mailbox, dustbin, boutique, shop, driveway, warehouse, parked car, and tree had fallen at least once under my earnestly vacant gaze.

The ice-cream shop though somehow managed once again to attract my attention.

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There had been some police by the roadside just before it, stopping random motorists presumably to check their papers, or to tell them they were going too fast. This was an obvious hit for the people eating ice-creams, who watched the process unfold in front of them as they ate.

Somehow though, I’d hoped something more significant than that would happen on this last leg of my last journey in search of the uninteresting. But nothing had really happened. There was nothing to report. It would be an exaggeration to say that the journey had been particularly uninteresting (I’d definitely been more bored by it on other days). Everything had just sailed by, strangely mute. The whole day, in fact, had been characterised by a curious unyielding neutrality. Everything that I had seen had simply struck me as what it was, nothing more, and nothing less. The whole day had, in this sense, been utterly unremarkable.

And that, I realised, was the point: uninteresting experiences are, by their very nature, not particularly interesting. That seems pretty obvious now.

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To the village (again)

Earlier than usual, I set off in the direction of the centre of the village. I didn’t have a more specific plan than that, apart from perhaps a vague idea of going to the supermarket. But that wasn’t really important; what was important was that I was not going anywhere I hadn’t been before. There would be no novelty today. With any luck the next two or three hours would be completely uninteresting.

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It was overcast, and much cooler than it had been since I’d arrived. I was wearing a jacket, and had an umbrella with me in case it rained.

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It soon became brighter though, and after a few minutes the sun appeared from behind the clouds. It was also warmer, so I took my jacket off.

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This part of the route had become incredibly familiar. I recognised almost every house I passed along the roadside, and whatever it was that had attracted my attention on previous outings, generally speaking attracted my attention once again. The procession of landmarks and features was wholly predictable: the hotel, the turning off towards the highway, the picturesque barn, the empty boutique, the fast food joint, the arrangement of attractively coloured dustbins, the tyre shop, the steep slope down to the warehouse, the red “for sale” sign, the field just before the ice-cream shop, the ice-cream shop. And, of course, the featureless stretches in between.

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When I reached the ice-cream shop, someone was wiping the water off the picnic tables outside. This wasn’t a new event either: I’d seen it at least twice before as I walked past.

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It became overcast again, and began to feel a little cooler.

There was a lot more traffic on the road today than usual, I noticed. This was probably due it being slightly earlier in the day (it was still before noon). A large truck drove past, which also seemed unusual. It was struggling slightly up the hill.

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Around this point there was a turning off to the right, which I decided to take. I’d been this way before: I knew it was a very short detour which would soon take me back onto the main road. But the journey so far had been so emphatically uninspiring that I felt a small variation like this would surely make things better.

Within seconds of leaving the main road however, my attention was drawn back to it. From a distance of a few metres I observed the flow of traffic, and, for a brief period, photographed every car that went past.

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Afterwards I continued along the side road, finding it more or less as uninspiring as the main road I’d just left. You could at least look into people’s gardens though, which was something.

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Soon I was back on the main road, and was immediately overtaken by a man wearing red clothes. He was walking quite quickly, which was something I hadn’t seen before in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli.

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Somewhere along the journey I’d decided that I would buy a stamp at the post office. I’d been meaning to send a postcard to A for the last few days, and this seemed a good opportunity to introduce some sort of purpose into my trip into the village. I first had to buy a postcard though, so I headed for the souvenir shop.

Inside, I immediately felt the giddying sensation that I was plunging into boredom. It rather surprised me with its intensity, in fact. This was clearly unlike anything I’d experienced so far today. The walk here had certainly been tedious and uneventful, and almost entirely lacking in interest, but nevertheless I had not particularly been aware of being bored.

