Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Review of the Year 2008 (Part 2)

So we are now into the final stretch as far as 2008 goes, and some of my correspondents in foreign places have already made the futuristic leap into 2009.

We have already reviewed most of the year in Part 1, and I have filled you in on all that has happened since then, so this Review of the Year Part 2 will focus largely on the success, or otherwise, of the New Year's Resolutions.

And it turns out that that 'or otherwise' is going to come in handy. Here's how it went:

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.
Ha. Buy a house? Start a pension? In my defense, though, had I done these things, I would now be living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, spending hours staring into space, so this is not a bad thing.

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.
I'm not sure, because I threw the scales out, but I suspect this didn't go so well either.

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).
Now we're just getting ridiculous. I managed to work for a grand total of 3 full weeks this year. And forgot to award Employee of the Week in any of them. And probably wouldn't have deserved it anyway.

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.
The Spring? The Spring?! That was optimistic. But in general, this did not go too badly for most of the year, with very little DIY work being done, beyond assembling flat packs. However, we got a bit cocky towards autumn, with a bit of painting and papering, most of which was fine, apart from the Hole In The Living Room Ceiling Incident.

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.
Does it count that I discovered that 'scream until grown-ups come' actually still works quite well, so I decided to stick with it?

6. I will leave Richard Dawkins alone, unless provoked.
I'm sure Richard Dawkins breathed a hearty sigh of relief at this one, and it went well for a full 3 months, until this little gem distracted us. In October we mused on The Atheist Bus Campaign, but I think that counts as provocation, and therefore is OK.

So much for the resolutions. I will come up with some new ones for 2009, and no doubt we will build on this year's success.

Of course, no Review of the Year at WhyNotSmile would be complete without the Review of the Year at The Largest Bar of Soap in the World, and an analysis of the related state of the global economy.

The Soap (for which read 'global financial markets') had presumably been around for some time, but only came to our attention in June, when it was received as a birthday present (the soap, not global financial markets). It was not, however, fully appreciated until September or so, when we realised just how large it was. Since then it has been in a steady decline, both in terms of quality and quantity.

The latest report shows that it is still about the same soapcumference, but underneath it has gone all squishy, and large brown cracks have developed.

An interesting point to note, though, is that the Soap has led to a massive increase in blog traffic; a look at my analysis software shows that the search terms which most frequently lead people here are variations on 'The Largest Bar of Soap in the World' and 'Large Soap' and 'Big Soap', which proves that more people are interested in the Soap than in global financial markets.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 29 December 2008

What Ever Happened To The Weather?

I don't mean this in the sense of "What's going on with the weather these days, where are all these tornadoes coming from?", I'm talking about the weather forecasts on TV.

With not having had a TV for a while, the last time I saw weather being presented by an actual person, it was Michael Fish with a big map of Britain and Ireland behind him, with weather symbols which he changed by pressing a little button which he held in his hand. Of course, he wasn't really standing in front of the map, he was in front of a blue screen onto which the map was digitally added afterwards, and if he wore a blue tie, you could see the west coast of Ireland through his middle. To a child of the 80's, this was all stunningly innovative; my formative introduction to the science of predicting forthcoming atmospheric conditions was via Wincey Willis and fuzzy felt. But you knew where you were with it, and you got the basic idea that the weather tomorrow was likely to be much the same as today, or perhaps a bit different.

But I happened to tune into the weather at my parents' house yesterday, and it was like an ill-advised cross between A-level geography and the Large Hadron Collider.

For a start, we were zooming about all over the place; I fully expected that if I pressed the red button on my remote control (which I first discovered during Christmas Day Top of the Pops, allowing my father and myself to sing along, much to my sister's disgust) it would fly right in to my own house and show me the current cloud cover. The rain clouds were actually raining, and the clouds were shown flying across the sky. It was like the internet, but on TV.

More disconcerting, however, was the presenter, who seemed to be on his own personal crusade to fight the nation's falling educational standards. We were gravely informed that the front currently in the Atlantic is stationary and we were invited to inspect for ourselves the predicted behaviour of the isobars. Now don't get me wrong, Michael Fish talked about isobars with the best of them, but only in a way that made you think he knew more than you and therefore should be believed, not in the sense of expecting you to understand and suggesting it as a topic for discussion at the dinner table.

Anyway, the weather today seems to be much the same as it was yesterday, so perhaps it's not as complex as it looks.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

An Account of Christmas 2008

Apologies for the delay in transmission during the festive period, which we will return to presently. First of all, however, I trust that we all had a very merry Christmas and did much eating, drinking and being... well... merry. Also, a belated Happy Birthday to The Soapbox for 23rd. I don't mind that I didn't get invited to the party (not that I would've gone, of course, being in a state of ill-health, but it's always nice to be invited. As a matter of point, in fact, if you're ever having a party and you want to be seen to be generous with invites, but you can't really be bothered entertaining everyone, invite me - I never come).

But to get back to the business in hand, you'll all be wondering how Christmas was here at WhyNotSmile, and in all honesty, the answer is that it was pretty much the same as most Christmases that you or I have ever had. Mum decided to have turkey for dinner, and my dad had got these things called crackers that had bits of plastic and crap jokes in them. Great-Auntie Isobel asked whether Mum had steeped her ham (despite having no idea of the potential consequences, I live in anticipation that the answer to this question will one year be 'yes') and then we pondered why it is that people always say that turkey's dry. My sister got overexcited about the whole thing (one of these years I'm going to hit her with a turkey drummer in the middle of The Snowman), we went for a walk on the beach and then came back in time for The Queen, who spoke of how she was thinking of the troops and how it would be nice if we were all nice to each other a bit more. Then we played 'Matching Pairs' with Great-Auntie Isobel (we like our games, but you can't have anything with overly complex rules).

Then of course there was the religious aspect. I failed to make it to church this year (all that 'oh look how much you've grown, are you married yet?' from old Sunday School teachers just could not be faced), and was left at home in charge of putting the oven on, cutting X's in the Brussels sprouts and sorting the presents (the latter at my sister's behest - she really does get overexcited). But of course, there is always TV, and on Christmas Day it offers something for everyone. On one side we had the atheists scoffing at how they are dead clever and they know things that Christians don't know, because Jesus wasn't really born on 25th December and anyway Christmas is a pagan thing. On the other we had the Archbishops saying that it would be really nice if everyone was a bit nicer to each other and that what with the credit crunch and Christmas, it is a good time for spiritual reflection and maybe people should go to church more.

Incidentally, someone, somewhere has worked out that Jesus was, in fact, born on 17th June (something to do with Mars and Venus, or something), which is pleasing because it means He has the same birthday as me, but would be a bit crap if they moved Christmas to then because then I'd only get one set of presents. I already share my birthday with John Wesley, founder of Methodism, so it's clearly the day to be born.

I should also mention that I got the biggest present of all, although this was mainly because it was saucepans, which are an awkward shape to wrap, so my mum put it in a big box.

So that, basically, was Christmas, and very nice it was too.

Anyway, the festive season was dulled slightly by lack of internet access, the tale of which you will be wanting to know. It started like this: on Monday I was sitting in Belfast and trying to finish off some work and wondering whether the scary kids would come back and getting a bit nervous, when I realised I'd run out of milk. I couldn't really be bothered going and getting more, since I was due to be going to The Parents on Tuesday anyway, so I thought, 'Sod it, I'll go to them today'.

So packed up all my things and drove down, got myself unpacked, and thought 'I'll just go online and finish off that bit of work'. Fired the laptop up and it wouldn't connect to the network, cos I didn't have the password. So I thought, I'll use mum's computer. But all the files are on my laptop. So I came up with a (in hindsight, ill-advised) plan to use her modem/router cable in my laptop, which went well until Windows told me there was a problem and to reset the router. Held in the reset button, tried again - nothing. Held in the reset button again, this time for a bit longer - nothing. And now mum's computer isn't working either. Dig around, find user guide for router thing, it says 'Pressing the reset button resets the router. Holding it in for more than 4 seconds will wipe all your settings and banjaxx everything.' Damn.

Anyway, it's working now. Well, my laptop is. Mum's computer not so much.

A second festive disaster involved the jardinaire (don't know how to spell that - kind of a fancy plant pot) which sat at the bottom of the stairs and which we have now all agreed we weren't that keen on and didn't really match the decor anyway. I'm still not entirely clear how this happened: one moment I was at the top of the stairs holding a sofa cushion, next moment it was bouncing down the stairs, gaining speed despite my desperate attempts to wrench it back with the force of my anguished stare, and then the jardinaire and plant and cushion were all in a little muddled heap in the hall.

So that was Christmas 2008, and frankly I'm more than a little relieved it's all over.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dodgy Mathematics Special Edition, Part 2: For The Slow People At The Back

I said I would only explain this once, but some people clearly weren't listening, so I am going to have to say it again. But differently, because this time it's for the slow people.


I saw a sign in Carter's on Saturday (I should explain that I was not in Carter's, but going past on the bus; I should also explain that yes, I was in Belfast city centre on the Saturday before Christmas, and that I left quite quickly) which said that they are offering VAT-free prices (or some such; I forget the exact phrasing), by reducing prices by 15%.

But of course this is incorrect, and I shall now explain why.

Suppose that pre-sale, an item cost £100 (this is at the new, lower, rate of VAT).

