Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Types of Questions on Yahoo! Answers

You know what's the best thing about the internet? No, not the ability to be connected to anyone, anywhere with the click of a mouse. And not the instant access to world news. Not even I Can Haz Cheezburger, although that's up there. No, the best thing about the internet is its ability to spread lies, misinformation and illconsidered advice to all who desire it.

Take Yahoo! Answers, for instance. The point of this site, for those who have never visited, is to allow people to ask questions, and other people to answer them. It is bizarrely compelling; topics range from the banal ('What should I feed by dog who's just been wormed?', 'My child is getting a vaccine tomorrow, when can I take him swimming?'), through the topical ('OMG wot do u think of Michael Jackson bein murdered?') and bizarre ("Where can I buy a coffin to sleep in?") to the simply gross ('I went for an xray of my bladder but they told me I'm severely constipated?'). I promise I didn't make that last one up. In fact, here's a link, where you can read the full (hideous) details, and the answers (for some reason, I keep cracking up at 'u should try prascription laxatives').

Now, I can see how this can be useful. Some questions are too embarrasing to ask anyone non-cyber; the women's health section, for instance, is full of 14 year old girls asking how to put tampons in. Others are specialist: "What's the best time of year to prune a wisteria"? Some fall into the 'Needing an outside opinion' category: " I think my friend is depressed, what should I do to help?". I'm not saying there's nowhere else on the internet that you could find this stuff, but it's useful to have, even if it does feel a bit like sitting through a Richard Madley interview with Wikipedia.

But then there's the rest of it. Since we've only recently had 'the 12 most annoying types of Facebook people', I feel we should do something similar. I haven't added it up yet, though, and also they're not all annoying, so I'm going to call it 'Types of questions on Yahoo! Answers'. Questions below are based on actual questions, but are not, in fact, actual questions, unless otherwise indicated; they are, however, variants of questions I have seen on Yahoo! Answers but can't remember exactly.

1. The 'Too Much Information' Question
Typical Question:
Title: I've had the runs for 3 days and can't stop plz help?
Details: Well three days ago i went 2 a Restrunt 4 dinna and then in the middle of the nite i woke up and well I had the Runs and it was like green lol sorry TMI but i still hav it and i dunno wot 2 do what should I do
WhyNotSmile says: You know, I know what 'runs' are. I don't need a description. And anyway, the description should have come with a warning. Because, you know, up till that point, you'd been for dinner, it was going well, and ok, you had the runs, but was I meant to guess that where we were headed next was the COLOUR? I mean, give me a chance to hang up here, man. And what the **** is the 'lol' for? Is that supposed to help? Are you trying to say 'Hey, I know I just made you throw your breakfast up, but I have a sense of humour, amn't I great lol?'

2. The 'Not Enough Information' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Need a good place to take 2 children on holiday?
Details: I want to go on holiday with my 2 children, can you recommend a hotel which is good for children?
WhyNotSmile says: You know, I just can't think. That's the trouble with the world today: there must be millions of hotels, but to come up with one that children might like... *sucks teeth* that's a tough one. Good thing you're not narrowing it down, by specifying, for instance, a country, or the ages of the children or anything. 'Cos then we might really be stumped.

3. The 'I can't be bothered to Google this, please do it for me' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Where could I buy a computer online?
Details: I want to buy a computer online, but I don't no any places, where do you buy them like is there a site?
WhyNotSmile says: Excuse me a moment... *goes off and checks Google*... well, there seem to be a couple of sites coming up in the ol' search there. Tell you what, how about if I ring a few of them, get prices and specifications for you, and then come round to your house, look at your decor, and choose one to match your bedroom? I'll order & pay for it, and you can give me the money when I deliver it.

4. The 'I'll be arrested if I ask this anywhere but cyberspace' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Is it safe 2 drink vodka after u hav marijwana?
Details: none given
WhyNotSmile says: How long ago did you do it, and how bad do you feel?