But now I was bored. Overwhelmingly so. The shop was crammed full of things: big things, small things, wooden things, handmade things, expensive things, not so expensive things, wearable things, spiritual things, locally produced things. None of these things were things I could ever imagine wanting to own, or ever imagine wanting to give to anyone as a present. I found myself considering some hand-woven oven gloves at one point, and then began gazing at some maple syrup sweets. The shopkeeper at this point started cracking jokes at me in French. I imagine what he was saying was something like, “if you get hungry you could eat them yourself!” But then again he could equally have been quipping that, “my shop is full of the worst kind of meaningless, pseudo-local, ignorantly nationalist, ugly, over-priced, opportunistically commercial, abjectly useless trash you’ve ever seen. And you know what’s really funny: people buy this kind of crap!” I bought a postcard showing a “gourmet hamburger” from him and left.

Back outside, I staggered across the car park and collapsed onto a bench behind the church.

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Realising that I was, so to speak, “in the zone” of boredom, I felt a certain excitement: I could spend the next two hours here in this car park, experiencing exactly this heightened sense of profound disinterest in the world around me. This was exactly what I wanted.

But slowly, inevitably, the pitch of boredom waned, and I slowed down into a more gentle phase of everyday listlessness. This is the more familiar sensation: you’re not acutely aware of it any more, but the feeling is still there, lurking, draining you of motivation, and dampening any enthusiasm you might have about what is around you. For the next few minutes I blankly watched the mundane goings-on in the car park.

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After a while I decided to write my postcard. I couldn’t think of anything to say, except that I was “feeling a bit bored in a car park”, and that I “couldn’t remember how to ask for a stamp in French”.

Then I went over to the post office, bought a stamp (by pointing), posted the postcard and headed for the supermarket. On the way there I called in to another boutique. I hadn’t been in this one before. It was huge: I looked around several rooms on the ground floor and in the basement, and was about to leave when I saw some stairs leading upwards. The shopkeeper saw me hesitating in front of them, and informed me (with a slightly embarrassed look on her face) that, yes, indeed, there was more upstairs. The shop had so much to offer, but once again, I had no interest whatsoever in any of it.

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Shortly after this I passed another boutique on the same street, with a rather charming wooden deer outside. But by now my mind seemed to have melted, and I really couldn’t face any more shelves of skillfully carved ornaments, so I continued on to the supermarket instead.

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On the way back, the familiar procession of things passed by along the roadside. None of them were any more or less interesting than they had been earlier in the day. They were quite consistent in that sense.

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Just before I reached home I started to wonder if I should focus on this particular stretch of the road more directly, given its uniquely uninteresting character, and perhaps walk back and forth along it for a couple of hours. The thought filled me with dread.

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Three and a half hours on a boat

Efficiently and without much deliberation I got on my bike and cycled to the abandoned boat. Just before I arrived I couldn’t resist making a short detour onto the beach nearby, but didn’t stay there long. I had more important things to do today.

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So I made my way across the field, parked my bike and climbed onto the boat. There was a ladder already in place this time, so I didn’t need to struggle.

I put my things down on the deck and looked at the time: it was 12.21pm. I hadn’t much been concerned with time on my outings so far, but today it was important. I wanted to spend three hours here.

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I paused and looked around me. The morning had been overcast, but now the sun had come out. It was warm. Today was not going to be unpleasant (at least not physically).

There was a single large coniferous tree on one side of the boat, and a small woodland on the other; dead leaves and branches had amassed on the deck. The large crate filled with water was also there, which I remembered from last time. There were also some fence posts and a sheet of blue plastic.

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I looked over at the nearby fruit field, which contained two white plastic tables. I wondered how this helped with the picking process, and tried to imagine people sitting at it whilst picking. But that really wouldn’t work: there were no chairs and the tables were at the ends of the rows of fruit bushes anyway, so the pickers wouldn’t be able to reach the fruit from there. Maybe they put the fruit on the tables when they’d picked it. Whatever, I stopped thinking about this before too long.