Now, if they reduce it by 15%, the new price will be:
(£100*85)/100 = £85

However, if they merely removed the 15% VAT, then the new price would be:
(£100*100)/115 = £86.96

which is not so good, so you wonder why they make that claim.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Funny Things For You

Thanks to Virtual Methodist for finding this. Splendid.

Review of the Year 2008 (Part 1)

So the year that was 2008 is almost over, and I now present Part 1 of the Review of the Year here at WhyNotSmile (Part 2 will be published at the actual end of the year, leaving open the possibility that something interesting will happen between now and then; it will also contain a review of the New Year's Resolutions, which can be viewed here for those who wish to prepare in advance by refreshing their memories - and trust me, the review of the resolutions will be laughable).

As I've said before, at this time of year I get lots of Christmas cards which include a letter listing details of what the sender has been up to for the past 12 months, including photos of new arrivals, weddings etc. Yet again, I have cunningly avoided doing anything of any real interest, but that's not to say there's nothing to report, for in all manner of ways 2008 has been a fairly eventful year.

The year began, as these things tend to, in January, with a 3 week flurry of activity and hard work which came to an abrupt end following a discussion with the boss on the importance of me working 25 hours a day in order to prevent armageddon. This led to 5 weeks off work, and armageddon did not, as far as I can tell, happen, but far be it from me to say 'I told you so'. Anyway, the immediate aftermath of The Discussion was punctuated with my dad installing my shower door, and this was probably the more significant event, not simply because of all the new, interesting words I learned, but also because of the discovery that essentially all DIY projects can be made right with a big tube of squeezy stuff to fill the gaps.

And so into February, which was characterised by not having to go to work, and thereby discovering that a lot more fun was to be had on a week off than I had previously realised. This was when I got invited along to Parent & Toddlers, and discovered that it was an excellent way to spend a Tuesday morning; so much so that I also signed up to help at the Thursday morning creche.

By the time it came to March, I was having so much fun that I didn't really want to go back to work, but of course bills were to be paid, and I returned, building up from 1 hour twice a week to a full 4 days by the end of the month. I did cause slight consternation by choosing to still take the 10 days I'd booked for Easter, despite having already been off, by that stage, for the guts of 7 weeks, but I enjoyed my holiday and didn't feel bad about it at all.

In April I had almost managed to get back to work full-time when my employers decided that they could no longer afford my appearance fee, and I decided I would therefore no longer grace them with my presence. Of course, this also meant the end of free cups of tea, unrestricted internet access, a steady income and (most importantly) the Morning Sing with Alex, but on balance it has worked out not too badly.

May passed in a flurry of vaguely pretending I was going to look for a new job (before I gave up quite openly in June); word got around, of course, that I was free, and so it ended up being quite busy.

June was a significant month, and indeed may well be awarded 'Month of the Year 2008'; all the significant events happened in the week in the middle of the month, when I turned 30, my mum turned 60, and my favourite minister got deported* to Cullybackey. After all this, I decided I needed a rest, and did nothing for about 2 months, apart from growing some carrots.

* Not really.

Nothing much happened until the end of August, when I decided I needed a holiday; being skint and agoraphobic, the destination was quickly decided on, and WhyNotSmile got a Metro Day Ticket and hit the heady sights of Belfast. Photos were taken, postcards were sent, interesting places were visited, and it is fair to say that the loyal readers enjoyed the holiday almost as much as I did.

In September we bought broadband, got slightly nervous about the Large Hadron Collider, and enjoyed the delights of Garden Gourmet, but all in all it was a quiet month, and peaceful. It was also the month in which I began to find gainful employment designing websites, which at least makes me look vaguely employed and stops people asking awkward questions about how the job-search is going.

I don't remember much about October, but given that I seemed to post a lot of blog stuff then, we can assume it wasn't overly productive in any other useful way, although it did present an excellent opportunity to roll our eyes at Richard Dawkins and his Bus Campaign. It was also the month in which we launched the financially-astute Largest Bar of Soap in the World, and if you're not a regular reader, you'll just have to look through the archives or get CrookedShore to explain it to you.

By November the world was crunching around us, but WhyNotSmile was rather smug as she flies below all financial radars and has no assets whch could drop in value. I did get sucked into several pointless internet debates, but declared myself the winner in all of them, which was a timely ego-boost. This was also when Dozavtra moved out, which was sad, but which opened the door for me to buy anything I want from the Kleeneze catalogue without interruption from any sort of voice of reason.

December's peace has been shatterd by the ongoing Seige by kids from the estate, but I'm hopeful that my mother will catch them soon, and then they'll regret it all. It has also seen a range of carol services, in which, thankfully, 'Away In A Manger' has only featured once.

Last year we paid tribute to a number of people who had graced this blog with their antics: Richard Dawkins, the builders and HM Revenue & Customs, to name but three of our favourites; this year, frankly, it's been all about me (although Richard Dawkins has popped in from time to time and will be mentioned again in Part 2); I would, however, like to make mention of those who have left sympathetic comments and generally offered all manner of help as it has been needed.

And thus we look back on the year which suggests that 'Things Can Only Get Better', and we are grateful for the fun that has been extracted from it.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Seige

So WhyNotSmile is currently under seige by some local hoodies, who are accusing her of 'slabbering about my ma on Bebo'. 'Slabbering', for those unfamiliar with the term, is a serious offence in these parts, so the hoodies are rightly angry. Obviously WhyNotSmile did nothing of the sort (although she thanks Virtual Methodist for his Facebook comment: when her status was changed to 'WhyNotSmile is a bit scared of the boys who are saying she slabbered about their ma on Bebo', VM responded with 'Did you?', so it's good to see that all my loyal readers will back me up if this goes to court).

The wee feckers broke my gate; the official line we have given to the police is that this was a Bad Thing (because it is, in principle), but in reality it would have probably fallen off if someone had sneezed hard in the area, and they may have done us a favour by removing it so we didn't have to pay someone to take it apart. They also broke a window in my door.

It was interesting to note the options offered by police, which basically amounted to: (1) do nothing, or (2) hang them. Not that this is the policeman's fault, and I have to say he was very nice and helpful, it's just that I had expected that there might be a choice along the lines of 'Send police to give them a bit of a telling off and make sure they leave me alone', but apparently our local law enforcement policy is based on (1) no funding and (2) Daily Mail ideology.

Anyway, as QuestionMonkey rightly said, 'What doesn't kill you is good blog fodder', so once The Seige is a distant (and quaintly fond) memory, I will see what nuggets of comedy gold are buried within, and get back to you. In the meantime, my dad is staying. Now, since there's not really any need for him to do much other than sit and hope they don't come back, we're going to tackle the living room ceiling; he's bringing foam and a bottle of wine, so expect to hear more presently.

This whole thing, and its timing in particular, is a little unfortunate, as I had been specially invited to the MWI Carol Service tonight (MWI=Methodist Women in Ireland: think standard WI, but with a Methodist slant), but it would probably be rude to go out and leave my dad alone when he came all this way. Not to mention dangerous, when I'd be leaving him in sole control of a bottle of wine.

Incidentally, those of you who don't know me might be surprised that I have been specially invited to the MWI Carol Service; since I use the blog to express my cynical side, you probably get the impression that I'm like this in real life too, and that I might not be terribly likeable. In reality, I'm much-loved by all the elderly ladies in church, and most of them want me to marry their grandsons.

Of course, then there is the true true me, which doesn't think I'm very likeable at all, but it would be inappropriate to discuss my low self-esteem here, so we won't.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Things You Overhear While Standing In The Queue At The Stationery Shop

If your name is Louise and you have a friend called Kelly who works in a stationery shop in East Belfast, you're getting a vibrator for your Secret Santa present.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dodgy Maths Special Edition: On Calculating Prices Following The VAT Decrease

Right, I'm only going to explain this once, so please listen carefully.

The UK Government has reduced VAT by 2.5%. So how much of a saving does this represent?

Let us suppose, for ease of calculation, that an item cost £100 on Friday.

Now, we wish to determine how much it will cost today, having had VAT reduced by 2.5%.

Many people have supposed that it will now cost £97.50 - in other words, 2.5% of £100 is £2.50, so you pay £2.50 less.

But this is not correct, because it corresponds to a price reduction of 2.5%, not a VAT reduction of 2.5%.

Instead, we must calculate how much VAT is currently being paid on the £100 item, and then reduce that, and recalculate the total.

£100 = full price
= cost of item + 17.5% of cost of item
= 117.5% of cost of item (because 'cost of item' = '100% of cost of item')

cost of item = £(100/117.5)*100
= £85.11

So, if an item cost £100 on Friday, then that price was made up of £85.11 for the item, plus £14.89 for VAT.

However, the VAT is now 15%, instead of 17.5%. This means that the total cost of the item is now:
total cost of item = cost of item + 15% of cost of item
= £85.11 + (£85.11*15)/100
= £85.11 + £12.77
= £97.88

And thus we see that the saving is, in fact £2.12, and not £2.50 as has been proposed.

I think.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On Internet Debating and Good News

Back in the day, there was a time when, if you wanted stuff, you had to pay for it. Newspapers, for instance, survived because people paid money to read them. With the advent of the internet, this has changed - newspapers can now be read online for free, and so they have had to find other ways to make revenue. The prime source, of course, is advertising, but in order to make money from that, you have to prove that your site is popular. Hence, newspapers are trying to produce content which makes people click on their site.