5. The 'People online know more than my doctor' Question
Typical Question:
Title: My doc sez my baby haz a virus but I think itz sumthin else.... advic plz?
Details: Well i took my baby (shes 7 month to c the doc cos she wuz cryin alot an i wuz worried an he sez she haz a virus but i didn think a virus was lik tht wud she nt be sneezin?
WhyNotSmile says: You're in the right place. What do doctors know? All those years they spent in medical school, when they could have been lying on the sofa watchin' Ricki Lake and surfin' the web like those of us who now have nothing better to do than lie on the sofa and surf Yahoo! Answers. And they get paid for it? Sheesh.

Bonus Question:
Title: Am I pregnant?
Details: The other night well 3 weeks ago I had *you know* with my bf and now I feel kind of funny, like a headahce an wen I stand up fast I'm like dizzy lol do you think I mite be pregnant?
Additional Details: I'm 14 an he didn't go like inside me lol, we wer jus kissin an stuff lol
WhyNotSmile says: I take your Online Pregnancy Test and I raise you... the Online Thermometer.

6. The 'Who Knows?' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Help plz
Details: So i am seein this guy well not reali seein lol but likke we like each other but heres the thing my dad thinks hes no good becuz hes like not tht gd in school but i reali like him and we hav bin seein each other for 3 weeks and think wer gonna b in luv how do i tell my dad plz dont laugh its a serios question.
Additional Details: I'm 11 and hes 12 an he failed a test las week and thats y my dad doesnt like him its not that hes too old
WhyNotSmile says: Huh????

7. The 'Non-question' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Why do sum people not belief in god?
Details: When god is the best thing that can happen in ur life and i hav been followin him for 2 months an hes awesum an u shud all belief in god.
WhyNotSmile says: Maybe if you keep preaching, you could have an excellent future. Or not. Just sayin'.

8. The 'Possibly a joke but not completely sure' Question
Actual Question:
Title: Im worried because i ate some tipex, and i keep getting the runs and...?
Details: Yesterday i woke up to a meal of shreddies and then some purified orange juice. I then hate m&m's and then me and my friend drunk a bottle of tipex for a laugh, ever since i've drunk that fearful bottle i keep getting the runs.
WhyNotSmile says: I need more details: Coco Shreddies, or just regular ones?

9. The 'Asking for Trouble' Question
Actual Question:
Title: Where can I get a breast massage?
Details: I've heard that breast massage can make them grow bigger and I'd like to try it. Where can I go to get it done? No funny answers please.
WhyNotSmile declined to answer this question, due to rofl at the trolls' answers

10. The 'Please help me eliminate all risk from my life' Question
Typical Question:
Title: Would I like the new Cappuchino Kit-Kat*?
Details: I saw the Cappuchino Kit-Kat the other day. I dont really like coffee but I quite like things that have coffee flavours. Would I like the cappuchino Kit-Kat or do you think it tastes too much like coffee?
WhyNotSmile says: Heck. That's a tough one. You might need to be more specific. Can you give us examples of some of the 'things that have coffee flavours' that you 'quite like'? Does it include the coffee ones from Quality Street? What about coffee cake? And what do you mean by 'quite like'? Sorry for asking, it's just that, with the information you gave, we can't be completely sure, and if we don't get it right, this is at least 50p and 37 seconds of your life you'll never get back.

*This is not necessarily an actual product. I am using it for illustrative purposes. But it might exist, I don't know. I'm not that keen on Kit-Kats.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Annoying Facebook People

CNN have published a list of the 12 most annoying types of Facebookers, and it makes for interesting reading. There is also a quiz to find out which type you are, which informed me that I am a great Facebook user and should carry on regardless.

I admit I get annoyed by The Bad Grammarian: "So sad about Fara Fauset but Im so gladd its friday yippe". I'm sure we all have our fair share of such freinds, and I know that the Internet has more of a 'free and easy' attitude to Spelling, Puctuation and Grammar than I'm ever likely to be entirely comfortable with, but PLEASE learn to communicate your thoughts in a way that does not make me want to storm round to your house with a sledgehammer and a mindful of bad intentions. And while we're at it, do not add 'lol' to the end of every sentence; it conveys no additional meaning and ought only ever to be employed in response to an amusing comment in an IM conversation.

