• Message from James Clarke

    "South Africa's Best Humour Columnist"

    - SA's Comedy Awards September 2008

    “South Africa’s funniest columnist.”

    - Financial Mail

    WELCOME TO MY BLOG

    The name is Clarke. James Clarke. I have been told by people who know their way around the electronic world with its iPads, USBs, processors, modems, 500 gb hard drives, Blackberries and microwave ovens, that as a writer I have to have a blogsite. Otherwise, I am told, it is like passing oneself off as a CEO and you haven’t a leather chair that tilts back.

    Yet after four years of having a blogsite I still don’t really understand what it is or how it helps sell my books which is my major concern in life apart from not stepping on cracks when walking on the pavement.

    I am also told that on a blogsite it is customary to refer to oneself in the third person. This enables one to grossly exaggerate ones attainments without appearing to have done so personally.

    Not being one to buck the system...

    London-born James Clarke is your average tall, dark, handsome fellow who writes books – fiction and non-fiction. As a humorist he has been compared with PG Wodehouse and James Thurber. (The Daily Bugle in Des Moines said “compared with the works of PG Wodehouse and James Thurber, Clarke’s writing isn’t worth a row of beans”.)

    He long ago settled in South Africa where he became a mover and a shaker in the world of the environmental sciences. As a youth, being a mover and a shaker, had made it impossible for him to follow in his father’s footsteps as a bottler in a nitro-glycerine plant. Hence he turned to journalism.

    But around the time he retired a few years ago he found a new pursuit as a humorist. He wrote a daily humour column in the Johannesburg Star (now syndicated) and began turning out books of humour in the UK and South Africa.

    Clarke very recently moved boldly into the electronic publishing world. It was, he said afterwards, like a non-swimmer diving into a pool without first testing its depth.

    In November 2011 he re-issued his latest book of humour, “Blazing Saddles”, as an Amazon Kindle e-book under the title “Blazing Bicycle Saddles”. For a mere US$4.99 you can download a copy of this seminal cycling book in a matter of seconds by clicking here ....


    ooo

    He did this with the full realisation that he is totally at sea in the electronic world with its telephones that take movies and receive faxes and sports results.

    The original edition of “Blazing Saddles”, published by Jonathan Ball, has been out of print for two years. It reveals the true story of how six retired men – five of them journalists – year after year set out (intrepidly) from the African continent on a series of exploratory expeditions cycling into “Darkest Europe” to bring back to the people of Africa tales of its funny natives.

    Clarke will also shortly be publishing, via Amazon.com, another of his action-packed autobiographical books – this time an account of his Second World War exploits as L*E*A*D*E*R of the Yellow Six Patrol of the 1st Streetly Boy Scouts in the English Midlands. He recounts the patrol’s ceaseless campaign to defeat Adolf Hitler’s plan to invade England.

    You can read about “The Yellow Six” within this blogsite.

    Clarke, apart from moving and shaking, is a travel writer and proud father of two highly successful daughters – one a biologist and the other an environmental impact analyst. He and his wife, Lenka, live north of Johannesburg.

Flying and the Art of Staying Up

I have always enjoyed history.

If you think history lacks humour then you haven’t heard of “feel-good history”. Feel-good history is a branch of history where the authors set out to make people feel good about their past. I was taught it at school in Britain during and after World War 2.

We were told that the dense smogs that settled over Britain and brought its traffic to a standstill for days on end were a sign of Britain’s industrial might and how this had enabled us to buy up whole countries in Africa, freehold, for vast sums of beads. Sometimes beads were not enough and so gunboats were used. But as kids we felt good about it.

Every community has its own version of history, some dafter than others.But in the United States , “African-American Baseline Essays” published by the Portland Public Schools Board, was recently censured for going too far. Their history book said black people in Africa invented the aeroplane.

Where the Portland essays were accused of going  overboard was in giving the impression that, first, all Ancient Egyptians were black and, second, that they invented the aeroplane. The essay claimed a 14 cm model glider was, at some stage, unearthed somewhere in Egypt and quotes an obscure British authority saying “the ancient Egyptians used their early planes for travel expeditions and recreation …”

Personally I was surprised that there should be any controversy. It is common knowledge in the circles in which I move – mainly tight circles – that the Ancient Egyptians had aeroplanes and flew them all over the place.