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Then I got up and started investigating the boat a bit more. The cabin smelt of fuel again, which again reminded me of travelling to France by ferry as a child. I spent some time opening hatches, replacing the covers of hatches, putting pieces of wood in places where it looked like they once belonged, and opening and closing the sliding side door of the cabin. This was particularly good fun.

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At one point I completely reconstructed the floor of the cabin, the pieces of which were all lying around in various places.

I imagined whether it would have been possible to sleep in here during the boat’s sea-faring days. I also thought about whether it would be possible to sleep in there now. Probably, I reasoned, but it wouldn’t be very pleasant. Some homeless bum might come and lie down next to me.

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Eventually, when I’d opened all the hatches and put everything that looked like it could fit somewhere where it fitted, I sat down again on the deck. It was 13.12. It been on the boat almost an hour and hadn’t been even remotely bored so far. I’d just filled my time thoroughly investigating everything that was on board.

It struck me that I was behaving like a child. Not in a bad way, just in the sense that if you don’t have any responsibilities and have a lot of time on your hands, then you find things to do. You play with what’s around you. There’s a whole theory about this that says children these days aren’t bored enough, because their lives are too full of electronic distractions. It’s only when they’re bored and have nothing to do, people say, that they start being creative and inventing new activities and games.

I’m not really convinced by this theory. I hadn’t been bored at all today, but I’d already engaged in a childlike interaction with my environment.

It was only now, whilst thinking about not being bored, that the first ominous waves of listlessness started to invade my body, and erode my will to do anything. I began to feel weary.

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After a while though, I found myself starting to clear away the leaves and branches on the deck. As it happens, I’d already decided against doing this several times because it had seemed so utterly pointless. But now, I suppose, the alternative of just sitting there and doing nothing must have seemed so bad that I decided I had no choice. The only thing I could find as a tool to sweep away the leaves however, was a stick, which made the task rather difficult.

But I kept at it, and soon enough the deck started to look a bit more orderly.

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The crate full of brown water still annoyed me though. I wanted to tip it over and empty it, but it was too heavy. The weight of the water was simply too great.

It had clouded over again, I noticed.

I drank some water from a bottle, and stared at the floor. The wetness of the leaves where I’d been sweeping had already started to dry. And there were ants scurrying around.

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I thought again about the crate full of water, and about the hatch underneath. The hatch was almost certainly the same as the one just in front of it, which contained a toilet seat and allowed access to a part of the engine. It wasn’t really curiosity that was making me want to open it, more a sense of completeness (I had looked in every other hatch on the boat).

I decided to get off the boat and have a look round for a bucket to empty the crate of water.  I didn’t find one, but I found a plastic container of oil, which I emptied. While I was circling the boat I noticed it was called “Gill”. I also found the boat’s anchor, which was extremely heavy, and propped it up against the hull. I briefly wondered how ships were made to be watertight, and made a mental note to google that when I got home. Then I climbed back into the boat. It was 13.49.

I sat down again on the deck and tried to recall what I’d seen in some of the other hatches. They had all revealed some part of the engine, but I couldn’t remember very accurately. I briefly considered opening them all again to remind myself, but decided it wasn’t worth it.

By now I was starting to feel quite strongly that I wanted to leave the boat. I was having an unusually dull time. I became aware of the sound of birds for the first time, which I think was triggered by the sound of a distant car. I also noticed that whenever a breeze blew the trees nearby shed drops of water, which made it sound like it as raining (which it wasn’t).

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Eventually I decided to throw caution to the wind and start emptying the crate of water with the plastic container. It was an extremely slow process: after filling and pouring away about twenty containers of water, the level in the crate had sunk by perhaps a centimetre. If nothing else, this would use up the rest of my time on the boat. But that wasn’t really the point, I reminded myself, so I gave up and sat back down again.

It was 13.57.

By 14.03 my thoughts had drifted towards a skype call that I had to make when I got back. I noticed also that I was also feeling increasingly hungry (I’d decided not to bring any food onboard). Two mating dragonflies briefly landed in front of me, but I was too slow to photograph them.

