Tuesday, 29 January 2008

IKEA: WhyNotSmile Investigates

So the doctor ordered me to take another 4 weeks off work, and I am in the process of obliging. Four whole weeks of unexpected freedom... what does one do? Naturally, one takes oneself off to Ireland's premier retail experience, which opened just before Christmas and which one hasn't had time to visit yet.

This was partly because I wanted to (for research purposes, you understand), and partly because my dad had told me to go and get a bracket thing for a curtain pole. My mum had already got 2 brackets, but we need 3, you see, so I had to go and get another one. This is for the curtain pole in my new sunroom, which is being installed on Thursday.

I forgot to mention that my dad came and installed the shower screen and shower rail/holder/thing a couple of weeks ago. My, was that a lesson in new swear words. Still, they're both up, and so far have stayed up and done their jobs well.

But back to IKEA. My dad had given me the serial number from the other curtain pole bracket things, and with this information safely stashed in my handbag, I set off. The first thing that hits me is that IKEA is Really Quite Big. Even the car park is Really Quite Big. I drive round vaguely for a while, then park abandon Fifi on the middle level of the multi-storey and make my way, at a jaunty pace, towards the store.

I get in the lift, which is one of those ones that tells you what it's doing; unfortunately there's an elderly gentleman who seems keen to speed things up but has got a bit muddled, so every time the lift says 'Doors closing' he hits the 'Open Doors' button, and then it would say 'Doors opening' and then he hits the 'Close Doors' button and it would say 'Doors closing' and so on and so forth, but eventually we make it down to Level 0 where the lift wishes us well and we all get out.

(Incidentally, I have hated talking lifts ever since I had to go to an appointment in the Royal Hospital, where the lift announced, at every floor, not only the floor number but also the ailments which might be attended too on that floor. "Level 3, Orthopedics" and all the people with plaster casts and crutches get off. "Level 5, Paediatrics" and all the children leave. "Level 7, Gynaecology" and various women look embarrassed and stay on till the next floor, where they get off and run down the stairs.)

I've been in IKEA once before, somewhere near Holyhead, with Jayber Crow and Espero (they were just married and wanted to furnish their house; I was trailing along so I could get on the boat for cheap). This meant that I knew what to expect, and how it all worked and everything, which is helpful because when you go in you have the choice of signing up for an 'IKEA Family Card' (gives you discounts and a free cup of teaorcoffee every day), visiting the play area (Smalworld, or something, but the a has an o over it, which in Swedish is pronounced like the a in 'small' so it's a very pleasing cross-linguistic pun), lifting a trolley, bag, tape measure or catalog, or proceeding up to the display area. It could all be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer.

So I proceed up to the display area and start wandering. The first thing that strikes me is that everyone is going in the opposite direction from me, and then I spot that the arrows on the floor are doing the same thing, so I do a smart half turn and set off again. The second thing that strikes me is that it's all very Swedish; even more so than Sweden, which is nice (I mean that it being more Swedish than Sweden is nice, not that Sweden is nice, because it's not really. I was there a few years back, and it's all right but very expensive). The third thing I notice is that it's all very pleasant; lots of little rooms, with furniture, toys for children to play on and signs encouraging you to 'Look Inside This Drawer!' and 'Lie Down and Try Out the Bed!' and other cheery things.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that finding the curtain pole bracket is going to be harder than I thought, particularly bearing in mind that (1) I don't really know what it's supposed to look like and (2) my dad isn't very good at reading small writing, so the serial number in my bag is not guaranteed to be correct. Anyway, I carry on, admiring lots of nice things (mainly bookcases and bedside tables) and thinking I might go home and measure up and come back again.

Eventually I get to the end, and go downstairs to the Market Place, which is where they actually have stuff you can buy. The journey begins in Kitchens; I'm hoping for some new cookie cutters, but I'm out of luck. Eventually, however, I find myself in Curtain Rails, and lo and behold, there is a big box of brackets. The very first one I see, I mean, the Very First One, and it's the right one. I'm so pleased that when I then wander into Bathroom Accessories (with the bracket clutched tightly), I immediately spot a bin that would look nice under our sink, and I just pick it up for purchase, then and there, just like that, because I am in a Good Mood.