These planes were originally called Pharaoh-planes in honour of the 18th dynasty of Pharaohs who financed their research and development. After the Pharaohs died out the “ph” was dropped and the machines were simply called “araoh-planes” and, later, “aeroplanes” (Annals of Heavier than Air Machines, Tablets III-IV. 3/7/1999BC.).

A pharaohdrome was recently unearthed near Cairo (op cit).

The first Pharaoh-plane was developed at Luxor by none other than Damocles Caliph III and was named the DC3 in his honour. It was known as a heavier-than-air machine on account of it being made from the same type of stone as the Pyramid of Khufu (cit op).

It was not terribly successful as aircraft go (el cid). Few Egyptologists have been prepared to admit that the pyramids were designed not as tombs but as launch pads for the Mark 1 pharaoh-plane. Slaves would drag the machine to the top, pour honey down the sides for lubrication, and release the aircraft down the slope.

There were lots of accidents. How do you think the Sphinx lost its nose? The first planes simply speared into the sand but Thutmose IV ordered a lighter and more porous stone from Thebes and this led to the first reported flight by Mentuhotep II (none other) in 1286 BC at Kittihorus (Ibid., op cit. sit op.).

Many who witnessed its flight over the First Cataract thought it was a swan and cried out “A swan! A swan!” From this incident Aswan, just below the cataract, derives its name.

Did YOU know that?

Eurocentric history books do not record that Nefertiti began her career as an airhostess with Ancient Egyptian Airlines (Annals of Ramses II 1174 BC, Tablets IV – VII). The general manager was the up-and-coming Tutankhamen.

It is also not widely known that another great Egyptian queen began her career as an airline hostess (Op cit., El Al) – Cleopatra herself. Cleopatra eventually founded Cleo’s Air Operations, abbreviated as C-AIR-O. The name was eventually adopted by Egypt’s capital.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, after defeating the Egyptians by verily smiting them with large catapulted rocks, took over the airline and unwisely started a price war with the Bedouin caravans whose camels were in fact faster than even the later Bronze Age aeroplanes, weight still being quite a problem.

The last Ancient Egyptian Airlines plane to fly had none other than the Roman, Pontius Pilot, at the controls. The plane crashed in the desert near A-syut in the Lower Nile Valley. According to legend the name, A-syut, is derived from Pontius Pilot’s last words before he hit the ground.

Aircraft made a brief comeback in the Early Iron Age but again the material was unsuitable. It was left for Wilbur and Orville Wright to re-invent the plane in the 20th century.(Email: jcl@onwe.co.za) 

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Densa – Mensa’s Biggest Rival

As head of Densa, the club for those too stupid to get into Mensa, I was recently invited to address Mensa on the occasion of its annual dinner.

Mensa is the international society for the very bright – for those whose IQs are in the top 2 percent of humanity’s.

After my address and after the applause and cheering had died down to acceptable levels, a Mensan asked me, “Why is Densa so much more popular than Mensa?”

Densa is the club I founded through my column, Stoep Talk, in 1994.

I explained that Densa must always be biggeer than Mensa because there is a limit to intelligence but absolutely no limit to stupidity. Densa’s potential membership is enormous.

Mensa has for years stretched out the hand of friendship to Densa but many of us are uneasy about it. We fear that Mensans might be trying to take over Densa to steal our comics and possibly our women.

Judging by the mail I am receiving there are a few readers who are still confused about Densa and Mensa, so I thought I’d answer some “faqs” (frequently asked questions) such as this one.

Esteemed Sir…

Does Mensa really exist?

Yes, indeedly, Mensa certainly does exist. You can try their website, http://www.mensa.org.za/.

Mensa has chapters throughout the world. The idea is for bright people to be able get together and talk grown-up stuff. If you want to join you have to pass an intelligence test.

Where’s the gents?

Down there to the right.

How does Densa come into the picture?

We represent the reality for which, if the truth be told, all Mensans are seeking.

What is an IQ and have I got one?