14.10. I reflected again on whether my original plan to stay on the boat from dawn until dusk would have been better. Time was passing surprisingly quickly: I’d been here nearly two hours already.

14.16. Suddenly some people were coming my way in the distance. They seemed to be moving towards me very fast. I hadn’t planned for this. Panicking, I wondered how I would explain to them what I was doing. But then they stopped in the fruit field, and didn’t come any closer.

They seemed to be watching me rather intently, which I found bit strange. But when I photographed them through a telephoto lens I saw that they were picking raspberries from the field. I also saw that they were teenagers. They probably thought I was the farmer, or something.

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After they’d left I wandered around the deck of the boat again. It was then that I noticed a large bowl in the undergrowth very close by. It was perfect for decanting the crate of its water.

What happened next was a blur: I collected the bowl, climbed back onto the boat, and started emptying the water in great gushing bowlfuls. I couldn’t be bothered tipping the water over the side of the boat any more, so I simply tipped it onto the deck instead. I did this for perhaps twenty minutes, and when the crate was empty enough, I turned it onto its side.

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Finally I could look inside the hatch underneath.

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It did indeed contain a toilet. And nothing else of any interest whatsoever.

What on earth was I doing, I thought to myself as I closed the hatch and put the crate back in place. I had just wasted an entire afternoon.

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I checked the time: it was already half past three. Somehow or other I had been on the boat for over three hours.

By now I was feeling slightly dazed, and was in an increasingly bad mood. Why hadn’t that happened in the middle of the three hours, I wondered. It would have at least given me something to preoccupy myself with. But no, it was only when it was time to leave that I started feeling so utterly dejected.

Presently I gathered my things and climbed out of the boat, stopping momentarily to look at the water dripping from the hull underneath.

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I don’t think I’ll ever come back here, I thought to myself as I left. Life is too short.

Next time I’ll sit on a park bench for three hours instead.

Diversionary activities

At some point today I wanted to call in at the little shop on rue de Gaspé Est to buy a newspaper. I had a plan, in other words. It was a fairly inconsequential plan, admittedly, but it would at least provide an anchor in reality for my increasingly groundless freewheeling.

I even contemplated going there by bicycle, but decided that would be a little too clinical.

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The first ten or fifteen minutes of the walk almost failed to register at all. I had a fleeting awareness of some familiar landmarks like the little house and the hotel passing through my perceptual consciousness, but certainly nothing took shape that could be described as an “impression” as such.

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It was the weekend, and already I was starting to sense a certain “weekend” atmosphere. There were groups of cyclists whizzing past, but generally everything and everyone seemed to be moving at a leisurely pace. I wondered how much this had to do with me: would I have made such an observation if it had been a Tuesday morning?

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Probably, I decided, as a group of walkers strode cheerfully past.

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By the time I reached the centre of the village I noticed that I too had been infected with the spirit of weekend leisure. I was in a good mood, and was rather enjoying the walk.

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I passed the drugstore and decided (for no particular reason) to go in. Some chocolate was on special offer, so I bought a couple of bars, and then left.

The church was nearby so I took a look in there too. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a church without feeling a vague sense of losing the will to live, and this one didn’t disappoint. It was perhaps a little more twee than average, but otherwise typical. As I was leaving I noticed a poster on the wall offering help to those thinking about suicide. Two of the slips with contact details had been torn off.

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Next I walked along to the shop that sold newspapers, and bought one. Then I walked back towards the church, visiting a couple of boutiques along the way. The first made me want to leave as soon as I’d stepped inside, but the owner was smiling at me so cheerfully that I felt obliged to stay for at least a minute and a half. During this time I tried to admire some soul-destroyingly poor seascape paintings, but just couldn’t get into them, so decided instead to gaze at some mugs with cats printed on the sides.

At various points in the second boutique I again felt the unmistakable sensation that I was enjoying myself. It was full of interesting artefacts skillfully made using the handed-down traditions of the Indonesian sweat-shop. I didn’t buy anything.

