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...

Thursday, 21 August 2008


I am well and truly exhausted, but have had a really nice day seeing more things in Belfast... there really is loads to see if you look about. A more complete update will follow, and I'll get the pics up sometime...

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Holiday: Day 2

Today dawned bright and sunny in Belfast, and WhyNotSmile set off on the next epic leg of the holiday to Belfast. The plan for today was to do things that needed to be done by bus, so the rough idea was Clonard Monastery, then St Peter's Cathedral and Belfast Castle. With this in mind, and guide book in hand, WhyNotSmile set off.

The first setback was that the intention was to get a day ticket for the bus - this allows you to go anywhere in Belfast for a day - but it was realised that these are cheaper after 10am (£2.50 rather than £3.50), so some lingering at a bus stop ensued. Eventually 10am came and went, the bus arrived, the ticket was purchased, and the day had begun.

On arrival at the city centre, I realised that a lack of planning meant that I wasn't altogether sure which bus to take, or indeed where to go once I got off it; WhyNotSmile is not easily dismayed, though, and eventually decided upon the number 10 (Falls Road) service. Having consulted the Metro map, she set off at a jaunty pace in the wrong direction (due to the map being upside down), but quickly corrected things and arrived at the bus stop without further mishap.

The first screaming child of the day (there will be more) was throwing a tantrum on the pavement; thankfully she was carted off by her mother to buy toys and they stayed away too long and missed the bus when it came. The vehicle was boarded, and WhyNotSmile set off, crossing cultural boundaries and sectarian divides, for 'the other side of town'. We only got one stop (about 100 yards) and then the driver pulled over and got off to go into an amusement arcade (I swear this is true); he re-emerged after several minutes (cup of tea in hand) and we carried on.

Unfortunately I didn't bring a map, and had forgotten how to get to Clonard Monastery (except that it had looked simple on the web); however, after a short distance I spotted a sign for St Peter's Cathedral and decided to strike while the iron was hot, as it were, and sort out the monastery thing later. So I got off, followed signs to St Peter's (not very difficult), came upon it and was about to start photographing, when I realised a funeral was just coming out. Not liking to appear touristy, I stood in what I hoped was a respectful pose, waiting for them to go past; unfortunately the crowd lingered for quite some time. After wandering round the building once, they still hadn't dispersed, so I decided to wander off and see what else was in the area. And so I found these murals:

A little bit more wandering was needed, until the hearse eventually drove away, and I was able to hot-foot it back to the church, which looks like this:

St Peter's, according to my guidebook, is an example of Gothic Revival; it was designed in 1860 and work was completed in 1866; it didn't, however, get consecrated as a cathedral until 1986.

I'm never sure whether it's ok to photograph the insides of churches, but tend to take the view that 'what they don't know won't hurt' and just snap away while nobody's looking; this was a little difficult in St Peter's case, as there were people about, so I spent a good while wandering about, reading leaflets, notices, signs and magazines, and was particularly pleased to happen upon the parish newsletter. Thus I was gravely informed that there are "daily masses on Monday-Saturday at 10am and on Tuesdays & Thursdays at 10am". There are also meetings of "Alcoholic Anonymous" twice a week; clearly problem drinking is not a big issue in this part of town, but you have to feel for the poor guy none the less. This also brought home how great is the language barrier for those of us from an evangelical Protestant background in such situations; I have no idea why 'Adorers Are Urgently Needed', why "Candles will be burning this week for the intentions of" two parish members, nor how "mass will be offered for all intentions" of those who attended "the mass of the 1st anniversary" of a Ms Rafferty; none of these sentences makes any sense whatever to me (feel free to provide explanations below). Furthermore, my born-again sensibilities were shaken by the results of the Parish Weekly Draw, listing names and addresses of all those who had won money (although, since the prizes seem to be hard cash, and in bundles of £25 or £50, I could come round to this way of thinking).

Anyway, I eventually sneaked a photo of the inside of the church.

The cathedral is nice inside; not spectacular, but nice. It had a friendly, homely sort of feel, and it was good to see a reasonable number of people wandering in and out. I always feel like a fish out of water in Roman Catholic churches; I never quite know what to do with my hands - the regulars seem to do a lot of crossing and bowing and so on, and in all honesty it's a bit hard to catch on.