IQ stands for “intelligence quotient”. If you read this column regularly then it is unlikely you have a measurable IQ – but be happy.

What is intelligence quotient?

Next question please? Yes, you at the back with the little propeller on top of your cap.

Is Densa Big like my sister Herbert-Anne?

Oh yes. Not that we have thousands of signed-up members – nevertheless MILLIONS are eligible. If each of them sent us $1 we would be rich enough to buy the USA and have enough left over for a tankful of petrol.

Who is head of Densa?

Although, as many know, titles mean little to me I must admit, with my usual modesty which is legendry, that I am its P*R*E*S*I*D*E*N*T F*O*R L*I*F*E.

What are Densa’s objectives?

What? What?

What are your plans?

Ah. Plans. Yes. Densa is organising a national congress for failures. We have been organising this since 1994 without great success, which is quite normal for Densa and nothing to be ashamed of. Anyway, why should we be ashamed? What are you insinuating? Why all these questions?

What do I get if I sign up?

You get certified. The certificate entitles you to place the initials O.M.D; N.U.T.S. after your name. (Note: AFTER your name, not BEFORE, because if you look carefully you already have initials in front of your name.) O.M.D. stands of Honorary Member of Densa and N.U.T.S. stands for “not understanding the system”.

Thank you Mr President.

Don’t mention it. Please call again and mind the step.

Oops.

(Densa: email <jcl@onwe.co.za>)

IT’S ALL IN THE MIND I TELL YOU

 My psychiatrist, Bertie Amadeus Najinsky, insists that the mind controls the stomach. It is therefore important to maintain a well-run administration upstairs in the cranium. And, he says, one should never lose sight of a fundamental requisite to a healthy body – avoid mixing protein and carbohydrates.“Never,” he says, “eat meat with potatoes. Or cheese with bread.” He avers that for 99.9 percent of man’s history we have been eating protein separately from carbohydrates. I can accept this. After all, when a Stone Age man dragged home a carcass you can be sure that mummy did not rush off to whip up some Yorkshire pud or cauliflower au gratin. No. When Ug dumped that carcass on the cave floor the family would have fallen upon it, shoving the raw meat down their throats. They probably shouted at each other, burped, kicked, bit and punched just like kids do at boarding school.

But never would they have mixed meat and veg.

On the other hand, for those long weeks when Ug found no meat at all, the family would have lived solely off berries, leaves and roots.  So, postulates Najinsky, only in the last few generations have humans mixed the two and pigged it in Italian restaurants. And while our stomachs can cope with mixed food, just as our lungs are coping with all the gubbins in the 21st century’s atmosphere, it does not mean it’s good for us.

But just try resisting it.

You have to hear the conversations that go on in the mornings between me, on the bridge, and the enzymes who slave away in the stoke-hold in the depths of my stomach. Every morning in the cold light of dawn I clamber up into the control room in my cranium and stand there on the bridge (situated just above the nose) staring out of those twin portholes – their respective shades lowered slightly – listening to the troubled, hollow voices coming up from the stokers.

 “Hey, Skipper! How about some nosh?” cry the enzymes who (or even whom) I can sense, are leaning on their shovels having nothing with which to stoke the boilers.

“Send it Skipper! It’s 07:00 hours!”I ignore the voices. I stare ahead, shoulders slightly hunched, captain’s hat pulled firmly down over the brow. Collar up. The engines are going fine, if a little slowly, and I have decided to send down only fruit until noon.

Only at night am I prepared to touch meat and then I fall upon it like my ancestors did, snarling and sending little bits flying in all directions.

The voices become filled with anguish – like stokers trapped in the engine room of a sinking battleship. Brave men, all. My heart goes out to them. There are groans and shrieks – some enzymes are praying.

The eyes moisten, but I am resolute. I recite to myself those immortal lines:

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my stomach.

Somebody shouts a desperate last plea: “For Pete’s sake, Captain! How about sending down a toasted ham sandwich? Or a tuna and salad roll dripping with mayonnaise? Oh come on Skipper! A hot meat pie with gravy and chips!”

Carefully pronouncing each clipped syllable I speak into the tube: “Now hear this! This is your Captain. I cannot – and I will not – mix protein and carbohydrates. THAT IS FINAL”.

