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.