Monday, 31 December 2007

New Year's Resolutions

So it is now the cusp of another New Year: 2007 is bidding us farewell, and we prepare to embrace 2008, perhaps a little drunkenly (although not in my case, of course, because of my Methodist religious thing). And it is the time for resolutions, so I had a little think to myself to see what I could come up with this year (I tend to make resolutions based on how interesting they are, rather than how useful, since I never stick to them anyway). So here, in no particular order, are this year's resolutions:

1. The usual things: I will eat healthily, exercise a lot (must buy a new bike), and drink plenty of water. I will not live on chocolate. I will have a more disciplined spiritual life. I will take control of my finances and buy a house and start a pension, and other such responsible things. I will stop spending hours staring into space.

2. I will put weight on. I know this is the opposite of what everyone else will be doing, but you see I've got a bit skinny, so I need to fatten up a bit, because my clothes don't fit any more, and I don't want to have to buy new ones (see previous post). Since most people are trying to lose weight, I could make a lot of money if only I could figure out a way to transfer weight between people.

3. I will work very hard in work, and win Employee of the Week every week (this is not too difficult, since I started the award in the first place and I choose who gets it).

4. I will not undertake any form of DIY, building work, renovations or redecoration, other than that which is necessary to tidy up the current mess. I know this is disappointing for those who regularly follow the blog and enjoy the updates on the building work and the non-progression thereof, but there are plenty of other incompetent bandits out there and I am certain we can make do with them for a while. Besides, we still have some way to go with the present work, so we could be riding that wave well into the Spring.

5. I will find a new, grown-up approach to handling crises. The current approach ('scream until grown-ups come') has served me well for the past 29.5 years, but it is wearing a little thin, and now that I'm about to turn 30 I need a more adult means of coping with life.

6. I will leave Richard Dawkins alone, unless provoked.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

An account of Christmas, and what I did during that dull week between Christmas and New Year

Well hello. I hope we all had a nice Christmas, full of festive cheer and good things. I had a lovely time at my parents' house, eating too much chocolate and catching up with Mama and Papa and little sis. This turned out to finally be the momentous year when my dad had more presents under the tree than I did - a sure sign I'm getting old (and also that I had opened some before Christmas, and also that one didn't arrive on time, and in fact, still hasn't come). However, he and Mama have an advantage in that they both work in places where they deal with members of the public and therefore get given lots of presents; most of them are tins of biscuits, which don't really count as proper presents, not in my book.

So I got a nice new ring, and a bird feeder, and new jammies, and a jigsaw, amongst other things.

But the best thing was, I made myself mittens. These are not just any mittens, nay, these are convertible mittens; they convert into fingerless gloves, and back again. They are green and white and fawn, and nice and warm, yet adaptable so that one can use one's fingers without taking them off. I am very pleased with my new mittens, and will wear them a lot.

So now I am back in Belfast, and enjoying not having to go to work. On the last day of work before Christmas, incidentally, I was delighted to be voted most trustworthy member of staff by everyone else (the reason given, 'because you have your Methodist religious thing...') and am certain that it was nothing to do with being told 5 seconds later that I had been nominated to go and ask if we could have a half day. I was firmly of the opinion that it would be more successful if we just walked out at lunchtime, as in previous years, but for some reason this year people were angling for Permission. Anyway, we didn't get the half day, which was annoying (as I hadn't brough lunch), but I made up for it by just leaving at 3. Well, I was bored.

Yesterday I 'hit the sales', which I do every year, so I can tell Mama Smile that I tried. I am hopeless at shopping at the best of times, and sales are the worst - thousands of people, rails of things in stupid sizes, thousands of people, nothing I like, and thousands of people. So it ended as all my shopping trips end: in Waterstones. Books I can shop for, although at sale time even that loses some of its usual pleasures, but clothes: no. Buying clothes is one of those things that I can only really do when I'm desperate, putting it in the same category as, I don't know, drinking my own pee, say, or phoning Q&B customer services.

I need to really need clothes in order to be bothered (as you can generally tell); I like receiving clothes (a good thing, for Mama has banned me from receiving books as presents, on the grounds that I own more books than Amazon - I pointed out that this last bit wasn't true, but it didn't help), and every now and then I take a notion and go and buy lots of new things, but generally I think there are better things to do with my time and money than buy clothes. Plus, I see lots of clothes I like in catalogues and magazines and on other people, but they never seem to actually sell them in shops, which disconcerts me a bit. I like to tell myself that this is because my tastes are more sophisticated than those on the High Street, but that still doesn't really get me anywhere.

Anyway, I was reading in the paper yesterday, that the new thing is to not buy any clothes at all, on account of the planet and child labourers. Now this, I think is a Good Thing. If I may be serious for a moment, I believe (along with many others) that one of the worst afflictions to have befallen the West in recent times is the need to continually consume, and clothes are at the forefront of this; too few questions are asked about how clothes are produced and by whom; quantity far outdoes quality (hence the labourers working in appalling conditions to meet deadlines and increase production, for miniscule wages) and we dump thousands of tonnes of old but perfectly wearable clothes in landfill every year. So now, what used to be called 'tight as two coats of paint' is called 'saving the planet' and being 'ethically aware', and I quite like this, although I will not stop buying clothes entirely.

So anyway, that's what I've been up to, and very pleasant it has been.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Review of the Year 2007

Around this time of year, I always start to receive lots of Christmas cards which contain a couple of A4 sheets detailing my correspondent's yearly activities. In years gone by, it was all about how they'd got married and had a nice honeymoon and got a puppy, but now of course it's photos of the children. Which is nice.

So I thought I would do something similar, and review my year for your benefit. I warn you now, it's not that exciting; I have not got married, had children, or acquired any pets, but we shall press on regardless and make what we can of it.

I have very little recollection of what I did at the start of the year. I do remember going out for my dad's birthday in January, to the Red Panda, where we all had a lovely time, and then going back to my house and playing boardgames with my sister's housemate (I can't rightly remember how she came into it). But I remember little else of those first 2 months, so it's probably fair to say that Not A Lot Happened.

Things really kicked off in March, when we had the Great Wisdom Tooth Extraction, closely followed by the Great Socket Infection, both of which were quite sore, although I was a model patient and didn't complain... much. March was also the month when the Internet was snatched from the hands of dullness and redeemed to cheerfulness by the arrival upon it of WhyNotSmile. Or something like that.

Posting to the blog was a little slow at first, but it picked up in May when I bought The God Delusion and began to develop the obsessive disinterest in Richard Dawkins which has carried us through much of the rest of the year, and which promises to provide continued fodder as we move into 2008.

Things came alive in June when the Q & B saga really got going and we had quite a good time with that until as recently as last month, when they finally fixed it. June was also, of course, my birthday month, and it passed in a haze of warm weather and flowers and predictions of the hottest summer ever.

July started well, with my parents visiting, but it was also the month when I was talking to Papa Smile and happened to mention that it might be quite nice if, at some point in the future, i.e. in 3 or 4 years time, we built a little sunroom onto the house where the yard was. Talk about words coming back to haunt you.

The remainder of the surprisingly-unhot-for-the-hottest-ever summer was pleasant enough; although Dozavtra left for a while and there was the Spider-In-The-Bath Incident.

And then, from September onwards, life has largely consisted of waiting for builders to not turn up, inventing ways to stay clean without water (I never really did get very good at that, but visits to the local leisure centre helped cover it up), and hoping they come tomorrow.

And essentially, that is 2007 in a nutshell, apart from a couple of tummy bugs (I haven't had a tummy bug in 20 years and then had 2 in the last 3 months; by amazing providence, neither coincided with the long period of time when I didn't have a bathroom, and for that I am immensely grateful). You may all have been thinking all along that I only blogged about occasional happenings but that most of the exciting things in my life went unmentioned; but no, I do tell you everything I do. Some could comment in light of this that my life is a bit dull, but regular readers have to admit we don't do too badly from it.

And so to everyone who has taken part:

to those who have faithfully followed the journey this year;

to those who have left comments and directed others this way;

to those who have given us food for discussion: HM Revenue and Customs, Spider Horse, Richard Dawkins, Renault Joe, CS Lewis, Q&B and, of course, the builders;

to those who have logged in from as far afield as Iceland, Perth and Hawaii (I can track these things);

and to all who know and love me:


Christmas Cards, the annual dilemma

Ah, the old 'Who To Send Christmas Cards To' dilemma. Having just narrowly avoided being the only person in work to send a card to the boss (by not sending it, at the last minute), my heart has just about slowed to its normal rate. However, we're on the last posting day before Christmas, so as always I'm a little nervous - if someone unexpectedly sends me a card, there is now nothing I can do about it until next year.

There's a considerable group of people with whom I have an every-other-year exchange of cards, which works as follows:

*Year 1: They send me a card and I don't send them one. They strike me off their list and I add them to mine.

Year 2: I send them a card and they don't send me one. They add me to their list and I strike them off mine.

Subsequent years: repeat from * indefinitely.

So it was with delight that I discovered this.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Do you have to read up on Dawkins before thinking he's an idiot?

So I promised you some comments on Richard Dawkins' recent intellectual train crash, and here we are. I admit to being a bit slow off the mark on this one, since the letter which we will take as our text today was originally published on 17th September; indeed, it is possible (if not likely) that our Great Bright Friend has made further entertaining utterances in the intervening time (not least a discussion on the BBC last Sunday, which is safely lurking on my iPod, and to which we may well return at a later stage).

But getting back to the subject in hand: Dawkins' letter to The Independent (which, for the benefit of our foreign viewers, is a respectable British newspaper) entitled Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them?. The full text of the letter is available here, but, since I haven't read most of the other things he refers to (although it is worth noting that most of the things he tells you to google for will take you to his own website), I shall refrain from comment and confine my remarks to the actual title of the letter.