I also get a bit irritated by The Sympathy Baiter: "Barbara is feeling sad today". Just like Barbara was feeling "wiped out" yesterday, "overwhelmed" the day before, and "distraught" only the day before that. But, y'know, I can't hate Barbara that much; at least she can spell.

However, I am almost overcome by my own stomach contents when I come across The Maddening Obscurist: "Dave thought he was immune, but no. No, he is not.", "If not now then when?". Part of the irritation stems from the fact that often these don't even make sense as Facebook status updates: "Tim life is precious, let us all embrace it", for example. But by far the greater part of the irritation is caused by the fact that Facebook is not designed to be a vessel for your trite philosophical thoughts: it may well be true that "deep things are found in the wellstream of life", but when the line above that said "Steve is too pissed to stand up" and the one after says "Alex just sent you three daffodils and a goat in FarmTown", y'know, it loses any slim chance it ever had of registering on my 'interesting things I read today' radar.

What is particularly irritating is that these people are usually the ones who I added as a Facebook friend in order to give the impression that I quite like them, without having to spend any actual time with them or have any sort of meaningful relationship, because they are invariably the type of friend with whom a meaningful relationship involves a lot of late evening discussions (over latte) about the existential, theological and modernist themes of the film you just watched, even when the film was Ice Age 3.

Holy COW an almighty great spider has just run across my bedroom floor

On the other hand, I have to admit to not being too troubled by The Self-Promoter (a category in which I include those who detail every aspect of their offsprings' development); perhaps it is because I go straight from "Hmm, what's this" to "Feck off, I don't care" and bypass the bit where any sort of annoyance registers, or maybe it's because I quite admire people who take every opportunity to bum themselves up, because it makes them look like idiots (the humble talented are far more irritating, because you can't even rightly despise them).

And when it comes to The Let-Me-Tell-You-Every-Detail-of-My-Day Bore ("I'm waking up." "I had Wheaties for breakfast." "I'm bored at work." "I'm stuck in traffic."), I feel something probably best described as affection, because I think it's kind of sweet that they think I care. The idea that these people imagine that I will read that they had a Chinese last night and think "Wow. You serious?" is kind of comforting. The notion that cyberspace is there for the filling. The delusion that they can spout anything they want, and the Internet will be enhanced by it beyond measure. In fact, maybe what I feel for he bores is not affection. Maybe it's kinship.

The WhyNotSmile Tall Ships Belfast 2009 Photo Souvenir Special

Without further ado:

The Bounty docked opposite The Odyssey (Wednesday afternoon).

The Bounty is a replica boat built for the film Mutiny on The Bounty in 1960, and has been in other films since then, including Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Europa (Netherlands) arriving in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

If you look closely, you can see someone standing near the top of the middle mast (about an inch below the European flag) (an inch on the photo, not in reality).

The Tecla (from the Netherlands) arriving in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

You can't see this in the photo, but the crew were dancing and singing 'La Bamba', which was nice.

The Europa docked next to The Odyssey, with lots of people (Thursday morning).

Capitan Miranda (Uruguay) and Cisne Branco (Brazil) in front of the fairground.

The prow of The Atlantis (Netherlands) looking over Belfast Lough with the Harland and Wolff cranes in the background.

Me on board The Sagres (Portugal).

The Bounty docked opposite The Odyssey.

The Bounty leaving Belfast on Sunday.

The Jolie Brise (UK) (I think) leaving Belfast on Sunday.

The Europa leaving Belfast on Sunday.

Tenacious (UK) leaving Belfast on Sunday.

There are lots more photos here.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Invitation Gets Even Better

Further to yesterday's invitation to the thing in my church, things have improved considerably; as of tonight, WhyNotSmile is now one of the Main Speakers at this Sunday's event. Nothing like a good couple of weeks' notice to prepare my profound, touching and yet theologically accurate thoughts, huh? Never mind trying to jam them all into 5 minutes. Because we all know that what matters in talks is how many points are jammed in. Maybe I'll do a PowerPoint too, that always helps. I'll add a different transition to each slide, and a sprinkling of animated GIFs and naff Christian art. Do come, it'll be great.