Next it was off to Clonard Monastery; as I say, I had totally forgotten how to get there, but had a strong sense that I needed to turn left at the end of St Peter's Close. Thankfully I remembered in time that, while my sense of direction is strong, it is not frequently accurate, so I asked a lady who was lingering at the traffic lights (and had been since I'd got off the bus an hour previously). I was directed up the Falls Road (turning right out of St Peter's Close).

This was quite interesting; there are lots of murals to look at (some referring to the Troubles, mainly to do with political prisoners; others referring to American politics and the Israel/Palestine conflict). I came across a Garden of Remembrance for victims of the Troubles (I didn't look too closely to see who exactly it was dedicated to); then, as I neared the monastery, my eye was caught by a brown sign (the universal symbol for 'Tourist Spot' in Belfast) indicating that I was narrowly missing out on the Cotton Mill. I obligingly took a sharp right and spotted the restored mill up ahead; my attention, however, alighted upon the following note of temptation:

Now, WhyNotSmile is in no way averse to sponteneity, and after the disappointment of Fernhill House being closed, this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so I found myself browsing a museum of Irish Republican artefacts. It's quite a mix of things: weapons, photos, newspaper cuttings and various items made by Republican prisoners while 'inside'; there's also a library attached. Not the most unbiased account of the Troubles you'll ever come across, but interesting anyhow (and free).

And so back to the plan, and off to Clonard Monastery. I realised as I wandered round slightly lost that I always feel a little bit scared in 't'other part of town'; this is not really justified since everyone I spoke to was extremely friendly and helpful, but nevertheless I always feel I look Prod. Anyway, I found the Monastery:

It's build in French Gothic style and was established by the Redemptorists in 1896. Currently 21 Redemptorists live there. Inside is very impressive; there are various little side chapels and shrines, and the main bit of the church is quite artily decorated with mosaics and tapestries. I couldn't get a quiet moment to take a snap, but I dare say you can see photos on their website. There are a lot of confessionals around; what I don't understand is why these have 3 sections: clearly one for the priest and one for the person, but what's the middle bit for? Anyhow, a couple of screaming children convinced me it was time to carry on elsewhere.

Coming back out, I discovered that the sun had renewed its vigil over Belfast, and spent some time wandering about (lost). I was trying to buy some postcards here, but to no avail; eventually a bus stop came into view and I decided to head back to the city centre.

So, back to City Hall, which currently has a photography exhibition in the grounds:

The photos are of families across the world; well worth a look if you're in the city centre over the next few weeks.

And so the morning drew to a close; a cafe was tracked down and thoughts were reconvened over a lunch of red pepper soup. The cafe was near Rosemary Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian, which I'd have liked to see, but it only opens on Wednesday mornings. Instead, I headed off to Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian, which only opens on Wednesday afternoons. On the way, I passed Cotton Court, where I was pleased to note that the bins which had previously obscured one of the artworks (see the post about Art Trail 1) had been moved and replaced by a car. I popped in to have a duke at the "Making It" craft exhibition which is on at the moment, and had a chat with the friendly bloke who works there. I also failed to find the Northern Ireland War Memorial Building, which the guide book assured me was on Waring Street; I think it may have moved.

Anyway, I was going to Sinclair Seamen's. To get there I had to cut through a car park, and at this point, rather excitingly, I found the things I was meant to find as part of the first Art Trail; the ones that are on the concrete pillars that hold up the motorway. I think the ones I found before were still part of it, but the ones I found today were the ones that were in the guide to the trail, so that was pleasing.

And finally I came to Sinclair Seamen's Church:

This was established in 1857; it's in an area called 'Sailorstown' and was to minister to local people and sailors at the nearby docks. Over the years it has acquired various 'nautical' furnishings, and these are open to view on Wednesday afternoons. So I wandered in, and was greeted extremely warmly by 3 members of the congregation who make themselves available to show visitors round. A man called Billy introduced himself, asked where I was from and showed me the sights. There are lots of fairly quirky things dotted around: model ships, a torch from a ship that sank, a ship's wheel, navigational instruments, and a bell from another sunken boat, which I was allowed (nay, encouraged) to ring:

Practically everything in this church is worth seeing - I'll put more photos on Picassa web and post the address here; I was very glad I'd had a look inside, and the tour guides presented me with armfuls of books and leaflets to take away and peruse at my leisure.