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Next I cut through the cemetery, and once again half-heartedly looked for the grave of Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé. I didn’t really care about him any more though, so I didn’t pursue it.

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Shortly after that I found myself at the quay. I wandered onto the pier, sat down on a bench, and then, for what I realised was the first time that day, felt a bit bored.

The day had been ridiculously congenial so far:  I’d managed to pass the time engaging in countless inconsequential activities, and a spirit of trivial curiosity had filled my being. In short, I was behaving like a tourist. But now, suddenly, I had run out of diversions, and was faced with reality itself.

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This was much better.

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For a few glorious minutes I was exactly where I wanted to be: in a state of utter disinterest and detachment from the world around me. I could feel the life draining out of my body, and an apathetic torpor invading my mind. The illusion that there had been a purpose behind the walk had disappeared. The “going to buy a newspaper” narrative had long since run its course, and the cheerful diversionary triviality of acting like a tourist had been replaced by something more real, more honest and more mundane: boredom. Nothing around me interested me any more. I had nothing left to do, and I had no desire either to go and find something to do.

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Then I decided to eat some biscuits.

When I’d finished, I got up and walked to the end of the pier. The were some skateboarders there, and a few other people strolling along and soaking in the picturesque surroundings.

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Across the water some rather heavy-looking clouds were looming. I watched them for a while, and noticed that everyone else around me was watching them too. Maybe all these other people were as bored as I was. Or maybe they were just worried about the possibility of rain.

After a while I turned round and walked back along the pier, and then on towards the harbourmaster’s building. The thought crossed my mind to stop and have a beer in the bar above it, but I didn’t.

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There were a few spots of rain, but it didn’t come to much. I almost felt disappointed by this, as a heavy downpour would have given me an excuse to shelter somewhere, and feel interminably bored while I waited for it to stop.

Instead I decided to head home, passing a wedding reception at the marquee on the way, where drunken guests could be seen slipping out of side doors for cigarettes, shouting at children, and getting their beautiful dresses and elegant suits wet in the dirty puddles surrounding the building.

A waiter was also sitting outside, smoking and staring absent-mindedly at a field.

The rest of the journey home was uneventful, although I did stop to look at a factory car park. It was empty: the factory was closed at weekends.

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But mainly by this stage I was thinking only about what to have for dinner.

There and back again

I set off with the intention of visiting the harbour, but almost as soon as I began I remembered what a long and monotonous walk it was. Even the first time I did it, it had felt too long. And now that I’d more or less seen everything on the way, the prospect of seeing it all over again was almost terrifying in its banality.

But having to endure all that again held a certain perverse appeal, so I continued walking.

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Unusually, two women were also walking along the roadside today. But they kept stopping and crossing over and looking round for something. They were obviously involved in some purposeful activity.

I soon left them behind.

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When I reached the roadside ice-cream shop, I became preoccupied with that for a while. Some of the people queuing outside it were wearing colourful clothes. I walked off down a side street on the opposite side hoping to get a better view of the spectacle, but when I turned round I realised I couldn’t see the people any more over the brow of the hill. I paused for a moment, looking round for something else to point my camera at. But I didn’t find anything, so I walked back up the hill and continued onwards.

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Shortly afterwards I noticed a lane heading off to the right besides some sort of factory.  Strange that I hadn’t noticed that before, I thought to myself. And without too much deliberation I decided to walk along it for a short distance.

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The lane was grassy, and it continued on past the factory on the right and another one on the left. I had no idea what either of the factories were for. I saw a man on the roof of the one on the left at one point. He was doing something which involved opening a door.

The other factory was less exciting.

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Pretty soon I had walked past the factories and found myself instead surrounded by fields. It was at this point that I was forced to question whether or not I should turn around and continue on my original journey. The prospect of being surrounded by an unremarkable landscape was tempting enough in itself, but what really persuaded me to change my plan was the realisation that the lane was heading in the direction of the highway.