Speaking of Christian art, my flatmate and I were talking about that earlier. You know that Sacred Heart picture that Catholics always have and Protestants are always a bit freaked out by? With alabaster-skin Jesus holding two fingers of one hand in the air while using the other hand to pull back his robe and reveal what appears to be a glowing kidney? My flatmate wants someone to do one with Jesus doing the Vulcan Salute. It is not disrespectful for her to want that, because she's Catholic, and also Presbyterian.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

An Invitation

I'm still working on the Souvenir Photo Tall Shippy Thing, but these things can't be rushed.

Instead, here is a thing that's happening in my church over the next 2 Sunday nights:

Cafe Church is one of those things that has become quite cool to do, and of which WhyNotSmile is therefore naturally cynical, but on the other hand what I've heard so far of the plans has been good. The flyer doesn't mention the food, but last I heard, people were making shortbread, and this is always a good thing.

I also do not know why we are spelling 'God' 'god', but I assume it is because we are so cool.

So, if you would like to come along, please do. I might even agree to keep an eye out for you and let you sit at my table.

For the location of our church, go to our website and click 'Contact Us' and then 'Location'. Please use Firefox or Safari and not Internet Explorer, because it is not as pretty in Internet Explorer.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Fame And Fortune

The WhyNotSmile Tall Ships Souvenir Photo Guide (or whatever we're calling it) is not yet ready, but in the meantime you can have a sneak preview by going here (yes, the BBC Website) and looking at the 5th photo.

If you print it off and bring it round, I'll sign it for you.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

On The Photography Expedition, And How It Went

Well the secret photography location for the Tall Ships Parade of Sail turned out to be not so much 'secret' as 'being used as the Park & Ride car park', plus the whole thing got brought forward by an hour or so, due to the wind or something, without anyone telling me, so I turned up out of breath to a huge crowd of people just as the biggest boats sailed out of zoom range. Then it started raining.

Fortunately, the boats kind of came in 2 waves, as it were, so I caught the second lot and mighty fine the spectacle was too. I'll have lots of photos for you, but I have to sort through them first, so the WhyNotSmile Tall Ships Photo Souvenir Special Edition will not be published for a few hours yet.

In addition, my uncle has taken his boat up to the lough, with my dad and various others on board, so I may, in time, get more photos from them. Meanwhile, my mum is at home and thinks she can see Sagres coming - this is the one we were on, so it's particularly exciting.

Incidentally, does anyone know whether they broke the world record for the largest mass gathering of pirates yesterday? Tempting as it was to turn up with my laptop and start downloading & selling movies and music (get it? Pirates... but, like, software pirates?), my favourite suggestion was from Alan in Belfast, who was all for arranging for a load of people to turn up dressed as parrots and then walk away looking confused, but as he only came up with it last night over dinner, we'll have to wait till next time. Anyone up for it though?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Tall Ships: WhyNotSmile Investigates (Includes Special Pull-out Section: The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Maritime Festival and Tall Ships)

So, today was the opening of the Tall Ships and Maritime Festival in Belfast, and as promised, the Smile family headed over to see what was going on. If you only read one line of this post, read this one: go to the Belfast 2009 Tall Ships & Maritime Festival, it's class.

My parents were supposed to be arriving at my house at about 11, and managed to restrain themselves until about 10.30, which is an improvement on the general pattern followed for outings. So we went into Belfast, and after a detour to the bank, started searching for a bus to take us to the festivities at The Odyssey.

This should not have been difficult, what with the big buses with 'Odyssey' written on the front, but it took longer than you might expect and even then we had 3 attempts before we finally got on board - mainly due to Too Much Choice, as the buses were queued up and the Inspector kept saying 'You can get on the one behind this' to the people in the queue, at which the 3 of us obediently moved to the queue for the bus behind, at which the Inspector repeated his information and we moved again. By bus 3, however, we had cottoned on that we didn't actually have to move, it was just that we could if we wanted to, and thereafter things speeded up.

