Friday, 30 January 2009

Something I Have Learned This Week

I have discovered something which may, quite literally, be life-changing. For many years I have believed that electricity was cheaper from 6pm-9am, and have acted accordingly. I have waited till 6 o'clock to start making dinner, put on a load of washing, or use the tumble dryer. I have got up early (at least twice) so I could finish my shower before 9am.

But this week I have been informed that it is not true, and that unless you have a special tariff, electricity is the same price all day.

To be honest, I did always wonder how they worked it out - cos I figured you'd need a clock on the meter or something, and you'd have to adjust it for summer time and that.

But now I know.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

On Happy Browsing

There are times when satire is superfluous, and many of them begin when the religious and the internet get too close. In terms of frequency, it is clear from a quick glance that the main culprits are the evangelicals (for sheer crappiness - I believe thse pages have previously mentioned the delightful and The Jesus TV) and the Roman Catholics (for volume of tack), but of course, no one is innocent - the Anglicans are always good for a news story and the Free Presbyterians have the advertising junk all sewn up and ready to wear. And if we may include looser definitions of religion, our friend Richard Dawkins has a website so dire that it could be a Christian conspiracy to make atheists look stupid.

With this in mind, the first item on our agenda today is the Vatican's new channel on YouTube (or as someone suggested, BlessYouTube). The closest thing we have had to this so far is GodTube, in itself a delightful demonstration of the fine line, so frequently crossed, between sense and insanity. It's not hard to see why the Vatican wishes to distance itself from this, quite frankly, but can Pope Benny improve on the online home of Christian self-demotion?

A quick glance at this new offering reveals that the current top video (or newest, or something - I don't really understand YouTube) is entitled 'Internet can promote the search for truth'. I hit play and listened for a few seconds before realising he was talking German. Then a few seconds more and realised that, no, it was English, but with an 'Allo 'Allo accent.

Anyway, two things struck me. First, should we be worried that the Pope is searching for truth? I always thought (and, not being Catholic, I freely admit I may be wrong - I'm certainly no stranger to the wrong end of the stick) that the Pope knew the truth. That that was kind of the whole point of the Pope. That he knew what was true and was here to share it with the rest of us. I'm a little concerned to discover that he's getting it all from Wikipedia. Or maybe he's talking about the rest of us, and the point is that the internet can promote our search for truth now that the Vatican is on YouTube.

Second, isn't truth more or less the antithesis of the internet? I thought the very purpose of the internet was to allow a worldwide platform for conspiracy theorists, wacky medical practicioners, the permanently confused, Richard Dawkins and the downright evil - those people, in short, who lurk in the dark corners of dodgy pubs and spend their evenings saying things like 'There never were any polar bears'. The internet allows them to go online and share their thoughts with the masses. There's an obvious pun to be had there, but let's move on instead.

Our second offering today is also from the Catholics. I do apologise to Catholic viewers for lumping them all together in this, but I think once you've heard what I'm about to say you'll understand; not content with Google, internet searching has been taken a step closer to cleanliness with the introduction of Cathoogle - 'The best way for good Catholics to search the web'.

It's hard to know where to start with this, but typing in 'sex' seemed to suggest itself (and let's face it, would you even dare consider that on Google?). The first result article (at time of writing) is entitled 'Catholic questions and answers about marriage and same-sex unions', which seems to set a certain 'tone' for the results page, but the second is entitled 'Catholic organiser charged in online sex sting', which I'm guessing is not so much the kind of thing they promote.

In any case, quite why Cathoogle is 'The best way for good Catholics to search the web' is not adequately explained, and we could probably construct a useful reflection from any of the words 'best', 'good' and 'Catholics' in that sentence.

With all of this in mind, I think it's time I got offline for the day.

More on the Elbow

A question of etiquette: at what point (I'm sure it's in January) does it become not OK to ask people how Christmas and New Year went? I just have a feeling we're nearing that deadline, so I thought we ought to clarify.

Anyway, it is never not OK to ask WhyNotSmile how her arm is doing, so thank you for your interest, and I can report that, as someone said earlier, it's 'hanging in there'. I went to the hospital on Wednesday and they said they can't see the fracture but there is blood in my elbow (sorry if that's grossing you out, please harden up) and there's not really anywhere it could have come from apart from a fracture.

So I've to keep the sling on; I was hoping for a cast, but it was not to be. And I have to rest it and not lift heavy things.

I remembered something else about the day I fell; I remember lying on the pavement crying and thinking 'I can't see, I can't see!!! I've blacked out!!! Aaargghh!' and then realising I had my eyes shut.

