• 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.

Upstairs in the brainbox

 As Monday is National Women’s Day and I have to clean my bicycle I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you, once again, of the time I wandered upstairs into my cranium to pay a visit to the Pondering Division of my Memory Bank.

It was on National Women’s Day and this was a surprise visit.

“Busy are we?” I said.

Naturally the staff began jumping around.

I smiled. Even though I am the captain up there, I am always friendly. I asked the Head of Pondering (HOP) if it were possible that men would ever, seriously, start a men’s liberation movement?

After all, we ARE liberated; we ARE our own masters; we ARE . . .

I was interrupted by a voice that made everybody jump. It came in from outside entering the operations area through both ears and reverberating off the interior walls.

It was the wife from the kitchen.

I said: “What is it, dear heart?”

She wanted to know what I was doing. I shouted back: “I was just talking to myself.” (She would never have understood the truth.)

She wanted to know when I would fix the iron. I said: “Yes, light-of-my-life, I’ll drop everything and fix it right away. I mean, I am only trying to earn an honest living but we don’t need money in this house because we get everything free just by shuffling our pack of plastic cards at the supermarket, at, the butcher, at the blasted dress shop . . . ”

I admit that most of this was said, sort of,  very softo voce.

I leaned against the doorpost of the Pondering Department. Many staff members were scratching their heads. They tend to do this a lot in this section.

The Head of Memory (HOM) popped his head in. Useful fellow to have around. I told HOP and HOM that men have men’s clubs and the difference between a man’s club and woman’s is that most of the time a man’s club is silent. We have little need to speak. But when women meet, they can’t stop.

The voice came crashing through again.

I replied: “Yes, chickabiddy, just getting the jolly old insulation tape. Can’t fix the iron without insulation tape, can we? You could get your little self e-lec-tro-cuted! ZAPPPPP!”

I told the Head of Memory: “Expunge that thought!” I heard the sound of flushing.

“Women chatter so,” I went on. “They chatter about each other. They chatter about anything.

“Men merely exchange views.”

Later, in the Memory Department’s operations room I caught somebody shovelling neurons into a bin. “Hey!” I cried, “what are you dumping?” I recognised my history notes from school. “You can’t throw these away!” I scolded. “And what’s this? My bachelor memories of Felicity Throgmorton and that time we had in a field outside Stratford! Dear old Throgs!”

I said to HOM, “How can you throw precious stuff like this away?”

He grumbled that I stored so much useless information that it was no wonder they couldn’t always come up with answers when I needed them.

“Please,” he said, “get away from those bins. Just leave us to do our job? You can’t possibly remember everything at your age.”

The Voice once more came crashing through, this time sending a memory file crashing to the floor. The dust made everybody sneeze. HOM said: “You see what I mean?”

His words were drowned by The Voice.

“Quick,” I said to HOM, “I am supposed to be fixing the iron. Where the devil did I leave the insulation tape last time I used it?”

“Search me,” he sniffed. 

Romans in the Gloaming

Recently, while in England’s Lake District  I read of a Northumberland site – on the other side of the country – where archaeologists were excavating a Roman fort called Vindolanda. Alas I never had time to get over to it although in kilometres, from one side of England to the other, is not far. People have driveways that are longer.

There is so much exciting stuff being unearthed in this enormous camp that archaeologists were appealing for volunteers to help them dig. They have unearthed hundreds of letters and notes written in ink on “tablets”. The tablets in this case are wafer-thin pieces of wood the size of postcards.

The messages indicate that the Roman soldiers of Vindolanda were “preoccupied with socialising and writing letters begging for luxuries from home”. Although under the command of Rome it seems most of the soldiers had been recruited from Holland and Belgium.

One letter challenged the image that Romans were master road-builders. Signed by a Roman named Octavius it inferred that the Romans hated the English weather and, surprisingly, that their roads weren’t fit for wheeled traffic.

One can guess at the letter’s details…


Mars XV

Dearest Mama,

It has not stopped raining since Septem and my skin is all white and crinkly. My helmet has half-a-XII rust spots and my leather skirt is green with mildew.

I beseech you, Mama, please send me some olive oil, a new toga and some vino.