Anyway, we got off the bus and joined the orderly queue which we could see nearby, for no better reason than that if everyone else was thinking it was a good idea, we didn't want to miss out. After 10 minutes of not moving, we realised it wasn't quite 12 o'clock and things hadn't opened yet; when I mentioned this to mum I was overheard by several people in the queue and a lively debate ensued as to what time it started at and what time it was now, and shouldn't they have a 2-way system in place? I'm not sure how the 2-way system idea got started and developed, but it seemed to have wings, and by the time the boats sounded noon we were a mere several steps away from a complete re-organisation of the event logistics with WhyNotSmile at the helm.

Thankfully the crowd started to move, so we followed it, and after another 10 minutes or so came back out 10 yards from where we had started and decided to go for lunch. At some point we had each acquired a leaflet with More Information, and although none of us was quite certain where it had come from or who had given it to us, we agreed that it would be wise to have lunch before everyone else, and to read the leaflet while we ate so that we would know what to do.

Now, we discovered yesterday (on our reconnaisance cycle trip) that there is a nice cafe at the Pump House, and we strongly suspected that people would not generally know about it and that therefore it would be quiet, so we decided that that was the place to be (I didn't mention this before today because I wanted to make sure I had a peaceful lunch without hordes of people there, but I'm telling you now because I've had my quiet lunch and you can all congregate there as much as you like without disturbing me). So we just had to find the shuttle bus to take us there.

We asked a bus driver, and he didn't know because he was only doing the route into town and back out, mate, so we asked a man in an official looking jacket, who didn't know either, and then we asked a Scottish lady who had both a uniform and maps, and she told us roughly where to head. When we got about half way there, we saw a sign saying 'Queen's Road Bus Stop', with an official-jacket man at it, so we thought we'd better check that it was the Bus Stop we wanted to be at for the Queen's Road, and it turned out it wasn't, which we hadn't really expected.

So the moral of this tale is that nobody in red jackets knows anything much about what's happening, but they are all very nice and have walkie-talkies and will try to help, and I dare say they'll have got to grips with things a bit more by the time they've had a couple of days under their belts. It also didn't help, incidentally, that when I asked people, I kept calling it a 'Shuffle Bus' and they kept laughing at me, so if you're asking, you should probably try to get that right.

Anyway, the actual bus stop was just behind us, and we got there just as the bus came. The entire 500,000 people who were expected to come to the event over the 4 days appeared to be on board already, so we spent about 10 minutes watching people get off (as my mum said, "I think they're just getting off and then going round the back and getting on again"). Eventually we boarded, with the remaining 3 people in Belfast who hadn't just disembarked, and the bus set off.

Stop 1 was the Harland and Wolff Drawing Office; the other 3 people got off, but since we were headed for lunch a bit further down we stayed aboard, and were joined by a gaggle of elderly ladies who couldn't decide where to sit, who to sit next to (in particular, Hetty was keen to go next to Aggie, but Aggie had already sat down next to someone else), where to get off or generally what they were there for, so that took some time. Stop 2 was the Pump House & Titanic Dock, and as we disembarked we realised with joy that our plan had been good, and indeed no one had thought to go to the Pump House for lunch. We perused the sandwiches at our leisure (Meal Deal: 1 pack of 'themed' sandwiches, a bottle of Coke/Diet Coke/Sprite and a packet of crisps for £4); I went for 'The Apprentice' on brown bread, mum had 'The White Star' on white bread (spotted the sandwich theme yet?) and dad just picked the one that looked the biggest.

So, moral 2: go to the Pump House for lunch; no one knows it exists, so it's quiet, it's not that expensive, and you can sit outside and look over the lough. Also, they have nice toilets.

At one point my dad disappeared; we had assumed he had gone to the loo, but once he had been gone a suspiciously long time, we realised he must be buying things. My dad loves buying things at stuff like this; so long as it's of no earthly purpose and is extremely awkward to carry round for the day, he will buy it (we still have, in the back of a wardrobe somewhere, a hawaiian skirt that he bought in a Christmas market back in about 1987, and which he has always sworn will come in handy for a fancy dress party sooner or later). So he came back with a Tall Ships Souvenir Guide, and we read that, and discovered all sorts of things about the boats, and formulated a Plan for the rest of the day. By this time it was about 1 o'clock, and we headed back towards the Odyssey, stopping off at the Drawing Office on the way. There they had an exhibition about the Titanic (made in Belfast - "She was all right when she left here") which is also worth seeing, and a man who will tap your name out in Morse Code.