A little background will help. One of the commonest criticisms of Dawkins' book The God Delusion (apart from the general criticism that it's just a bit crap) is that it rather demonstrates a lack of background understanding.

For example, he tells us on page 95 that "The four gospels that made it into the official canon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen...", quoting Bart Ehrman, a former fundamentalist turned atheist, of whom Dawkins is fond. Ehrman is not, incidentally, renowned for his scholarship. No evidence, no consideration of how this might have been done; we are simply told it, as a fact. He ignores the fact that there is good reason to reject the rejected 'gospels'. Presumably that would detract too much from his argument.

But it is in Chapter 7 ("The 'Good' Book and the Moral Zeitgeist") that Dawkins dwells most fully upon the Bible, demonstrating again that research may not be one of his strong points.

He is at great pains to demonstrate that Christ's command to "Love thy neighbour" actually meant "Love another Jew". It would be fun to analyse his argument here, but unfortunately he doesn't provide one. He does give an actual reference though, a chap called Hartung who quotes Revelation as backup. The verses concerned are presumably chapter 7v4 and 14v1, although finding this out is left as an exercise for the reader. Dawkins point is that these verses talk about 144,000 people in heaven who were 'sealed' from the tribes of Israel, i.e. the Jews. Therefore no one else is allowed in, therefore it's all about being an exclusive in-group, which is a bad thing, therefore religion is bad. It is a little unfortunate that he didn't keep reading as far as, say, the next couple of verses, which in each case describe all the non-Jews who are in heaven as well, for had he done so, he might not have made such a pratt of himself.

Incidentally, Chapter 7 gives a good sense of the structure of the book: having demonstrated his lack of understanding of theology, we have diversions through the Northern Ireland troubles (religion's fault), inter-faith marriages (frowned on by religion), Dawkins' own version of the Ten Commandments (don't ask), an examination of years in which various countries awarded women the vote ('relevance to topic in hand' having clearly been abandoned as a criterion for inclusion by this point), racism (religion's fault) and Hitler (not an atheist, or even if he was, he wasn't bad because he was an atheist, and anyway, he wasn't really all that bad, not if you compare him to Genghis Khan (page 268)). By the time the chapter eventually draws to a close, having not proved anything much, one is nearly ready to just cave in and agree, for the sake of a quiet life.

He's not mad keen on the Trinity either (see pages 34-35), mainly because he can't understand it and no one can explain it to him in a way that makes sense. He gets particularly confused by the way the Catholic church adds in Mary and lots of saints and various legions of angels to the Godhead; he could, of course, have saved himself a lot of angst by actually spending 2 minutes on Wikipedia or talking to an actual Catholic, who could have put him straight on this one (y'know, that Mary is not, actually, considered by Catholics to be God; nor are the saints or the angels), except that obviously he couldn't care less because God doesn't exist anyway so who cares so nah nah nah nah nah.

Well, you started it, Professor.

Anyway, we could go on almost indefinitely, but the point is that whether he is speaking on the Bible or theology or anything of that nature, it is fairly clear that he can't really be bothered and isn't that interested, and therefore he has to pad it out by writing nonsense. And quite a number of people have commented on this: that there is a school of thought which suggests that it might be a good idea to demonstrate that you actually know what you're talking about, before you talk about it.

And so Dawkins has come up with this devastating response: do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them? He wheels this one out regularly, and appears to think it's actually, you know, quite convincing.

For of course, if God does not exist, why bother to read up on what people have said about him? Why waste one's precious time and effort on learning about a non-entity? Indeed. And in a sense, I couldn't agree more. For example, I don't believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and yet I've never read a single word on Pastianity. But then that's not really the point, you see, because I also haven't written a 374-page book on the subject and tried to pass it off as a form of intelligent argument.

Let us suppose that I decide to write a blog entry on The X-Factor, which I have never watched and have no interest in. And let's suppose that I am trying to prove it's a rubbish programme, and I start by talking about that guy Alphonsus who sang I'll Be Home For Christmas last week, and wasn't he pants and he can't even sing or dance. And then you point out that there's no one on it called Alphonsus and no one ever sang I'll Be Home For Christmas, and then I reply "Well, who cares? I think it's a rubbish programme anyway, why should I bother watching it? You crazy reality-tv-loving madperson, you just want everyone to watch that rubbish programme, because you're too uneducated to see that it's rubbish.". You'd not be best impressed, I'd hazard.

So, Prof Dawkins, you are right. You do not have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in them. But if you're going to write a large book on your disbelief in leprechauns and charge me money for it, a little research would be appreciated. Otherwise I might think you're just a bit of a twit.

Monday, 17 December 2007

DIY Theology

So apparently the Pope has decided that if you go to Lourdes on Tuesdays in February (or something along those lines), you'll not have to spend so much time in Purgatory (see here for full details).

Now, being a good evangelical Protestant (let's assume, for a moment, that that's true), I'm not all that much familiar with things Purgatorial, but lots of people are up in arms about this latest stance, on the grounds that it's unbiblical. Now, of course it is unbiblical, in that Lourdes is not mentioned in the Bible, ever (nor, for that matter, are Purgatory, Tuesdays, February or the Pope - but I digress), but the more interesting question which one must ask is this: where instead did it come from?

I think I have an idea. Does anyone else think it sounds a little bit like B&Q's Senior Citizens' Wednesday, when you get 10% off if you have a Senior Citizen card?

Which is nice.

It's Christmaaaassssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I need children, and I need them soon. By next Christmas, in fact. And I don't just want to borrow them, I need them to be my children, living in my house permanently.

This was decided on Saturday afternoon, when I put Christmas up. You see, having a 3-year-old in the house would provide an explanation for why my Christmas tree looks like it was put up by a 3-year-old. When it comes to me putting up Christmas, two forces hold sway:

1. My inability to decorate the tree nicely

combined with

2. My strong sense that adding more things to the tree can only help.

This years' attempt, in fact, is not too bad. In fact, we even have some 'new' (to us) decorations, courtesy of, surprisingly enough, the builders, who have had cause to poke about in the roofspace and had rearranged its contents (all over the 'floor', mainly in hard-to-reach-and-full-of-spiders places), including unearthing some contents which had been hidden for years. So we have an extra box of decorations, namely, some sparkly apples which my grandparents purchased from Wyse Byse for £1.29 quite some time ago. They are as tacky as they sound, but as we all know, adding more things to the tree can only help.

Nothing can ever top the year we got a real tree (this was many years ago, before Dozavtra lived with me, when I lived with G and I). We (myself and G) bought it, admired it, and then wondered how the #&*! we were getting it home. Eventually we arranged delivery, only to discover when it turned up on the doorstep that it came with no stand. After coming up with the cunning plot of putting it in the watering can, wedged with sand, sticks and paper, and with me lying on the floor holding it up for about 2 hours, fiddling with said can, sticks, paper and sand, while housemate G complained the thing wasn't straight, housemate I came in, gave it a bit of a kicking, and got it upright in about 5 minutes.

At which point all the needles fell off.

Friday, 14 December 2007

IKEA: What actually happened

So the opening of IKEA was a little less well-attended than some had predicted, with about 500 people or so. So the Provincial Herd mentality kicked in the opposite direction to what we expected, and we ALL decided we weren't going to IKEA.

So I was wrong, but it still proves that when Northern Ireland moves, we do so as one.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Bookcases and traffic jams

So it's December 13th 2007, and Ireland's homes are soon to be the happier for it; the good people of the Emerald Isle can barely contain their excitement; screwdrivers the country over are spinning in their toolboxes in anticipation of a weekend of assembling flat packs. Yes, IKEA has arrived in Belfast. A mile from my office, no less. And with it, thousands and thousands of customers, blocking my route to work in their soon-to-be-filled-with-Swedish-flat-things cars.

What is it with Northern Ireland and openings of things? We had actual, proper riots during the summer when Clockwork Orange opened at Junction 1. I mean, people got themselves arrested. Arrested. Because a shop had opened and they got too excited. Apparently the PSNI have sent officers to Spain and England in the past few weeks to see how the opening of IKEA stores there are policed. But make no mistake: whatever happened in other places will be multiplied a hundred-fold in Belfast because people in Northern Ireland would take the day off work to go to the opening of an envelope. In fact, it is barely possible to open one's front door in Belfast without finding half the province on the doorstep with picnics and leggings and middle-aged women saying things like "Ye know, mey sis'ern-law Betty went till one o' these here when she was over seein her Stephen in England las' year and she said it was class, like".

Estimates of the number of people likely to pass through IKEA's doors on Day 1 have been increasing daily, with figures ranging from a rather conservative 20,000 to the positively liberal 52,000. Whatever the final figure, we can be sure that there will be lots of people and far too many cars to fit in the car park and that traffic will be gridlocked from 7am. They're getting police helicopters to hover above and do traffic reports, but let's face it: if you're stupid enough to try to go within 10 miles of IKEA on its opening day, you're going to be sitting in traffic; you don't need a bloke in a helicopter giving you a running commentary. Anyway, they might as well pre-record it: "And there are lots of cars going towards IKEA, and yes, the traffic across East Belfast is now at a standstill and will remain so for most of the morning" and then the helicopter blokes can join the rest of us at the log-chopping ceremony.

For yes, there is to be a log-chopping ceremony. Not for the Swedes, cutting a ribbon, ho no. We're wheeling out the Lord Mayor and handing him a log to chop, for such are the quaint ways of the Scandinavians.

I mention all this by way of convincing myself and all of you that I'm not insane: that I'm not, and never will be, one of those people who turns up at 3 in the morning when a new thing opens. But that, of course, is not to say I'll not be there at all, ever.