And thence to the final destination of the day: Belfast Castle. This involved another tricky navigation of bus routes, but it turned out that you get any of the number 1s as far as the Landsdowne Hotel and then it's a half mile walk. Of course, it's a half mile walk if you follow the correct path; if you take the main road through the grounds, it's a much more meandering sort of distance and you will arrive rather hot and bothered and not a little disgruntled. This is the castle:

One of the features of the grounds is a (or possibly 2, depending on what you read) cat-themed garden(s), featuring 9 (or 16) cat or cat-related sculptures/pieces/things. Now this is the sort of challenge to which WhyNotSmile cannot fail to rise; unfortunately on this occasion I could only find 8 cats before being disturbed by a wedding. So I went inside instead, and had a look at the Visitors' Centre. Most of this is the usual mix of information and audio-visual presentations about the history/wildlife/people of the castle/grounds/city, which is all good, but the most impressive thing is that there is a room with a TV screen connected to a camera on the roof; you can control the camera and look at different parts of the city. It rotates 360 degrees and can zoom in and out, so you can really see pretty up close to most things (I was able, for instance, to read the writing on the side of IKEA).

And so a cup of tea, a caramel shortcake, and a squalking baby in the restaurant, and then home via an impressive bus route which must manage to serve most of the north and west of the city and is almost better than the city tours in terms of amount of ground covered.

And so another day has been covered. On my travels I picked up various bits of information which suggested other things to visit, and I passed several things on the bus that I wouldn't have minded a closer look at, but they will have to wait, for the list of things to see is long enough as it is.

Tomorrow I hope to go to Queens (to see the silver collection), St George's, St Malachy's (which may, as I said before, be closed for restoration), Ormeau Baths Gallery, the War Memorial and Home Front Exhibition, Custom House Square, Belfast Exposed and St Anne's Cathedral, and I think that will be quite enough for one day.

The Candy Factory has been taken off the list because it's a wee bit apart from the other things and not too far from where I live, so I can always pop in some day I'm down there.

As I say, I'll put all the photos of the day on Picassa and let you know once I've done so.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Rain, holidays and carrots

Well the holiday has been on hold, due to the impressively abundant rainfall in Belfast over the past week. Fortunately the rain has not been as much of a problem as it might have been, due to the Roads' Service having had the foresight to build a large water storage facility just off the Westlink. This is capable of holding as much water as 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and cost £15 million to build; at first glance an excessive sum, but in dry spells it doubles up as a road, and is therefore good value for money.

But to get back to the point: the holiday will hopefully take place over the next couple of days. It is all rather weather-and-can-I-be-bothered dependent, but the sun is currently shining and the prospect of a day or two as a tourist is seeming quite appealing.

On a different topic: does anyone know how you can tell when carrots are ready to be harvested? Is it like in Bugs Bunny where the tops start to stick out of the soil? That's what I've been waiting for, but it doesn't seem to be happening, so now I'm thinking that maybe you just pull them up once you get bored waiting. All advice appreciated.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Why I Want Broadband at Home

I love the library. I go there a lot and take full advantage of all the facilities they offer: newspapers, magazines, free computer access, and being allowed to borrow 10 books at once.

I also like Indexed, and it is in this spirit that I present to you my one single gripe about the library, which causes me to wish I had Broadband at home:

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

It's the 200th post!

Well, here we are, 200 posts on and much the wiser for it.

Anyway, I came here today to let you know that the holiday has been slightly postponed, owing to WhyNotSmile having temporarily found a form of gainful employment, which cannot be passed up. But the delay is only temporary, and the holiday will take place next week. There is still time to sign up for a postcard.

In other news, you'll be pleased to hear I have added broccoli to the garden; this came last week after a phone call from my friend Philip which went like this:
Me: hello?
Philip: Hello! Can I come and visit you tonight?
Me: yeah, ok.
Philip: I'm going to cycle. I'll leave at 6.30, so I'll be there about 7.30
Me: OK, see you then.

Now Philip lives in Bangor and I live in Belfast, so when 7.30 came and went, I wasn't too concerned, but then 8.00 came and went, and at 8.15 I started to worry and tried texting (I don't really know why - either he'd be cycling and not hear it, or he'd lying in a ditch unconscious and not hear it). By 8.30 I had given him up for roadkill, and then a few minutes later he came cycling down my street, muttering things about how it was a bit further than he'd thought, and with a broccoli plant over the handlebars.