The morning wears on … “Aw, come on Skipper! We can cope with anything down here! Have we not coped with fat Dublin snails in garlic butter eaten with brown bread fingers? Have we not processed canard l’orange with roast potatoes, green peas and gravy followed by apple pie, custard, cheese, biscuits, after-dinner mints. . . all in one sitting? Have we not . . .”

“QUIET!” I roar. It is, of course, fine to shout this out if one is alone but, if one is sitting in Najinsky’s waiting room, or on a bus, or at a serious christening, it may cause sideways glances.

But the crescendo grows and the voices come up like those of people condemned to hell.

Eventually I crack. I rush down to the deli and ask for a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. “Add sliced banana!” I say impulsively. “And pineapple!”

The girl behind the counter shouts my order through the hatch to the kitchen. A ragged cheering mixed with whoops and shrieks comes up from my stomach.

The girl blanches. She yells again through the hatch: “Make this one fast!”  

Be My Valentine – Just This Once

 Dear diary, Got up. Went excitedly down to mailbox, prized open rusted lid to find I had been inundated by a St Valentine’s Day card!Tried to remain calm by going into yoga position and doing deep breathing but found myself frenziedly tearing away envelope sending little bits of paper flying everywhere.

“WHO? WHO?” (Caught myself shouting this out loud.)

Occurred to me that really, despite my age, I still have potential as lover boy. Still have lots of own hair, quite a few teeth, and do macho things like use Mum for Men and crush empty beer cans although, these days, it takes both hands and sometimes I have to jump up and down on them.

I am not saying I am one of the Sex Symbols of Our Time but considering afflictions of youth, I have reason to be satisfied. Main problem in youth was that, whenever confronted by a girl, the nose would bleed, sometimes copiously.

With great fortitude I learned to overcome this to a certain extent. This was mainly by never going on a date without pocketful of teaspoons and keys for dropping down my back. Also held head right back when chatting up girls but this inhibited flow of smoochy-type conversation.

Worst problem was acting nonchalant at intimate candlelit dinners with plugs of toilet paper sticking from nose. Especially if plug fell out.

Sorry, diary, I digress.

Anyway, opened Valentine card and read through fog of perfume: “Guess who, cutie pie???” That’s all. That’s all it said.

Desperately tried to recognise handwriting but totally stumped although I could sense she was awfully attractive – a leggy little thing with a voice that would have sent me reeling about cross-eyed, ricocheting off walls and haemorrhaging from the brain.

Much agonising. Who was she??? Pounded the forehead.

The envelope! That’s it! The postmark! Retrieved the little scraps of envelope from bushes and reconstructed them on pavement. Postmark simply read “Johannesburg”.

But address on envelope riveted attention. The card was for next door. 

Felt sick. Neighbour has less hair than me and is an accountant who wears grey shoes.

 “Cutie pie”? Ha! Cute like Mike Tyson!

Keep asking myself “Why him?”

Tossed card into bin. No point in complicating his life. He’d only end up with a pacemaker.

Enclosed, one child, please find

   Dateline London – A plan to postcode children so that, if lost, they can be delivered home via the Post Office will be launched by Britain’s Royal Mail service. Parents place stickers carrying identification data into their children’s shoes. – UK report.

Dateline Johannesburg – A letter posted on February 29 1992 in Booysens was received 3km away in Doornfontein 17 months later. Some people claim that airmail takes even longer than surface mail – SA report.

The year is 2033. A postman arrives at a Durban house.

Sound effects: Knock, knock.

Voice off: Who’s there?

Postman: It’s the Post Office – the Kiddimail Service – for Mrs van Zyl.

Mrs van Zyl (an elderly woman, half opens the door and, suspiciously, sticks her head around it.): “Yes?”

Postman: Madam, do you remember subscribing to the Post Office’s Kiddimail Service in 2003?

Mrs van Zyl: No. How can I remember that far back?

Postman: It’s only 30 years, ma’m. In postal delivery terms that’s not long at all. May I remind you that you sent for one of our identification stickers with respect to your son Dirk.

