Sunday, 13 December 2015

What I Want For Christmas, By the mother of a 1-year-old

So it's the festive season again, and Facebook is again going nuts over whether we're allowed or not allowed to say Merry Christmas. Here's a clue: we are. I've never seen a convincing example of anyone, ever, being told they weren't allowed to wish someone a Merry Christmas (apart from, like, in the middle of June, because Sod Off), or of anyone actually being offended by being wished a Merry Christmas when they don't actually celebrate it. But why let the facts get in the way of a good Facebook share, eh? Also, if you have, like, Themmuns in your workplace, is it really the end of the world to wish them Happy Holidays instead? You know, I used to do some work with a Jewish guy; this one time I even told him to have a happy Hanukkah. We all appear to still be here. Makes you think.

Anyway, people keep asking me what I want for Christmas, and I have to say that once you have a child, things change, although not in the ways you might think. I mean, some mothers will say "All I want for Christmas is to see my child's face lighting up with the magic of the day". Those people can feck right off for a start, along with the "All I want is for my friends to be happy" brigade.

Most of the things I want are unobtainable, of course. Baby Smile to sleep through the night, for instance. A nice warm jumper that a) I like and B) doesn't cost the earth. My house to be about 2 feet wider so that the bedroom has room for the cot and therefore Baby Smile might actually sleep in it and not all over our bed. A extra hand, lol. But there's no point in dwelling on what one cannot have, naturally.

There also exists a long list of things I do not want:

* Anything that occupies actual space in my house. Ain't no room for THAT at the inn, let me tell you. This inn is all full right up with plastic toys in various shades of lurid. If we could turn all that plastic back into oil, we'd have enough resources to provoke an international conflict and blame it on Themmuns.

* Anything involving effort, like a spa day. I saw these advertised "For Mum For Christmas". Please, no. A spa day, like. If I'm using up a full day's worth of babysitting, I want to use my time to nap, read and color in, not go to the effort of getting dressed in proper clothes and then driving across town so I can lie naked on a bed sniffing a candle that's infused with the scent of some forest I'm not in, while someone rubs hot stones all over me. And it doesn't help if you offer to babysit, by the way, because let's face it, I don't trust you with my one and only child. If you want to try babysitting, go find someone with 4 kids; they'll hand them out like Smarties if it means they get a quiet half hour.

So, here are some things I'd like:

* A retractable clothes line. I've actually asked my mother in law for this, so here's hoping.
* A nap.
* To not be invited out to all manner of Christmas Events. Trust me, it's extremely unlikely that I'll find any of these preferable to an evening on the sofa. I can cope with Christmas Day if I get a good rest in the run-up, but all else is hassle.
* To make a gingerbread house which doesn't fall apart before being eaten. I've bought all the bits for this; just need to Google how to do the icing. Gingerbread houses are not hard to make (if you buy them flat-packed from IKEA), and they make you feel all Pinterest Mom.
* Some way of cutting my baby's nails that doesn't involve me having to either sneak up on him in his sleep (thus making him scared to go to sleep, and my life getting immeasurably worse) or trying to do it while he's awake and stabbing myself in the face while I try not to cut him.
* Self-ironing clothes which can also be tumble dried and which don't look like plastic. It's almost 2016, science. Get your act together.
* A couple more small wet bags for nappies. I meant to ask for these and forgot. Preferably ones with elephants or foxes or owls.
* A bar of chocolate the size of my head.
* After Eights. I fricken love After Eights.

That is all. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Friday, 16 October 2015

How To Solve a Very Specific Computer Problem

It's too early to say "I'm back" to blogging, but, y'know, "Hi. How've you been?". I'm thinking of writing a series of posts about Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Management, and then making them into a book so I can make loads of money. But I probably won't get round to it.

In the meantime, a Thing went wrong with my tablet (Google Nexus 10), and i tried all the Things the internet suggested, and none of them fixed it, and then I fixed it myself, so I thought I'd throw my method out there in case it helps the grand pool of knowledge created by humankind.

So, the problem was thus: tablet charger broke. Tablet ran out of power. Ordered new charger. Waited. Charger arrived. Charged tablet. Turned tablet on. Tablet won't stay connected to WiFi for more than 20 seconds.