I've been assured that I can eat the leaves of teh broccoli plant, but I'm not sure I want to, so I am eagerly awaiting it growing some broccoli.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Art Trail 3

Art Trail 3 goes from Maysfield to Stranmillis, and includes the Gasworks. I was really impressed by the Gasworks area; for something that was pretty much derelict a few years ago (the Gasworks themselves closed in 1988), these days it's really a very nice place to be.


This is a bit of a bizarre one - a big red squiggly thing, inspired by a chestnut tree. But nice. Not entirely related to Greenland.


Little stainless steel weights, to commemorate the contribution of the nearby markets to the economy. The writing is reflective; I couldn't work out what it said.

This photo cunningly shows two art pieces in one shot; in the foreground is the milepost; the 'porthole' is the two blue things in the background.

Millenium Milepost

There are lots of these along the cycle paths; they are squiggly because the paths are squiggly, and they tell you how far it is from where you are to where you want to be. I'm not sure whether they're all part of the art trail, or just this one; they're all slightly different in design, and indeed, a photo session of the various artworks on them may feature in a later WhyNotSmile post.


The portholes in the steel are to remind us of Belfast shipbuilding. I didn't photograph this one up close, because it was on the other side of the river, but when you're next to it, obviously you can look through the portholes at your companions.

Bottle Top

I really like this, just because it's so odd. It represents a historic bottle top; it's on the site of Cromac Springs, which I'd guess provides the 'water' connection.

Bronze Disc

A map of the Gasworks from long ago; includes the Cromac Wood, which was presumably concreted over so the Gasworks could go on top.

Carved Brick Piers and ceramic details

A very literally-named piece, this shows engravings of the animals that lived in the wood that was concreted over so the Gasworks could be built on top.

Another two-for-one shot, here we have the Gasworks gates and the Stone Columns.

Gasworks Railings

The railings have wiggly lines and I like them muchly.

Stone Columns

There are 2 of these, one representing Belfast's past industries (linen, shipbuilding and ropemaking) and this one, representing new technologies. What you can't see here is the detail on the columns and the flowery mosaics on the ground surrounding them.

The Millenium Garden

I cycled past this for years and only noticed it a few weeks ago, so I was pleased to discover it's actually on the Art Trail. It's in the grounds of a youth club; these are the railings, with 2 swans. There is a mosaic of the Children of Lir in the grounds.

Haulers Way

A mosaic of a fishy.

Travelling Landscape

Right, I was a bit scuppered with this one, because it's in an underpass which was flooded when I got there. There are lots of these tiles, showing things related to different modes of transport; this was the only one I could get to for the photo though.

Homage to the Lagan

The final piece, this is part ship, part shell, part wave, and part seat to rest on now that you're done.

Art Trail 2

Art Trail 2 spans the Donegall Quay to Lanyon Place area, including Gregg's Quay and Hanover Quay on the other side of the river. All of this area was redeveloped about 10-15 years ago, so a lot of the artwork dates from then; it used to be a run-down, rather dismal bombed-out part of the city, but now it's much brighter and busier, and on sunny days (like the one when I visited), it's crowded with tourists and emos.

Two of the pieces are inside the Waterfront Hall, and since I had a bike and was dressed like a tramp, I couldn't get in to see them, but I'll have a look some other time.

The artwork on this trail looks like this:


Everyone who's been to Belfast knows Bigfish; he's a big, blue fish, made up of tiles which are decorated with newspaper articles, photos etc relating to Belfast's history. Bigfish is located at the point where the River Farset meets the Lagan (the Farset runs under the streets of Belfast, and is where Belfast got its name - somehow).

National Cycle Network Ceramic Map

Except that they've taken the really cool map away and replaced it with this. I'm not sure whether this is technically 'art', but since the original map got vandalised, this is what stands in its place.

Hanover View

OK, I couldn't find this. I'm not sure whether it's been moved, or whether it was behind some of the emergency roadworks which were set up yesterday when the quay started to sink into the river, but in any case, I was clearly out of luck.


This is really funky, and I have cycled past it lots of times without ever seeing it. It's a little mosaic of a trawler catching fish, and it's very pretty.


This is like an outline of a ship, made up of glass tiles; the cool bit is that the tiles are lit up from below (using fiber optics), and some of them have starfish inside.

Lagan Symphony

I've always liked this a lot; it's made up of wavy lines and river birds.

The Ulster Brewer

A man on a barrel, commissioned by Bass Ireland for their 100th anniversary.


