• Message from James Clarke

    "South Africa's Best Humour Columnist"

    - SA's Comedy Awards September 2008

    “South Africa’s funniest columnist.”

    - Financial Mail


    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 ....


    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.

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  A small child wrote: “Everyone is a human bean.”

 Yes, that’s us – black, white; male, female; thick or thin – we are all simple human beans. It is a stunning truth told by a schoolchild.

Stunning? Well, as another child wrote:

“He was so stund, he just stud there.”

Those two gems were collected by teacher Joel Goldstock of Huntington Park High School in Southern California and immortalised by columnist Jack Smith of the Los Angeles Times many years ago.

Such items are sometimes called “Pullet Surprises” – again, a phrase borrowed from a confused child who meant to write “Pulitzer Prize”

In 1993 I invited readers of my column to send me Pullet Surprises. One of the first came from Tug Wilson of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, a collector of “howlers”. A child wrote that the future of “I give” is “I take”.

I amassed some great classics:

“The direction of the Alps is straight up.”

“One by-product of raising cattle is calves.”

“The four seasons are salt, pepper, vinegar and mustard.”

“Oliver Cromwell had a large red nose but beneath it were deeply religious feelings.”

“The blood circulates through the body by going up one leg and down the other.”

“The inhabitant of Moscow are called Mosquitoes.”

“He is a sex thimble.”

“I know where babies come from. Women produce the eggs and man produces the spam.”

“When you put Roosevelt and Wilson side by side, you can see that they had few differences but their contrasts weren’t that similar.”

“It’s hard to imagine, but some day I’ll be a mother. First, I’ll get pregnant, then I’ll spend nine months in hard labour.”

“I like everybody. I don’t have any enemas.”

“I would hate to kill him. That would really ruin his life.”

“The best part of the cow is the pork chops.”

“Suicide can really kill you.”

But it was the innocent mistakes of the smaller children that were most amusing. One of my favourites:

“Without an education, many people would be dum.”

School magazines are useful repositories of Pullet Surprises and I was able to collect many indigenous gems:

The Highveld Primary School’s magazine (the school is in The Hill, a suburb south of Johannesburg) recorded how Standard 1 pupils responded to the question “What is your mother like first thing in the morning?”

“All floppy” – (Dwayne); “Looks like zombie” (Michael); “Looks nice, to be onest” (Daniella).

Sabrina, when at that school, wanted to be “a melan air”.

From St Stithian’s College magazine in 1991:

“Dear God,

“Isent it boring up there? It must be. Now lets get on. Well thank you for all the things you have done… I do hope you beet the devil. – Jonty Tasker.”

From Mondeor Primary School magazine:

Who were the first inhabitants of South Africa? The Hoppenpops. (Std 3)

How do we come into the world?  Naked and poor.

Where is Holland? Overseas.

Who was William Shakespeare? A Zulu warrior.

Who was Alexander Graham Bell?  He invented the paragraph.

Sowetan schoolboy Tshepo Mamatu of Barnato Park School, Johannesburg, sent me some “pullet surprises” by his sister Avril Mofoteng, a Wits student who wrote them 10 years before when at Moodea Preparatory School, Evaton. I often wonder what Avril did to him when she found out he had immortalised her howlers.

Her teacher invited pupils to write a scary piece about “The night I was alone . . .” Avril wrote: “I heard footsteps… it was a snake.”

When asked to write about “the kind of mother I am going to be”, she wrote:

“I wish fore my childs. I only want a gile. But I don’t wont her to be in me like many mums so I will by her frome the hospitolle.”

Some teachers take a huge risk in asking pupils to write down what they think of teachers… “She looks very old,” wrote a child of her 25-year-old teacher.

Cari Maclean of Bryandale Primary, Sandton: “My teacher is at school to teach us how to spull.”

An admiring pupil, Dominic Filocha at Bryandale Primary: “My teacher is clever. She is good at sharpening pencils.”

And, when the class was asked to complete “The most important thing in the world is…

Gary Odendal wrote: “Your bodi, if you don’t tac cer of your bodi you can di.”

From Risidale Primary School, Randburg:

“I am clever because I’ve got what it takes – BRAINS!” – Janita Candelaria.

“I am clever because my teacharer teachars me.” – Sheri Kindler.

And then there was Robyn Donaldson of Rosebank Primary School writing about springtime:

“Love is in the ear.”

Nicolas Green, when in Standard 1 at Bryandale Primary School, Sandton wrote:

“God said Adam must have a partner. So when Adam was sleeping in the bushes God took one of his ribs out and made a woman. And when Adam woke up he nearly died.”

Schools themselves can come with some good “Pulletsers” – Benje Joseph of Sunset Acres, Northlands, Johannesburg says a local school sent round a circular:

“We are asking for donations for a swimming pool that the school needs. If we do not get enough contributions we will hold a school concert.”

(email: jcl@onwe.co.za)

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