Thursday 12 June 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The World Cup

After the raging success of the WhyNotSmile Guide To The Elections (which went what I call "viral", receiving upwards of 19 hits), it has been requested that I produce a Guide to the World Cup, which is a football thing that starts today. So here goes.

We need to begin by understanding the concept of football. Essentially, football is a sport which involves 2 teams battling it out to see who can get a ball into a net the most often. To make it twice as easy, they have a net at each end of the 'pitch', but they also allow you to keep one of your team members in the net at all times, to try to stop the ball from going in.

Things get more advanced than this, of course. For instance, if you kick someone else and they fall down, then they get to have a special attempt at kicking the back into the net, called a penalty. Sometimes you're allowed to line up all your players between them and the net, to try to block the ball, but this doesn't always happen, and I'm not sure why. Also, at the end of the allotted time, if both teams have got the back into the net the same number of times, then they get to do a penalty shoot-out, and then Germany win. I'm not sure why this happens either.

Then there is the offside rule, which I'm not supposed to be able to understand because I'm a girl. In reality, of course, I understand many things which are much more complex than the offside rule, like the rules of social engagement, which appear to pass many footballers by; the reason I don't understand the offside rule is that I just don't give a fiddler's fart.

In addition to the two teams, there is also a chap called the 'referee' who runs about and tries to make them stick to the rules. Fans have lots of chants about referees, many of whom appear to be "bankers".  I assume this is why football is often played on bank holidays.

The Teams
Now, for the World Cup, there is a team from every country who want to send one, but of course they can't all play each other in a fortnight because there are, like, 200* countries who have football teams, so if they were all going to play a sort of knockout tournament where the winner of each match progresses to the next round, then there would have to be 8 rounds, but the first one would have, like, 100 matches going on, and in total you would have 255 matches, and the wallchart would just be too big for the wall.
* I don't know. I made that up.

And even worse, if you had to insist that each team played every other team, then there would be, like, 200! matches happening, where 200! means "200 factorial", and not just 200 said with a gasp, and since 200! is too big for my calculator to even work it out, we would basically be watching football forever.

So instead they have matches ahead of time to see who is good enough to qualify for the finals, and teams like Northern Ireland fluke their way through every now and then, but mostly it's teams who are actually good, and also England. I think they let England play every time because they invented football or something.
It's always important to establish who's actually still in the thing if you want to sound competent in work when the topic comes up; I once spent a fortnight supporting Republic of Ireland before being taken to one side and told they hadn't qualified that time. In some workplaces, of course, they'd just have given me Ireland in the office sweepstake (of which more later) and been done with it.

So if someone asks you which team you're supporting, you want to say the name of a country; preferably one that's good at football, or England.

The 2014 World Cup
Now, each time they have the thing (which is every 4 years), they have it in a different place. This is decided by some manner of corruption or something, rather than by my preferred method of keeping it like Eurovision, where the place that won last time gets to host it this time round. Anyway, this year it's in Brazil, and if you fancy going over to it you should probably take a paintbrush and be ready to give them hand with painting the lines on, for it is widely believed that things Aren't Quite Ready Yet. Next time round it's in Qatar, which is a real place and is too hot to play football in.