For the point is this: opening the largest IKEA store in the UK, in Belfast, a week before Christmas, and offering huge discounts and log-chopping spectacles for those who turn up on day 1 may be as mad as a moose in flares; but if truth be told, I can't wait. I've got my card and my catalogue, I've picked out some chairs and bookcases and storage boxes and things for the bathroom, and when the builders finally turn up and finish off my house, I'll be down there faster than you can say "Herring mit Lingonberry Jam", which is quite fast, and also available in the restaurant.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Going nowhere fast

So Zoomtard is on the go-slow for a while, as far as blogging is concerned. It seems he has more productive things to do with his time (well, excuse us).

Dozavtra is threatening to give up on the whole enterprise and sign out of Cyberspace entirely.

And what has happened to Vox O'Malley lately?

Anyway, I thought I would reassure you that WhyNotSmile is not going anywhere, owing to having an evolutionary advantage over the likes of Zoomtard. You see, Zoomtard has decided he has more important things to do than blog. I, on the other hand, have known all along (and indeed, it is surely patently obvious to anyone who has read more than about 2 sentences of this blog) that I could be doing more useful things than writing this nonsense. But it's lasted this long; why would I quit now?

Thursday, 6 December 2007



Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

And then what?

Stress levels at WhyNotSmile have been raised recently, due to the rearing head of the blogger's dreaded question: what will I write about next? Now that the Q&B issue is resolved and the building work nearly finished, what's left to say?

Well, firstly, you'll be glad to hear, the heating broke down last night. I phoned Mother Duck, who summonsed Father who rang Chief Builder, who came round 'straight away' but was presumably in some kind of time warp and didn't actually appear for a good couple of hours. He did bring the famous plumber with him, though, so it was worth the wait. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to ask whether this was the plumber who went to Thailand looking for a wife, or the one with the 3 broken legs, or the other one, but we'll assume it was one of them (you may recall from an earlier post that this plumber's existence is crucial to the existence of God).

Anyway, they started by pressing the button that I'd already pressed 5 times, that's meant to reset the boiler. Thankfully that didn't work, as I'd have looked like a fool who is incapable of pressing a button. Then Plumber inspected something outside (or at least, he went outside, he may have been having a loo break down the side of the house for all I know) while Chief Builder and I looked at the boiler. I mean 'looked at' in the most literal sense, not in the sense of doing anything to it.

Then Chief Builder spotted that the pressure was low, and showed me how to turn the thing to add new water to the thing, and then reset it all. He then assured me that most plumbers would have taken the water-adding thing away and then charged me £60 to come out and re-attach it to add water and then take it away again, but he has left it so I can do it myself. Or out of laziness, it is unclear.

Anyway, while I was in the process of asking how all the water might have escaped from my plumbing system and whether this should be worrying us, they changed the subject to the glorious news that they are all coming on Thursday (Chief, electrician and carpenter, as well as the flooring guy (Kieron, who, by the way, forgot to turn up last week and is now in New York), and my dad and his friend S (they are coming up to have lunch in the Opera House because S has applied for a job there and has never been in it, but they'll call into my house on the way so that they don't miss the excitement)), and that they will complete the following list of things:

Fit timer to heating system
Bleed radiators (if I haven't done it before then, which, let's face it, I won't have)
Fit shower screen
Attach shower to wall
Finish cupboard door
"and everything else" (even I've forgotten what this is)

Since, even without the "everything else", this is more work than they have completed in all of the past 6 weeks, I'm not holding my breath, but we'll see. On the other hand, they haven't exactly, y'know, "turned up" a lot in the past 6 weeks, so the very fact that they will all be there should improve things.

So that's reason 1 for not despairing about where WhyNotSmile will go next. The second reason is that our good friend Richard Dawkins is making an intellectual spectacle of himself again, so in a soon-to-be-written post (which I don't have time to do now), we shall dwell further upon that.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

All I want for Christmas...

You'll be delighted to hear that Ship of Fools have revealed this year's Christmas Kitsch list (the Twelve Days of Kitschmas). This annual revelation seeks to bring you the very best in tacky Christian merchandise, and is well worth checking out if you're stuck for ideas for presents this year.

And there truly is something for everyone.

For HM Revenue and Customs, for example, there's the Virgin Mary USB key, made from finest quality see-through plastic, with a light-up sacred heart inside and a halo with the inscription 'Oh Maria, keep my data safe'. (For those who are fortunate enough to live somewhere else and are therefore unfamiliar with the UK government's latest demonstration of its own incompetence, please see here).

For teenage boys (always hard to buy for), why not order a bottle of 'The Pope's Cologne' - recreated from the personal recipe of Pius IX, it renders the wearer infallible with the ladies.

You name it, they have it: thongs of praise, coffin calendars, teddy bear urns...

At the bottom (and sinking fast) of my personal wish-list though, is an item I found in the archives. If I die, please don't do this to me.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Q&B: The End

Well, it's finally over. After a 45 minute flurry of activity on Friday, the kitchen is finally installed and nice and FINISHED. If there's a tear in your eye, know that you're not alone.

On the plus side though, no one else turned up, so the building saga remains.

I almost had a new saga, with a certain bank, when I thought that they'd overcharged me for exceeding my credit card limit, but, no, it seems they do actually charge £22. Ah well.

Friday, 23 November 2007

A Big Day

So today is a Big Day. I should have 3 sets of people at my house:

1. The floor man (Kieron and assistant)
The floor men were there yesterday and put the flooring down in my kitchen and new room, and very nice it is too. But they have to come back today to finish it off.

2. The Q&B man
I know!!! You're all aghast - the Q&B tale may finally be over. New doors are arriving today and being fitted. It's almost disappointing that this could be the end.

3. The electrician (Trevor)
Coming to fit the shower screen. Yeah, I dunno why I need an electrician for that either.

So it is to be hoped that they all turn up and don't get in each other's way and that it is all lovely and wonderful. I will let you know.

Monday, 19 November 2007

On the return of WhyNotSmile, an update on the building work, and the post you missed because I was sick

I'm back. I felt ill indeed with my stomach flu; I won't go into details, but suffice to say it wasn't pretty and I was VERY glad to have a plumbed-in bathroom. Of course, when I started vomiting, I did what all self-respecting 29 year-olds do in such a situation, and phoned my parents. They came and took me to their house and I had the nicest week I've had in a long time, being in bed and waited on hand and foot, and not having to go to work.

So, you'll all be thinking 'oooooh, 2 weeks since she blogged, how much the building work must have progressed in that time, there will be Stories To Tell', and of course you'd be wrong, because the builders all got the flu as well, and succeeded only in grouting the bathroom tiles. On the other hand, just before I got sick, and just after the last time I blogged (apart from the one telling you all I was sick), they actually came and connected up the heating.

Also, there was an entry I didn't get round to posting, and it went like this (please transport yourself to not last Saturday but the one before so that this makes sense):

How embarrassing. I came home from work yesterday to discover that the plumbers had fitted a new radiator in my bedroom. And that all my teddies (Cat, Elephant and Gordon) were on my bed, and not down the side of my bed, which is where they had been when I left.

There are 2 possibilities.

One is that they were scared of the plumbers and made a break for freedom at an opportune moment, but didn't quite make it and flopped onto the bed in defeat.

The second is that the plumbers were poking around and found them down the side of the bed and fished them out and lined them up on the bed on purpose (note that they would not have needed to go near the bed in order to fit the radiator).

And I think it's more likely that the second possibility is what happened, and so I am now embarrassed.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

WhyNotSmile is sick

WhyNotSmile is sick. Blogging service will resume as soon as possible; for now, she is watching much daytime tv and sleeping a lot.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Who is Espero?

Incidentally, I love it when I find a site that links to mine. But who is espero and how does she know me? I have my suspicions...

She writes a mean blog, mind.

Yesterday afternoon

So yesterday afternoon work was a pain and I was a bit late leaving and then the traffic was just chaos so by the time I got home it was a lot later than I would've liked, and the plumbers were still there because their car had broken down, but at least they'd been, although there is still no heating, and I had to make them coffee and then run round to get ready for homework club, which I really couldn't be bothered going to, but I went and struggled up the road in driving rain and biting wind, and there was a new student there and he just couldn't get the hang of how to work out what 1 kg of carrots costs when you know what 2 kg of carrots cost, and I couldn't think of any other way to explain it and then I went through it again and suddenly it was like a lightbulb came on and his face brightened up and he knew he'd learned something and then my day felt a lot better and I realised what I love to do.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

In which it is revealed that the plumber has other things on his mind, and several recent issues are resolved

You'll be delighted to hear that the plumber who went to Thailand to find a wife succeeded, and consequently has not come back (this man is 60 years old, by the way. 60 years old). There was a second plumber (you wait 2 months for a plumber, and then 2 appear at once), but he broke his arm, so he couldn't come either.

However, a third plumber has now been begged into coming, and according to reliable reports (my dad, who is watching his every move), is currently attaching radiators to walls in my house. There is even a suggestion that the radiators might be connected to the boiler as early as tomorrow, although, based on previous activity, I'll not be inviting you all round for a tropical-themed party on Saturday night just yet.

They have also tiled most of the bathroom, and even had the sense to do the important bit first (round the bath).

Anyway, it looks like we might be seeing a finished house within the next week/month/year or so, and thereafter normal blogging service will resume (i.e. I will write about things other than builders). Incidentally, I feel this blog has slipped into a rut recently, for which I apologise. I do have several non-building blog posts in mind, but they just keep getting eclipsed.

That reminds me, Q&B have disappeared from the radar of late; I must give them a ring.

In another round-up, Alex has now received compensation from Harles Churst, so we can all stop thinking bad things about them. Not that the repair actually works, you understand, but at least she got a free hire car for a few weeks.