I do rather worry about concussion; in fact, when I came home after falling I went straight online and looked up 'head injuries'. I kept clicking through links until I found a page which said I would probably die, which satisfied my suspicions and allowed me to panic in a justifiable way.

Turned out not to be true though.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Super Alex and the Shed

I'm just listening to a thing on the radio which tells us that today is 'Blue Monday', which is the worst day of the year. It was on this day last year that I was signed off work with stress for 5 weeks, so there might be something in it, but WhyNotSmile has bucked the trend, thanks to Super Alex and her purple super-cape, and finally got into the shed.

After all those wasted hours spent jiggling about with locks and keys, WhyNotSmile invited Super Alex over, and Super Alex brought WD40, and between them they got the lock open. So the lock has been replaced with a new lock and all is now well. It's a shame this didn't get resolved this time last week, as it was when I was on my way to buy WD40 that I fell and broke my arm, but then I suppose one person can't have all the luck.

After all this effort, WhyNotSmile and Super Alex were looking almost worryingly thin (as opposed to their usual delightfully slender appearances) so they pigged out on Jammie Joeys and herbal tea.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

On Literature

I still can't really type, so I'm going to post things I can just cut and paste from more interesting parts of the internet instead.

I think this might be the best summary of how I feel about books, ever:

... my books are part of me. For the first 19 years of my life, I didn't go out. All my formative experiences are on those shelves. They are me, I am them. They are the reason I have a vocabulary instead of childhood memories. Glasses instead of an adventurous spirit and heavily stamped passport. Incipient scoliosis instead of a varied sexual history. I did not gut them for knowledge and move on. I absorbed them in their entirety and carry them with me still. We are indistinguishable and indivisible. Sometimes, when no one is looking, I take down favourites and hug them.
(Lucy Mangan, The Guardian, 17th Jan 2008)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Surprising Things I Have Learned About Only Having One Working Arm

Making dinner: quite easy, if you plan ahead carefully

Blowing your nose: nigh on impossible

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Elbow

So, I have officially broken a bone in my elbow (radial... something... I think). I have a sling, and typing is very awkward, so blogging will likely be a bit slow for a while.

Also have a sore head still, from banging it on the pavement, and some nice scrapes on my cheek!

Thankfully this has solved the dilemma of how to get the bike out of the shed, since I will clearly not be riding it for some time.

I will return to the bloggosphere as soon as I can, most likely with a post entitled 'Things Which Are Hard To Do With Just One Hand'.

Until then, I bid you good day.


I may have broken my arm. I have to go to hospital. *sniff*

Was walking along the pavement, which did not appear to be icy, and then there was a patch of black ice, which I slipped on. Fell right over, didn't even have time to put my arm out, so hit my head (wearing a hat, so slightly cushioned) on the pavement, and landed on my arm. Started sobbing.

So I'm lying on the pavement, sobbing, thinking 'I'm an adult, I should not be doing this.' Finally I got up, and just stood and cried, which in retrospect was very embarrassing but I did not care. Then I phoned my mum and cried (she works in a doctor's surgery, so I was also phoning for advice, not just phoning my mum cos I fell over), and then I went to the doctor and cried and then I came home and cried.

Anyway, the doctor has told me to go to A&E, and I'm jsut trying to work out how to get there, since I can't drive and everyone i know is otherwise engaged. And my head hurts. So I think I will get the bus.

Thankfully my iPod, which was in my pocket, is fine; however, my coat and jeans are boggin.

Also I have a large bruise coming on my face.

I am practicing a 'sick voice' for typing, which I think will involve no punctutation or capitals, and some misspelling. I can type ok, but I can't use the mouse, but it's hard to make that come across on t'internet.

When i perfect it, you will hear more.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

How Much More Can You Take?

So Virtual methodist has directed me to the Life Expectancy Calculator, and you'll be pleased to hear that you have another 59 years of me to look forward to.

That's means I'm only a third of the way through my life. Actually, that means I'm already a third of the way through my life. I need to achieve something some time soon.

A Dilemma

Right, this has to be quick 'cos I' snowed under, but I have a dilemma.

The background is two-fold:

1. My bike lives in my shed; my shed is padlocked. The padlock on the shed has broken, and won't open (i.e. you turn the key and nothing happens - fecking cheap padlocks). So I can't get the bike out.

2. I am a volunteer ranger for Sustrans, which means I help to maintain cycle paths in Belfast. This Friday, I have to meet a couple of other rangers, which means I need the bike.

I have procrastinated about this for a long time now, but the time has come when something needs to Be Done.