World Cup Traditions
Now, regardless of whether you like football or not, you can still get into the spirit of things by involving yourself in one of the many time-honoured traditions which have sprung up around it. These include:
  • Sticker albums: produced by Panini, these are like scrapbooks, but with spaces for stickers with footballers on them. You can often get the album for free, and then spend approximately £3800 on stickers, in a futile bid to collect them all. The stickers come in little packets, and the idea is that you swap them with your friends in school until everybody has all of them; naturally, the people who make the stickers ensure that a chosen few are really rare, and these become valuable currency in playgrounds across the country. It used to be that sticker albums were the preserve of the pre-teen boy, but now with EBay and everything, access to stickers for "swapsies" is wider, thus restoring the dream to adults as well. Note to adult males: women do not generally consider this to be impressive behaviour.
  • The Office Sweepstake: this happens in every office in the land when the World Cup is on.  Basically, you get a list of all the teams who are playing, and then throw them in a box (except usually you can't find a box, so someone cups their hands and you put them in there), and then you allocate everyone in the office a team or a number of teams. Everyone pays a pound and whoever's team wins gets to keep all the money at the end.  More advanced systems involve 'seeding' the teams, or having first, second and third prizes, but this really makes no difference, because there's always one person in the office who always wins, every. freaking. time. (yes, Alex, I'm looking at you). Obviously a challenge is presented if you have more people in your office than there are teams playing, but this can be resolved by sub-dividing the office into more manageable groups.
  • Wallcharts: a staple of every World Cup, ever, the Wallchart usually comes free with The Mirror about a fortnight before it all kicks off. Even I have been known to end up with a World Cup wallchart, and take great delight in filling it all in.  The essential components are: lots of pictures of flags; some enlightening commentary on each of the teams; and the actual Chart bit.  The Chart bit lists the various 'pools', and the scheduled matches, and there's a little space for you to write in the score for each match. Then when it all progresses to the quarter finals and so on, you get to write in the matches and the winners and stuff.  For some reason, it's all completely glorious fun.
  • Anthems: every time, some trendy band are asked to write a World Cup anthem for everyone to sing when they cheer on England to their certain victory.  It's usually crap, so then some band that no one has heard of comes out with something much better and unofficial, and everyone sings that instead. The vital ingredients are references to: 1966 (the last time England won), the hurt which has engulfed the nation ever since, curry, beer and a lot of cheering because this will be Our Year.
So the World Cup kicks off tonight, and you can now prepare yourself for every conversation you will have between now and July 13th.  I trust this helps.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections

Now, we have elections coming up here in Belfast on 22nd May, and a number of people* have asked for guidance on how the process works, who to vote for, and so on. So it is as a Public Service that I hereby present The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections.
* 1 person, plus my husband, who didn't actually ask but got told anyway

How The Process Works
Now, there are various types of election, and they require voting in different ways. This can be confusing for the amateur voter, but is easily resolved by reading the instructions at the top of the voting form, or by asking the person who hands you the form to start with. There are generally 2 methods:

1. The one where you put an X beside one person's name
This is quite simple, so long as you're careful not to accidentally write your name or draw a smiley face or something in any of the other boxes or on the rest of the page. 30 seconds of self-control and you're grand.

2. The one where you put all the people in order of how much you like them
This is Voting For The More Advanced Citizen. You put a 1 beside the person you like the most. Then you put a 2 beside the person you like the next most, and so on, until you get to all the people you don't like at all, at which point you stop. It's a bit like in school when you got to be team captain and choose who you wanted in order of how much you wanted them, except that this time you can stop when you get down to the riff-raff, and not be stuck with the likes of me on your team, all over-enthusiasm and skill-less-ness. It also means I get to sit on the sidelines and read my book, rather than accidentally ending up elected to something, so everyone's happy.

What You're Voting For
The next question must be: what are we voting for? What are these people going to do? There are essentially 5 possibilities here:

1. Local Councils
These are the people who collect the bins and get rid of dog poo. For this you want your basic Responsible Type, who can sit through a meeting without stabbing annoying people in the face, and who understands how dumps work and that sort of thing. These are Details People. If they call at your door looking for votes, you should quiz them on things like what can go in the recycling bins, and where to catch the bus into town on a Saturday.

2. The Northern Ireland Assembly
This is Where It All Happens, or so the occupants like to think. This lot decide how we spend all the money that we get from England, and whether The Gays can get married or not, so it's Quite The Place. Mostly, of course, the DUP and Sinn Fein spend the time shouting at each other, so for this you want someone who's not too easily wound up by twits. It's probably going to be a choice between a series of people who think they're quite important, and then one or two who might actually Make Stuff Happen; contrary to historical practice, it might be worth trying to identify one of the latter, and giving them a shot at it.

3. Westminster
This is the person who gets to fly to London and claim duck houses from the taxpayers. Now, generally this will end up being the same person who's been doing it for the last 50 years (or, if they have recently retired, their son), but I urge you all to follow the example of East Belfast from last time around and vote for someone who'll actually Do Stuff, and not just fanny about naming leisure centres after themselves. But, of course, it's up to you.