After this we got the shuttle bus back to the Odyssey and wandered round there a bit; mostly it involved dodging people with prams and buggies and taking photos of everything in sight, much the same as everyone else was doing. At a conservative estimate, there must have been a million photos taken today alone, plus thousands of videos which will mainly consist of half a second of a tall ship and then 30 seconds of people almost walking into the camera and looking annoyed.

We strolled the continental market, where they were selling everything from hammocks, bags and jumpers to giant flumps, many-flavoured turkish delight and kangaroo burgers. There was also a funfair, but we didn't go to that, so I can't tell you any more; I'm just saying it's there.

Next step was to cross the river to 'The Other Side' - by now we had abandoned the idea of the shuffle buses, because although there were tons of them, you had to queue to get on, and my dad despises queueing - it's sort of a principle of his; even a queue of 2 people can be too much, and it is generally thought safest to keep him moving. On the way out of the Odyssey grounds, we caught a little bit of street theatre and then headed over the Lagan Weir with millions of other people. The crowds were massive, but all going in the same direction, so the only concern was that the person at the front would suddenly stop and 3 million people would grind to a halt, leaving us trapped in a sea of buggies, balloons and cameras, but fortunately this did not happen.

Across the other side (the Big Fish side), we made our way to Clarendon Dock and joined the masses there. The thing was, although there were lots of people, they did keep moving ahead, and unless you actually wanted something specific there was no need ever to join a queue. So we browsed the RNLI stand (we didn't take up their offer of sea rescue training, but it did look quite good), we looked briefly at the continental market and decided to do it on the way back, and then saw a sign saying 'Pat's Bar' and started following arrows (to be more precise, dad started following the arrows, and mum and I followed him). So we got to the bar, and sat in the square watching comedy acts performing, and listening to music, and laughing at people who had won giant teddies in the funfair and were carrying them around not quite knowing what to do with them, and had a drink (one each, you understand, not one between us).

At this point (by now about 2.30pm), we realised we hadn't actually done much in the way of Tall Ships so far (other than take photos), so we headed off to try to find one that would let us climb aboard for a look round. The first one we came to had a queue about a hundred yards long, and it was clear that dad was not going to manage that no matter how interesting the boat, so we kept going and found ourselves in another continental market and another funfair. Dad bought some macaroons, which were very nice, and we took more photos of boats and dodged some more crowds and buggies and then came upon a boat with a very short queue which was moving quite fast. This, clearly, was the vessel for us.

The ship was called Sagres, and is Portuguese, and really was very nice, and, most importantly, tall. Visitors were allowed on board and you could walk round a guided path and take photos and so on, and talk to sailors, although mainly only if you knew Portuguese, and get your Souvenir Guide stamped to say you had visited. So it was very interesting and we took plenty of photos and my mum flirted with sailors.

By now we were getting tired and hungry, so we came off the boat and went back to the funfair and market. The funfair, incidentally, is one of those at which, if you held a gun to my head and said I had to go on one ride or you would shoot me, I would carve you the bullets out of my own eyeballs, because it was all spinny things and high up things and those sorts of things which I hate. On our way round we saw some Gladiators with whom you could have your photo taken for a tenner, or you could just take a photo of them for free, which was kind of better because, to be honest, they were a bit slimy and their shorts were too tight.

So we got some Turkish Delight and a venison burger, and, having reached the apogee of this side of the lough, started to head back. Yesterday, Dad and I had seen a ship we definitely wanted to visit, called the Bounty - the one which was used in The Mutiny on the Bounty, and Pirates of the Caribbean - and thus we joined an orderly and not-too-long queue, and were delighted to see that about 10,000 people joined it just behind us, so we were able to spend our queueing time crowing over how we had come along just in time and if we had been a minute later we would have had to wait a lot longer. The Bounty was also very nice on board, and had the added bonus of letting you go beneath decks (as I believe the technical term has it), which was interesting to see. Again we got our Souvenir Guide stamped, and by now we were ready for home.

