• 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.

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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