At this point my luck begins to change. I inadvertantly take a shortcut and bypass Towels, which I'd rather wanted a look at. By the time I realise my mistake, I have to double back, and retrace all my steps to Curtain Rails. Going in the Wrong Direction in IKEA is clearly frowned upon. But I get there, and by this time The Bin is starting to seem a lot bigger and heavier than when we started, so I shift it around and almost destroy a display in the process. I don't see anything I want in Towels, so I press on. Next up is Lighting, which I dislike intensely, so I go straight through and find myself in Domestic Storage. I wonder whether they do magazine racks, so The Bin and I set off in a vain and fruitless search. They don't do magazine racks.

And so I plough on; I'm getting a bit fed up now, The Bin is feeling like a very large lead weight, and I seem to be passing by aisles and aisles of candles. We reach the self service bit where all the flat packs go, and I realise I'm quite glad I hadn't set my heart on the bookcases and bedside tables I'd admired upstairs; I will leave those until my dad is around, with his car. A quick dash around Bargain Den and I'm ready to go. So I go and pay for the bracket and The Bin, and then find myself in the Swedish Food section. I also spot a little snack bar thing, so I take myself over and get a cup of tea and a chocolate doughnut (only 80p!!), and go and stand at the little table things, on which I am relieved to set The Bin. I realise too late that I have chosen the Plane Spotters table, but never mind. I make my tea (you actually buy a cup, not tea, and then you go and make it yourself, which I think is a nice touch) and drink it slowly, enthralled by the planes.

Then I pick up The Bin, and go back to the Swedish Food section, where I pick up a jar of Lingonberry Jam (simply because I feel I can't not), leave The Bin on a convenient shelf, pay for the jam, retrieve The Bin, and head to the car park.

There is a choice of 2 lifts; a crowd of women are heading to the one on the right, so I bear left. My lift comes first and then the women all race over and jam themselves in. I am pinned to the wall by flat packs. As the lift sets off, one of the women starts exclaiming that she didn't know there were 2 lifts, and they could easily have been in the other one, and that would have been the wrong one, and then what would have happened? Unable to spot any logic to grasp hold off in this pronouncement (there are 2 lifts, side by side; they both go straight up; where did she think the other one would have taken her?), I nod thoughfully with the rest of the occupants.

When I exit the lift, I realise I have no idea where I parked the car, but thankfully she is sticking a good foot and a half further out of the space than all the surrounding cars, so I find her quite quickly. I stash the bracket, The Bin and the Lingonberry Jam in the boot, and we head home, tired, yet pleased that we've done it.

Epilogue: when I got home, I stashed The Bin under the bathroom sink, had a couple of rounds of Lingonberry Jam on toast, and put my feet up. I could get used to being off work.

Monday, 21 January 2008

WhyNotSmile is stressed

So work has finally worn me down, and I have fallen to little pieces. I'm going to be off for the next week or so, and this may affect blogging, owing to the slowness of my computer at home. However, I may of course compose a lot of posts, and then dump them all on you in one go next week.

Mucho prayer is appreciated for the stress levels. Thanks.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Builders, Part 3

So we have seen how to recognise the various people who will be involved in the building work, and how to understand what they say, and so finally we consider how the building work will actually progress, now that it has got going.

Section 3. How The Building Work Will Progress
When you commence your new building project, you will be presented with a Plan, in one form or another. This may be a full scale architectural design for your property, or some squiggles on the back of a Tesco receipt. Either is fine, since this is for informational purposes only and will never be seen again; nor will it bear any resemblance to what they actually intend to do.

The project will start well, with deliveries of things, including many bags of cement, and the ubiquitous radio. The radio is the only constant throughout the project, and will be played loudly at all times.

Work is essentially in 2 phases: taking everything apart, and then putting it back together in a different way. Phase 1 is quite quick, and involves the Builder and a sledgehammer. On day 1, noises will be made about how they're going to go about 'securing the property' overnight; i.e. making sure burglars cannot take advantage of the fact that you have a wall missing. In the event, it'll be home time before they really think about it, so they'll just stick some plastic over the gap and you'll have to take your chances.

On completion of Phase 1, the teeth-sucking starts, as the Unforeseen Eventualities emerge. The Chief Builder will look all apologetic as he explains that your foundations are made from the wrong type of cement, or are upside down, or some such, and... well.. 'it'll cost you'; but happily he'll know someone who can do it and is free tomorrow.