The Guardian appears to have hit upon a system: they have discovered, I think, that a good way to generate page hits is to allow people to comment on articles; furthermore, they have discovered that certain articles attract more comment than others, and that articles about religion attract the most comment of all. Hence, they are littering their site with articles, blogs and other miscellanea on the topic of faith, religion, atheism, and anything else they can find in that sort of vein. It doesn't really matter what the topic is, the ensuing discussion will provide plenty of page hits and will pretty much always delve into a pointless discussion (because let's face it, pretty much all internet discussion is pointless) about who's better: religionists or atheists.

Now of course, there's nothing WhyNotSmile likes better than an inane, aimless and heated internet debate, especially of a slow Wednesday afternoon, and so it was that a few weeks ago I found myself in a frenzied argument with a chap called J, on the topic (and even as I type this I'm thinking, "that was an hour of my life I'll never get back") of whether atheists or Christians are better (I've no recollection of how the debate got to this point, of course; the original article was along the lines of encouraging Christians to have more of a say in public matters, or something - not, incidentally, a widely-supported view on the Guardian site).

J, I assume, is an atheist (although that's the other thing: you can never really be sure that people are what they say they are - for all I know, J could be the Archbishop of Canterbury). But J was trying to argue that if an atheist does something good and a Christian does something good, the atheist is better because he does not get an eternal reward. Now, either this was a fairly shaky argument to start with, or some of its subtleties had passed me by, but such niceties are not what we will discuss today, for I pointed out that even if it's true that actions done for no reward are better than those done for some reward, Christians do not get rewarded for their actions.

Boy, did this start a tangent (the great challenge of internet debating - how far can you stray from the topic in hand before you get flung off by a moderator?). So J basically falls over in a shocked heap, and says that of course Christians are rewarded for their actions: Heaven is the prize at the end, and you get to go there if you've been good. So I point out that this is not, in fact, the case, and that the Christian Gospel is that you go to Heaven because of faith in Christ and that good actions should come from being a Christian, rather than making you a Christian (and that anyway, going to Heaven is not necessarily the main point of the Gospel, but J didn't seem all that interested in that).

So we got onto a discussion about forgiveness, and eventually J said 'So you say, that if Hitler had repented on his deathbed (honestly, sincerely repented), he would be forgiven and go to heaven?'. And I said 'yes'.

And J nearly erupted, claiming that he'd never heard the like of it and that it was completely scandalous.

And this reminded me that the Christian Gospel is completely scandalous, and that's why it's good news for sinners like me.

Every Crunch Has A Silver Lining, Part 2: Unemployment has been made easier

We have already seen that the Credit Crunch has brought about the welcome demise of the Office Christmas Party, and we are pleased about that. However, the cloud of the Crunch is positively teeming with linings of silver, and we now turn our attention to one which is particularly pertinent for WhyNotSmile.

You see, the Credit Crunch is rather a good time to be unemployed. This is for various reasons.

Firstly, you're not really expected to have a job in the current economic climate. It's not like a few years ago when you practically had to fight jobs off with big sticks. Nowadays, one is perfectly entitled to be unemployed, and therefore one does not have to add shame to the misery.

Secondly, if you can't afford to live anyway, then what's the point of a job? Every now and then I look at the state of my bank account and think, despairingly, about what I could buy if I had a job (house, food, heating etc). But then I remember that even if I did have a job, I still couldn't afford these things, and at least this way I can be a scourge on society from the comfort of my own sofa.

Thirdly, if I were in work right now, I'd have to listen to people moaning about how they can't afford stuff. I am one of those People That People Moan To. Always have been. Need to complain about something that no one can do anything about? Come to WhyNotSmile! Need a friendly ear when everyone else has told you to clear off? WhyNotSmile will embrace your words, and possibly even make you tea. Frankly, I never get a moment's peace. So, thankfully, I get to spend my days not having to listen to anyone I don't want to listen to.

So what with all of this, this is not a bad time to be unemployed at all; this is not to say that I don't want a job, of course (just in case my parents are reading), just that I don't really think it would make that much difference.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Things To Know About Living Alone

I have now been living alone for 3 weeks, and some important lessons have been learned. I will share my newly acquired wisdom with you now.

Things To Know About Living Alone

1. You need to own a lot more pants. This is because, when you share a house, clothes washing happens more often. If your housemate is doing a load of washing and you know you're running short on underwear, she will always have room for enough pairs of pants to tide you over (as it were) until the next time you're doing a wash of your own. There is at least one wash a week, so owning 10 pairs of pants is sufficient (including allowing for drying time). When you live alone, you only do a load of washing once a fortnight, and even then you're looking for stuff to make up the full load. Hence, you need to own at least 2.5 weeks' worth of pants.

2. There's no one to blame but yourself. Hairs in the bath/soap/your food are your own. Which is nice. If something is broken, you broke it, and you must fix it. On bin days, it is up to you to decide which colour of bin we're on this week, and to put the bin out and bring it back in. And so on.

3. The contents of the fridge remain the same between visits. So, if you have a party in work, say, and there is leftover cheesecake which you bring home for supper (I'm just expressing this as a hypothetical scenario; this would never have happened in my last company), and you put it in the fridge, you know that it will be there when you go back for it, which is a good thing.
On the other hand, you never come home and find an unexpected piece of cheesecake in the fridge, which is a less good thing.

4. The arrival of post is less frequent, but more certain in what it delivers. All parcels, letters and postcards are for you. There's no more spotting a great-looking parcel coming through the letterbox, only to find it's addressed to your housemate. Although sometimes it is still addressed to number 2a, but they wrote the a like a 9 so the postman put it through your number-29 door.

This is what I have learned so far, but I will update you with any further lessons.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Living Room Ceiling Saga

My parents are prolific redecorators. As a child, I don't think I can think of any period of more than about 6 weeks during which there was no form of redecorating/rearranging/building going on. In fact, on the day I was born, my dad took my mum to the hospital, came home and took the roof off the house. We had to live with my granny till I was 6 months old.

Now the fact that my parents now own 2 houses (theirs and mine) is of course a cause for joyous wallpapering and painting at every opportunity (that my dad is a painter and decorator helps with keeping costs down). So as I said in the previous post, having completed most of my house (and most of theirs), we have come full circle and are starting at the beginning: namely, my study.

So Papa Smile came up last night and papered the study, and very nice it is too. Then he painted some ceilings, which was also nice. I was out (for safekeeping) while this happened, and came home expecting to find the entire house redone in white emulsion (it wouldn't have been the first time he got carried away with a paintbrush and an empty house), but was pleasantly surprised to find that all was looking fresh and lovely.

But then we came to the living room ceiling, which was damaged in one of the 'leaky bath' incidents about this time last year. I can't remember whether I mentioned this or not; compared with what else was going on around then, I may not have felt that water pouring through the living room ceiling was worthy of note (I distinctly remember when I noticed the flood at first, just kind of thinking, "aw, stuff it", sticking a bucket underneath and leaving the house). Anyway, there had been water pouring through, which warped the plasterboard and made the paper fall off.

So last night Papa decided to stick the paper back on; this did not work, so he decided to cut it off instead (it was still attached, just hanging off). Then we realised that the plasterboard was really quite warped, and maybe it should be fixed before the paper went on. So Papa decided to remove the old plasterboard, with a hammer.

I need not tell you that it ended badly.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

On a Quiz and Wallpaper

So Mama Smile is visiting this weekend and we are having quite a time of it. I thought she was coming mainly so she could go shopping in the City Centre today, and was also coming along to our church quiz last night, but it transpired that in addition to these things there was DIY to be done.

Now, you may be thinking that since I am almost constantly doing DIY my house must be a palace by now, but in fact we have, I think, completed the full circle and started from the beginning again. So we're doing up the office/study/box room, and I was hauled off to Homebase to look for wallpaper. This was not a success, as the place was quite messy and they didn't have much within our price range.

So we came home and scraped the old wallpaper off instead.

Anyway, we ('Cuthbert and the Bs') then went to the quiz, which was lots of fun, and came a quite impressive second pace. As well as the two of us, the team consisted of Alex and Leona (from old work) and John (from church), as well as the mascots, Cuthbert and the Bs (Bunty and Bungee). Virtual Methodist was next to us and on the winning team; I spent much of the evening deciding whether to go and introduce myself, but he seemed to be deep in conversation every time I looked, so I shall remain anonymous for now.

This morning dawned bright and early and we went off to Q&B to buy wallpaper. Now you can say what you like about Q&B (as we well know), but they do a fine range in wallpaper.

So Mama Smile has now gone into the City Centre to meet Sister, and I am left in peace and supposed to be stipping wallpaper, but am actually writing this and about to have lunch.

First, though, I think I will eat the sweets I got last night: the winning team were very generous and shared their prize amongst everyone, which was nice, and probably more than Cuthbert and the Bs would have done.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Depressing Facebook Notification...

In today's Facebook notifications:

"Last week you were viewed for dating 2 times and no people expressed interest in you."

Thanks. Thanks, Facebook. Fecking thanks.

The Largest Bar of Soap Update, and Some Comments on Financial Matters

Now I'm sure you'll all be wondering how the Largest Bar of Soap in the World is doing, particularly since CrookedShore has been astute enough to observe that the Largest Bar of Soap in the World is a cunning metaphor for the world economy, and its decline is therefore highly symbolic.

Thus, an update:

  • 7th October 2008: 15.4cm
  • 13th November 2008: 15cm
Other relevant features:
  • Brown cracks developing at both ends
So it is getting smaller, turning brown and cracking up, which is surely extremely pertinent.

Anyway, in the previous post on this, I mentioned briefly that I barely know how a bank account works, but that is not to say that I do not have some ideas.