Our civil engineers are having a bad time building roads. Because of the weather they quickly become quagmires and the local savages have taken to them like ducks to water. They trundle up and down with their infernal herds and their crude ox-drawn produce-laden sleds which our commander, Flavius, euphemistically categorises as “British Market Wagons”.

These BMWs cause massive congestion.

Yesterday I was stuck in an hour-long chariot jam on the MV, the new route to Londinium. O Jupiter! All those horses and cattle and ox-carts. By the time traffic eased the malodorous pollution was axle deep and steaming like Vesuvius.

The Druids, who are very wise and very aloof, say the gaseous odours from this pollution, unless there is some sort of emission control, will eventually change the weather causing a hot climate. Flavius says they are insanely optimistic.

The worst drivers are women although there are not many of them. Down in Londinium there is one, Boadicea, who has it in for us. Instead of hubcaps on her chariot she has curved knives and races through our garrisons whipping off the centurions’ knee caps – and worse with the shorter fellows.

She is typical of all the locals – they resent all we do for them. They seem to forget that until we arrived they had no idea what a shovel was! (The Picts are not bad though. Octavius says that with C Picts and shovels he could construct XIV kilometres of roads per diem.)

I cannot wait to get home and am ever grateful that your wise counsel led me to invest all my dinars in that little townhouse in Pompeii. At least there is no air pollution there.

Hail Caeser and all that,


PS. Don’t forget the vino.

Elephants, Canaries and Brigitte Bardot

People can be quite lazy about answering letters. Brigitte Bardot for instance. I wrote to her once.

That delectable, pouting French film star of the 1950s who, in later life, became an animal rights activist (and is very sun-dried these days) – had written an impassioned plea to Nelson Mandela.

She asked him to intervene in an international dispute concerning elephant culling in Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Zimbabwe and Botswana wanted to cull their elephant herds but had, up to then, bowed to pressure from Europe’s “bunny-huggers”. As a consequence 70 000 elephant which travel to and fro between these two countries irreparably damaged the ancient riverine forests along the Linyati and it was a case of either cull or face further ecological calamities.

There are 100 000 now.

It is difficult for people living in areas where elephants are rare – such as San Tropez and say, Manchester’s southern suburbs – to understand the environmental impact of elephant overpopulation

And certainly the people of Europe have no idea of the flatulence problem that elephants have. Their voluminous bowels are filled with methane gas. This is why these animals are so enormous.

If an elephant were to be totally degasified it would be the size of a warthog. Few people appreciate this.

If you were to light a match behind an elephant you could create a bizarre parody of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.

I felt honour-bound to send a letter to Miss Bardot with whom I was in love from about 1954 until around 1969 when I switched to Francoise Hardy:

Ms B Bardot

La Beach

St Tropez


Mon petit cabbage,

Bonjour, etc. Comment ca va? Enchantee, I’m sure.

I fear you do not understand what all these surplus elephants are doing to our environment here in Africa.

Do you realise how much flatulence – if I may be so bold – there is in just one elephant? I know I can discuss such matters freely with you because I saw you in Doctor in the House in 1953.

One elephant lets off half-a-ton of methane gas a year! Five hundred kilograms! (Don’t ask me how scientists weigh it but, indeed, they have.)

There are 70 000 elephants criss-crossing between Zimbabwe and Botswana. If they are left to go on increasing – and elephants breed just like rabbits except they huff and puff a bit more – will produce enough methane gas to greenhouse the world.

And because they have demolished the forests that used to sustain them, they now have to live mostly off grass which produces in them a degree of flatulence you’d not believe.

They could, one day, blow a hole clean through the ozone layer. They could turn your precious St Tropez into a tropical hellhole filled with mosquitoes and rampaging government troops and crazed dictators.

A herd of 70 000 elephants, living off grass, will release in one year, 35 000 tons of methane.  When even a small herd passes through a wooded area, yellow-eyed canaries fall out of the trees like ripe plums.

Elephants live 50 to 60 years. Thus, in a lifetime, this herd will produce 1.7 million tons of gas!

Bearing in mind that methane, as a greenhouse gas, is 20 times more efficient than carbon dioxide, these elephants are going to pass into the atmosphere (if you will pardon moi) the equivalent of 30-million tons of carbon dioxide.