I have a confession to make: for a long time, I thought this was a series of hoardings surrounding a building site, that someone had painted on to pretty it up a bit. But it is, in fact, art in its own right. It's made up of portraits of 40 children; in the middle bit are, I am informed by my art trail guide, the dreams of 9000 local children.

Sheep on the Road

Lanyon Place used to be a sheep and cattle market, so this is a sculpture to commemorate that. It's a man and some sheep, made from bronze.


The Big Red

These are both inside the Waterfront Hall; photos may follow at a later stage.

Art Trail 1

(Please note that the blog has been temporarily widened, to allow the photos to fit. Apologies also for the large blank spaces. I will fix this asap.)

Art Trail 1 takes in Clarendon Dock and the Cathedral Quarter. Clarendon Dock has been redeveloped recently, and is used for things like the Maritime Festival and various other city events; it's also a business park and of course there are still docks there. The Cathedral Quarter was redeveloped a few years ago, and is probably one of the 'artier' ends of town; lots of nice pubs down little alleyways, and also wide open space in Writers' Square in front of the cathedral itself.

One of the pieces on this trail is indoors and I couldn't see it, but I'll have a look when I'm back in the area to visit St Anne's Cathedral.

So, here we go:

Voyage of St. Brendan

We kick things off with this giant mosaic on Garmoyle Street, which is based on the discovery of America by St Brendan (you remember). It was originally designed for display in Holland; the story of how it ended up on the wall of a pub in Belfast did not present itself.

The Flying Angel

Next we have one of my favourites, The Flying Angel. The ship-shaped building to which it is attached is the Belfast Mission To Seafarers building; the angel is flying over the sea, calming the waves, and sports a fetching engraving of Revelation 14v6 on her side.


Looking like a giant pair of compasses, this sculpture towers over pretty much everything in Clarendon Dock; 'dividers' have some navigational purpose, hence the connection with the docks.

Wheels of progress

Right, to be honest, I'm not sure I found what I was looking for here. The picture on my downloaded map was totally different to this, but I couldn't find anything that resembled it. Instead I found these, so I'm guessing that they have replaced the original, or something. Since they are attached to the concrete supports of the M3, I didn't like to poke about too much.

The Calling

Easily the winner in the 'most awkward to photograph' category, these are two statues of people standing on chairs, perched at the top of two very extensive poles. The piece is based on the theme of communication.

Penny For Your Thoughts

There are lots of these little 'stacks of coins'; they each have a different picture on top, depicting something (food, animals...) which would at one time have been bartered over on the streets of Belfast.

Belfast Wheel and Cotton Court

I'm not entirely clear on how much of this is the actual artwork, and how much is just general decor, but anyway it's pretty cool. Nothing to do with Belfast's Big Wheel; 'Belfast Wheel' is a network of artists.

Mapping History

Kind of a shame that someone plonked a couple of bins in front of this, because it's really stunning; the middle bit is a map of the area, including notable landmarks, and the blue bit is made up of over 1000 tiles personalised by visitors and businesses in the Cathedral Quarter. The photo below shows some of the tiles; apparently there's a marriage proposal somewhere in there, but the smell of the bins got to me before I found it.

Performance Space

Now this I liked a lot. Basically, it's in an archway; the art is made up of lights which provide a spotlight in which anyone who passes by can perform.

Fishing For Letters

This was another hard to photograph one, because it surrounds a nice flat area that's perfect for skateboarding; I was taking my life in my hands by snapping it for you. The jumble of letters reflects the literary theme of Writers' Square.


This is a mosaic of a boat; it was behind railings so I couldn't get terribly close, but it looked pleasant.

One step, two step, three step, four

This is the one that's inside, so I don't have a photo yet, I'm afraid. According to my art trail guide, though, the point is that 'art can tell you what it wants to say, or it can lead you up a blind alley'.

So, lots of funky artwork was on display; if you're in the city centre and haven't popped into the Cathedral area lately, it's worth doing so, especially on a sunny day when you can bask in Writers' Square.

On The Trail of Art: The Holiday Begins

Well, the excitement has begun and WhyNotSmile has started her days as a tourist in Belfast. Yesterday (Saturday) I did the Laganside Art Trails, and had a splendid time. There has been, as you may have realised, an adjustment to the schedule: the holiday was not supposed to start until Monday, but it has been very wet in Belfast all week, and today was nice, so I thought I'd take advantage of the sunshine while it lasted; furthermore, I had painted the gloss-work on my stairs and landing, so had to get out of the house before the fumes did for me.