As far as I can tell, the options are:

1. Borrow a bike for Friday. If you can help and have a bike in East Belfast, please let me know!

2. Get cutters and cut the lock off. But I don't know where I could get cutters. Are they standard equipment for DIY types? Cos I could ask around a few people, but I don't know how likely they are to have them.

3. Keep fiddling with the lock and hope it opens. But I've been doing this for a few weeks and it hasn't worked yet.

If anyone has any other ideas, including instructions on how to pick a lock, please let me know!!


Sunday, 11 January 2009


I know this is slightly out of date, and Virtual Methodist posted it, and I posted it on Facebook before Christmas, but I was just watching it again and it really is a superior form of entertainment.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Initial Reflections On The Institutes Of The Christian Religion

So. John Calvin's 'Insititutes of The Christian Religion' is still being delivered daily to my iPod, and now that we have got beyond the preface, the Calvin and Hobbes version is looking more and more tempting by the day.

I think I should give a bit of background here, since not all my viewers are Northern Irish Presbyterians (more or less the target audience for the above tome), and may not be entirely clear on who we're discussing. John Calvin was a French Theologian during the Protestant Revolution who established the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed Theology. OK, admittedly I just copied that from Wikipedia, but anyway, the point is that that somehow led to the Presbyterians. And maybe some other denominations (although not Catholic and not Methodist, but beyond that I'm unclear).

Anyway, despite now being (if I must be something) a Methodist, I grew up in a Presbyterian church, so I have the general impression that somewhere along the line I ought to have had some sort of awareness of Calvinism, but I can't think that I ever did. I can think of 2 possible reasons for this.

1. In Sunday School we were tasked every week with learning a verse and a catechism. At this point I should explain that as well as Sunday morning Presbyterianism, I was also sent to the Sunday afternoon Brethren Sunday School where my granny was a teacher; the Brethren version had no catechism, but was both more demanding and more rewarding in terms of verses: you got a stamp on a card for your verse and catechism for the Presbyterians (the stamps, I think, worked a bit like petrol tokens, you could trade them in for prizes once you had enough; I'm not entirely clear since, as we shall soon discover, I never got that far), but you could (and I once did) earn an entire pound for reciting the first chapter of Hebrews for the Brethren.

Anyway, with so many things to learn, and an inclination to do so that hovered around the nonexistent mark, I was usually trying to get my sister (always far too enthusiastic for my tastes) to teach me the verse and catechism on the way in the door, so that I could run up to the teacher, and without pausing for pleasantries, rhyme off the required words (or, in truth, usually some mangled version of them), get my stamp (occasionally) and then promptly forget all about it.

The only catechism I can reliably remember now was the first one, because I remember having such a huge argument with my mother about how dumb it was and how I didn't want to learn dumb stuff that didn't make sense. The catechisms were presented as a series of questions and answers, and, for the record, the first one (from memory) is:
Q. What is man's chief end?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God
which clearly makes no sense because, while I am not intimately acquainted with the male anatomy, even I know that men have 2 main ends: their head and their feet.

I mention this because I now suspect that the catechism was where the Calvinism came in, and it may be that had I learned it properly, I would now understand The Institutes. It is possible that my sister is listening to the same podcast every day and writing in with suggested improvements.

2. Reason number 2 why I might have escaped Calvinism is to do with the lie of the ecclesiastical land in Ballywalter (where I grew up). Basically, there is a choice of 3 churches (unless you want to go somewhere else (for instance, Millisle) to church, which is considered A Bit Odd and slightly frowned upon):
i. The Brethren hall
ii. The Church of Ireland
iii. The Presbyterian church

The Brethren church has a bit of a 'reputation'; you sort of have to have always gone there in order to go there.

The Church of Ireland is nice enough, but since it's slightly outside the village it's a little bit of an unknown (indeed, I only discovered today, on t'internet, that it has a name - Holy Trinity), it is also a bit cold and has no car park.

For this reason, the default church to go to, unless you have been brought up Brethren or CofI, is the Presbyterian, so the congregation there consists less of committed Calvinist Presbyterians and more of people who like a comfy seat and appreciate the car parking facilities.

Hence, it is not exactly a bastion of Reformed Theology, and this may be why I had never heard of things like the Westminster Confession of Faith (the bedrock of Presbyterianism) until I went to university, where I once encountered it in casual conversation right before deciding I'd got in with the wrong crowd.