Shortly afterwards I photographed a series of seven fields, the final one of which featured a butterfly.

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When the lane reached a small patch of forest, the number of flies increased, and I spent the next ten minutes maddeningly batting them away.

The weather was also starting to become overcast around this point.

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Eventually I reached the railway track, which ran along on top of a slight embankment. From there you could see the highway.

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Then I crossed the field between the railway track and the highway, paused in front of the fence for a moment, wondered whether or not to climb over it, climbed over it, and then watched the cars and trucks whizzing past.

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I realised quite quickly that this was stupefyingly boring.

But in the spirit of adventure I kept at it for quite a few minutes. Then I got a little bit closer. By now the drivers could clearly see me, and I wondered how long it might be before someone reported me for doing what I was doing (which was no doubt illegal).

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After enduring this particularly tedious activity for long enough, I decided to climb back over the fence into the field. I started to walk along it towards the slip-road at the far end, where I thought I could probably get a better view of the highway traffic, but then realised this was an utterly pointless idea.

The sky was looking more and more ominous, so I decided that now would probably be a good time to head home. When I reached the railway track again, I lingered there for a while and reflected on how bored I was.

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I was very bored.

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‘But this is the whole point,’ I kept telling myself, ‘I’m trying to subject myself to boredom.’

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But it was no use. My mind was numb, and no articulable thoughts were forming any more. It really was time to go home.

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What was remarkable about the rest of the journey was how little I thought about anything. I resumed my battle with the flies for a while during the foresty section, but apart from that, there was nothing to report whatsoever.

Going somewhere directly

This time I decided to go directly to the museum, and not take any detours along the way at all. But it still felt important to walk, rather than cycle (which would have been a lot quicker). So already there was some kind of tension between wanting to get somewhere, and wanting to savour the process of getting somewhere. Maybe I was attracted by the unnaturally long time it would take to walk (by car it would have taken five or ten minutes, by bike perhaps fifteen). But it was also a very nice day, and it was also the weekend, and I felt like doing something that would fill a couple of hours. So I walked.

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I started to recognise things along the roadside that I’d passed on my previous aborted attempt. They certainly looked brighter in the sunlight.

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But it was still a tedious journey. The stretches between the noteworthy places that I remembered from last time seemed to go on forever.

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I more or less kept to my plan of not taking any detours, with the exception of going to look more closely at a pile of wood. It was only ten metres from the roadside, so that seemed acceptable.

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It was remarkable how disconnected I was feeling from all this today.

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Finally I arrived at the museum, and noticed that there was a shop opposite. I’ll have a look in there afterwards, I thought to myself. Then I strolled around the grounds for a while, without really engaging with anything. The museum building was a modern replica of the original building that the de Gaspé family owned, and the gardens around it still had the feeling of being somehow too new.

I went inside, and immediately had to endure an extremely long introduction to the museum by the assistant. At some point she asked me something and I had to explain that I didn’t speak French. It turned out she wanted to know what my postcode was. I told her I didn’t know, but I was staying in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. This was fine, she said, and sold me a ticket. Then she switched back to French and continued her elaborate description of every single thing inside the museum.

She followed me into the first room, and seemed to start explaining to me in French how computers work, and then thankfully was distracted by some other visitors who’d just arrived.

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I had almost no interest in any of this, I realised after a few minutes, so I went downstairs to look at another exhibition.

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I was momentarily distracted by a leaflet rack, where I saw a self-promotional photo album full of someone’s hand-crafted furniture, but my overall feeling was that I was hungry and not in the mood to be in a museum.

I managed to pulled myself together slightly when I reached the archive of audio recordings, and spent half an hour listening to people talking about their memories of what they’d lived through, and what they did in their everyday lives. Some of this was no doubt fascinating, but since most of the people were speaking in a language I barely understood, I was having to use my imagination quite a lot.