Monday, 5 November 2007


So, in all of last week, they fitted 2 door handles. In fact, I'm being generous here, and counting both sides - technically, it may only have been one handle, which went right through the door.

In happier news, though, the Chief Builder says the plumber's coming today.

For reference, here is the list of reasons so far why the plumber hasn't turned up (it is unclear how many plumbers there have been; hence, some of these statements may apply to different people):

1. He went to Newcastle for a stag party and got so drunk he couldn't come to work until Wednesday (you may recall that very early on, a plumber did in fact turn up, to disconnect things - this was him. No sign of him since).

2. He went to Thailand for 6 weeks (it later emerged that he was there looking for a wife). This plumber is now back, and is the one who is allegedly coming today.

3. He got attacked and his leg was broken in 3 places (why do we hire these bandits?).

4. He was climbing Mount Everest at the weekend; he'll be here on Wednesday (Wednesday is a popular day to kick things off with these lot; very rarely do they seem to work Mondays or Tuesdays). Incidentally, this turned out to be the electrician, not the plumber, and it was Ben Nevis. This is the annoying thing - there always turns out to be a measure of truth in the tales.

5. He just didn't turn up.

Chief Builder keeps putting on a reassuring voice and saying 'don't worry, it'll not take him long'. Quite. I have no concerns about how long it will take him, but let's face it, he's not going to finish until he actually starts.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I apologise for describing smallcorner as untechnical. She is very technical. I meant unintellectual, of course.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

October 2007: trendspotting

A quick update, for the curious...

Roof attached to house; house much warmer.
Much carpentry done; house much prettier.
Plumber back from Thailand, or being attacked, or whatever, but cleary still not inclined to come and do heating.
Tiles purchased by builder, but not yet attached to wall.
Father making frequent enquiries of me about whether bargeboards are done yet; me ignoring questions due to not being quite sure what bargeboards are.

So that's the state of play at the moment.

Now, I've been noticing several trends recently (moving away from the building work, and into The Rest of The World, at last).

Firstly, everyone is going over to WordPress, even non-technical people like smallcorner. Why is this? I think it may be something to do with tracking how mnay people read your blog, but frankly, I'd rather not know. If it's lots, I'd be intimidated, and if it's few, I'd be disappointed. So I'm staying right here. But it means all the links on the left of this page are now wrong; sometime I will fix that.

Second trend: everyone is starting 365 blogs, where they record a nice thing every day. Now, this is lovely and everything, but it doubles the number of blogs I have to check. In any case, I'm not going to start one of these, because I'd get 2 weeks in and give up; I have no sticking power.

Third trend: qmonkey is leaving comments on every post he can find. Does this man not have a job, or hobbies, or a wife and child, or something?

Fourth trend: we're all debating whether God exists and what science has to say for itself. I blame qmonkey. I've been composing some thoughts on this for a while, but they have yet to make it into coherent form. Bate your breath, though. I have a PhD in Physics, so my word on this one is final.

I've still not fixed my internet connection at home, which is irritating. You see, what happened was, I brought my laptop into work to download something, and connected it to the network, and it wiped my dialup settings. So now I have to go back to square one and set it all up again, but I can't remember how. If anyone knows how to set up a winmodem for a dialup connection on a Dell Inspiron laptop running Dapper Drake Ubuntu, please be in touch.

Until next time.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Here's a thing...

Now, this is very clever because it means you can learn new words and donate rice to hungry people, both at the same time.

Which is propitious.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

More building news

I'm sorry to go on about my building work, but to be honest, when you're flushing your toilet with a bucket and it is the same temperature inside your house as outside, it's hard to think of much else.

So yesterday saw the arrival of a new member of the cast: the carpenter. His task was to fit the doors which go between the new room and the living room; in an unneccesary display of initiative he decided to build me a cupboard on the landing instead. But this is ok, since I do need the cupboard; it was just that I need the doors more. However, by this stage I think we're all resigned to the bizarre sense of priority exhibited by the builders, so we shall take this in our stride and move on.

No sign of any heating until this morning, when I stepped outside my front door to go to work, all sleepy and minding my own business, and was accosted by the Chief Builder, someone else, some doors and the new boiler. The Chief Builder and the other man were exceptionally cheerful for that time of the morning, and I fear I came across as a little sleepy. Still, as I drove off they were enthusiastically moving doors, hinges and boiler into my house, where they will no doubt take up residence for the next fortnight or so, until someone gets round to installing them.

Incidentally, is it polite to use the word 'toilet' in normal conversation? You see, when I say that I've had no bathroom for about a month, people gasp in horror and I feel obliged to assure them that I have always had a toilet throughout. But should I say 'toilet', or does one say 'loo'? Or is there another even more polite word, like WC? Or is it one of those things where the chavs and the Queen say 'toilet' and everyone else says 'loo'? CAN YOU HELP?

So, scheduled prognosis for the building work: tiling to be done today, carpenter to do doors today, plumber to do heating today and tomorrow (ha!), gypsies doing roof yesterday and all completed by this weekend.

In other news, of which there is starting to be a little, I have been having a lot of fun making things for our church craft fair, have just completed the church calendar, and am rather impressed by John Lennox's new book about God and science.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The sound of silence

It may be a bit quiet round here for a while, as I have banjaxxed my internet connection at home. This means I can only update the blog if I'm not busy in work... Oh, actually, service should be pretty much as normal.

By the way, my proof of God's existence by analogy to plumbers has taken a knock; I discovered it was actually the electrician who installed my bathroom. Not sure where we go from here...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A Proof of God's Existence, by analogy

You will be delighted to hear I have a new proof of the existence of God, which I now present to you.

It is a proof by analogy (Richard Dawkins is quite fond of these; see 'memes').

I had a bathroom which needed to be installed. I was told there was a plumber and that he would come and install the bathroom. I had never seen the plumber personally, nor spoken to him or heard him speak, but I was excited at the thought of the bathroom being installed, and I believed that the plumber would do it.

This is like God. No one has seen God or had a conversation with Him (out loud, in the usual face-to-face manner). However, many of us believe in God.

After a time, I became dismayed at the non-arrival of the plumber. Various excuses were offered by the Chief Builder ('He's sick', 'He went to Thailand', 'He got attacked and his leg is broken in 3 places', 'He was climbing Mount Everest' - I promise you, these are all true things he told me). I began to doubt the plumber's existence.

This is like agnostics and atheists. They say that they have not seen God, so he must not exist. Even though plausible reasons are offered by theologians ('God is invisible', 'Have faith', 'He went to Thailand', 'He'll be along shortly'), still these people doubt.

However. Yesterday I came home and my toilet was installed!!!! Although I still did not see the plumber, it is clear that someone must have installed the toilet. Toilets do not install themselves, even with much prayer. Therefore the plumber exists.

This is like the universe. Universes do not create themselves. But the universe is here.

Therefore God exists.

I am quite pleased with my proof, and confident that it is watertight, unlike my bathroom sink.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Jeans, iPods and similar

I'm not even going to bother telling you my builders didn't turn up today; you're all intelligent adults, you can follow a pattern.

Nor are we going to dwell on the weekend's rugby result except to say that I was surprised by how devastated I was, and to point out that, for an Ireland fan, the only possible good outcome of England-France would have been for them both to lose.

No, instead we shall discuss tonight's shopping trip, which was most successful. I finally got myself new jeans, which I've been looking for since June (one thing I cannot be said to be is an impulse buyer). I didn't get the ones I'd seen in the catalogue, I got different ones. I also would've quite liked the brown cardigan the mannequin was wearing, but they don't seem to actually sell it, just advertise it.

I also bought razor blades, which I mention because they had a sticker on the back which said:

"WARNING! This product contains a security device which is NOT MICROWAVABLE"

and which I thought was funny.

In good news, Alex has Bluebelle back, but she has been injured by Harles Churst - she has a big dent in her bonnet (this is Bluebelle we're talking about, not Alex). Bluebelle is most upset. Also, the repair doesn't actually work, so she's going to have to go back to Harles Churst to be fixed.

Listen, I need some advice. I want one of those things that lets you listen to FM radio on your iPod (not a transmitter to listen to your iPod on your car radio, other way around). I saw Logic3 ones in HMW for £20. Does anyone know if they're any good? I've always thought Logic3 was like cheap iPod and therefore tacky and inferior - can anyone confirm or deny this? Thanks.

Right, off to put my pizza in the oven (and maybe my razor blades in the microwave - because you can't read a sticker like that and not know).

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

In which several incompetent bandits are exposed

It could easily be argued that one of the main advantages conferred by this blog on mankind is its habit of exposing incompetent bandits wherever they may be, and it is with this in mind that I tell you of a well-known car dealership, which we shall call Harles Churst.

I must begin by introducing those of you who don't already know them to Alex, my colleague, and Bluebelle, her car. Alex and Bluebelle have enjoyed a companionable relationship for almost 2 years now, so you can imagine Alex's distress when Bluebelle developed an injury (known in the car business as a 'fault') and required treatment ('fixing'). So Alex took her car to Harles Churst, where she was assured that it would only take a day to remedy.

This seemed good, so Bluebelle was left there for the day. This was last Monday. Not Monday past, the Monday before, 10 days ago. Bluebelle has not been seen since.

Bluebelle has need of a bonnet clip... thing.. (sorry, we've reached the cliff-edge of my technical knowledge here) - not, you would imagine, one of the more difficult-to-fix things that could happen a car, but Bluebelle even now remains clipless. Alex has, of course, been calling every day, to try to retrieve her (repaired) car from Harles Churst, and has had a range of 'explanations' for it's continued state of non-fixedness. These have included them sending the right clip for the wrong car, the wrong clip for the right car, and, on one spectacularly successless day, no clips at all. Naturally they blame, among other things, the postal strike (but really, what on earth are they doing sending car parts with Royal Mail? 'Tis all well and good till someone needs an exhaust) and having to get the part from France (seriously, they could've got it from Mars in less time, including designing the rocket from scratch).