As discussed in section 2, this is not the time to get petty, unless you have developed a love for the plastic wall and would quite like to have to live with it for a while until you find more builders (sidenote: if the worst comes to the worst, and you do have to get rid of the first lot, be assured that builders do not operate in league with each other, so it's actually remarkably simple to find new ones. You might expect that word would get round in building circles, and you'd be blacklisted as 'a bit awkward' or 'hard to please'. In fact, one gets the impression that the second lot are simply pleased to have found someone more incompetent than themselves, so they'll happily come along and prove themselves to be superior).

Anyway, now we move to Phase 2, which is when they put everything back together. This is a more coordinated affair, and so takes much longer. It requires the Builder to do 2 days work, then leave things to dry for 3 days and then the Plumber needs to come for an hour and a half, followed by the Builder again for 5 hours, and the Electrician for a few minutes. The next day needs the Plumber until 3.30, but it is essential that the Electrician is there when he finishes, so he can't start unless everyone is sure the Electrician will be able to come later. The Carpenter can work through some of this, but needs to stop for a while to let the Electrician get access; in the meantime the Plumber has gone to Thailand. Needless to say, it can take weeks for conditions to be exactly right and for everybody to be able to come at the right moment.

During this phase, you need to distance yourself from the plans, or risk insanity. Accept that the builders have 'done a load of these here houses, and it works better like this'. You also need to accept the mess, and keep anything breakable or ruinable hidden. For some reason, builders do not at all mind wearing dirty clothes all the time, but they do like a nice clean white towel to get the dirt of their hands before they tuck into their bacon butty.

And so, finally, and despite everything, the work is 'completed'. There will, naturally, always be things they don't get round to finishing off. With these, you need to strike a balance. They will mostly be things that would take 2 minutes to do, and which you can do yourself after the builders have left. However, it is best to avoid having to attach anything to tiles or glass, or to undertake any form of electrical work, so if you have the choice, try to insist that these are done before they leave. They may of course try to tell you (as they sidle out the door with their toolboxes) that they'll come back and do those bits: the way to know whether this is true or not is to look for the radio. If it's still there, they'll come back; if not, don't expect to ever see them again.

And so we conclude the Guide to Builders. I trust it has been of use, and that it will save you much stress. However, remember that the best way to avoid difficulty with Builders is to not get involved with them in the first place; if your house is in need of renovation, just move. Trust me, it's easier.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Clear and Present Danger

I have a confession to make: I am heartfelt, downright, over-the-top, curl-up-into-a-sobbing-heap scared of throwing up. Seriously. Have been since I was a young 'un. It is an official phobia, known as emetophobia, the fear of vomiting. The thought of being sick is enough to set my heart racing and my palms sweating; if anyone over the age of 2 is looking a bit green, I won't be hanging around to find out how things progress. I might drop them a little text from the far side of the city, once I've myself there, to check they're doing OK, but I will not stay in the room.

And so the present threat of the norovirus epidemic sweeping the country is like a form of torture. Every newspaper story or columnist comment is like a few million volts of electricity to the brain, and all colleagues are being closely watched for signs of infection. Given that our office is pretty much a pig sty with computers, the risk of cross-contamination is high; given also that somewhere in the back of my mind I'm a little bit worried that I'll catch it just by reading about it on the web, my hands are being washed almost to the verge of extinction every few minutes, and I'm practising holding my breath until I can last an entire day without taking in air.

They say the worst thing you can do is rub your eyes; naturally, being told this has made my eyes ragingly itchy (an obvious reason to panic - is this how it starts? Is it a symptom? The first stop on the route to 4 days crying on the bathroom floor? Excuse me for a moment while I check out Google... OK, no, we're fine, back to the discussion). Door handles and telephones are a source of germs and should be avoided, or operated only with elbows.

But then yesterday I read that it might not really be an epidemic after all, and that the reason there are more cases this year might just be because they've just brought in better tests, and because people are reporting it more, on the grounds that it was on the 'telly and therefore having it makes them famous. I think there may be some dodgy maths going on here, but since writing about it makes me feel queasy, I'll have to leave that post to someone else.

Monday, 14 January 2008

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Builders, Part 2

In Section 1 we considered the various people who might (or, as is more likely, might not) turn up at your house when your building work is under way. We now turn our attention to understanding the things they will say to you. This is important, so please read it several times and make sure you understand.