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Eventually I left the museum, and headed for the shop over the road to buy something to eat. This “general store” turned out to be an antiques shop with an antique “general store” sign hanging outside. The only food it sold were some souvenir tins of maple syrup.

Disappointed and hungry, I walked home, barely registering anything else around me.

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Not judging

I was determined today not to embark on yet another tortuous search for meaning. Over the last few days I’d started to feel quite exhausted by the sheer effort of continually trying to concentrate on what wasn’t interesting. It had been becoming increasingly clear that the whole premise of searching for the uninteresting was, in fact, rather shaky. Whatever seemed uninteresting, I was starting to realise, immediately stopped being uninteresting as soon as I decided to pay attention to it. And if paying attention to something meant making it the subject of my interest, then it probably followed that it had never really been uninteresting in the first place.

I had more or less been aware of this conceptual short-circuit from the beginning. But what was making it worse now was that every day I was being confronted with more and more evidence to suggest that the uninteresting could, in fact, never be pinned down.

Whatever uninteresting object, event, or experience I grasped for immediately lost its innocence. It immediately became something else. And even if there remained some small residue of uninterestingness, it wasn’t the same thing anymore. It was more like a memory of a lack of interest. Or like a lack of interest that you had never properly been able to articulate. Whatever it was, it seemed far away.

So today I tried to not look for it at all.

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It was a very windy day, I noticed, as I cycled to a nearby bay. So windy, in fact, that when I got there and sat down on the beach to eat some raspberries, I endured a constant stream of stinging sand in my face, and had to give up five minutes later.

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I clambered out along some rocks towards the water and saw some people in the distance walking along the shore. I watched them battling against the wind, hopping from rock to rock with the lightness of people not worn down by the effort of having to make constant tortuous judgements of how interesting everything around them was.

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As they got closer, I felt a kind of connection with them. What they were doing wasn’t so far away from what I was doing: walking along the rocks at the beach on a windy day.

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After a while I headed back to where I’d left my bicycle, and then looked around at some houses and gardens nearby. A man who was cutting wood with a chainsaw kept stopping and looking at me. This was probably because I had been trying to photograph him for the last few minutes, thinking that what he was doing looked appealingly ordinary. I gave up though in the end, deciding that a man staring accusingly at me was not as appealingly ordinary as a man chopping wood.

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Afterwards I cycled back up a very steep hill towards the main road, and on the way took a detour along a track which led into some thick woodland and then ended abruptly.

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Later I stopped at a roadside theatre, where I spent some minutes looking around the car park.

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It had turned out to be quite a pleasant trip. Everything that had been weighing me down for the last few days had been breezily swept away. On the whole I had avoiding thinking about the issue of whether things were interesting or not (with a few momentary lapses), and simply soaked in what was around me instead. That was much more fun.

Clearly, however, I couldn’t continue like this.

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Debilitating boredom

It was almost five o’clock and I was just getting ready to go out for another walk. I passed S in the kitchen, who casually asked me how my walk had been. ‘I haven’t been for a walk yet,’ I explained, ‘I’m just about to go for one.’

The terror of realisation that going for walks had not only become my main activity, but that now other people knew that it had become my main activity, depressed me. Listlessly I strolled down the road, stopping out of a feeling of duty to have a closer look at the boutique opposite the little house. It was closed, or at least the owner wasn’t inside.

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But to be perfectly honest, even if it had been open, I probably wouldn’t have gone in anyway. Looking through the window seemed to be as close as I wanted to get today. A first I felt disappointed by my lack of curiosity, but then began to think that being this close but still on the outside was a more fitting experience anyway.

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A little further on was another boutique, but this one was empty. Somehow this made things more straightforward: here there was no agonising decision to be made about whether or not to go inside.

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What on earth was I doing? My curiosity levels were falling to new lows. I had walked this way several times already, and though the unique lighting conditions of each individual day made things look a little bit different from one day to the next, I had almost no desire to explore that particular phenomenon. I was bored. Deeply bored. More bored than I’d been for a long time.