At some point in this process, the tablet upgraded to Android Lollipop. I think it was after charging it up, and before the WiFi disconnecting thing.

So I Google it (in increasingly irritating 20 second bursts), and I find that this is a Known Issue with Android Lollipop, and I think " Well, good, then, there'll be a solution ". But I can't find a solution; I can only find " suggestions ". I decide to try them, in the following order:

1. Switch tablet off and back on - nothing
2. Switch modem off and on - have to wait for Mr Smile to go to work before I can try this, so he doesn't think I broke the internet. Still doesn't help.
3. Switch router off and on - I'm not sure how this is different from switching the modem off and on, so I skip it. Come to think of it, I don't really know that that was the modem I switched off in step 2. Anyway, we're no further on.
4. Get the tablet to forget the network and then reenter it. This step doesn't work because my tablet is a freaking encyclopaedia of networks, apparently, and it doesn't have the " forget" option anywhere.
5. Try switching it off and on again.
6. Connect to the modem directly by entering the IP address, and change the channel the network is broadcasting on. This is almost guaranteed to end in disaster, but thankfully the tablet won't connect to anything.
7. Update all your apps to the most recent version. I'd love to do this, but I have 37 pending updates and can only update in 20 second bursts. I struggle on gamely through the first 3, and give up.
8. Fiddle with the WiFi settings. This sounds suspiciously vague, but I'm willing to try anything by this point, so I toggle things on and off at random. I come across something that tells me to press the WPS button on the modem, and I do it anyway because Sod It All.
9. Rewind your operating system to KitKat, but back up your data first. This involves a process so complex that I can't even be bothered sitting through the 300 20 second bursts that it'll take to read about it, so I give up.

So the internet is Out Of Ideas, but I am not. Here's what I did next, which fixed it:
1. Went to my sister's house. Realised my tablet was happily connected to her network. Started downloading updates.
2. Got interrupted by my nephew wanting to play the animal game on my tablet, so stopped downloading updates.
3. Went home. WiFi disconnecting immediately, and I realise I only let about 4 updates actually download. And they're stuff like the Asda app, which are hardly likely to be causing the issue.
4. Became despondent.
5. But realised that the problem seems to be only with my home network.
6. Concocted plan to get a neighbour's password.
7. Opened WiFi settings and looked at the network again. Decided to type in the wrong password, in a bid to anger it. It whined that it couldn't save the network settings because the password was wrong.
8. And then the WiFi stopped disconnecting.

You're welcome.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Still blogging

A few people have asked me recently "still blogging?" and I'm like "well, yes, but not, like, actively of anything".

I realised I forgot to announce the arrival of Baby Smile back in August, but yes, he's here now and extremely nice. I keep doing weird things since he's been born, like being almost in tears at the thought of entering a baby in a "Most Beautiful Baby" contest, because imagine if you did that and then your baby didn't win. One day I cried because he kicked his sock out of the pram and lost it, and then the following week I was walking along the same road and found it.

Anyway, I'm vaguely working on the WhyNotSmile Guides to Pregnancy and to Baby Care. They're going to be fabulous.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The World Cup

After the raging success of the WhyNotSmile Guide To The Elections (which went what I call "viral", receiving upwards of 19 hits), it has been requested that I produce a Guide to the World Cup, which is a football thing that starts today. So here goes.

We need to begin by understanding the concept of football. Essentially, football is a sport which involves 2 teams battling it out to see who can get a ball into a net the most often. To make it twice as easy, they have a net at each end of the 'pitch', but they also allow you to keep one of your team members in the net at all times, to try to stop the ball from going in.

Things get more advanced than this, of course. For instance, if you kick someone else and they fall down, then they get to have a special attempt at kicking the back into the net, called a penalty. Sometimes you're allowed to line up all your players between them and the net, to try to block the ball, but this doesn't always happen, and I'm not sure why. Also, at the end of the allotted time, if both teams have got the back into the net the same number of times, then they get to do a penalty shoot-out, and then Germany win. I'm not sure why this happens either.

Then there is the offside rule, which I'm not supposed to be able to understand because I'm a girl. In reality, of course, I understand many things which are much more complex than the offside rule, like the rules of social engagement, which appear to pass many footballers by; the reason I don't understand the offside rule is that I just don't give a fiddler's fart.

