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.