So, anyway, Alex, having temporarily given up on trying to hurry up the fixing of the car and turned instead to trying to at least aquire some form of compensation (having had to hire a car every day) phoned the Renault UK people, and spoke to a chap called Joe Hisock (seriously) who said they have a policy of not compensating mistakes. Which is handy. In fact, she has spoken to Joe every day, since there appears to be no one else there who is fit to speak to customers (leading us to assume that the rest of the workforce consists of trained gorillas or something); he gave a glimmer of hope on Day 4 by saying that they would compensate the cost of the hire car, but then dashed it this morning by saying they would not.

Naturally, the only other person involved (Neil) is very nice, which means it's not possible to shout at him.

I will keep you updated, but for now we must press on, because there's a lot to get through today.

So, Q&B phoned this morning, to check that the cupboard doors have been delivered. Point number 1, no they haven't. Point number 2, nor were they supposed to be; they were meant to arrive with the man who was going to fit them. Point number 3, I actually don't really want them yet, owing to the ongoing building work, of which more now.

The building work. So they came today, smoked in my living room, ate some lunch at my living room table, and then demonstrated a delightfully unconventional approach to the prioritising of tasks by plastering the bit of ceiling around the skylight. Not, you will note, by doing anything about the bathroom (which, if you remember, presently consists of a toilet with no cistern, and a bucket). They seem to like plastering; it is pretty much all they have done for the past fortnight. I wouldn't mind (after all, it keeps them occupied), but all my rooms are gradually getting smaller, layer by layer, and soon it won't be possible to fit visitors in unless I go out first, which rather defeats the point of having visitors. Also, for some bizarre reason, which I really haven't fathomed at all thus far, they are systematically removing all my lightbulbs; the current score is 5 remaining and 3 missing, with the rest having been disconnected or not yet installed.

So tomorrow I am going to set my father on them, and see what happens. If that doesn't work, I will send my mother, and if even that doesn't get a bit of action, I may have to take drastic action. Maybe if I suck up to Renault Joe he'll lend me a gorilla.

Quiz answers

Answers to yesterday's quiz:

1. No, they did not.

2. No, no progress has been made since Friday unless you count me and my mum tidying up.

3. Not as much as you might think, but it has certainly disturbed my usual equilibrium.

4. I don't know. I wish I could find out, because I can expect to live (on average) another 40 years or so, and it is likely that something or other will need done to my house in that time. I think I shall have to get married to someone who's good at DIY.

Incidentally, they didn't turn up yesterday either, so my mum went round to the Chief Builder and issued threats, and he said the plumber had unexpectedly gone to Thailand but he had a new plumber who'd be here today. He said it quite convincingly, too, more so than might be expected.

On a positive note, Phoenix Gas arrived On Time, and installed my gas and meter and so on as they said they would. They unfortunately got called away to a gas leak in the middle of it all, but had the courtesy to leave me a message all full of apologies and assurances that they would be back as soon as possible to finish off; they did indeed return and finish the job, which was good. Not that there's any plumbing inside the house to connect it up to, but that's hardly their fault.

If I get home tonight and there is no progress, I think I will collapse in a little sobbing heap, and then move into someone else's house.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


Today's quiz:

Question 1. Did my builders turn up yesterday?

Question 2. Is the building work ANY further on than it was last Friday?

Question 3. Am I getting very annoyed?

Question 4. Why do I seem incapable of hiring competent people to do things in my house?

Monday, 8 October 2007

Building work update, the second

So the building work moves idly on. On Friday there they had plastered the entire bathroom, and even started on the downstairs room. It was all going swimmingly until someone removed the toilet cistern and they all went home for the weekend. So I've been learning the old 'how to flush a toilet with a bucket of water trick'. Not my forte, I have to say.

Anyway, they tell me that they are putting in the new bathroom today (or at least starting to - I'm hoping they do it in the order toilet->sink->bath->accessories, but have a horrible feeling I'll go home to find a bathroom devoid of all the normal accoutrements except for a nicely mounted toilet roll holder and matching towel rail).

Phoenix are also supposed to be coming today, to begin installing my heating. They do all the outside bits, and then some bloke called Kyle does the inside, like the radiators and stuff, so that might take a few more days.

There has been no further contact from Q&B Darren, but I suspect that one of these days he'll turn up and install all the new doors just in time for the builders to plaster the ceiling and pour water all over them. That would be about right.

I may soon have a tale for you from a certain car dealership, but I may not. Alex is giving them one more day to sort her car out, and if they don't, Harles Churst are being grassed on, right here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Ireland's Call

You used to know where you were, as an Ireland supporter. The boys in (scruffy) green would run out onto the field, line up for the anthem and then run around like mad things until they had a chance to play their one set piece that they'd practiced this week, and then they'd score. This running around like mad things would continue until the final quarter, when they'd run out of steam and defeat would again be snatched from the jaws of victory.

Of course, against crap teams, they could win, but against half-decent teams, they could at least give them a run for their money and make sure the supporters got a good day out. There was no need for the Haka (or whatever they call it), since most of the rest of the world thought we were all terrorists over here, or a bit mad, or both, and were a bit scared of them until they got them tired out. They had Jonah Lomu, we had 'The Lads'.

But now it's all changed. The kits are sparkly and new, they have something that could maybe pass for tactics, and there's a professional sheen and, most worryingly of all, an 'expectation'. But the Ireland team have always been good underdogs, and I think it's laregely that expectation that has finished them.

Of course there are two other key factors. Everyone has it in for O'Gara these days, but surely the main problem is that no matter what he wears or does, he always looks like a bank manager who's reluctantly agreed to take part in the company's annual Rugby 7s charity match. And O'Driscoll took the wrong road a few years back when he got those highlights. He stopped being an Ireland rugby player and started being David Beckham. Except he wasn't.

Maybe we need to go back to the good old days, where a few likely lads, with more enthusiasm than talent, were pulled in off the streets, handed a grubby green jersey and told "when you hear number 10 shout 'fundamental', kick for the right-hand corner and leg it".

Of course, we'll never win, but at least it'll be fun to watch.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

What Would Jesus Sing?

Every now and then I become dispossessed of all common sense and wander into a Christian bookshop. I don't mean I don't like these places, but simply that it is a financially unsound decision to enter. But also I don't really like them. This dislike is not due to the books - books, all books, any books, are good, even Christian ones (even naff Christian ones). The financial unsoundness is due to the books.

No, the dislike is due to the everything else you find in Christian bookshops, namely, the tat. For those who have never been into such a shop, you may not be aware that Christians are the best producers of tat in the modern world. You name it, we do it. 'Jesus loves me' rubbers? Check. 'Jesus loves me' bumper stickers? Of course (I'm perfectly certain that someone, somewhere, has made a 'Jesus on board - in my heart' bumper sticker as well. I've never seen one, but I just know they will have. And it won't say 'heart', it'll have a picture of a heart.). Poorly made and not very attractive household items with Bible verses on? Tick. '4 steps to salvation combs'? Sadly, yes. 'Every man's guide to multi-tasking!! - comb your hair and get right with God, all before breakfast!' (I made that up, by the way, they don't really say that. That would take up valuable space, needed for the 4 steps).

And all available in every lurid shade of plastic you can wish for, including some you can't.

So yesterday I was in Belfast and wandered into that big Presbyterian bookshop, the one with the fancy spires and the posh shops next to it. This shop offers a little less tat than average (in terms of volume), although the range is generally of 'higher' quality and more expensive.

So anyway, I'm wandering round, trying not to buy books, and failing miserably, when I wander into the bargain section. The bargain section of Christian bookshops are always particularly good - here you find Christian books that are so bad that even Christians don't read them. They're currently doing the 'Left Behind' story books (in comic form) for 10p each - I was sorely tempted to buy the lot, mainly to avoid any poor child having them inflicted on them, but I didn't want to boost sales. So I wandered into the music section to have a little browse (incidentally, Christian bookshops are also one of the few remaining places where you can still buy tapes). And I see this CD, called something like 'Kingdom Karaoke'.

I think 'help, say it ain't so, they can't have'. Tentatively, I pick it up and turn it over. Help. They have. They have released a karaoke CD of HYMNS. For your karaoke machine. Help. These people just don't get it. Karaoke = banter (see Voxo for further details) and alcohol is pretty much a pre-requisite. Hymns = worshipping the almighty God of Heaven and thoughtful wonder is required.

Can you imagine that party? "Go on there, Rossy-boy, get up and give us a song!" "Ah no, I'm shy." "Go on go on go on" "OK. Have you any Bonnie Tyler?" "Err... no" "Queen? Elton John?" "Well, no, but we can do you the Reverend Willie McCrea." "Ah, great!" and then follow 5 minutes of cousin Ross (who only turned up because he fancies your friend and he had time to kill before things get going at The Apartment) singing "Will ye go down to the meeting hall tonight? Go down to the meeting hall and meet the king of light!" (I made that up, it's not really a Willie McCrea number, but it could easily be). Talk about pooping the party.

Even worse, maybe churches will adopt this for Sunday morning. "Let's give up on this congregational singing thing! We'll take it in turns!! Let's have Gladys up to the front!". A Thousand Tongues later, and we're understanding the joy of silence.

I'm not sure whether to despair, or stop visiting Christian bookshops.

Friday, 28 September 2007

To amuse you

I'm not normally a big one for computer games, but if you're wondering how to while away your Friday afternoon, click here.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

On the progress of the building work

I have come to the conclusion that it is best to simply leave one's house alone and not do things to it. I have now had no heating for 2 and a half weeks, no bathroom for one week and no lights upstairs for one week.