Of course, we couldn't find our way out of the docks area for quite some time, so by the time we were heading for the bus it was rush hour, and I ended up travelling the length of the Woodstock and Cregagh Roads sitting in the luggage rack, but the bus was full of people who had had a great day at the Tall Ships and everyone was delighted to compare notes; of course, it was also full of people who had been in work all day, and who were feeling grumpy and not all that keen on talking, but frankly, since it was full twice over and there was no room to move, it wasn't as if they had any option other than to sit there and listen.

So that was the Tall Ships and Maritime Festival, and really, if you haven't gone, you should go. In addition to the things mentioned above, there are many other things which were of less interest to us but might be of more interest to others, including bouncy castles, boat tours of the lough (which bring you up next to the ships for a closer look and more photos), the World's Strongest Man Contest (which hadn't started when we were there) and various radio stations doing roadshows. Oh, there was also live music. And face painting. And other things. In fact, there is tons to do, and it's free to wander, so you really should go. Just don't try to take the car in.

You will of course want to plan your visit before you go, and with this in mind, WhyNotSmile has thoughtfully produced a Guide To The Maritime Festival and Tall Ships, which you should print off and study:

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Maritime Festival And Tall Ships
It is important to familiarise yourself with things before you arrive. To this end, you should visit www.gotobelfast.com and find out what's happening. This may seem like a basic instruction, but there really is a lot to see, and it's very hard to figure it all out when you're standing in a sea of buggies.

In addition to the things on the website, please note the following:

1. Food. Food is copiously available. For a quiet lunch, go to the Pump House, as detailed above. The Odyssey is also open for dining, and the continental market can supply a range of culinary delights and horrors, although this tends to be more expensive. It is also possible to take a picnic and eat it on the grass.

2. Footwear. Bear in mind that you will be going on boats, and therefore high heels are not appropriate. Many have tried, and while failure is frequently hilarious for others, it may detract from your enjoyment of the day. Wear something you can walk miles in, whether you intend to walk miles or not; once you get caught up in the crowd, you may have no option.

3. Children. Buggies get in the way. Take them if you want, but know that you will be annoying everyone else, and it will take 5 times as long to get anywhere or do anything. Narrow buggies are generally easier to manouvre and will get you fewer dirty looks, but it has been noted that an extra wide twin buggy can be advantageous, as it allows the pusher to build up a momentum which is not easily resisted.
If your children let go of your hand at all, they will be swallowed up in the crowd, so make sure they have their names and addresses round their necks, and enough money for the bus fare home. If it's wet, you should probably also give them a house key in case they get back before you.

4. Money. The only thing you have to pay for is food, and bouncy castles etc. The event itself is free, the buses are free, and the boats are free. In fact, you can probably turn a profit if you wear a strange wig and hold out a cap; buskers and street performers are copious, and sooner or later someone will give you a few coins.

5. The Boats. In all the excitement, it is easy to overlook the main point of the event, which is to see the Tall Ships. You should probably try to get on board at least one or two of them. Since they are generally not all open at once, the decision may be made for you, but if you find yourself confronted by choice, remember that in 15 years' time, you won't have much beyond a stamped souvenir guide and a vague memory of a lot of ropes and wood; choose the boat that where you can take photos of yourself wearing a sailor hat and standing at the wheel, and make sure you get your souvenir guide stamped.


Please note that I will be spending the next several days sorting through a thousand photos, editing, cropping and deleting; once I have finished, I will publish for you an exclusive WhyNotSmile Photo Souvenir Guide of the Tall Ships in Belfast 2009, which will be worth Something in years to come.

Also I have to decide where to go to watch the ships leaving on Sunday; I think I've come up with a secret vantage point, but I'm not telling you because (1) you'll all turn up and get in the way, (2) it's kind of awkward to describe and (3) it might turn out to be wick; I haven't quite figured out the lie of the land round there.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Harland & Wolff: WhyNotSmile Investigates

This weekend is the Belfast Maritime Festival, including Tall Ships, an event of such magnitude that not only are myself and Mama Smile going, but we are, in an unusual move, taking Papa Smile also; furthermore, Papa Smile wasn't sure how things would work out with parking and so on and it was therefore decided that we should do a rece today, this latter occurrence being additionally an opportunity for a cycle through Belfast which Papa Smile has been looking forward to for quite some time. I love it when a plan comes together.