Section 2. Things Builders Say
Builders typically have an unfussy attitude to langauge: they use words which are familiar but whose meaning is fluid (although you may not realise this until afterwards). Some examples are below.

i. Words relating to time.
There are two aspects to this: when a particular event (e.g. fitting of your shower screen) will commence, and how long it will take.

Everything will commence 'tomorrow'. This is quite simple: it just means 'at some indefinite point in the future', or in other words, 'well, we haven't started it yet'. There's no point pressing them on this one: if it was in the schedule, it'd be under way by now.

Of course, nothing ever starts 'tomorrow' on a Friday; on Fridays things will start on 'Monday morning'. This roughly translates to 'first thing Thursday week'. It should be noted that builders tend to start new jobs on Mondays; this will get your hopes up in week 1 because they seem enthusiastic. This quickly fades and after a fortnight they will not be seen much before Wednesday.

When it comes to estimating how long things will take, all measures of time should be considered elastic. Jobs which are to take another 2 hours can often be finished in 10 minutes if there's a cup of tea to be had, or it's home time; this is due to the builders' unexpectedly fluid definition of the word 'finished'. On the other hand, jobs which are initially esimated to take 2 weeks can still be underway 4 months later. The latter is due to what we might call 'Builder Days'. This is similar to the way your bank tells you that a cheque will take 3 days to clear, when in fact it takes 7, because they only count the days when they're actually open. Similarly, '2 weeks' is how long it would take if they came every day and worked solidly at it; since they won't, the time taken becomes much longer in real time. A better analogy might be to the concept of 'light years' as used by physicists - a concept dreamed up for no practical purpose other than to express unimaginatively long periods of time.

ii. Words relating to finance.
Builders don't really like to talk much about money; they like to pretend they do what they do for the fun of it, and that they ask nothing in return but to be allowed unrestricted access to your biscuit tin. A price will be quietly agreed at the start, and the only thing that will be said about it at that stage is that it is cheaper than they'd normally do it, but they're not too busy at the minute so they could do with the work (sidenote: at this point, ask WHY they're not busy. If they've just completed a big job a few weeks early, and you can get independent verification of this, then you're probably OK. If it's because they're bandits and no one else will hire them, then just say 'I'll think about it and get back to you', and then never contact them again).

It is of course inevitable that 'unforeseen' things will happen, and the price will rise (that this is due to a lack of foresight should not be mentioned; the unforeseen tends not to be seen until they've removed a wall of your house, and at that point you can't afford to upset them). This is indicated not by words but by the sucking of teeth, and, if it's really bad, by a little shake of the head. You just have to go with it.

The other main issue relating to finance is that there are always three options for every purchase (e.g. when he asks you which door you'd like, or what type of window or boiler, that sort of thing). This is a psychological trick; if you were only presented with one option, you'd complain that it was too expensive, but if you have 3 options you'll always choose the middle one and be happy. This is because you don't want to be cheap but nor can you afford the expensive one. The middle one is the one the builder has in the back of the van anyway, so he actually does this to life easier for himself.

Now that we have learned how to communicate with the builders and discovered that hopes should not be set too high, we can turn at last to what you should expect to happen during your building work. Section 3 will explain the different stages, and guide you through them.

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Builders, Part 1

They say that 'every cloud has a silver lining' and 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' and so on, and I believe this is true, for as I considered the Incident Henceforth Referred To As 'The Great Building Saga of 2007' I realised that I have learned quite a lot from it, and I feel I should share this, for the general enightenment of all.

And so I present the official WhyNotSmile Guide To Builders. This should be of use to anyone who ever decides to hire anyone to do things to their house, and I hope it will guide you through the process and help you to prepare for what is to come. Note: if there is enough demand, I may produce a printable version which can be stuck on your fridge for easy reference.

The WhyNotSmile Guide to Builders

Section 1. The People You Will Meet
We begin by considering the people you are likely to find in your home during the building process; it is useful to have a rough idea of what they are there for, and how to identify them. On a typical 'job', there will be quite a cast of characters, who will come and go seemingly at random. The Director is known as the 'Chief Builder', and he is the one who orders everyone about and makes excuses for why they haven't turned up. He also steadfastly refuses to answer his phone, or to give you contact details for any of the rest of the cast.

Other people you may find swanning around in your living room are:

The Builder (usually called Joe) - not to be confused with the Chief Builder, the simple Builder is the one who does most of the work. He will always operate at a 'careful' pace, and requires frequent cups of tea. His tools are plaster and bacon butties. Generally looks like Barney Rubble.