Then you have the problem of elephant dung. Well, YOU don’t because you are fortunate enough to be sitting on the beach at St Tropez rubbing dolphin-friendly sunblock on your bare whatsits. But WE do.

Seventy thousand elephants would leave more than 2 million tons of le poop grand in the veld in just one year.  And, if we don’t cull them, the volume will increase by 5 percent per annum compounded.

Can you imagine 2 million tons of this stuff, compounded?

Imagine the methane arising there from?

Just think, in a few years from now, how innocent people will be wading about central Africa, knee-deep in elephant droppings! Imagine if somebody were to carelessly strike a match.

Well, mon petit epinard, I hope you now realise how misguided your campaign against culling is.

Au revoir mamoiselle,

James F Clarke

(Je suis votre trés grand devoté 1954-1969)

She never did reply.

No such thing as a free lunch

It was Bosses’ Day on Friday. I’d never heard of it until I sensed Threnody, head secretary of the Stoep Talk Organisation, hovering near my desk. 

“What is it, Threnody?” I asked rather testily which, on a Friday morning a boss is entitled to be. “Can’t you see I’m busy?” 

She looked at my screen for a second and said, “(Cough. Cough.) If you move the four of clubs over to there it will release the five of hearts which can then go up there and then that one…” 

“I was about to do that,” I said. 

Those who have played solitaire on their computer, and get it to work out, will know the glow of satisfaction, the burst of pride, the ecstasy, that overpowering feeling of having mentally triumphed over mankind’s most complicated and daunting piece of machinery.

 “(Cough. Cough) Do you know what day it is?” Threnody asked a little hesitantly. 

“I suggest you consult the nearest calendar,” I said dryly.

 “(Cough. Cough.) “It’s Bosses’ Day!”


“Well, in September, on Secretaries’ Day, you took me to lunch so my mother said I (Cough. Cough) should take you to lunch!” 

I swivelled my boss’s chair around and tilted it in an executive-like way so that I could see her more clearly. I noticed, for the first time, that she was wearing quite a snazzy dress and had had her hair done. I was, to tell the truth, quite taken aback.

  “YOU? Take ME to lunch?” I said. Then, a little suspiciously I asked, “Where?” 

“Well, not that hamburger place that you took me for Secretaries’ Day. When I told my mom I was thinking of taking you there she nearly had a fit. She said I should take you to La Maison Cuisine.” 

“But that’s very expensive!” I said. 

“My mother gave me some money.”

“Well then, have you booked? I mean, what are you waiting for? They could be full!” 

And so it was that I found myself walking into La Maison Cuisine and ordering extra large huitres and roti carnard a l’orange with une bouteille de vin rouge and waving la fourchette as I told Threnody my life story.

I told her how I had started out in adult life with just a bicycle (albeit a three speed one with drop handlebars and a loud bell) and how, over the years, I became an intrepid reporter until one day I was able to buy myself a 12-speed bicycle…

“What year was that?” she asked.

“You tell me,” I suggested.

“1916?” she said. 

“What!” I said. “My gosh! How old do you think I am?”  (I was barely 50 at the time.) She thought for a long time and said at last: “Sixty?” 

“What!? What!”

“Sorry, Sir, am I a bit out?” 

“A bit? You’re 10 years out!” 

“You mean you’re 70!” 

This greatly curbed the appetite which, up to that point, had been shouting up from below that it wanted crème broulet.

Although Threnody only sipped her wine and was still on her first glass, the bottle, miraculously, was empty. I ordered another and solemnly toasted her dear old mum. 

Threnody ate with surprising energy while I traced my writing career from primary school. I had barely reached my prize-winning composition (well, it was a consolation prize actually) in fifth grade, when the bill came.

Threnody, without looking at it, folded a R50 note inside it and placed it back in the folder. 

“That won’t be sufficient,” I said, thoroughly alarmed. 

“That’s all my mother gave me! My mother said ‘R50 should be enough for that old skinfli… for your dear old boss’.”

I had to pay the R425.45 balance AND part with a 20c tip. 

Back at the office I looked in vain in the dictionary for the word “skinfli”. It was quite some time before my colour returned. Threnody, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically chipper and hummed a little tune.

Obviously the vin rouge.  

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