I was generally under the impression that the reason you would have a bank account was that if you kept all your money under your bed, someone might break into your house and steal it, and this would be a bad thing. To help with this, banks opened up, with giant beds under which they would store your money securely.

When you put your money in, they gave you extra money back in the form of interest. I have always been a little bit fuzzy on how this works, since essentially they are doing you a favour by looking after your money in the first place, so there seems no reason for them to pay you to do that.

Anyway, now it seems that they have been paying interest to people by taking other people's money out from under the giant bed and giving it to the first people as interest. In the meantime, new people (or maybe companies) would put their money in and the bank would put that money under the giant bed, to replace the second person's money that they took out to give the first person. And this was all ok until all the people wanted their money at once, and then they looked under the giant bed and it was empty, apart from some cobwebs and toenail clippings.

But I'm not sure that this is really how it works at all.

I once went for an job interview at a bank. I spent all of 2 evenings reading the Financial Times and The Economist, in a bid to look like I knew what I was talking about (somehow it didn't seem to occur to me that they might see through the fact that the only things I knew about in the way of finance were things that had happened within the past 2 days). So I went in and they asked why I wanted the job, and I spouted all this stuff about how interesting the financial sector was and how I wanted to use my degree in this area and stocks and shares and bulls and bears and blah blah blah, and then the guy said "Well, actually, this is a software development post, and you wouldn't really be doing much in the way of financial work, to be honest.".

So I had to swiftly backtrack on all that; I did this convincingly enough to get through to the next round, which was a written test on various computer languages. There were (I think) about 50 pages of questions, with about 5 questions on each page, and I answered, in total (and I promise you I am not making this up, this is Actual Fact) 6 questions, of which 3 were ones I knew and 3 were guessed. At the rest, I could not even hazard a guess.

Despite a score of 6/250 on the test, I was invited back for a third interview; at this point I decided their standards were too low and pulled out of the process.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Comedy For Your Monday Morning

Maybe I'm just easily amused... but I've just spent an hour LAUGHING OUT LOUD BY MYSELF at this blog: A Collection Of Poorly Chosen Photos From Real Estate Listings.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

And Another Thing...

Came across the following celebration of Ireland's latest American President, Barack O'Bama, thanks to Virtual Methodist. Absolutely brilliant!

My Week

Apologies for the quietness of the week here at WhyNotSmile; I got rather caught up in making things for the church Craft Fair, and then with being at the Craft Fair, hence the silence.

Anyhow, this is what I made for the craft fair:

Some kittys, which may look like Hello Kitty, a little bit.

Some baby booties and a hat.

Some Christmas decorations.

The Craft Fair itself went well (it's a proper Craft Fair, with proper craft people and everything, not just tat); there was a momentary burst of exertion when it was realised that the Saturday dance class which normally uses the church hall was going to have to be relocated. Since the Craft Fair was basically everywhere, there was nowhere for them but inside the church itself, so I was roped into helping to shift 200 chairs out of the way, and then putting them all back in place afterwards in time for the service today. I don't wish to complain, but I think I sprained something.

In this week's Other News, Papa Smile came up on Tuesday night and we fitted loft insulation. This, naturally, meant we had to clear the roofspace, and, since this house has been in my family since it was built in the 1930's, we were expecting to find all sorts of gems; we were not disappointed.

There were the usual family portraits, old vacuum cleaners and an ancient Family Bible with no names in it (which is one up on the Family Bible we found after my other granny died, which was full of names, births, deaths, marriages, all fairly recent, but not a single one that anyone recognised). There were the kind of hideous pictures that all houses in Belfast probably had at that time: nice Victorian people meeting in woods, falling in love, cuddling babies etc. Our particular favourites were the 'Guardian Angels' ones: small girls with no shoes being guided over bridges and around cliff paths by angelic beings floating a few feet away.

We found much evidence of my ancestors' Loyalist sensibilities - a large Union Flag (the one they used to put out for the Twelfth), and another one which we didn't recognise (red background, circle of white stars, Union Flag in the corner - anyone?) and some leaflets from the Royal Family detailing their testimonies (I'll get these typed up some time soon, they're worth a read!).

Lots of this was wrapped up in old copies of the Belfast Telegraph, which I will also peruse and report back on - we have lots of July 1968 ones (the Twelfth fortnight, grandparents must have put the time off to good use by tidying the house and putting the broken vacuum cleaners and old pictures (carefully wrapped in newspaper) into the roof space).

You will hear more of this.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

In Which It Is Explained That WhyNotSmile Is As Close To The Trinity As Any Blog Can Be

Thanks to (perhaps a tad unexpectedly) QuestionMonkey, I have realised that WhyNotSmile is a rather handy guide to explaining everyone's favourite theological conundrum, the Trinity.

Consider. The Trinity (for those who are not at all sure what we're talking about) is the idea that God is Three in One and One in Three; in other words, there is one God, but he has three 'persons': the Father (also generally referred to as 'God'), the Son (Jesus, the 'Word of God'), and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, or 'the Counsellor'); these 3, however, are all very much God in their own right. This is why, in Genesis, God says 'Let us make man in our own image' and not 'Let me make man in my own image'.

And this is rather like WhyNotSmile. WhyNotSmile has 3 parts: the blog (and you're always glad you came), the online actual-me presence (Facebook etc.), and actual me (in real life, going on holiday and so on). And yet, WhyNotSmile is all one person (I know it is hard to conceive of such a multi-faceted personality of such great depth belonging to just one individual, but it's true.

And hence we see that WhyNotSmile is rather like the Trinity, and I think we should tell Richard Dawkins, because he has been most perplexed about this.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Trick or Treat

So it's Halloween this weekend and I had my first Trick or Treater at the door last night. These Trick or Treaters are getting older. He looked about 15. Seriously. In a scary mask. I thought I was a goner, but he accepted my offer of a bag of Haribo and left quietly. Maybe it's an offshot of the credit crunch - grown adults are now going out and asking for food at other people's houses. I will not mock this, because having just received a letter from Phoenix saying that my monthly gas bill is going up from £51 to £73 (yes, that's about a 50% increase, when last year I was £4 in credit at the end of the year), in the same month that my housemate is moving out and when I don't have a job, I may be going round the doors myself one of these evenings.

Anyway, I was reflecting on attitudes to Halloween, and Trick or Treaters. I'm not a massive fan of Halloween; it's easily my least favourite time of the year: dark nights, cold, no daylight for another 6 months, scary masks, bonfires, fireworks - it's like they took everything I hate and stuck it all in one festival, although they did reserve the carols for later in the year. Then there's the Christian viewpoint, for Halloween is, of course, decidedly dodgy from that perspective. So I dislike Halloween immensely, but I could live with it as long as I didn't have to participate: this, of course, is where Trick or Treaters come in, because you have to do something when the doorbell goes, even if it's just switching out the lights and hiding behind the sofa.

Having lived with a number of people over the years, I have observed a range of responses to trick or treaters:

1. Pay them to get rid of them. This was particularly popular when we lived on the Donegall Road, opposite (allegedly) the leader of the Red Hand Commandoes. When someone came to your house and asked for something, you gave it to them, even if they were a 6-year-old girl.

2. Go with the spirit of things and reward them handsomely. One of my housemates used to give them a pound each. An entire pound. And this was about 7 years ago, when a pound was a pound. Needless to say, this ended with the entire neighbourhood (including, I always suspected, a good number of parents & grandparents) wearing scary masks on our doorstep for about a month.

3. Despise them. The housemate who took this approach described Trick or Treating as 'tantamount to begging', and was perpetually outraged for the entire build up to Halloween night. I would quietly slip them a mini Mars when she wasn't looking.

My own approach, as stated above, is Haribo. This has several benefits:
1. They're cheap (£1 for 10 mini-bags in Iceland)
2. They're wrapped up, so easy to distribute to gangs
3. You can eat the leftovers afterwards

Incidentally, particularly good costumes (home made, involving more than just a mask, or with teddies dressed up as well) get 2 bags.

So, if you know where I live, and you fancy some Haribo, get your mask on and come round...

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Every Crunch Has A Silver Lining. Part 1: The Demise of the Office Christmas Party

Now here's a thing. Owing to the Credit Crunch, companies have been finding ways to cut back, and some are achieving this by not having Christmas parties this year.

The odd thing is, people seem to think this is bad. There can be only 2 explanations for this:
1. These people have never been to an office Christmas party, or
2. They were so drunk they passed out before it started.

Now, WhyNotSmile is not a big one for parties in any case, but I ask you: is there any worse party than an office Christmas party?

Having successfully avoided work for quite some time, I have only ever experienced 3 working Christmases, and here is how they went:

Year 1: Christmas Party at Cayenne (posh restaurant in Belfast, which I believe has now closed). This wasn't a bad one for an introduction to such things, but it wasn't so great either. Firstly, it was held so early in the year that we ended up going out for Christmas lunch about a month later and it still not being the last day of work before Christmas. Secondly, the service was fairly slow: one of the tables didn't even get dessert (not my table though, so this doesn't really count as a problem). Thirdly, there were the drunken rantings of colleagues which had to be vigorously denied as soon as we all got back to the office. There are some things I simply do not need to know, and where your children were conceived is one of them.

Anyway, that wasn't too bad, especially as I managed not to be at the table with the boss (always the nightmare at these things).