The Plumber - to be honest, I wouldn't know. Not a frequent visitor.

The Electrician (invariably nicknamed 'Sparky' or 'The Spark') - the electrician is there, ostensibly, to do the electrical work. However, he is often prevented from doing this by the others, who inevitably haven't finished whatever needs to be done - the work of the electrician depends quite critically on having just the right conditions. For this reason, he often turns his hand to other things, just to get them done, and proves to be quite good at most tasks, as long as they don't involve lifting heavy or dirty things, for the electrician is always a rather skinny bloke, and tends to be the only one with clean clothes. You can spot the electrician by his spiked hair and slightly shocked look.

The Carpenter (sometimes called 'Jesus') - generally a quiet sort, who enjoys messing with bits of wood. Normally works hard, but can get distracted if he sees an opportunity for a bit of creativity: his belief is, why fit a skirting board when you can build a cupboard? Easily identifiable, as he is always covered in sawdust.

Tommy - there's always a bloke called Tommy, who seems to be there mainly in an advisory capacity, and to make tea. The others spend their time telling Tommy what to do, while he steadfastly ignores them and maintains a conversation with your next neighbour who's having a nosy over the garden fence to see what you're doing (this is where Tommy is quite useful; he will do all the explaining so you don't have to). Tommy is the most reliable member of the team, and will turn up every day to see if you've got any new biscuits in yet. He's not often spotted, but leaves a trail of Penguin wrappers so you know he's been.

Now that we have introduced the cast, the next step is to understand the things they say, and this will be dealt with in Section 2. In the meantime, please take the time to familiarise yourself with the information above and to commit it to memory, because we'll come back to it.

Dodgy Mathematics Exposed: #1, The Perils of The Incorrect Underlying Assumption

I meant to mention this before now, but hadn't got round to it. As a mathematician, I am often appalled by some of the ways in which The Glorious Discipline is manhandled in the popular media. So I have decided to expose such lapses when I come across them, for the sake of your education. Our subject today is what we shall call The Incorrect Underlying Assumption. An Underlying Assumption occurs when you assume something and then use that in the process of your analysis; if this Underlying Assumption is Incorrect, your analysis becomes nonsense.

On Boxing Day I was reading The Times (you can't buy The Guardian in Ballywalter; it took a certain level of persuasion to convince my dad that The Daily Mail was not an adequate substitute before we finally settled on The Times, which had a splendid pull-out puzzle section that day) and there was an article about the complexity of various recipe books (clearly a Boxing Day filler).

What they had done was to analyse various recipe books and see how easy they were to understand. So far, so good. But the way they had done this (I say 'they', I mean some scientists with too much time on their hands, not the people at The Times, who were just reporting the story) was that they had compared the number of big words in each, where a 'big word' was one with three or more syllables. They also counted what they described as 'technical terms', such as 'simmering'. The one with the least number of big words and technical terms was deemed the simplest, and therefore the winner.

So the Underlying Assumption here is that words with 3 or more syllables are more complicated than words with less than 3 syllables. Hence, broccolli is more complicated to cook than duck.
To use mathematical parlance, complexity of cooking is directly proportional to complexity of spelling.

One can back up the Underlying Assumption by pointing out that beans on toast is quite simple to cook, whereas ratatouille is rather more complex.

Now the difficulty which arises here should be fairly obvious: if your recipe requires the cook to simmer cauliflower, for instance, you need to tell people to... well... simmer the cauliflower. There is no way to say 'cauliflower' in a way that has less than 3 syllables; indeed, some of our English viewers will pronounce it with 4. Likewise, if you need an aubergine, you need an aubergine, and you can't just tell people to chuck in a kipper instead, even for the sake of simplicity.

This approach will lead to a recipe for coq au vin being simpler than one for mashed potato, which would be nice if only it were true. In fact, on this basis, a bowl of Weetabix is the height of sophisticated cuisine, especially if you throw a handful of sultanas on top and wash it down with a lingonberry smoothie. You are not advised to even attempt to use tortellini, avocados or coriander without supervision; any attempt at anything vegetarian and you could do yourself a mischief. On the other hand, you're quite safe to plough ahead with souffles, meringues and pastry, which are all straighforward.

Now, clearly this is nonsense, and the reason is that our Underlying Assumption is Incorrect. Sauerkraut may be more complicated to cook than peas, but this is not because it is a longer word.