Having removed the bathroom last week, the builders appear to have, how shall I put this? - fecked off. This, incidentally, came but 3 days after they didn't turn up in the first place due to having all gone to Blackpool for the weekend and got too sozzled to work. Of course, it was probably best that, given that they had got themselves drunk, they didn't arrive, since they might have got confused and pulled out the kitchen instead, or something (that is literally the only way this could have got worse). Anyway, as I say, they did eventually sober up and come round, removed the bathroom and disappeared again. When I say 'removed the bathroom' I mean they took away the sink and bath, dismantled the hot press, took the walls off (I can't really explain this, you'd have to see it), did some plastering, and then went away. They left the hot water tank, which we'll return to in a moment.

So, every day for a week now, I have come home and looked in vain to see what they've done. I know they come every day, because the assortment of leftover food on the living room table changes, but I can't realy see any difference (although I admit that I'm not the most DIY-aware person, so they could be doing obscure behind-the-scenes stuff that I don't notice). So last night my dad phoned them to see what's going on.

It seems they are awaiting the arrival of the bathroom window, and don't want to do too much until it arrives (quite why this is the case was not explained). My dad asked about the hot water tank and why it hadn't been taken away, and the bloke replied 'We thought we'd leave her with hot water'. Now let's think about this for a paragraph or so. Hot water... to put in what? The bath? No, that's now in the back garden, out of range of the taps and in full view of the neighbours. Unless I decide to have a David and Bathsheba moment I am unlikely to need hot water for the bath. The sink? No, that also is in the back graden. The toilet? Why? The kitchen sink? I could boil a kettle for about 1/10 of the energy used to put the immersion heater on.

Still, it was a nice thought.

Needless to say, the new downstairs room has also ground to a halt, but since it's kind of 'nice to have' rather than 'core functionality', as we say in the IT industry, I'm not so concerned about it.

Still no word from Q&B Darren.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Q&B: The Turning of a Corner

I know you'll have been waiting all weekend to hear how I got on with Darren from Q&B, so I'll not keep you in suspense any longer.

Several surprises:

1. He turned up, on time, when he said he would.

2. He knew my name, and something of the background.

3. He was sympathetic to the whole story, and totally unsurprised at the attitude of the Warranty Department. He then let slip, get this, that Q&B have DISBANDED their Warranty Department because it was so incompetent!!! So complaints are now managed locally, by people such as Darren himself. This means, in a radical move, that the complaint goes straight to the person who is going to deal with it.

4. He agreed to replacing the entire set of kitchen doors, and has promised that he will contact the fitter, and get him to pick the doors up and bring them with him when he comes to fit them, so I don't have to wait in for a delivery of doors (or cupboards), and I don't have to phone the fitter myself.

I think it is fair to say we have turned a corner here; my relationship with Q&B may yet be salvaged. Darren, even if he turns out to not do anything he says, at least talks the right sort of talk, and owns a clipboard.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Q&B: The Showdown

This afternoon I have Darren from Q&B coming to look at the kitchen doors. I don't think I ever expected that we would make this much progress, and am a little overwhelmed.

I would appreciate your thoughts; please, if you are not doing so already, wear your lucky pants this afternoon.

My hope, such as remains of it, is that Darren will agree that the new door is different from the others; he will admit that there is a fault with the original doors (he described it over the phone as a 'feature', as though 'front of door peels off after 3 months' is up there with 'pleasant wood-effect' and 'modern style' when one purchases a kitchen). It is my hope that he will admit this and agree to getting all the doors replaced. Naturally, this puts me into another cycle of phoning warranty departments to get things delivered and fitted and so on, so I'm not calling this the finale yet.

There is also the matter of the old old doors (the ones which were originally replaced, and which are now sitting in my living room) and the cupboard sent by Steve several months back, which is doing likewise. If Darren knows what's good for him, he'll turn up on a bike - otherwise, should he be driving anything with any storage space at all, I am jammin' those doors and the cupboard in there and he is getting rid of them.

That reminds me, did I tell you someone stole my bike? Grrr...

Monday, 17 September 2007

The charity you've all been waiting for...

It will delight you all to know that Richard Dawkins has now launched his own charity, named, with an admirably cavalier disregard for accusations of opportunistic self-promotion, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (henceforth referred to as the RDF). I've been relatively quiet on the subject of Richard Dawkins lately, having become, frankly, utterly bored of him, but it would have been no less than remiss of me not to mark this particular occasion.

For those who are new to this blog, and the universe in general, and haven't heard of this man, he has recently written a book called 'The God Delusion'. I suppose not everyone thinks it's nonsense, and to be fair, if you actively enjoy being told what to think and how to use dodgy logic to "disprove" God's existence while patronising anyone who has ever had the remotest contact with the world around them, then your ship may just have come in; for everyone else, it's a fairly amusing set of randomly selected factoids which take one's mind on a pleasant ramble through the very shallow end of philospohy until you get to the point where you realise he's actually serious and you throw the book out the window.

But again, I digress.

The mission statement of the charity is available on the RDF website and contains a stark warning for us all:

"The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America."

Now, I don't wish to downplay the number of "Christian" idiots who seem to have wormed their way into schools in the US and here. It is indeed ridiculous to be teaching children that "the entire universe... began after the domestication of the dog". On this point I agree with big Rich, and I suspect that were Jesus still walking on earth and were choosing to involve himself in matters educational, he'd have something negative to say about this too (can you imagine that Board of Governors meeting?). I am fully behind Professor D when he aspires to "[p]romot[e] science as poetry". It can, indeed, be a beautiful thing.

So far, so good.

It all takes a turn for the more sombre, though, when we discover that the Prof has been scuppered in his attempts to give what he could to "various secular and rationalist organizations" by the "major difficulties" in doing this in a tax-efficient way (am I missing something here? - don't you just sign a form?). But fear not! for there is light; why, surely and forsooth, Dawkins himself is well-promoted well-known on both sides of the Atlantic, and does he not have followers in both places?! Many of his readers are "enthusiastic and passionate about science and reason", and indeed, "some have been kind enough to attribute their enthusiasm and passion to reading [his] books". We surely cannot help but agree when he concludes, "Did I not have a duty to set up my own charitable foundation?" (I paraphrase not).

We pause briefly here, to give you time to wipe the tear from your eye and swallow the lump in your throat.

And now we turn to the key question: what will the Richard Dawkins Foundation actually do?

The aims are eleven-fold and can be read in full on the RDF website. I summarise them here for your convenience.

1. Research. Dawkins is ever-troubled by one pesky question... why on earth does anyone disagree with him? Why do so many of us take the broad road of religion and superstition, when we could instead be on the narrow way of education and intelligence? (I kid you not, he does actually say that, although I admit I have paraphrased.) I'm quite tempted to apply for one of the grants he's offering, and then survey all the intelligent Christians I know, just to screw up his statistics.

2. Education. Christians are giving money to promote Creationism, so Dawkins is going to give money to promote Evolution. I'd pity the kids who are left sitting in science class with this particular peeing contest being played out around them, but then I think back to my own schooldays and console myself with the fact that they'll all be passing notes and giggling and ignoring the teacher anyway.

3. Website. The RDF will have a website where you can buy lots of Richard's books and DVDs and follow a link to his other website where you can buy lots of Richard's books and DVDs and also see photos of him.

4. Database of lecturers. Sadly the good prof is unable to speak at everything he's invited to, but if you're organising a talk he'll give you the name of an atheist near you.

5. Merchandise. You can buy Richard's books and DVDs.

6. Publication. Dammit, he's writing more books.

7. Charitable giving by secularists to humanitarian good causes. If there's a disaster and you want to help, but you're worried about your money falling into the hands of those nasty religionists, worry no more... the RDF will provide you a list of non-religious charities. Particularly useful for those who've never heard of, for example, Google.

8. The OUT Campaign. Scared to tell everyone you're an atheist? Not sure how to "come out" in the open? The RDF has the answer - for $20, wear a T-shirt with a big scarlet "A" on it, and tell the world! As an added bonus, and I swear I'm not making this up, it also has Richard Dawkins' name underneath - worth it at twice the price!

9. Consciousness-raising about labelling children. You shouldn't call children 'Christian children' as this is well-known to scar them for life.

10. Think for Yourself. The RDF equivalent of the Sunday morning Children's Sermon. In other words, it's the bit most of the adults really listen to. Children will be encouraged to 'think for themselves'. This sounds good, but I've a feeling it won't be.

11. Conferences. The one you've all been waiting for. Actually hear the Great Bright One speak. Maybe have lunch with him. And get the books and DVDs autographed.

So there you have it. A truly worthy cause. We can only stand and stare in amazement that the world has had to wait so long. And of course we are humbled by Richard Dawkins' near-refusal to even mention his name in relation to this, so little does he want to look like the altruist that he is.

And I thought he was just a self-promoting twit.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Art of the Petrol Station

Some of you will be familiar with the 'Superlatives' application on Facebook, in which you nominate friends who are most likely to do certain things. Last week I was a little taken aback to be voted 'Most likely to have a blonde moment' by my good friend Emma. On enquiring further as to the existence of any reason for casting such an aspersion upon my otherwise gleaming character, I received the two-word explanation: 'petrol stations'.

It is true that me putting petrol in my car does not tend to lead to moments of glory. This is, indeed, a skill in which I can safely be said to be 'well below average'. But it's just that they make it so darned complicated. So many things to remember: drive up to pump, get out of car, remove petrol cap, put hose thing in petrol thing, check meter is 0, squeeze handle of hose thing, remove hose thing, put cap back on, go and pay. And all have to be executed in precisely the right order, and with a level of precision that I simply don't possess when driving. Some have additional constraints: for example, one does not simply drive up to the pump and stop - no, one must stop close enough to the pump for the hose thing to reach the car, and one must be on the right side of the pump to be able to get to the petrol cap with the hose (my discovery of this is a particularly epic tale, but one which I won't go into here).