Anyhow, as soon as I understand anything Calvin is saying, I shall let you know.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Important Anniversaries in 2009

Now, this year marks two important anniversaries: on February 12th we have the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (indeed, 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his 'On The Origin of Species' (actually, that's not its full title, but it's long enough to be getting on with)); while on July 10th, John Calvin would be celebrating his 500th birthday, were he but still around, and (perhaps more significantly) were he the type to celebrate, which seems not entirely likely.

We know that WhyNotSmile never passes up an opportunity to get with the times, so both of these anniversaries will be duly noted, and appropriate action will be taken throughout the year.

The first thing I will do (not necessarily first as in I will do this before the second thing, or first as in most important, just first as in the first thing I'm mentioning here) is to read 'On The Origin Of Species'. I have had it sitting on my bookshelf for some years now, right next to 'The Blind Watchmaker' (by our friend Richard Dawkins, written during one his more reflective periods and therefore Quite Good); I've never managed to read more than the first few pages. Much like many similar things, 'The Origin' promises more than it delivers, and in fact, compared to how interesting you think it's going to be, it's actually deathly dull. But I shall read it, dammit, and I'll tell you how it goes.

The second thing I will do is to listen to John Calvin's 'The Institutes of the Christian Religion' in audiobook form, as offered (as a daily download) by Princeton Theological Seminary - not that this is going well; I'm already 3 days behind and it's only 9th January. And of course WhyNotSmile loves nothing more than being completely out of her depth in theological debate; so far we're only on the preface, from which I have surmised that Calvin does not like:
1. The Pope
2. Priests
3. Catholicism in general
although I admit that that might be a misreading on my part and that there is likely something deeper going on.

Thankfully Virtual Methodist is always on hand to offer a more... um... less intellectually taxing version of events, and has come upon a rather splendid series entitled 'The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes', so if it comes to it I'll just read that, regurgitate it and pretend I got it from 'The Institutes'.

Further updates will be published as we go.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Is It Acceptable To Label Buses As Atheists?

Now that it's 2009, the New Year Resolutions of 2008 no longer apply. So back to Richard Dawkins.

We begin with a quote from the man himself:

I think we should all wince when we hear a small child being labelled as belonging to some religion or another. Small children are too young to decide their views on the origins of the cosmos, of life and of morals. The very sound of the phrase 'Christian child' or 'Muslim child' should grate like fingernails on a blackboard.
(The God Delusion, page 338)

Let's assume he has a point here (not that I think he does; as has been well documented on these pages, I think he's a tube, but we'll leave that aside for now). This immediately begs the obvious question: why is it not ok to label a child a 'Sikh child', but it is perfectly acceptable to label buses as 'atheist'?

I think we should all wince when we hear a bus labelled as belonging to some religion or another. Buses are not generally asked for their opinions on the origins of the cosmos, of life, and of morals. The very sound of the phrase 'Atheist Bus' should grate like fingernails on a blackboard.

And so, I ask that every time the phrase 'Atheist Bus' is uttered in your presence in the coming days and weeks, that you wince, quite openly and as loudly as possible; if a blackboard is handy, please also scrape your fingernails down it.

If nothing else, do it for the buses.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

All Hail The Atheist Bus Campaign

Not really. But every time I mention the Atheist Bus Campaign, my page hits go up. And it (the campaign) is being 'launched' today, so people will be Googling it, and I might as well take advantage.

Before I forget, Happy Epiphany everyone. I have never been entirely clear on what the Epiphany is all about, but it is celebrated today and it seems churlish to abstain. Something to do with the Three Wise Men, right?

Anyway, I have 2 dilemmas at the moment.

The first is in the light of Woolworths closing down. I need a cushion pad. Not a full-blown cushion-and-cover, just the inside bit. In Days Past, this is precisely the sort of thing I'd have gone to Woolworths for, but now I can't, and I don't know where to go instead. You see, all these places like Tesco and Sainsbury's and Primark, which undercut Woolworths and made it close, they have all failed me. They close Woolworths, but do they start stocking things like cushion pads that I might need? No, they don't.

So if you can help, please let me know.

The other dilemma is the great post-Christmas chocolate dilemma. You know the one - you're 4/5 of the way through the tin of Quality Street, you're bloated, you never want to see chocolate again, and your face has erupted in spots. What to do? Do I put the rest of the box away for later in the year, thus risking another spot-fest sometime in June, or do I just cut my losses and finish it off now?

I've already eaten most of the healthy ones - the Toffee Penny (good mouth exercise), the Hazelnut in Caramel (nuts are good for you) and the Strawberry and Orange Cremes (practically fruit). So it's mainly the coconut ones left.

Anyway, if you can offer any wisdom, please do.