Anyway, who knew Belfast had so many cool arty things? If you have an hour to spare and you're in the City Centre, it's well worth checking some of these out. And there are various other bits and bobs that aren't part of the trail, but which were worthy of a photo; I'll give you some of those as well.

So. I now present photos of the Art Trails. I should perhaps explain here that there are 3 art trails: they are a few miles each and are designed to be done on foot, but since I was on my bike, I did all of them at once (Art Trail 2 is probably the most accessible/straightforward if you're on foot). I'll split them over 3 posts, though, for clarity (plus an extra post for the 'other' things that were cool but not part of any of the trails). In total I cycled 13 miles (from my house, round the trails, and back home); it took about 2 hours, which of course included lots of stops to take the photos. On the way I had one near-death experience, saw many Emos, was scuppered by one flooded underpass, and almost ended up in the Belfast Rat Race.

The 'Art' is basically a series of sculptures, engravings, paintings and various other things, placed around the Laganside area of Belfast. Some of them are things everyone who has been to Belfast will have seen (like the Big Fish); others are things I have cycled past and never noticed; some are hidden away and you have to know they're there before you'd see them.

Incidentally, the remainder of the holiday schedule has also changed, due to two factors: firstly, Sean informs me that the Fernhill House museum seems to be closed (so the world's largest collection of Loyal Orders memorabilia must now be elsewhere); secondly, my mum has discovered that she (being over 60) can get into the zoo for free and has therefore decided we should go and see it. So the 'West Belfast' day has now been ditched in favour of a day at the zoo; Clonard Monastery and St Peter's will now be an extension of the 'City Centre' activities, which will now be stretched to a day and a bit. The Candy Factory will fit in there too. So, to summarise, there are to be 3 further WhyNotSmile holiday events: a day (more likely half day) at the zoo; a city centre churches and art galleries day; and a final day of finishing the churches and also the Candy Factory.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Ode To Eight

Now I know that by posting twice yesterday and once today I am opening myself up to criticism from Alex that WhyNotSmile is a Feast or Famine experience, but since today is 08/08/08 and WhyNotSmile is basically a numbers game, the day could not be allowed to pass without comment. It seems like barely a year, a month and a day since I wrote this, but clearly it must be.

Now, when we consider the number eight, the first thing that springs to mind is that it is a number of almost mystical insignificance. Other than 'maids a-milking', I was unable to come up with anything important of which there were eight (although further reflection turned up the rather vice-versa 'pieces of'). This is particularly unfortunate when we consider eight's proximity to the ever-popular number seven, a number so loaded with meaning it seems almost unjust. But while seven numbers Wonders of the World, days of the week and Deadly Sins, eight does little more than sit on the sidelines and spectate.

Indeed, eight seems to be singularly unfortunate in its near misses: we all have eight fingers, but we add the thumbs and call them ten; we talk of working '25 hours a day, eight days a week' as a thing absurd; if it were rotated 90 degrees it would be infinity, but it isn't; and when we buy a packet of eight biscuits, they run out two days before we've used them for a fortnight's worth of packed lunches.

But of course eight has its moments of glory. In the first burst of the electronic age, it was the number that used all the little lines on the digital clock; in a similar vein, its similarity to the letter 'B' when upside down on a calculator enabled all children of the eighties to type rude words in maths. Likewise it is indispensible in text messaging, for those who wish to say 'see you l8r'.

In maths, eight is the first interesting cubed number (after 1), being equal to 2 cubed; this gives it all sorts of useful purposes in geometry. It also turns up in the Fibonacci sequence.

After this I had to turn to Wikipedia, which informs me that, amongst other things, eight is the number of Beatitudes (who knew?) and that Buddhists speak of the Noble Eightfold Path. And lest we forget, eight is important in music, due to it being the number of notes in an octave; in imperial measurements there are 8 furlongs in a mile, 8 fluid ounces in a cup, 8 pints in a gallon, and 8 tablespoons in a gill, which is quite something.

It was pleasing, however, to find that eight is a lucky number to the Chinese, because it sounds like their word for 'wealth'. Which is nice.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Dodgy Maths Exposed #3: On Using Inequalities To Create False Impressions

Advertising is a skill which must be learned. The trick is to make sure that you make statements which sound good but commit you to nothing; for this purpose, dodgy mathematics frequently comes in handy.