All of this reminded me of a piece of GCSE coursework where we had to compare two newspapers and decide which was more complicated to read. So we all bought our copies of The Sun and The Times, and hypothesised that 'The Times will be more complicated so it will have more big words' and then proceeded to chart pretty graphs of how many letters there were in each word of a corresponding story in each paper. But of course The Sun had more big words, mainly things like 'babelicious' and 'snogtastic', which blew our hypothesis right out of the water; this was because it rested on our Underlying Assumption that a big word is more complicated than a little word, which was Incorrect (if you're still having doubts, please define both 'qat' and 'caravan' for me, without reference to a dictionary or thesaurus, using the comments link below).

And so we see how the Incorrect Underlying Assumption leads us to nonsense, and I hope we have all learned to question what we think is true before we start drawing conclusions from it.

Incompetent Bandits: A Roundup

No builders on Friday, so my dad's ultimatum has come into effect, and I am barred from letting them in. I'm not quite sure how I'm supposed to stop them, and frankly, I'm not sure I'm inclined to (I mean, if they're standing there with a shower screen, it might just be too tempting).

I was talking to some people in work the other day, and musing on the vast range of bandits we (I say 'we', I mean my dad) have managed to hire over the years.

I maintain that the present (although now recent past) lot have been the worst: not that there was anything wrong with the quality of their work (which was fine - although when you take 4 months to fit a bathroom, you'd expect it to be pretty damn good), but rather their reluctance to turn up and do anything in the first place, even when they had promised.

Prior to that, there were the Q&B guys, and we all know that they weren't much better. The difference there was that they at least simply disappeared for long periods of time, so one could forget about them and only get in touch when one felt particularly strong.

Before that (and this was in the days before WhyNotSmile, which is why you've never heard of it) we got new windows in. The guy who did this (a friend of my dad's best mate, which is where these people always come from) was very nice and came when he said he would and did a good job and everything. Then about a month later I heard on the radio that he'd been arrested and charged with paramilitary activity. He's now in jail, which seems rather to have invalidated my warranty.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Traffic jams

No sign of builders yesterday; fixed the heating myself (just kept pressing buttons till it worked).

Stuck in traffic for an hour this morning, and wishing I'd remembered to stick a book or magazine in the glove box. Grateful I had downloaded Radio 4 comedy onto my iPod. Wondering what it is about traffic that annoys me so; I can spend hours staring into space while sitting on my bed, and be quite happy, but as soon as I have to do it in traffic, I get annoyed.

Anyway, I got to work eventually, and it is a delightfully sunny day, so all is quite good now.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The plot thickens...

On Tuesday there my dad phoned Chief Builder and issued him with an ultimatum: either show up and do something by Friday, or don't come back, ever, and don't come looking for money.

So this morning I woke up and the heating hadn't come on, and the light was flashing on the boiler. Applying my vast technical expertise, I looked at the gauge on the front, which said the pressure was low, so I turned the thing and it added more water to the wotsit and it all seemed grand. Then I pressed the flashing light, for it doubles as the reset button. All went dark for a moment, and then it started flashing again. I repeated this several times, but nothing worked. So I turned it off and went to work.

Once safely in work, having poured the whole sorry tale out to the very sympathetic Christopher, maker of tea (amongst other things, but making tea was the most pertinent at this stage), I phoned the plumber, for advice. He, unfortunately, is moving house (unsurprisingly - I'd keep moving if I were this lot, they can't track you that way), and so couldn't come round (the plumber is actually very nice and helpful when you speak to him directly; it's when you have to interact via Chief Builder that problems begin). But he said to phone Chief Builder who could phone the warranty people.

So I phone Chief Builder, and of course he doesn't answer, but then my dad phones to say he had just spoken to him (not knowing about the boiler, but to follow up on the ultimatum). So we now have two sub-plots on the go, which is starting to get quite complex, but please bear with me. Anyway, this call was to say that they would be there today (in fact, that he was on his way) to fit the shower screen and the shower and the bathroom window, all of which we've heard before, but as they say, hope springs eternal, although not for much longer.

So I phone Dozavtra to tell her to get out of bed in case they come, but of course she is already up for she is good at getting up early, even though she is sick and there is no heat.