4. Europe
Every now and then we get to send people to Europe. I'm not entirely sure what they do; I think it's mostly about organising fishing. Anyway, for this one we want to send someone nice, rather than someone who's going to make us look like we couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery without first separating the brewery into 'themuns' and 'usuns', drawing flags all over the place and then parading past each other singing about how we beat you 3000 years ago so NAH! Seriously, nobody in Europe cares. Let's try and not look like idiots in front of Angela Merkel.

5. Some sort of referendum
From time to time you'll get an election paper where the options are just 'yes' and 'no' instead of being people's names. This is a referendum, and you just have to say what you think is the right answer to the question. It's sort of like a survey, but there's no prize draw for completing it.

So we see that it is important to establish what the election is all about and what sort of person we require before we move on to the next step.

Who To Vote For
Now we come to the more important question: who to vote for. There are a series of steps involved in this decision.

1. If you have the option of voting for Naomi Long, always vote for Naomi Long.
She has personally promised Mr Smile that she will reduce tax on crisps when she becomes Prime Minister. And also, she's not a twit, which is Quite New for Northern Irish politics. She organises debates in parliament and has not yet named anything in the constituency after herself. I'm thinking of getting her to cut the ribbon on my new living room once the decorating is done.

2. If you do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, try moving house, preferably to East Belfast.
I appreciate that this is not an option for everyone: some of you, for instance, will have to stay in the likes of Fermanagh to milk the cows and so on. But it's worth a shot if you're able to try it.

3. If you have moved to East Belfast and still do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, it may be that it's Not That Type Of Election.
You should probably have had the foresight to look into this before you went to all the effort of moving house, but East Belfast is nice and we're glad you're here anyway. Please familiarise yourself with the recycling regulations.

If you do end up unable to vote for Naomi Long, then you may have to decide for yourself. At this point, it is useful to know a bit about the various parties.

The Unionists
These will generally have a name containing the letter 'U', and a logo with a British flag on it. The exceptions to this are the New Kid on the Block, NI21, because they're trying to be all cool and stuff, and UKIP, who have a 'U', but not in the Northern Irish sense (and are only Unionist in the technical sense, not in true Northern Irish fashion). We can summarise the Unionists as follows:

Ulster Unionists
Bonkers level: moderate
Key facts: led by Mike who used to read the news, the UUP is the party of choice for those who want to keep Sinn Fein out, but think the DUP are a bit mental. All in favour of the traditional bastions of life, such as parades and flags, but think it's a bit undignified to come out on the streets about it.

Democratic Unionists
Bonkers level: high
Key facts: the DUP have many years of experience of getting very odd people into highly unsuitable jobs. Like the health minister who thinks The Gays are all contaminated and won't let them give blood in case they spread Gay to the rest of us. Or the one who kicked up a big fuss because he wanted creationist displays alongside the Finn McCool displays at the Giant's Causeway. They're all terribly, terribly earnest, of course, but if you met any of them in the back of a pub (which you wouldn't), you'd feel inclined to back away slowly and in as heterosexual a way as you could manage.

Traditional Unionist Voice
Bonkers level: off the scale
Key facts: formed by people who left the DUP because it was too wishy-washy, these guys mean business. They rarely achieve it, due to all being completely mental.

Bonkers level: unclear, but initially not, apparently, too bad
Key facts: formed not that long ago, they haven't really got themselves together yet. You probably still have time to sign up as their Euro candidate. Policies appear to depend on what will get them lots of votes, and I don't think even they have high expectations of winning much. Still, they all seem quite nice.

Bit scary.

Sort-of Unionists

Bonkers level: they're either very very bonkers or extremely cunning. Quite possibly both
Key facts: you can cost them money by sending stuff to their Freepost address, but only up to Large Letter size. You can also not vote for them, and you can improve things further by voting for someone else instead.

NI Conservatives
Bonkers level: no idea
Key facts: no idea. They all look very earnest on their posters though, and are clearly wearing their best suits.

The Nationalists
Generally these have logos featuring lots of green (although so do the Greens and Conservatives). There are two kinds:

Sinn Fein
Bonkers level: more scary than bonkers
Key facts: they are very keen to stress that violence is not the way forward. Any more.