Take an advert I saw in the paper, for a TV: "This TV has a lifetime of up to 100,000 hours". Now, at first glance this sounds quite impressive - your new TV will last up to 4166 days, or 11.4 years (which brings us to some secondary dodgy maths - because 100,000 hours sounds quite impressive, but 11 years, for a TV, isn't all that great. Mine is about 15 and going strong. But I digress). The problem arises with the second glance, when you realise that 'up to 100,000 hours' technically means 'less than or equal to 100,000 hours', which is anything from 0 hours to 100,000 hours. So, really, it could break next week, which isn't so hot.

In fact, the only way the advertisers could be hauled over the coals for making misleading statements is if the TV lasts 100,001 hours, so I'd say it'd be a fairly safe bet that they've made it so it won't.

I find that much the same thing happens with energy-saving lightbulbs. Now, I don't want to discourage anyone from buying these, but I do want to point out that when they say 'lasts up to 10 times as long as a normal bulb', they're not proved wrong if it blows up the first time it's switched on - this is simply an instance of it lasting 0 times as long as a normal bulb, and since 0 is less than 10, they were correct.

This is probably all the fault of the EU, or the Office For The Prevention Of Misleading Promotion, or some such, or else advertisers have just realised they're onto a winner, but of course the phenomenon has spread to everyday talk, and this is how we get Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg claiming he has slept with 'not more than 30 women'.

Which sounds (and was heralded by the media as) rather on the enthusiastic side, until you realise that I could make the same claim myself, and not be lying.

Summer Holiday: The Itinerary

Well, plans for the summer holiday are coming along swimmingly, and the excitement is building. One person already has so far asked for a postcard; I recommend that if you want one, you should sign up fast, as they are clearly going to be popular.

When deciding what to do, I felt that it was important to visit both well-known and lesser-known attractions; so, having acquired as many leaflets as I could respectably carry from the tourist place, eliminated everything that I'd already visited and everything I had to pay for (these overlapped quite a lot; my father's financial astuteness meant that most of my childhood days out were spent at free places), I came up with a list of possible options. These were grouped according to location, and travel etc. was considered.

Thus I have formed an itinerary, and present it to you now: (please note that the days might not happen in order; it depends on opening times etc)

Day 1: City Centre - mostly churches
St. Malachy's Church, Albert Street (although this is possibly closed for repair)
St George's Church, High Street
War Memorial and Home Front Exhibition
Writers' Square (possibly have lunch here or hereabouts)
St Anne's Cathedral
Sinclair Seamen's Church
War Memorial Building
Belfast Exposed Exhibition
If I have time left over, I will also visit the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Linenhall Library and Central Library.

Day 2: West Belfast
Fernhill House - the people's museum, which costs £2 to get in, but which houses 'the largest collection of Loyal Orders Memorabilia in the world' and cannot, therefore, reasonably be missed.
Clonard Monastery
Belfast Castle, Cave Hill and perhaps the zoo

Day 3: Bits and Bobs (to be done by bike)
St Peter's Cathedral (possibly this will move to Day 2 if there is time)
Laganside Art Trail - I will endeavour to find and photograph each piece of art (I may do a few of these during the other days, since, for example, there is one in Writers' Square)
Aunt Sandra's Candy Factory - ho, yes, sweeties

So this is the plan. I'm not sure about travel arrangements for Day 2; whether to drive or take the bus. If anyone can tell me how to get to Clonard Monastery from a bus route, I'd be grateful. Day 3, being navigated by bike, is rather weather-dependent, so it may have to wait if next week is very wet. Also, I had forgotten that I promised I'd visit my parents next week, so I may have to postpone some of the activities until the following week. But I will keep you informed.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Summer Holiday: Sign Up For A Postcard

WhyNotSmile's summer holiday in Belfast is to take place next week. A full itinery will hopefully be posted soon. Attractions to be visited include St Anne's Cathedral, Clonard Monastery and the Laganside Art Trail.

The holiday will take place over 3 (not necessarily consecutive) days and will happen at a leisurely pace.

However, I mention this now because I would like to give you the opportunity to sign up to receive an exclusive WhyNotSmile holiday postcard - a genuine postcard from Belfast, written and posted by WhyNotSmile. I expect demand to be high, so only the first 10 people to sign up will receive a postcard. You can sign up by leaving a comment below; if I don't know your address (or you think I don't) then either leave it below or email/facebook message me with the details.