Mrs van Zyl (eyes mist over): Dirk! Aaaagh. My dear little Dirk. How I miss him. Aged only two he was. We lived in Germiston then. He was always rushing out of the gate to watch all the robberies and hijackings taking place up and down the street. One day he just never came back. Yes, I remember now. I stuck one of those ID labels in his shoe so that if he ever got lost somebody would pop him in the post. Fat lot of good that did!

Postman: That’s not quite true madam. He was indeed found – wandering about in Dinwiddie. The Post Office posted him to you but got the postal code wrong. He was returned “undelivered”. Then we found you had moved to Durban…

Mrs van Zyl (voice wavering): AaaaaAaaaaAaaaaaeeeg etc.

Postman (adopting apologetic tone): …and the post being what it is…

Mrs van Zyl (suddenly notices postman is carrying a parcel somewhat longer and thicker than himself. This she opens with trembling fingers. Out pops big, bearded Dirk, aged 32, holding a teddy bear. His forehead is covered in registered postmarks dating back to 2003): AaaaAaaaAaaeeegh. (Then querulously…)Why did it take them so long?

Postman: Well, apparently, the second time we sent him by airmail and …

Dirk (happily): Clickety-clack, clickety-clack thump, thump, thump.

Postman: I’m afraid he has spent too much time among the franking machines – he thinks one of them is his mother – he learnt from it how to speak.

Mrs van Zyl: AaaaaAaaaaeeeeee.

Dirk: Click, whirrr. Thump. Thump.

Postman: Well, I must be off. Oh yes, what with inflation being what it is, there’s a R170 500 surcharge to pay because the parcel was under stamped.

Mrs van Zyl digs hand into apron pocket and pays him.

Fade out as Mrs van Zyl re-enters house followed by a man with a bear.

Wine and how to live for ever

 David Sinclair, assistant professor of pathology at Harvard, says that he and fellow researchers have isolated in red wine and peanuts, molecules that appear to have life-extending effects. He hopes they will prove to prolong life not just in yeast but in multi­cellular organisms like worms, fruit flies and, perhaps, humans. Sinclair, whose study appears in the latest edition of Nature, says tests on worms and flies are already yielding “encouraging” results.   – Report

As you can imagine, I read this with consuming interest. I made a mental note to ask my medical aid fund to pay my Wine Club account.

As I downed my second glass of Chateaux Libertas at dinner that evening and reached forward for a refill, my wife said, “Haven’t you had enough?”

I had been waiting for this.

“I’m not driving anywhere,” I said.

“I know, but you might want to stand up.”

As titular H*E*A*D of the family and C*H*I*E*F B*R*E*A*D*W*I*N*N*E*R for these last many years, I deserved more respect. Not just bread-winner either. I am the wine-winner too and, come to think of it, soap-winner and potato-winner and take-aways-on-Thursday-night-winner, not to mention the bathsalts-winner and, dammit, house- and furniture-winner.

I addressed those present in measured tones.

“It is written,” I said, “in the Journal of Nature (vol cix, pp 21-5, opsit, sitop) – which is no mean journal when it comes to science – that red wine…”

“Let me guess,” said my wife, staring upwards as if concentrating. “It says that drinking red wine prolongs your life.”

I ignored the interruption. “It says,” I said, “drinking red wine prolongs your life.”

(How do women DO that?)

I deliberately, and carefully, filled my glass before continuing, spilling just a little on the white tablecloth which rather spoiled the effect because, if there’s anything that makes my wife go on and on, it is about spilling red wine (and not wiping my feet and not eating my carrots and not closing doors and…)

“It says that something in red wine and peanuts makes worms and flies live longer (ibid).”

“Why would they want flies and worms to live longer?” one daughter asked fatuously.

“Anyway, how do they get flies to drink wine and nibble peanuts?” asked the other.

“Have you never heard of bar flies?” somebody said.

I ignored this mocking chitter-chatter and continued.

“You might recall,” I said, “that I recorded in my column some five years ago (vol cvii, no. 456) that the esteemed Journal of Danish Epidemiology (vol xiv, p. 27) reported the findings of Dr Morten Gronbaek that since the Danes had switched from beer to wine, heart attacks had declined DRAMATICALLY.