Year 2: Christmas Party at Ten Square (somewhat less posh but still quite nice restaurant in Belfast). On Christmas Eve. With about 3000 other people in a room designed for 100. Of course, because it was so close to Christmas, various people from the office had already begun their journeys home for the holidays, and couldn't make it; we managed to reach that critical mass of party abstainers beyond which everyone else refuses to go because there aren't enough people they like going. Also, lots of people had just left, so the office was down on numbers anyway. In a moment of feeling sorry for the organisers, WhyNotSmile caved in, and so found herself at a cosy table for 2 with The Boss, The Boss' Boyfriend, Nice Manager, Colleague Who Will Do Anything For Free Food, and Colleague Who Is Good Craic And Was Therefore Forced To Come Despite Being So Ill He Could Barely Sit Up. Oh, and some crackers.

So I end up in a corner opposite The Boss and The Boss's Boyfriend, and we're all wearing party hats and she attempts to make conversation while he eats everything that's not nailed down. We tell each other the jokes from the crackers and laugh furiously at them. At the far end (although 'far' is a relative term when you're so close to the person next to you that you can only raise your arms in unison) was Ill Colleague, who looked like he might die any minute. The place was hiving, and they clearly couldn't get rid of us fast enough: the meal started at 6.30 and I was on the bus home by 7.45 (having downed 3 courses plus tea and little chocolate things).

Year 3: didn't go, so can't tell you.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

On The Clocks Going Back

This has to be quick, 'cos we have Relatives visiting (Second Cousin and The Boyfriend, from Engerland) and Mama Smile has decreed that I am the Chosen One to give them a tour of Belfast. She said last night that they'd leave The Homestead at 9 and be in Belfast by 10; in Mama Smile speak, this means they'll have left at 8.30 and be here any second (although I suspect that The Relatives might scupper the usual 'leave-before-the-rest-of-the-planet-awakes' plan).

Anyway, Second Cousin is getting her hair cut at 12, so we have about an hour and a half to fill beforehand (if we assume they get here at 10 and then we spend half an hour faffing about, deciding what to do, and getting into Belfast); it is (and I'm sorry, but there's no other word for it) pissing it down here. I'm not convinced that Second Cousin and Boyfriend are that keen on a tour of Belfast in any case, so I'm thinking the Big Wheel could feature heavily (them, not me - heck no) and then they might like Victoria Square for lunch and some shopping.

Also my computer has decided it needs to restart, and I'm having to be quick on the draw to postpone it every couple of minutes.

Anyway, I forget why I told you that, other than to say that I don't have much time to write this.

What I really came here to say today was that I love when the clocks go back (which they do tonight in Belfast, and probably some other places), because it means that I. Get. An. Extra. Hour. In. Bed.


Thursday, 23 October 2008

On Sex Education

So it has now been decreed from on high that 5 year olds in England are to be given sex education. Or, to be precise, sex and relationships education. Or, as far as I could see from the video, they will have discussions about how you can tell whether someone is male or female (a useful skill for anyone entering the dating minefield, of course).

Now of course this has caused quite a furore, as it always does, but WhyNotSmile is rather wondering what all the fuss is about.

Consider: everyone has always had sex education in school. In the toilets, behind the mobile classrooms, in the library - copies of 'More' and 'Just-17' or whatever else happens to be the fashionable mag of the time are passed furtively about and everyone has a good giggle and pretends to understand 'Position of the Fortnight'. Mutterings are made about how good last fortnight's position was (although the only person who has actually tried it is the slightly nerdy girl who tries a bit too hard to be cool and thinks everyone else is, in fact, telling the truth about these things), and how much they'd like to try out this month's.

Sometimes, naturally, such education is actually sanctioned by the school: in primary school we didn't have changing rooms, so we all got ready for PE in the classroom, boys and girls together; in all honesty,while it may have been mildly informative (especially since I didn't have any brothers) I don't remember it being terribly interesting.

Secondly, is there anything more likely to put teenagers off sex than putting them in a classroom and talking about it? Once you get it down to the same level as simultaneous equations, it loses a lot of its appeal. Indeed, the way the education system is going, I suspect that it won't be long before teenagers go off sex completely and teachers start finding them behind the bike sheds reading contraband copies of 'Hamlet' and drawing graphs.

Anyway, I have always been astounded to know that sex education has been compulsory in Northern Irish schools for quite some time. Astonished partly because The Province wouldn't be best-known for a liberal attitude to such things, but mainly because this means I must actually have had sex education while I was at school, and not noticed.

If I cast my mind back, I can only think that what they are talking about was what happened in second-form biology class, and the 'Reproduction' Module. We started with snails, and how they reproduce (boringly, basically). Then we moved on to flowers. We spent quite a while on flowers, if I remember correctly. Then there were some vague hints that it worked in much the same way for people, but with less petals.

We did, somehow, eventually get to spend a lesson drawing the female reproductive system (although I'm not sure that the connection was ever actually made with human females - since we had spent months on snails and flowers, most of us had more or less lost interest in the specifics by this time). Finally, at the end of the lesson, the teacher produced 2 plastic models of the male... um... area and the female one. At this point someone fainted and had to be carried out for air; the ensuing fuss ended the lesson and the subject was never raised again.

WhyNotSmile Holiday - The Post Script

Those of you who followed the WhyNotSmile holiday in Belfast will remember that there was one location left to visit - Aunt Sandra's Candy Factory. Since it's right beside my dentist's surgery, and since I had a dental appointment yesterday, and since the appointment was fine and my teeth are in good shape, I decided to pay the factory a visit straight afterwards.

Unfortunately, lack of foresight meant that I didn't have working batteries in my camera, so I'm afraid I've no photo of the place, but if you watch this, you'll get a little tour (it's somewhere in the middle of the clip).

Anyway, if you have kids, they would love this place - not only does it have jars and jars of old-style sweets (the likes of cinnamon lozenges, clove rock, strawberry sherbet etc) but you can watch them making the sweets as well. In fact, for the very keen, you can book a tour in advance, although you have to pay for that. But there's no charge for having a duke through the window, so I spent a happy few moments watching them make candy apples (bit of a dull time of year to visit, to be honest, 'cos it's not like I'd never seen candy apples being made before, but hey).

Of course, I had to buy a souvenir of my visit, so I went for Aunt Sandra's Puff Candy (honeycomb in chocolate, basically, like Crunchies only in wee bits). This is the bag of Puff Candy:
and inside they look like this:
They were exceptionally nice, so much so that I ate about 3/4 of the packet in one sitting and got such a sugar rush that I had to go for a long walk to burn off the energy.

If you fancy visiting, it's the bright pink building on the Castlereagh Road.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Blog DIY

Well, you'll see I've done some DIY on the blog. I've installed a dotted line to separate sidebar from main content, and added some new things. For instance, you can now see the 5 blogs I have most recently read, and this is helpful if you have also read them and wish to have a discussion in private.

I have expanded The Blogroll, and you will note several new faces:

Clairebo is married to Zoomtard and has a shiny new blog over at Wordpress; she is, essentially, neuro reincarnated, but "fitter, happier [and] more productive", which is nice.

Hot on Clairebo's heels (in an alphabetical sense) you will see Crooked Shore; I discovered yesterday that Crooked Shore is a WhyNotSmile fan, and has even sent some people in this direction, and felt that this should be recognised.

Further down the list we have Scotteriology, who has a rather splendid blog with funny videos and everything. Well, not everything.

And the final new addition is Virtual Methodist, who I have never met in my life but added in a whirl of unexpected Methodist solidarity, because these things are important. Also, sooner or later we are bound to bump into each other at some Methodist district thing, and I'd like to avoid potential embarrassment.

Then we have an addition to the recommended sites section in the form of the excellent indexed, about which we need speak no further except to tell you to go see it.

Finally, you can become a fan of WhyNotSmile on Facebook by clicking the link at the bottom of the sidebar; you can also subscribe on Google Reader or any of those rss feed... things.

Anyway, having spent much of the evening working on this, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to discover that one is at one's most creative at 10.04pm, thereby assuring us all that this new WhyNotSmile is exceptionally stunning.


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Atheist Bus Campaign

Before I even start, I apologise. I have already posted today, and I have promised to stop being so harsh on Richard Dawkins.

But I am, as you will know, simply not the kind of person who can read about the Atheist Bus Campaign and not feel an immediate need to rip the piss right out of it. Unfortunately, in this case, satire is virtually superfluous.

The Atheist Bus Campaign (organised by the British Humanist Association and various other people with too much time on their hands) was conceived by a Guardian columnist; Richard Dawkins has been matching all donations made to the campaign, and enough money has now been raised to stick posters saying 'God probably does not exist. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life' on the side of some London buses.

Several things.

First, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, you can't just go around making wild claims in your adverts. Let's take the 'God probably does not exist' part (incidentally, I like the 'probably'). On what is this statement based? Because if it said 'Our shampoo is probably better for the environment', you'd be inclined either to (a) be extremely dubious, or (b) want the stats.

Second, who was worrying? At least, who was worrying on the basis of whether or not God existed? And why should they be less worried now that they have been informed that God probably does not exist by a message on the side of a bus ('Ah tell ye, Donald, ah read it on t'side ot' bus, it mus' be right')?

Thirdly, are we to believe that we can only stop worrying and enjoy our lives if God probably does not exist? 'Cos I believe in God and I'm having a nice enough time, thanks very much.

Anyway, all of this is in response to some ads a while ago by a group called 'Proclaiming Truth in London', which linked to this site and attracted certain amounts of criticism from those who managed to remember the web address and muster the energy to look it up.