I've spent the rest of the morning trying to phone Chief Builder to make sure he knows about the boiler, since he might as well fix it while he's there. However, he hasn't answered his phone, which I am convincing myself is because he's up a ladder doing the window, or something.

Naturally, you will hear more of this presently.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

All By Myself?

Just a question: is there anyone else out there who:

1) Has no idea what's going in the American election thing cos they don't understand any of it and they're not sure who's who or anything


2) doesn't really care


3) feels they ought to try to have an opinion?

Or is it just me?

Monday, 7 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I haven't managed a post this week, so this is a bit of a marathon update. I've much enjoyed being off work since just before Christmas, and the start of this week was no exception.

I brought in 2008 with friends at a watchnight service in church. I love this service for 2 reasons, the first being slightly the better of the two: firstly, it's a good, positive, gentle way to bring in the new year, with time for reflection, repentance, and looking ahead; being with my church family is always lovely and sharing special times together is part of fellowship.

The second reason is that it's a good excuse not to go to parties that I've been invited to: I have a horror of new year parties, born, I fear, at the millenium, when bad planning ensured that my sister and I ended up at a party full of people we only knew (if at all) on an exceptionally superficial level. If memory serves me correctly, it was on a Sunday (or possibly a Tuesday - Gospel Meeting night), for everyone else had been to church beforehand and seemed rather surprised that we hadn't. So they're all dressed in their Sunday best (including hats) and we turn up in jumpers and jeans like a pair of heathen tramps. So the two of us spent the night trying not to so much as look at each other, in case we laughed and got thrown out (not so much because we were desperate to stay, but because it would've been quite a walk home, and also because these people had been kind enough to invite us (actually, on reflection, that's not technically true - we kind of gatecrashed, which is why we didn't really know anyone) and we didn't want to be ill-mannered).

What I especially hate about new year parties is that you have to, by definition, stay till midnight, even if it's rubbish. But they always start at 9.30, so you're sitting there, gradually falling asleep, knowing that there's no way you'll get out until at least 12.30, trying to fill time by making conversation with strangers and eating the buffet. I fail to see the point; admittedly this may be because I am fundamentally unsociable and dislike making conversation.

Anyway, New Year's morning dawned bright and crisp, so I went for a walk to Ormeau Park - one of the nicest parks in Belfast, in my as-valid-as-the-next-person's opinion. It was early enough to have the park more or less to myself, and there was plenty of wildlife about. Sitting, watching and listening was a perfect chance to appreciate again the joy of quiet, and nature. One of those things I should do more often.

Wednesday was back to work; it was, of course, a bit of a write-off, between catching up on what everyone did at Christmas, and eating all remaining food from before the holidays and then feeling quite sick. By this stage I had not the faintest idea what day it was, which is rather disconcerting.

And so to Thursday, which was to be the first Builder Day of the new year. They were to be blitzing all the remaining stuff on Thursday and Friday; needless to say, on Thursday, only one dude turned up and on Friday no one came at all. Thursday's chap was to fill in the holes in the wall where the heating is vented outside, and to finish off the steps at the back. I have no idea whether he did these things or not, for to my eyes the steps looked complete beforehand (and much the same afterwards) and it's too cold to go and see whether the holes are filled in outside. I think they might be, though, because the gale force wind that has been channelling its way down the hall for 3 months has abated; alternatively, maybe the wind has just changed direction. 'Tis hard to know.

In any case, all else has been eclipsed this week by Friday's snowfall. I was unable to get to work until (*gasp*) lunchtime, for Fifi refused to move over the snow. Apparently what I should have done was put her in second gear and kept the engine revs low while pressing the accelerator, or something, to provide enough forward thrust to get over the snowdrift. What I actually did was stroke her steering wheel and say encouraging things, which didn't seem to help as much as you might imagine. Still, we got there eventually, and in one piece (well, two if you count me and Fifi as separate pieces, which would not be unreasonable).

And that's about it for the past week. By the way, the new year resolutions are going well: I have not undertaken any extra DIY projects (although I found myself tempted by a flatpack bathroom shelving unit in Wyse Byse at the weekend, but I'm not sure that really counts as DIY, since it would probably lack the 'Y' element 'cos I'd get my dad to do it), and have not mentioned Richard Dawkins at all (by way of precaution, I'm still keeping a wary eye on his website, just to be on the safe side). I don't think I've put weight on, though, and I haven't come up with a new crisis plan, but there's plenty of time for all that.