“Gronbaek declared that moderate drinking of red wine, or white, prolonged life.”

“Then you should live for ever,” said my wife. “But what, pray, is ‘moderate’?”

I was hoping she would ask me this and I leant drama to my response by slowly chasing a pea around my plate and taking a long draught of wine. I always take long draughts – ever since I was told that when Frenchmen, Germans or Italians drink wine, they gulp it, like men. Englishmen sip wine like moffies (Beano, vol xi).

It says three to five glasses a day is moderate. Three to five glasses a day! I mean, that’s what I drink!”

“Yes, but I think you’ll find they mean ordinary wine glasses and not the goldfish bowls you use.”

This was cruel hyperbole and I will not involve the reader further in this domestic bickering.

It still bothers me when I lay my head upon my pillow that flies and worms will be living longer.

(email: <jcl@onwe.co.za>)

  Filed under: General, StoepTalk | Tagged: health, humour, james clarke, stoep talk, wine

How to deal with Royalty

 Soon after South Africa adopted a universal franchise a number of British royals began visiting our new and, once-again respected country and I thought it a good idea to appraise readers of how to behave when meeting royalty. I sought advice from my friend, Lt-Col Sir John Chamberlayne-Arbuthnot, Bt., C.V.O., B.C., R.S.V.P., A.S.A.P.,  A.A., an expert on protocol.

“Potty,” I said (Potty’s nickname is short for “chamber pot” which, of course, is derived from the Chamberlayne part of his name), “Potty, as you know, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, arrive in South Africa this weekend. It occurs to me that a lot of us could suddenly be confronted by a Royal Personage and I would appreciate advice on how one should conduct oneself.”

I  must say this for Potty, he knows his stuff. He knows which way to pass the port and which way up to hold his fork when eating peas.

His advice boiled down to this:

> Shaking hands – You may take the Queen’s hand only if she offers it. Do not kiss it (especially if you have been eating savouries topped with cheese whorl); do not hang on to it, or wring it, or shake it vigorously.

>Bowing and scraping – (gentlemen should bow ever so slightly. To perform a deep bow when the Queen is not expecting it could mean your forehead coming to rest on the Royal Bosom or your face buried in her bouquet which could induce a hay fever attack causing you to sneeze all over her.

>Ladies may curtsy, but those with arthritic knees should not attempt this unless they can do it without knee-clicks and gasps, and they must be sure they can straighten out their legs within a reasonable time.

>Pleasantries – Don’t bother to introduce yourself unless the Queen introduces herself first. If she says something like “How do you do? I’m the Queen of England” you may respond by saying “How do you do? I am Ernie Throg.” If, indeed, that is your name.

>Don’t take the question “How do you do?” literally. Don’t, for instance, go into details about your stomach. She is unlikely to be really interested in how you do do.

>Conversing – NEVER ask the Queen a question. If she asks you about your children do not take this as an invitation to say: “They’re fine, how’s Charles getting along with his vegetables?”

>If the Queen asks you a question, answer it in as few words as possible – she probably has 200 other guests to speak to in the next three minutes.

>If she asks you what you do for a living, don’t thrust your hands into your pockets and lean against a pillar and tell her how you travel in bathroom ware and that if ever she needs to fix a drip you’d give her a special price – she might think you’re referring to somebody in the family.

>Physical contact – Never touch the Queen’s person. Apart from briefly shaking her hand – if she proffers it – never put your hand on her shoulder or pat her cheek or fiddle with her jewellery, asking how much it cost.

>Prince Philip – With Prince Philip you can relax a little, but do not take too much advantage of his affability should he be displaying any that day. If he calls you by your first name do not presume to call him Phil.

>Greetings – Do not greet Royal Personages unless you are greeted first. If you see Prince Philip coming out of the gents it is polite to ignore him. Do not resort to wisecracks like “Did you remember to wash your hands?”

>Taboo words – Howzit? Camilla, Dodi, Bloomers, Sweetie, Charlie-boy, Hey! Lavatory, Andrew, Money, Fergie, You, Income tax, Bloody hell.

Filed under: General, StoepTalk | Tagged: humour, james clarke, Prince Philip, Queen, royalty, stoep talk | No Comments

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