Which all leads me to wonder how we managed to drag buses into this.

On People Who Wish To Know What I Think

I called into Boots yesterday to buy something, and on my receipt was printed a web address to which I could go, fill in a customer satisfaction survey, and be entered in a draw to win an iPod or money. I do not feel that my opinions are something it is fair to withhold, so I swiftly went to the website to do the survey.

The thing about surveys, though, is that much as I love them (and I truly do - one of the few things in life where you always know the answers), they are always full of dumb questions.

Such as:

(Rating 1-5, from strongly disagree up to strongly agree)

"I enjoyed shopping in Boots" - well, I mean, yeah, not the highlight of my life, but it was all right. I didn't have high expectations. I can't think of anything they could do to make it more enjoyable. What am I meant to put?

"I feel that the staff in Boots understand how I am feeling and what I need" - well, hopefully not, actually, because I didn't tell them. I don't walk around with how I feel written all over my face, so how would they know? Why would I want them to know? I'm in to buy a box of Tampax and some shower gel, not for therapy.

Then the essay questions:

"In relation to the store where you received your survey invitation, if any particular staff member was particularly friendly please name or describe them. We would like to thank them for providing friendly service." - no idea of his name, so you'll need a description - studenty-looking bloke, short hair, two arms, one head. Looked a bit nervous about the Tampax. That'll narrow it down.

"Please describe the friendly interaction you had with this staff member" - well, I went up to the till, we exchanged pleasantries. After chatting for some time, we got onto the subject of literature and discovered we had similar tastes. Then we found that we like the same movies, have identical political views and have much in common in our backgrounds. We've arranged to meet Wednesday week and have already added each other on Facebook.

"How could your Boots store be improved?" - Make everything free. *sigh* Look, I don't know. I'm not in the shopfitting business. Pay someone to work that out. I went in, I found me Tampax, I found me shower gel, paid for it at the till, and left. Call me easily pleased, but I don't look for much more.

Anyway, I didn't win the iPod, but was still in line for the cash prize, and await their phone call.

But this is all by way of distraction, because I'm trying to figure out how I see the Bible as a moral guide, so that I can tell Zoomtard.

Monday, 20 October 2008

The things you think while you wait for window cleaners to leave

Some of you who are friends with me on Facebook will remember that some months ago we had a 'window cleaner incident' when said window cleaner appeared at the bathroom window while I was in the shower. Today is window cleaner day again, and I can see them further up the street, so, despite the fact that I need to shower now so I can get dressed and get on with the day, I am in bed with the curtains closed and too much time on my hands.

Anyway, I have a question for discussion. I was just reading some stuff there on the Richard Dawkins website forum (no, I am not obsessed - just stuck for stuff to read online and thought I'd see what's going on in the far reaches of t'internet). Anyway, one of the threads was talking about scientific evidence and faith and stuff, and two questions formed in my mind:

1. Why do some atheists appear to think that science and religious belief are totally incompatible? I genuinely don't understand this argument.

2. I'm fairly sure that Dawkins has said before something along the lines of that we have evolved so that we can 'detect' stuff that was useful for survival - like, we can't see atoms, because our ancestors had to concern themselves more with sabre-toothed tigers, for example (I'm sure he put it more eloquently than that). I think he said this in The God Delusion, but I may well be wrong, and I may be thinking of someone else entirely. Anyway, I think this makes sense.
My question is this - how can Dawkins then argue that there is no evidence for 'supernatural' stuff? If we have evolved to only detect certain things, then we have to accept that there is stuff we don't understand. Clearly, in the case of material stuff, this is true (like the way we could only investigate atoms quite recently). So why is it not likely that there is an entire other type of stuff that's not material, for example? Dawkins seems to me to be very certain that everything is 'material' in some way, and there is nothing else 'out there'.
Not that this would give an argument for the existence of God, it just seems like a contradiction to me.

I know this might not be the best place to raise this, but somehow every time I mention Dawkins lots of atheists crawl out of the blogosphere and start commenting, so I just thought I'd mention it.

Was considering posting on Dawkins' site, but I'll only be mocked for being 'religious', so I can't be bothered.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Question of Priorities

Now I know this is not really a funny story, but... well... we're going to get a laugh out of it anyway. It's about a kebab shop in England which was shut down because of Health & Safety violations - namely, that they were selling kebabs while a dead man lay on a nearby sofa.

What I love about this story is that in all of its foot or so of space, it outlines a litany of Health & Safety issues (look away now if you're squeamish or eating breakfast):
  • swarm of flies
  • thawing meat (oozing blood)
  • man smoking
  • man spitting on floor
  • filthy floor
  • rat droppings
  • dead rat
  • dead man on sofa
but not once does it show any curiosity as to how a dead man came to be lying on a sofa at the back of the kitchen of a kebab shop, other than to note that it was 'not suspicious'.

On Another Pet Hate

I was just scanning some newspaper takes on the credit crunch (oh how I have come to hate that phrase), and came across the Daily Mail's

and this reminded me of something: I really cannot stand the Daily Mail. I mean, seriously? Apocalypse? I mean... seriously?? Apocalypse? To clarify: it's not the Apocalypse (well, probably) - it's a wet week in October and we've finally figured out that money doesn't buy happiness.

OK, we also have the Four (self-declared) Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Richard Dawkins (a good friend to these pages), Sam 'a little bit creepy' Harris, Christopher Hitchens (the thinking woman's crumpet), and Santa; and perhaps we should be taking them more seriously (rather than just pointing and laughing), but (and I may be wrong here) I don't think we should take this as a sign that we should hold off on the New Year's Eve plans.

But back to the Daily Mail. Every now and then I wonder who actually buys it, and then I go to my parents' house and find it on the sofa. Their reasons for reading it, though, are instructive: the crossword is good and it has Garfield; sound reasons to do anything, you will agree. Furthermore, you don't have to think too hard - the answer, with the Daily Mail, is usually in the headline, viz.:

Headline: Apocalypse Now? (Answer: 'no')
Headline: Are Our Children At Risk From Baby TV Stations? (Answer: 'no')
Headline: Do Asylum-Seekers Cause Cancer? (Answer: 'no') - ok, I made this one up, but it's only a matter of time.

The Daily Mail is not a fan of asylum seekers, anyone on benefits, falling house prices, anyone with AIDS, gays, foreigners in general but especially the French, Guardian readers, CCTV, Health & Safety, the EU, or religions other than white-middle-class-protestant.

They do like health scares, angry letters, headlines in CAPITALS, and pretty young blonde things, especially those who just passed some GCSEs.

I am heartened, naturally, to know that the Daily Mail hates me too: after all, I am unmarried, have no job and recycle a lot.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Books I Disliked

I have finally finished Catch-22, having speed-read the final hundred pages or so, and now I feel like my life can get back on track.

Anyway, I got caught up in a discussion over on about books you never managed to finish. Now, technically, I will never admit to myself that I have given up on a book; I just 'postpone it for later' and hope one of us dies or gets eaten by worms before the charity shops run out of alternative reading material. So this (in no particular order) is the current list of 'postponed' books:

1. 'To The Lighthouse' by Virginia Wolff. After reading 5 pages and realising it was all one sentence, gave up in a huff. Learn to use full stops, woman.

2. 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin' by Louis De Bernieres. 4 chapters, 4 different sets of characters and 4 different plots. Tie it together, captain.

3. 'The Confessions of Saint Augustine'. You may recall me buying this in a frenzy of shopping just over a year ago. Maybe my problem was context: maybe this is not the book for a sunny afternoon in the back garden, sipping cool drinks and eating ice cream.

4. 'Amy Carmichael of Donhaver'. A Sunday School prize when I was about 14. Meant to be an inspiring story about a missionary from Millisle; just couldn't get into how nice she was. Maybe if I read it now I'd be a more appreciative audience. Gave it away to a charity shop though.

And the ones I hated but finished anyway:

1. 'True History of the Kelly Gang' by Peter Carey. Very well-written, but I hated the characters and was glad when they died.

2. 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller. As previously discussed. Again, not a bad book, just not for me.

3. 'The Purpose-Driven Life' by Rick Warren. Apologies to those who loved it and thought it was better than the Bible.

4. 'The Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown. Just poor - not even interestingly bad, just dull.

5. Anything by Janette Oke. These would warrant a blog entry of their own. The typical American Mid-west Christian novel, where the bad guys get saved or get their comeuppance, and the good guys get married and have beautiful babies. Bleurgh.


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Sound Investment Advice

Came across this and thought it was worth a mention:

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it would now be worth £4.95.

With HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50.

£1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5.

But if you bought £1000 worth of Tennants Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminum re-cycling plant, you would get £214.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

On The Theological Background and Socio-Economic Implications of the Current Global Financial Crisis

Not really. Because WhyNotSmile barely knows how a bank account works, and would never have even a faint glimmer of interest in worldwide financial markets. Especially when the people have spoken and have voted by an overwhelming majority of 2 to 0 to hear about The Largest Bar of Soap in the World.

Here is a photo of the largest bar of soap in the world:

The first question you always get asked when you own the Largest Bar of Soap in the World, is 'How did you come by such a large bar of soap?'

Well, it was a present. From my aunt, uncle and cousins, for my 30th birthday. It came in a little case with various other bits and pieces - hand cream, lip balm and so on - all of which were on the generous side of averagely proportioned, but not of a size which was worthy of note. The soap was wrapped in paper, and without looking, I thought 'oh, some bars of soap, that's nice', and put them aside for when I needed them.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I unwrapped the soap package that I discovered that it was not, in fact, 5 bars of soap, but 1 giant bar of soap.