In addition to the two teams, there is also a chap called the 'referee' who runs about and tries to make them stick to the rules. Fans have lots of chants about referees, many of whom appear to be "bankers".  I assume this is why football is often played on bank holidays.

The Teams
Now, for the World Cup, there is a team from every country who want to send one, but of course they can't all play each other in a fortnight because there are, like, 200* countries who have football teams, so if they were all going to play a sort of knockout tournament where the winner of each match progresses to the next round, then there would have to be 8 rounds, but the first one would have, like, 100 matches going on, and in total you would have 255 matches, and the wallchart would just be too big for the wall.
* I don't know. I made that up.

And even worse, if you had to insist that each team played every other team, then there would be, like, 200! matches happening, where 200! means "200 factorial", and not just 200 said with a gasp, and since 200! is too big for my calculator to even work it out, we would basically be watching football forever.

So instead they have matches ahead of time to see who is good enough to qualify for the finals, and teams like Northern Ireland fluke their way through every now and then, but mostly it's teams who are actually good, and also England. I think they let England play every time because they invented football or something.
It's always important to establish who's actually still in the thing if you want to sound competent in work when the topic comes up; I once spent a fortnight supporting Republic of Ireland before being taken to one side and told they hadn't qualified that time. In some workplaces, of course, they'd just have given me Ireland in the office sweepstake (of which more later) and been done with it.

So if someone asks you which team you're supporting, you want to say the name of a country; preferably one that's good at football, or England.

The 2014 World Cup
Now, each time they have the thing (which is every 4 years), they have it in a different place. This is decided by some manner of corruption or something, rather than by my preferred method of keeping it like Eurovision, where the place that won last time gets to host it this time round. Anyway, this year it's in Brazil, and if you fancy going over to it you should probably take a paintbrush and be ready to give them hand with painting the lines on, for it is widely believed that things Aren't Quite Ready Yet. Next time round it's in Qatar, which is a real place and is too hot to play football in.

World Cup Traditions
Now, regardless of whether you like football or not, you can still get into the spirit of things by involving yourself in one of the many time-honoured traditions which have sprung up around it. These include:
  • Sticker albums: produced by Panini, these are like scrapbooks, but with spaces for stickers with footballers on them. You can often get the album for free, and then spend approximately £3800 on stickers, in a futile bid to collect them all. The stickers come in little packets, and the idea is that you swap them with your friends in school until everybody has all of them; naturally, the people who make the stickers ensure that a chosen few are really rare, and these become valuable currency in playgrounds across the country. It used to be that sticker albums were the preserve of the pre-teen boy, but now with EBay and everything, access to stickers for "swapsies" is wider, thus restoring the dream to adults as well. Note to adult males: women do not generally consider this to be impressive behaviour.
  • The Office Sweepstake: this happens in every office in the land when the World Cup is on.  Basically, you get a list of all the teams who are playing, and then throw them in a box (except usually you can't find a box, so someone cups their hands and you put them in there), and then you allocate everyone in the office a team or a number of teams. Everyone pays a pound and whoever's team wins gets to keep all the money at the end.  More advanced systems involve 'seeding' the teams, or having first, second and third prizes, but this really makes no difference, because there's always one person in the office who always wins, every. freaking. time. (yes, Alex, I'm looking at you). Obviously a challenge is presented if you have more people in your office than there are teams playing, but this can be resolved by sub-dividing the office into more manageable groups.
  • Wallcharts: a staple of every World Cup, ever, the Wallchart usually comes free with The Mirror about a fortnight before it all kicks off. Even I have been known to end up with a World Cup wallchart, and take great delight in filling it all in.  The essential components are: lots of pictures of flags; some enlightening commentary on each of the teams; and the actual Chart bit.  The Chart bit lists the various 'pools', and the scheduled matches, and there's a little space for you to write in the score for each match. Then when it all progresses to the quarter finals and so on, you get to write in the matches and the winners and stuff.  For some reason, it's all completely glorious fun.
  • Anthems: every time, some trendy band are asked to write a World Cup anthem for everyone to sing when they cheer on England to their certain victory.  It's usually crap, so then some band that no one has heard of comes out with something much better and unofficial, and everyone sings that instead. The vital ingredients are references to: 1966 (the last time England won), the hurt which has engulfed the nation ever since, curry, beer and a lot of cheering because this will be Our Year.
So the World Cup kicks off tonight, and you can now prepare yourself for every conversation you will have between now and July 13th.  I trust this helps.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections

Now, we have elections coming up here in Belfast on 22nd May, and a number of people* have asked for guidance on how the process works, who to vote for, and so on. So it is as a Public Service that I hereby present The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections.
* 1 person, plus my husband, who didn't actually ask but got told anyway

How The Process Works
Now, there are various types of election, and they require voting in different ways. This can be confusing for the amateur voter, but is easily resolved by reading the instructions at the top of the voting form, or by asking the person who hands you the form to start with. There are generally 2 methods:

1. The one where you put an X beside one person's name
This is quite simple, so long as you're careful not to accidentally write your name or draw a smiley face or something in any of the other boxes or on the rest of the page. 30 seconds of self-control and you're grand.

2. The one where you put all the people in order of how much you like them
This is Voting For The More Advanced Citizen. You put a 1 beside the person you like the most. Then you put a 2 beside the person you like the next most, and so on, until you get to all the people you don't like at all, at which point you stop. It's a bit like in school when you got to be team captain and choose who you wanted in order of how much you wanted them, except that this time you can stop when you get down to the riff-raff, and not be stuck with the likes of me on your team, all over-enthusiasm and skill-less-ness. It also means I get to sit on the sidelines and read my book, rather than accidentally ending up elected to something, so everyone's happy.

What You're Voting For
The next question must be: what are we voting for? What are these people going to do? There are essentially 5 possibilities here:

1. Local Councils
These are the people who collect the bins and get rid of dog poo. For this you want your basic Responsible Type, who can sit through a meeting without stabbing annoying people in the face, and who understands how dumps work and that sort of thing. These are Details People. If they call at your door looking for votes, you should quiz them on things like what can go in the recycling bins, and where to catch the bus into town on a Saturday.

2. The Northern Ireland Assembly
This is Where It All Happens, or so the occupants like to think. This lot decide how we spend all the money that we get from England, and whether The Gays can get married or not, so it's Quite The Place. Mostly, of course, the DUP and Sinn Fein spend the time shouting at each other, so for this you want someone who's not too easily wound up by twits. It's probably going to be a choice between a series of people who think they're quite important, and then one or two who might actually Make Stuff Happen; contrary to historical practice, it might be worth trying to identify one of the latter, and giving them a shot at it.

3. Westminster
This is the person who gets to fly to London and claim duck houses from the taxpayers. Now, generally this will end up being the same person who's been doing it for the last 50 years (or, if they have recently retired, their son), but I urge you all to follow the example of East Belfast from last time around and vote for someone who'll actually Do Stuff, and not just fanny about naming leisure centres after themselves. But, of course, it's up to you.

4. Europe
Every now and then we get to send people to Europe. I'm not entirely sure what they do; I think it's mostly about organising fishing. Anyway, for this one we want to send someone nice, rather than someone who's going to make us look like we couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery without first separating the brewery into 'themuns' and 'usuns', drawing flags all over the place and then parading past each other singing about how we beat you 3000 years ago so NAH! Seriously, nobody in Europe cares. Let's try and not look like idiots in front of Angela Merkel.

5. Some sort of referendum
From time to time you'll get an election paper where the options are just 'yes' and 'no' instead of being people's names. This is a referendum, and you just have to say what you think is the right answer to the question. It's sort of like a survey, but there's no prize draw for completing it.

So we see that it is important to establish what the election is all about and what sort of person we require before we move on to the next step.

Who To Vote For
Now we come to the more important question: who to vote for. There are a series of steps involved in this decision.

1. If you have the option of voting for Naomi Long, always vote for Naomi Long.
She has personally promised Mr Smile that she will reduce tax on crisps when she becomes Prime Minister. And also, she's not a twit, which is Quite New for Northern Irish politics. She organises debates in parliament and has not yet named anything in the constituency after herself. I'm thinking of getting her to cut the ribbon on my new living room once the decorating is done.