Bonkers level: not at all bonkers in any way. Also not very interesting.
Key facts: they still exist.

The Others
There are a few parties out there who are not really all that fussed about The Border, and prefer to concentrate on things like the economy and making it easier to cycle. They are:

Bonkers level: not generally bonkers at all, though I'd say David Ford could liven up a party if you filled him with whiskey
Key facts: people argue that they can't vote Alliance because they sit on the fence too much, without recognising that the fence is fine; it can give you a commanding view of the surrounding area, and you can maybe sort out the economy and healthcare and stuff while you're up there, instead of arsing about on the ground yapping about parades. Also, flegs.

The Greens
Bonkers level: highly variable
Key facts: the sort of people you meet in the pub, with fabulous big ideas that are completely implausible but also brilliant. If they actually got put in charge, the place would be in pieces by lunchtime, but you definitely want a few of them about to keep everything grounded.

Bonkers level: suspect
Key facts: I'm always suspicious of people who don't belong to a party but stand for election. It's like people who are self-employed; you sort of assume they're lazy and don't like being told what to do.

So those are your options, and it is important to choose wisely. I trust this helps.

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Sam Thompson Bridge: WhyNotSmile Investigates

So they opened a whole new bridge in Belfast, and, since I would basically go to the opening of an envelope, you can imagine my excitement. Even better, this bridge is part of a scheme to connect my house to The Dock Café*, thus joining up my two favourite places and enabling me to cycle between them with ease.
* This may not be the actual aim of the scheme

So naturally, I had to be there. I got off to a shaky start when crossing the road over to the bridge, as I was joined on the crossing by a lady with a microphone headset thing, and a lady wearing the sort of coat you wear if you're about to open a bridge, and I figured they were probably Something To Do With It, until the lady in the coat said "Is this the bridge?", and then I thought maybe this was just the sort of event you're supposed to wear a posh coat to. Particularly as this was roughly the view we had at this point:

Yes, love, this is the bridge.

Anyway, I got to the start of the bridge and was generally in the way, because I had my bike and it was quite a tight squeeze, but on the other hand I didn't want to chain it up because then I might Miss All The Fun. Some local dignitaries arrived, plus the First Minister and Minister for Local Development (I think that's what he is; anyway, I later heard him say nasty things about the Lord Mayor, so I don't like him, because that's just not a Nice Thing To Do). So they all got sent onto the bridge, and then the rest of us were ushered forwards. All the other cyclists pushed their bikes, but I cycled because then I got to be the first person to cycle across it, and it's not like there's much else in my life I can boast about.

We stopped in the middle for Speeches And A Poem, and then they declared the bridge open, and the fire brigade from the airport squirted a big jet of water across the river, which was exciting but also a bit "Ha ha we can make a bridge too".

Then we got given wristbands, so they could keep count, and I asked for an extra one for my unborn child* and got one, and then my wristband had a red spot which meant I had won a prize, so I got quite excited. At some point I also got given some keyrings. So we carried on to the far side of the bridge, where lots of people had gathered to come across from the other direction, and I annoyed quite a few of them by ramming them with my bike. Anyway, the atmosphere was very jolly, so I just kept smiling and walking.

(* Yes. For those of you who haven't heard, Baby Smile is due to make an appearance in September. I would post a scan photo, but, while my child is undoubtedly exceptionally talented in many ways, those ways do not include "Looking any different from any other baby in an ultrasound scan". Feel free to imagine any baby scan photo you've ever had to fake-smile at, and that's basically close enough.)

Next step was to track down The Former Housemate Formerly Known As Dozavtra, which I did by standing completely still until she phoned me to see where I was, and then came to find me. So we crossed back over the bridge because she hadn't crossed it yet, and then back over to get back to her starting point, and then we claimed my prize, which was tickets to a play. I was one wristband away from winning an iPod Shuffle, but still.

Then Former Housemate Formerly etc went off to go back to her car, and I cycled back across the bridge, panicking slightly because they were closing it off to let a fun run through, and much as the park that the bridge goes to is very nice, I didn't really want to be trapped in it forever, or even for as long as the fun run was going to take.

So all in all, it was very pleasant and we had a nice time, and I recommend going to see the bridge if you're in the area.