So we cycled to the Odyssey, which is where much of the Tall Ships activity was planned, and we saw some of the Tall Ships, and I have to say they look very impressive. Should you be anywhere near Belfast this weekend, and at a loose end (or indeed a tight end with an alterable schedule), then you should probably call in on the festival and see the ships. I can also report that there are various funfairs, a continental market, and an ice cream van.

You will, of course, hear more of this presently, but the reason for this post is to tell you about something interesting we discovered when we were cycling round the Titanic Quarter, part of which was closed off to allow for preparations for the Tall Ships thing, but another part of which was open instead, and it is in this part that we found something interesting.

Incidentally, doesn't my life seem to get considerably more complicated when it involves my dad rather than my mum? Days out with Mama Smile generally center around a picnic in a well-organised and very civilised public event; days with Papa Smile involve cycling around obscure areas of Belfast in search of toilets, or alcohol.

Anyway, the diversion we took went round by the base of the Harland & Wolff cranes (the big yellow ones which you can see all over Belfast), and we were able to see the cranes close up. However, as we posed for photos (available shortly on Facebook), we heard a strange motorised kind of noise, and as we watched, one of the cranes started to move. Like, properly move, quite far, fairly fast, on the wheels that are on the bottom.

Now tell me, those of you who live in Belfast, did you honestly ever know that the cranes could move?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Belfast Pride: WhyNotSmile Investigates

I've spent the last week thinking 'Oh! Bit of a sore throat! Swine flu? Hmmm.... Temperature? No. Not swine flu. But sore throat. Hmm... Strange variation of swine flu?' etc. Not that I'm all that worried about swine flu; when you spend your life in a state of chronic anxiety, there's not all that much room on top of the already constant 'How will I ever find a job? Who will ever marry me? Will I die alone and be eaten by alsations? What if I never find another job and starve to death? What if everyone figures out I am an abject failure and they all stop speaking to me?'; it's more the inconvenience and the fact that I haven't yet got round to selecting my 'flu buddy', and that I was helping at a kids' club and didn't want to be responsible for starting an epidemic.

Anyway. Mama Smile and I have now got into a routine of 'doing things' on Saturdays; previous weekends have been spent in Castle Ward and the Folk and Transport Museum, next Saturday is the Belfast Music & Taste Fest (or something; we're not that fussy about the details), the following one is the Tall Ships, but the weekend past did not present many options. Of course, Mama Smile and I abhor a vacuum, and since Mama Smile was coming up to Belfast anyway to bring Sister's car back up, we felt we might as well get the bus into town and see what was happening.

Which turned out to be Quite A Lot, as we discovered, on leafing through the 'Things To Do In Belfast In August' guide we had picked up in the craft thing we'd called in on. The initial plan was to get a bus up the Falls, since they were allegedly having live music on board for the afternoon. But we couldn't find a bus with live music on (based, admittedly, on a half-hearted survey of one), so we decided instead to check out the Belfast Pride parade.

Which was quite good, and, as parades go, much better than Orangefest. Very pink and fluffly, of course, and cheerful and so on, if a tad garish in places. One of the 'floats' was on board a tourist bus; I was rather astounded when Mama Smile pointed out that "It brings a whole new meaning to 'Hop On, Hop Off'", but recovered slightly when she said "It's like a whole different world", which was more the sort of thing I had expected.

There were protesters, of course, because you can't be into That Sort Of Thing in Belfast and not be protested at, but there were also 'God loves You' balloons to provide a sensible balance.

Unfortunately, it disrupted the buses, and we had to get back to my house in time for Mama Smile to drive Sister's car to Sister's Friend's House where Sister is currently living (before moving in with me in September, of which more in due course), walk to the train station, get a train to Bangor and then a bus to Ards to meet Papa Smile and get home in time to make dinner and then go to the neighbours' for supper, but thankfully we made it and all was well.