2. If you do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, try moving house, preferably to East Belfast.
I appreciate that this is not an option for everyone: some of you, for instance, will have to stay in the likes of Fermanagh to milk the cows and so on. But it's worth a shot if you're able to try it.

3. If you have moved to East Belfast and still do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, it may be that it's Not That Type Of Election.
You should probably have had the foresight to look into this before you went to all the effort of moving house, but East Belfast is nice and we're glad you're here anyway. Please familiarise yourself with the recycling regulations.

If you do end up unable to vote for Naomi Long, then you may have to decide for yourself. At this point, it is useful to know a bit about the various parties.

The Unionists
These will generally have a name containing the letter 'U', and a logo with a British flag on it. The exceptions to this are the New Kid on the Block, NI21, because they're trying to be all cool and stuff, and UKIP, who have a 'U', but not in the Northern Irish sense (and are only Unionist in the technical sense, not in true Northern Irish fashion). We can summarise the Unionists as follows:

Ulster Unionists
Bonkers level: moderate
Key facts: led by Mike who used to read the news, the UUP is the party of choice for those who want to keep Sinn Fein out, but think the DUP are a bit mental. All in favour of the traditional bastions of life, such as parades and flags, but think it's a bit undignified to come out on the streets about it.

Democratic Unionists
Bonkers level: high
Key facts: the DUP have many years of experience of getting very odd people into highly unsuitable jobs. Like the health minister who thinks The Gays are all contaminated and won't let them give blood in case they spread Gay to the rest of us. Or the one who kicked up a big fuss because he wanted creationist displays alongside the Finn McCool displays at the Giant's Causeway. They're all terribly, terribly earnest, of course, but if you met any of them in the back of a pub (which you wouldn't), you'd feel inclined to back away slowly and in as heterosexual a way as you could manage.

Traditional Unionist Voice
Bonkers level: off the scale
Key facts: formed by people who left the DUP because it was too wishy-washy, these guys mean business. They rarely achieve it, due to all being completely mental.

Bonkers level: unclear, but initially not, apparently, too bad
Key facts: formed not that long ago, they haven't really got themselves together yet. You probably still have time to sign up as their Euro candidate. Policies appear to depend on what will get them lots of votes, and I don't think even they have high expectations of winning much. Still, they all seem quite nice.

Bit scary.

Sort-of Unionists

Bonkers level: they're either very very bonkers or extremely cunning. Quite possibly both
Key facts: you can cost them money by sending stuff to their Freepost address, but only up to Large Letter size. You can also not vote for them, and you can improve things further by voting for someone else instead.

NI Conservatives
Bonkers level: no idea
Key facts: no idea. They all look very earnest on their posters though, and are clearly wearing their best suits.

The Nationalists
Generally these have logos featuring lots of green (although so do the Greens and Conservatives). There are two kinds:

Sinn Fein
Bonkers level: more scary than bonkers
Key facts: they are very keen to stress that violence is not the way forward. Any more.

Bonkers level: not at all bonkers in any way. Also not very interesting.
Key facts: they still exist.

The Others
There are a few parties out there who are not really all that fussed about The Border, and prefer to concentrate on things like the economy and making it easier to cycle. They are:

Bonkers level: not generally bonkers at all, though I'd say David Ford could liven up a party if you filled him with whiskey
Key facts: people argue that they can't vote Alliance because they sit on the fence too much, without recognising that the fence is fine; it can give you a commanding view of the surrounding area, and you can maybe sort out the economy and healthcare and stuff while you're up there, instead of arsing about on the ground yapping about parades. Also, flegs.

The Greens
Bonkers level: highly variable
Key facts: the sort of people you meet in the pub, with fabulous big ideas that are completely implausible but also brilliant. If they actually got put in charge, the place would be in pieces by lunchtime, but you definitely want a few of them about to keep everything grounded.

Bonkers level: suspect
Key facts: I'm always suspicious of people who don't belong to a party but stand for election. It's like people who are self-employed; you sort of assume they're lazy and don't like being told what to do.

So those are your options, and it is important to choose wisely. I trust this helps.