So this is how I came by the Largest Bar of Soap in the World.

The next questions people often ask is "Just how big is this giant bar of soap?"

Quite big. You can see in the picture above that it is higher than the taps. I measured it from end to end (over the top), and it is 15.4 cm in soapcumference.

Here it is in my hand:

It is, in fact, too big to pick up and wash your hands with, so you have to sort of wet your hands and then fondle it.

So this is the Largest Bar of Soap in the World. I will of course monitor its progress and let you know how it gets on.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

On Facebook and Democracy

Two things:

1. You can now be a fan of WhyNotSmile on Facebook. You do this, I think, by scrolling down this page to the little box in the left-hand column which looks like a Facebook-style box. Don't really know what you do after that, but I'm sure if you click it, it will tell you.

2. I currently own the Largest Bar of Soap in the World. I've been having an internal debate about whether this is interesting enough to warrant a blog entry or two, and have decided to throw it out to a democratic decision. Would you like to hear about the Largest Bar of Soap in the World? Please leave comments below.

That's all for now.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Catch

We all know by now that when there is a list that could in any way conceivably be construed as a 'Things You Must Do' list, WhyNotSmile is as unable to resist as a QuestionMonkey in a theology debate. It is for this reason that I am currently reading my way through the following:
  • The Booker Prize winning books, since the dawn of time (read 15 out of 41)
  • The Guardian Top 100 Books of all time (read 53 out of 100)
  • The BBC Big Read Top 100 Books of all time (read 49 out of 100)
Furthermore, the Costa/Whitbread award winners are being kept in reserve.

The problem is, we've hit a snag: a fairly big, 500+ pages snag, in the form of Catch-22. I just can't get through it. It's not that it's dull exactly - in fact, it's very funny - more that it's a bit wearing after a while. There seems to be nothing much in the way of a storyline; the characters appear to exist simply to convey jokes. Much like WhyNotSmile, you might say.

At the moment I'm about half-way through, and determined not to give up, even though this is the first time in history that I've had to renew a library book because it took me longer than the allotted time to read it.

If anyone has read this book, can you please reassure me that I'll make it to the end? I mean, it's number 11 on the BBC Big Read list, so there must be lots of people out there who've read it and enjoyed it. Please tell me what I'm missing.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Garden Gourmet: WhyNotSmile Investigates

By now we all know that if something is happening in Belfast, WhyNotSmile will be there, with smiles on, so of course Garden Gourmet was no different, except that this time Mama Smile came too.

Garden Gourmet happens every year in Botanic Gardens, and is basically a food and flower show, jazzed up and with things for kids and that. Mama Smile had expressed an interest in going, and WhyNotSmile is always up for anything in this sort of vein, so off we set and of course left ridiculously early, because we always do (when we used to go on family outings, say on Easter Monday, we would go so early that we'd end up getting there before the car park opened, eating our packed lunch in the car for want of anything better to do, heading home as everyone else started to arrive, and being back in the house for elevenses). So we killed some time in Dunnes, which was nice, and then proceeded onwards in the wrong direction, meaning that by the time we actually got there the thing had already started (not that this mattered - there was no schedule or anything - I just mention it because it's unusual for us).

So we joined the queue and a debate ensued as to whether my mother is a Senior Citizen or not; it turned out that she's not (by Belfast City Council standards anyway), and she was so pleased that she was actually glad to hand over the extra pound that they charge the young.

Anyway, the event itself was marvellous - there was much world food, which could all be sampled; the stalls were nice (although a lot of them had been at the Green Show last week); there were many displays of giant carrots and so on; and there were also the results of a 'make animals out of vegetables' competition, my favourites being these:

There was a stall on recycling, at which we took the opportunity to interrogate the girl about what can and can't be put in recycling bins; they also had a smoothie maker which was hooked up to a bike, so you could make your own smoothie by choosing some fruit and then pedalling hard to smooth it all; you also got a free mug thing to put it in, which made us almost unfeasibly excited.

We muchly enjoyed the cookery demos, although when it came to trying the muscles neither of us was brave enough.

And finally, I picked up a leaflet on how to build a wormery, about which you will no doubt hear more presently.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Yearbook Yourself

This is hilarious... see yourself as you would've looked in the past.

Mine are here. Oh how I laughed.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

An Apology, A Grand Day Out, and The Son of Spider-Horse

So, I know I promised that things would be hotting up here at WhyNotSmile now that I have broadband at home, but frankly I've spent far too much time playing this, a lot of time watching this, and more time than is strictly necessary trying to get to the top of the pack in Scramble ladder mode (eventually achieved). So, sorry about that.

Anyway, yesterday I took time out of this hectic schedule for two cultural events: the Lifestyle Green Show (Castle Espie), and Proms in the Park (City Hall). The Lifestyle Green show is a kind of eco-living show, which is held in Castle Espie and where you wander round and get energy saving advice, free apples, a look at FairTrade stuff and it's all generally very good fun. You also get to see the ducks, and you get a free energy saving light bulb and a shower timer. And you also get to park in a muddy field, which Fifi was not at all keen on. I signed up to be a ranger for Sustrans, which will no doubt crop up again in these pages. Anyway, the point is, it was all splendid, and thanks to my friend Philip for giving me a ticket for free admission.

And then in the evening we went off to Proms in the Park: this is the same basic principle as Opera in the Gardens, except that it wasn't raining. Having been mindful of the Opera in the Gardens drenching, we were well stocked with coats and gloves and so on, but in fact it was quite a warm evening, and all was well. We had a very nice picnic and enjoyed much excellent music.

So that was the Grand Day Out, and I would recommend something similar to all of you.

This was a useful end to a weekend which did not start auspiciously: long-term readers will recollect Spider Horse, who paid me a visit about this time last year, and lived in the bath for several days before being unceremoniously removed by Dave. It seems he (Spider Horse, not Dave) liked it, for he has clearly spread the word and his descendants have, well , descended.

Friday afternoon, I was about to do some dishes when I spotted the tangle of legs under the basin. After shrieking, whipping the basin out of the sink, and then retreating to the far end of the room, I decided not to panic. I sneaked back upon the sink, where Son of Spider Horse was now running freely. I doused him with a convenient bottle of water, but this was no lie-down-and-take-it spider, for this is Son of Spider Horse, and is made of sterner stuff. So I used the bottle to flush him into the plughole, and then turned the tap on. After a couple of minutes under the water, I was pretty sure he was dead, so I turned the tap of, thus allowing him to uncurl and crawl out of the plughole. So I turned the hot tap on (and our hot tap is HOT). Then he died. And I felt really bad. But not as bad as I felt a moment later when I realised I now had a dead spider in the sink.

Forward a couple of hours, and Dozavtra comes home. I confess about the dead spider in the sink, hoping she will volunteer to remove it; she does not. In fact, she says she's not touching it, and since I was stupid enough to kill it in there, I have to deal with it. So I decide to just leave it and let it decompose. Dozavtra is not a fan of this idea, and suggests it might start smelling bad. So I get the vacuum cleaner and try to vacuum it out of the sink, but it's too bad and too yucky and I end up screaming.

So I retreat, to consider alternative plans, muttering things about how unhelpful Dozavtra is being. I do not come up with any viable alternative plans, and Dozavtra continues to make threats. Eventually bed time comes, and I go in to say goodnight to the dead spider, because I feel bad about killing it. And it's not there.

Panic ensues, until Dozavtra confesses she chucked it in the bin a few hours ago, but decided not to let on, just to see what I would try next.

And this is what I have been doing since the last time I wrote; hopefully you now understand why it has taken me so long.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Science, And What It Might Do To Us all: Part Deux

So tomorrow is the day and we may or may not live to witness it: the Large Hadron Collider is being switched on (see my previous post on this for full background details) and by this time tomorrow we may all be livin' it up in the greatest black hole the world has seen since the Big Bang.

The LHC has split the world in two: those who believe it will blow the world up, and those who think it won't. No one on either side really has much of an idea why they're on the side they're on, but WhyNotSmile has laid her cards on the table and made plans for the weekend. The reason for this is that WhyNotSmile is less concerned with being right and more concerned with being demonstrably right, which is only possible if she confidently announces that we're all not going to die, and then we all don't. The only scenario in which this cunning plan could be foiled is if we do all get sucked into the black hole of doom and then discover that the Hindus had it right all along and WhyNotSmile has been reincarnated as a snail while the rest of you come back as, like, nice things.

The other reason for such a confident assertion is that if I thought I had 24 hours to live, I'd feel obliged to fill it with activity, and I can't be bothered (although I think I read that Martin Luther once said that if he had 24 hours to live, he'd plant a tree, so maybe I should sort out the garden).

The media, of course, has been making much discussion about the possible outcome of tomorrow's switch on, and some people are getting a bit concerned. I suppose that, on the face of it, trying to recreate the Big Bang is one of those things that sounds like a good idea until you actually think about the implications - it was, after all, an event of fairly impressive activity, and centering the reenactment on Switzerland (a land not known for much else happening) seems a little like recreating the Battle of Hastings in your living room - you invite a few mates round, stock up the fridge, get the camera ready, and settle back on the sofa to watch the action, at which point you get decapitated. It's a worthy project, but has potential to get a little out of hand.