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I turned right into rue des Bourgault, which was the route I’d taken on my very first day here. The same old houses and the same old gardens and the same old quirky arrangements of mailboxes and lampposts passed me by.

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Since I was searching for the uninteresting, and since the uninteresting was a wholly subjective quality anyway, then surely on a day like today (when I was overcome by boredom and apathy) I could get closer than ever to finding what I was looking for. But the trouble with being overcome by apathy is that that makes it pretty hard to “find” anything at all.

But I soldiered on, blankly staring at everything around me. Eventually the houses turned into fields, and my attention was drawn to a fence post I passed to the left. I didn’t stop immediately (I was feeling too apathetic), but a couple more fence posts later I turned round and decided to photograph a series of seven fence posts.

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My mood improved after this. Perhaps I just needed to be more rigorous in my search for the uninteresting.

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I reached a vineyard and decided to look around the grounds. It was deserted. A few days ago the house had featured as one of my “isolated houses”. I now discovered that it in fact contained a rather lovely bar, terrace and picnic area. It wasn’t isolated at all. It was closed at the moment though, which gave it a peculiar deserted quality in the warm evening sun.

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I became a little too interested in nature at this point, and lost focus somewhat. At one point I saw my first Canadian snake darting away in the grass, and wondered afterwards if it was poisonous.

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On the way home I reflected again on what I felt was my complete lack of direction and purpose. But at least I’d gone out a walk. Walks were important. They gave me the clear and focussed opportunity to feel debilitatingly bored by everything around me. And that was somehow connected with what I was trying to do.

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Existential moments and rock pools

It was around lunchtime, and I set off with an uncharacteristically clear goal in mind: to climb down to the shore and eat some lunch there. And perhaps also to read my book.

I walked to the little house by the roadside, intending to take the same route as before through the trees. When I reached the house however, I decided not to take this same route. Clambering through thick undergrowth was evidently not part of today’s plan. Instead I strode confidently through the grounds of the hotel next door, past a workman who was attending to the driveway, past some tourists relaxing in front of the shore in reclining chairs, and down over some rocks to the water’s edge.

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The journey had been remarkably straightforward so far. I found a comfortable spot, sat down and ate my lunch, and thought a little about what to do next.

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The sun was warm, and the breeze was pleasant. The view was undeniably attractive: for the first time since I’d arrived in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, the air was clear enough to make out details on the mountains opposite. The water around me was calm, except for an occasional wave breaking against the rocks. The distant sound of seagulls could be heard. There was really nothing to complain about.

There was a rock pool just in front of where I was sitting, and I imagined dipping my toe into its sun-warmed water. When I actually did dip my toe into its sun-warmed water, it wasn’t as warm as I’d expected (although it wasn’t cold).

This sensation seemed in a way to sum up the entire experience of being here at the water’s edge today. I doubted whether anything else would come close to it on this particular outing. I began to wonder whether it might be what constituted an “existential moment”. That was probably overplaying it a little, but it was a “moment” nonetheless. It had happened, and I would remember it later.

Realising at this point that things were slipping worryingly towards poetry, I decided to change tact and introduce some objectivity into proceedings. So I photographed a whole series of other rock pools, with the intention of classing them according to degrees of uninterestingness, or any other scale that came to mind.

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No other objective scale came to mind, but in a way, I felt it wasn’t necessary anyway. The rock pools were uninteresting enough as they were.

I began to notice that the tide was coming in, and watched this phenomenon for a while. Then I read another chapter of Canadians of Old (which seemed to be making more reference to Scotland than to Canada).

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After I’d finished the chapter, I gathered my things and headed home. It was nearly six o’clock.

Drawings

Since the museum of the uninteresting would need some sort of thematic order, I’d been thinking of grouping things together according to the walks I’d been making.

These walks also needed to be visualised, so I made some drawings as an experiment. For some reason I numbered them backwards (so they start at “6” and finish with “1”), which is probably not a strategy I will be employing in the museum.

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