So it was with some excitement that I read recently that a Swedish company has developed a petrol station for women. Now, I do not necessarily put my ineptitude in forecourts down to my gender; indeed it is true that I have never met anyone, male or female, who has as much lack of ability in this area as I do, so there is a strong possibility that it is just me. But if I go to a petrol station where only women are allowed, it at least reduces the potential viewing figures by 50%, which must be good.

So what makes this petrol station so good? Apparently the forecourts are orange and the pumps are curvy. I would have thought it would be better to make the pumps orange, because then they'd be easier to spot and you'd be less likely to drive into them, but at least if they are curved you wouldn't do so much damage to your car (I can feel Fifi screaming and trembling when I try to drive her into a petrol station). It also has a big shop that sells salads, and nice toilets (I mean the shops sells salads and the toilets are nice, not that the shop sells nice toilets as well as salads).

This is all well and good, but I think I could do better. What would help would be if they made the pumps into, like, your best friend. So when you're standing there trying to figure out why the hose thing won't go into the car (unfortunately this is also a true story), the pump will give you a nudge and whisper 'Hey! You forgot to take the petrol cap off!' and then you can have a bit of a giggle together and pretend that everyone does that all the time. Also if all attempts to put petrol in the car were shielded from other people's view by large curtains or some such, this would help with confidence levels.

For the truly epic, Smile-proof petrol experience though, I think I need one thing: someone to do it for me. I drive in, park wherever I will, hand the keys over to a cheerful, pleasant chap who is oily enough to look like he knows about cars, but not so dirty that he messes up the seats, I say how much petrol I want, I go in and pay, maybe browse some magazines, and then come out and my car is ready.

Now that, I would pay good money for.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A shock

Would you believe it, Q&B just phoned?! Darren is coming out next week to see the kitchen, and confirmed that there was an issue with the type of doors I got, that was making the edging peel off. I am looking down the tunnel and, hark!, I think I see light.

Q&B, Part the Third

So on Friday I get home and there's a message on the answering machine, from Chrissie from Q&B Warranty Department. She has left a number and asks me to call her back. I call on Saturday and get no reply, so I call again yesterday and get to speak to Chrissie.

She wants to check that I still need the cupboard door. I detect in this that her expectation is that I DO still need the door, and this is a pleasing change of attitude, since everyone else seems to start by assuming that it has somehow magically appeared in my house and fitted itself, and then sound surprised and a little disbelieving when I say that it hasn't done so. I explain that I bought the door myself and got it fitted, but that it is different from all the other doors and I want someone out to look at it all. I also explained that I have phoned about 8 times and every time someone says they'll get back to me, and no one ever does.

Chrissie is very helpful and seems unsurprised by this. Which is unexpected. So she has emailed someone who will contact me and come out and see the kitchen to put it right.

After I hang up, I realise that I have once agreed to let them call me back. I never learn.

Incidentally, the building work is progressing well - I now have an extra room, although it does not yet have a roof. My mother has taken my father in hand and ordered him to stop phoning me every evening to find out what's been done and issue me with a new set of instructions, so that's good.

Spider-horse has not reappeared, and the builder claims he can pull strings in Phoenix and get the heating installed sooner (sooner, this is, than the 10 days promised). I have chosen my bathroom (this was not difficult, I want a bath, sink and toilet, in white, and quite small, so there was not much to be decided).

So things are looking up. Apart from, obviously, the rest of life, which is still causing stress. But at least I'll have heating again soon.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

On the departure of Spider-horse, and other miscellany

Spider-horse has departed. Not from this life, but from my house. He made good his exit via the bathroom window on Saturday evening, thanks to Sir Dave and his faithful sidekick, The Boy Marno. I am pleased about having my bathroom back, but mindful of the old saying: "spiders do not come in ones, they come in thousands".

Instead of spider-horse, I now have a flock of builders, who are building me a sun room (allegedly - so far they have delivered a cement mixer and some sand). I have no heating, and all my possessions are occupying a small space in the corner of my living room, which is a tad frustrating when I have cause to use either my possessions or my living room. I'm also a little concerned about having such a pile of stuff so idly sitting around - if I was spider-horse and looking for a way back in, that pile of stuff is the kind of place I'd choose as a hidey-hole.

I have also been scuppered by Phoenix Gas, who were supposed to send Ray round on Tuesday night to discuss the installation of heating. Of course, Ray did not turn up (my cynical side is resigned to this by now - Q&B has done a lot to temper my happy-go-lucky attitude to such things). So now I am expecting Dave to come tonight (not Sir Dave, Dave from Phoenix).

Incidentally, I was reading through some previous blog posts and wondering whether I come across as quite cynical. In real life I'm practically all sweetness and optimism (kind of), but I wonder whether people who only know me via my blog would realise that. Or do you all think I'm a cynical manic-depressive with a sarcastic (yet pleasingly witty) edge?

So, onto something positive: our week of prayer in church. I'm continually delighted by the creativity and vision of our prayer team, and yet again they've put together a programme of prayer evenings which has been imaginative and stimulating. It has been a pleasure to go each evening and join with others for prayer at the start of our church's year. Last night we went on a prayer walk round the local area, praying that God will work to bless and protect our community. Superb.

Plus, it has got me out of the house with no heating every night this week. Dang.... cynicism sneaking in again.... must stop it stop it stop it.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Five Go On A Saga Holiday

First up, I'm sorry if I don't smell quite so pleasant as usual. The spider-horse is still in the bath, and I have been unable to wash. I checked on Google, and it says spiders can live for up to a year. The only hope is that, since presumably they are not born the size of horses, this one must be at least a few months old already. Alternative accommodation may, however, have to be arranged. Fortunately I'm getting a new bathroom soon (from Q&B again - ha! My inane and mindless optimism never ceases to delight me), so it may just be a case of removing the spider-horse with the bath.

Onwards, however, and it seems that the week which saw the promise of the re-launch of the Wispa has another thrill up its sleeve - the re-launch of that ever-jolly quintet, the Famous Five. Not merely a remake of the old stories, ho no. According to today's Guardian (incidentally, on my weeks off I have discovered that newspapers are still available in their old-fashioned ink-on-paper format. How deliciously quaint. But I digress again.), there are plans to make a new TV series in which the Five are reunited in their middle age, to solve a new "complex modern mystery".

As a life-long Enid Blyton fan, I am almost hysterical with excitement. It's almost worth getting a TV for. But the Daily Mail (of which, one can be sure, it will turn out that Julian at least is an avid reader) sounds a note of caution: "There are fears that seeing the carefree crime-fighters saddled down with adult concerns - at least one of the team is likely to be divorced, say insiders - could destroy the youthful innocence of the brand."

Now, Guardian writer Marina Hyde rather callously hopes that it is Julian's marriage "that imploded", but I don't know. In the books, you will recall, it was Dick who always seemed to assert a strange attraction over the wandering gypsy girls - a power which, surely, can only lead to trouble. Julian, I suspect, became chief of police in a pleasant rural setting somewhere, but has now taken early retirement and devotes his time to giving road safety lessons to chavs in the local primary school. I have to agree with Hyde when she says she imagines Julian as being "not desperately keen on reality television, among several thousand other things". As ever, Julian's role in the new series will be to provide the ready cash (although probably for fast cars and international flights rather than ice creams and new torch batteries).

Dick, on the other hand, may well have have become the black sheep of the family for a time... his 'frightful' language, commented on by Anne in one book ("'Darn it!' said Dick. 'Dick!' said Anne, shocked to hear her brother using such a frightful swear word.") may well have taken him into rather less pleasant company. Of course, he'll have turned out all right in the end, after a sharp talking-to from Julian, and much pleading from Anne. Moreover, since at least one of the "new millenium" Five will need to be a forensics expert, my money for that one's on Dick.

Everyone will expect Anne to be the nice little housewife she was shaping up for, but this neglects to take into account the strength of her emotions when stirred. This is the girl who, in "Five on Kirrin Island Again" (book 6, I believe), abandoned a scoundrel at the bottom of a quarry with a broken ankle, shouting back over her shoulder 'you're a wicked, wicked man'. There was a firey heart in Anne, which any prospective husband will do well to have spotted. I'd say it's worth a bet that she at least had a fling with Alf the fisher-boy (you will remember him as the one who used to get George's boat ready each summer; never once was it ready when she wanted it, but always, always the paint had dried in time for them to row off and catch the kidnappers), but I can't imagine Julian allowing that to develop into anything more serious. No, Anne will have become a nurse, married a sensible and slightly older chap from the next village, and be happily settled in Kent. Of course, Anne will have her contacts from the past - and I don't think it's unreasonable to say that an old boyfriend might re-surface.

Incidentally, how any of the above three can be expected to turn out all right is, of course, a mystery - having spent their entire lives either at boarding school or on an island being chased by smugglers, scoundrels and the ubiquitous 'foreigners', with parents who turned up only briefly and infrequently.

And then, of course, there is George. Good grief. First, of course, we must remember that Timmy will no longer be with us. There must, naturally, be a descendant (otherwise it would be the Famous Four), but George will have had to weather the grief of seeing Timmy off to the great kennel in the sky, and can it be hoped that she will have come out the other side as a stronger, more mature person? Apparently a number of commentators have idly surmised that George will turn out to never have married (really, what gives them that idea? Or do I hear a civil partnership in the offing?). Aged 52, George, I suspect, is still a student. She's never quite got around to handing in her thesis (which is something to do with some kind of obscure art that nobody gives a toss about), but has a large house and vegetable garden in which she grows, amongst other less legal things, her own vegetables. As ever, George's role in the plot will be to do a lot of stamping around and throwing tantrums, during which she'll lob a 3-week-old copy of 'The Guardian' at Dick and it'll accidentally disappear down a rabbit hole. Some plot lines just keep re-surfacing.