There's also the fact that this entire thing is being overseen by physicists. Now, I have nothing against physicists; I've just been to enough physics conferences to wonder whether they have an air of authority that's not always entirely deserved. For instance, when I was doing my PhD I had a friend (who we'll call Fred, to protect his identity) who coined a concept which we referred to as the 'Fred Factor' (except we used his real name), defined as "the number (or numbers) by which you multiply your actual results in order to get the results you were supposed to get". Einstein himself was no stranger to this: see 'cosmological constant'.

And so I maintain that anything might happen tomorrow, but probably won't, and ask only that if it does all go pear-shaped and then we get reincarnated, that you don't step on any snails.

Saturday, 6 September 2008


Richard Dawkins makes me want to pray, the same as Homer Simpson makes me want to exercise - for fear that I, too, will end up like him, a whining pub bore with the prose style of an internet conspiracy theorist.

(Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Guardian)

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Well, I have thus far established that YouTube is mainly weird, and that the internet isn't all that much more exciting when speeded up and available more consistently. But I have discovered Skype, so if you have a Skype user name, please email it to me!

If you don't know my email address, then you don't know me well enough to Skype (I don't talk to strangers).

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Broadband has landed

Well, the Broadband stuff has arrived (right about the same time that Jayspero and kids turned up, so it was a little bit eclipsed), and been set up and activated, and WhyNotSmile now has free right to roam the internet.

This is very exciting, because I have only ever had dial up at home, and therefore free, speedy access was limited to the library (in 1 hour slots, which had to be made to look at least vaguely useful), and work (where, technically, I was meant to be working).

So, what does one do on the internet? I've never really explored YouTube, so that might be the first port of call. But what else is out there? All suggestions are welcome: it'll be like another holiday.

In any case, I have no anti-virus stuff yet (I have the disc, but I was too excited about getting online to wait for it to install), so I'll likely be wiped off the face of the planet before I get to do anything.

Anyway, I'm off to explore...

Saturday, 30 August 2008

All change...

A quick scroll through the archives reveals that WhyNotSmile has been considerably less vociferous since her early release from work back in April. This is not because she has less to say; rather, she no longer spends all day sitting in front of a computer with very little else to do. The library has helped of course, but it tends to be quite busy so you can't really sit and compose these little works of genius while other people stand by waiting to go online so they can fill in job applications and so on.

But this is about to change. I have finally arranged for broadband to be installed at home. I've got this for the almost worringly low price of £7.50 per month, so exopect more posts on incompetent bandits soon. Anyway, it's being connected (or whatever they do - activated maybe) on Wednesday, and from then on, expect normal service to slowly resume.

Also, I hinted in a previous post that I had found gainful employment; you have all been waiting eagerly to find out more (well, espero has - clearly her life's not busy enough right now). So, I have been helping out a friend who has a web design business; he has more work than he can handle, so I've come on board to do a bit of work. He does the business/commercial sites; mainly I'm designing sites for churches (I say that in the plural to make it sound impressive: so far I've done one); so if you have a church (or anything really, like a community group or anything along those lines) and you'd like a website, get in touch. You know you want to.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

This just takes the biscuit... (ahem)

Honestly. Some people in this story just need to grow up. In fact, all the people.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Holiday: Day 3

And so to the final day of the holiday. I'll attempt to be briefer than the last time; I realised afterwards it went on a bit. But you always have the option of not reading it, of course. My dad has a useful tip for avoiding reading things (he had a relative to used to lend him endless dull books): read just enough to learn three facts about the piece - one from the start, one from the end, and one from somewhere in the middle. This usually allows you to speak with authority.

I've uploaded all the photos (except the Art Trail ones) to Picasa.

But back to the travels. The day again dawned bright and fair; not the warmest, but sunny. I started by heading over to Queens; while passing through Botanic Gardens I called into the Tropical Ravine, which is pretty much like entering another world. They have banana plants and other exotic things; it's very warm and muggy, and there are fish. It's like being in the jungle, but with fish.

After that I headed to the Naughton Gallery at Queens; it turned out I was an hour early for the opening, but since the door was open I went in anyway. This is (currently), at first glance, a display of the university silver, but it is actually pretty cool, because they've created a 'soundscape' to go with it. You're meant to borrow a PDA from reception (this is what I was an hour too early for), and as you go round, you can use it to sonically enhance your viewing experience. It's not a commentary, it's actual music, based (somehow) on the artwork of the pieces. I think I'll go back and see if I can try this another day, cos it was disappointing to miss it. But I was able to stamp a hallmark on a piece of paper, so it wasn't an entirely unneccesary visit.

On my way out, I chanced to go into the Queens Visitors Centre, where I found an exceptionally useful display of tourist information, including a booklet on how to see Belfast by bus (could've done with that at an earlier stage), a map of the city (ditto) and a guide to things to do in Belfast in 72 hours, which listed things that had never been suggested in the Tourist place in town, and which has opened the possibility that another holiday may take place soon.

So I took my leave of Queens and wandered down Botanic Avenue and onwards to Ormeau Baths Gallery. If you have never been here before, I demand that you do so immediately. They have 3 exhibitions at the moment: a video called 'Last Riot' (or Final Riot maybe), which is bizarrely compelling; an exhibition called 'Slant' in which various artists have done their own versions of famous paintings (my favourite - Henry the Eighth, having slipped on the carpet); and an exhibition of recent British illustrations (book covers, magazine articles, all sorts). Well worth seeing, and I'm sure I'll go back to see more when new exhibitions come in the Autumn. I was very impressed that it was free, as well.

Next, St Malachy's church, which is indeed closed for massive restoration, to the extent that there's so much scaffolding it wasn't even worth a photo. I consoled myself with a snap of May Street Presbyterian instead, called into Linen Hall Library (well worth a visit, although I couldn't find any toilets, which was one of the more pressing concerns at the time) and then visited (spontaneously) St Mary's Chapel (the one down that side street near CastleCourt). It has a funky little grotto thing:

I had a duke inside as well, and it's very nice. It was quite busy, so I didn't like to take photos, but there were some good paintings and it had a nice airy feel that hadn't been anticipated from outside.

By this stage I really needed the loo and some food, so I stopped for lunch and read the booklet I'd picked up earlier. This suggested a visit to Clifton House and St Patrick's Church; the map informed me of their locations, and I thought 'why not?', and left the cafe so quickly that I forgot to use the loo.

So, I nipped through Writers' Square, and off out West again, for about 50 yards, and into Central Library. This is a very impressive place, and I was able to use the computers, which was splendid. Not much in the way of toilets, as far as I could see, which was by now almost beyond a joke, so I left.

When I got to St Patrick's, it was 12.58 and 1pm Mass was in full swing. Needless to say, I was a bit confused by this; the congregation seemed a tad so as well, as they were still drifting in for a good 15 minutes or so. Although, a sign on the door said '1pm Mass will continue throughout the summer', so it is entirely possible that this particular Mass had actually started on 1st July at 1pm and has carried on without a break ever since; this is the only reasonable explanation I could think of. Anyway, this prevented me from having much of a look round, which was a shame, because it looked quite interesting, with lots of artwork and side chapels and things, so I may go back another time.

Instead, I took a dander to Carlisle Circus, where I saw something to do with the Orange Order, a building which may or may not have been Clifton House, and a church that used to be Carlisle Memorial Methodist, but now isn't.

A quick duke in a St Patrick's on the way back and Mass was still in full swing (lending further support to the theory that it is never-ending), and so back to the City Centre and the place where the whole idea started: St Anne's Cathedral.

Realising that I hadn't ever even seen this building was what made me think I needed to know my own city better, and it was well worth investigating. It really is fabulous inside - there are 2 side chapels, one dedicated to the Holy Spirit and one called the 'Chapel of Unity', which is where a lot of prayer for peace took place during the troubles. The stained glass is fantastic, and the 'soft furnishings' are worth seeing as well. Also, taking photos is allowed, which would have been great except that there were two men who seemed to manage to stand continually in front of anything I might want to phtoograph, seemingly without malicious intent. When I went outside, they'd even parked their minibus on the double yellow lines right in front of the stpes, so even it ended up in the photos.

Next I visited the Northern Ireland War Memorial and Home Front exhibition, which is next to the cathedral, and was greeted warmly by a man who seemed surprised to have visitors. He was extremely friendly and helpful and the exhibition is pretty good - not massive, but informative.

I tried to get to Belfast Exposed, the photography exhibition, but it was closed for the day.

By now the need for facilities was bearing down hard upon me, so I took a quick nip into Clements where I found much relief. This was quickly countered by the glass of orange juice I had to drink to justify the visit, but it was nice while it lasted.

By this stage, however, my luck had turned and I arrived at St George's (the oldest church in Belfast) to discover that it had shut at about the time I'd been breathing a sigh of relief. Another time, maybe.

A quick walk around the Custom House, and then to the Waterfront Hall where I found the remaining two art pieces from the Art Trail, including the famous 'Big Red':

Shoal didn't really come out in the photos, since it consists mainly of thin opaque rods, but you can see it in Picasa if you want.

And finally, onto the 6a and home, for a much needed lie down.

I actually really enjoyed seeing things in Belfast, more so than I had expected; there were lots of things that are worth a visit. Obviously, since I mainly did free things, my itinerary involved probably more churches and squares than average; also I left out things I'd done before (like the zoo, the Opera House etc), and things I was scared of (like the Big Wheel). I was particularly impressed by Ormeau Baths Gallery, and will definitely be returning.

Postcards, by the way, have been posted...