George's parents will no doubt still be alive - Uncle Quentin simply by forgetting to die, and Aunt Fanny determinedly sticking by him, feeding him soup and tidying his 'important documents'. He will no doubt be aggrieved that his way of producing non-polluting energy from nothing (which, I assure you, was actually completed at the end of the afore-mentioned 'Five Go To Kirrin Island Again') has not been taken up by the world, but he has now settled for a quiet life and is working on 13-dimensional string theory instead.

One wonders, too, what kind of world the modern-day Famous Five will live in. No longer will it be acceptable for someone to be deemed a criminal merely because they are 'foreign' or beacuse they 'belong to a circus'. The local waifs who frequently turned up in rags and without fail found the secret entrance to the castle/high tower/cave/dungeon will now be knife-wielding chavs, more likely to block the Five in a rabbit hole and steal their wallets than to be won over by Dick's charm and turn out to know the local hills like the backs of their dirty hands. In any case, we can be sure that Julian's big car will have sat-nav.

And can you even still buy ginger beer?

Friday, 31 August 2007


Dozavtra has been gone for precisely one month and I have my first crisis. There is a spider in the bath, and I kid you just a little, it is the size of a horse. Now, small spiders I can deal with - I just flush them down the plughole. I know that is a terrible way to treat my fellow creatures and I am a horrible person for doing it, but there you have it; they shouldn't be in my bath in the first place.

But this thing, and I'm serious here, is too big to fit down the plughole. Seriously, it's bigger than the taps. It is by far the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life. I don't wish to give too much away, but when I was sitting on the toilet I had half a mind to ask it to look away and give me some privacy, THAT is how big it is.

I have texted everyone I have numbers for in a half mile radius, hoping someone will come and get rid of it, but no joy so far. Mark phoned me back though, and advised me to do the old glass-and-bit-of-cardboard trick, but really, I just can't. I'd have to use a bowl anyway, this beast is so huge, and there is just way too much risk of dropping it on the way down the stairs.

I considered spraying it with something, like furniture polish or Windolene or something, to try to gas it, and then maybe setting fire to it, but I think that's a bit cruel, even by my standards. Plus, it might just get mad if I did that, and I really don't think I want to get it upset.

There is no way I could bring myself to squish it.

Maybe if I made my house really really hot, or really really cold, it would leave. But I don't think it can get out of the bath (I really, really, really hope it can't).

I wondered about putting the plug in the bath and then putting water in, to try to drown it, but there's a chance it can swim, and then what? Besides, I'd have to reach across it to get to the plughole and taps.

So I think the only remaining option is to leave it there until it dies. If anyone has any idea how long that might take, please let me know. I think I'll Google it. I may need alternative accommodation until then. And even then, there's still the dread, what if it just disappears? What if it just isn't there some day? Where will it have gone?

Oh help. Seriously, I am nearly crying. Would it be too embarrassing if I went and got one of my neighbours to get rid of it? I guess I could do that in the morning if it's still there.

If anyone has any suggestions, please phone or text asap, or come round and dispose of it for me. Thanks.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Something theological

This post is somewhat unusual, being, as it is, an attempt at something vaguely serious and thought-provoking. It may not work, in which case please accept both my apologies and my assurance that normal service (i.e. inane and riotous comedy) will be resumed as soon as possible. For now, though, please humour me. I guess this is also a post mainly for the faith heads out there, rather than the heathens among us, but the latter are, naturally, welcome to pull up a metaphorical pew and join the debate (of course, true God-botherers will be pulling up something much more comfy than a pew, since most churches dispensed with such pain-inducing seating arrangements years ago in what was marketed as an attempt to be more 'welcoming' but which, in effect, has just made it more comfy for the regulars because, frankly, why is anyone going to come to church just because the seats are nice? - but I digress).

I've been off work for a fortnight now, and have enjoyed the chance to do a lot more reading, cycling, pottering, nothing and studying than is generally possible while my nose is to the grindstone and I'm working my little butt off (those who work with me, please refrain from laughing - remember, you're in church). And it is to the subject of the studying that we now turn.

I've been reading a book called 'The message of the cross', and one of the chapters focussed on Psalm 22, the one that starts 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' - words echoed in Matthew's account of Christ's crucifixion. I'll not go into the full details of the chapter here, nor indeed into the particular angle focussed on in the book, but part of what this psalm deals with is how to reconcile the difference between theology and experience, and that's what got me thinking.

Probably a lot of you know that I've suffered from various forms of depression for a good few years now, so I've often done a lot of thinking in this around how that can be so in light of God's promises for believers. I've listened to my share of cliches, Bible verses and platitudes but I've also been fortunate to have some brilliant friends who let me process things in my own time. I've discovered that what I claim to believe does not always match up to what's going on in my life. The Bible contains all kinds of wonderful promises, and great claims about God and things He has done, and as a Christian I believe the Bible to be true. But my life contains all kinds of messes and pain and emptiness and fear, and as a human I want those things to be recognised too. So here's the thing: what do I do when I read 'Perfect love casts out fear' (1 John 4v18) but then find myself taking a panic attack while lying in bed at night? How do I reconcile the verse that says 'Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart' (Psalm 37v4) with being single and, at times, lonely? What do I do when God seems far away?

Now, there is clearly a place here for putting these verses in context and reading them as part of a wider picture. But even allowing for that, this kind of dilemma is much more common than we admit; on Sunday mornings it's often all smiles and cheeriness, but how many of us really find that what we believe and sing and affirm on Sunday is really always backed up by what we experience the rest of the week? What do we do about that? What do we say when our theology and our experience are at war? I think there are 3 options.

The first is probably the commonest, or at least the most obvious in Christian circles today (or at least in the ones I move in): ignore our experience, and only really acknowledge things which we think we should be experiencing. Try to pretend that we're OK. Ignore the pain and the hurt and the anger, and try to convince ourselves that "it's all part of God's plan; He will bring good out of it". Like martyrs, we carry on, convincing ourselves and others (with varying degrees of success) that we're glad of this lesson we're being taught - we're learning to "crucify the flesh" and "submit our desires to God's will". Except that we're not. We're just ignoring them and adding some Christian-sounding phrases to explain them away. Churches are full of people with happy masks on, pretending that it's all OK and that all troubles (except maybe for really "big" troubles like death or serious illness) are a positive learning experience. So nothing gets talked about, nothing gets brought into the open - and nothing really gets brought to God. The pain is buried under a mountain of soundbites and cliches, and the reality of God keeps its distance. Meanwhile, hearts harden as we try to ignore them.

The second option is the opposite: tone down our theology and bring it into line with our experience. We agree that God is good; but in our hearts He's a little bit less good than we used to think. We agree He is just, but we're not sure how just. Our confidence in those things goes down; maybe we've interpreted them wrongly, we think, so we're just a little bit more cautious, and a little bit less ready to fling ourselves on God than we used to be. Of course we still sing the songs and we still say the right things - but we see them as ideals, not as reality. The real thing is harsher than we thought. So we bring the pain to God, let Him have a look, maybe let Him shed a few tears over it too, and then we pick it up and carry it on again. Dissatisfaction becomes the norm. Joy shrinks, and fear increases, as we work that bit harder to convince ourselves it's all true.

The problem with these 2 options is that they both start with me, and what I think should happen. They feed into each other, and start a downward spiral: I start with something in my life that I want solved and I think about praying about it. I figure out the solution, put it into nice words and present and explain it to God; I leave out the more unpleasant aspects of the problem because they seem too difficult for now. Then I'm disappointed when (often as not) He doesn't do what I asked. So I lower my expectations. I figure I need to give God something easier to work on. And so, I bury the really hard stuff and it goes un-dealt with, God stays in His little box, and I trudge on, disillusioned.

The third possibility is, of course, what we should do (I hate that word 'should'; somehow in my head, it always adds an invisible 'but don't' on the end). We need to balance the reality of our experience with what we know to be true; crucially, we need to start with God.

We need first to fully acknowledge that God is Lord, and is good and that He is holy. He is not at our beck and call; He need not answer or act in the way we want Him to, but nor can He act in a way that contradicts what He has revealed of Himself. So we must be open to the fact that God may not 'prove' His promises and claims in the way that we would expect; He may well do something wildly different. We must not limit Him in our heads just because we can't see how things will work out.

Then we need to fully acknowledge the pain and hurt and confusion of difficult times. We need to burrow into it; not to wallow in it, as self-pity would do, but to acknowledge it and explore it and open it out. We need not be afraid of it, precisely because of God's promises, even when they say something that we don't experience as true. We have to bring all of our anguish (and not our perceived solutions) to God, in its full ugliness and painfulness, and let Him show us that what He said is true. He has made promises and claims; let's dig them out and let Him prove them.

I must start with God. I read His promises of love and care and justice and faithfulness. Those are what should allow me to bring all my experiences before Him, without filtering out the stuff that I think I shouldn't be feeling or thinking, and without worrying about how things didn't work out how I wanted them to last time. By throwing those things on God (and not presenting Him with a nicely packaged solution), I then get the opportunity to experience Him making good on His promises. I experience joy and wonder at what He does.

I guess there will always be gaps between theology and experience. But these are precisely where God is best seen. My theology is only my limited understanding of God. My experience is tainted with my sin and wrong attitudes. But God can reconcile them in an awesome way, bringing me fresh revelation, and a new experience of joy and peace that's beyond my understanding.

So let's have honesty; let's ditch the cliches and let's let ourselves grieve and hurt when we need to; let's not try to fix ourselves, but let's bring ourselves and each other to the almighty and holy God we claim to believe in, and let Him get on with it.