• 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.

A little bit of history

How the oldest game was invented

 Golf is a very ancient game. It goes back well before Gary Player. In fact it goes back to the time of the apeman.  

Around 4-million years ago Australopithecus africanus had been forced out of the receding forests and on to the plains of Africa. In order to see over the top of the grass they were compelled to stand upright.  

This was the first step towards being able to play golf. Perhaps they realised it, perhaps they didn’t.  

Their only weapon in this new and menacing landscape, which, as one can imagine, was picked over by some pretty mean creatures, was a club.

 Thus the second step had been achieved. 

One day a man-ape, Ug Blainkenthorpe (not his real name) picked up a stick intending to use it as a club for hitting small mammals and people he didn’t like.

 However, it was too whippy for hunting. But he liked the stick and he pondered over it for some time before an idea struck him. 

He used it to hit a small, round, white stone. He watched in fascination as the stone curved into the sky like a bird.

 Then he and his friend, Og Willisden, (some authorities say his name was spelt Willisdon) spent many hours hunting for this beautiful round stone and, being hunters, they enjoyed this immensely.

“Hey this is fun,” said Og.

And so a kind of game was born. It was, at first, no more than “hit-and-hunt” and it sometimes entailed flogging vast areas of thick grassveld with these funny sticks.

For the next 3.99-million years the game was known as “flog”.

 If, of course, a ball went down a hole then, quite often, there it had to stay. But it made the floggers realise they needed lots of little white stones. This now became the job for the women because, after all, collecting little white balls was, strictly-speaking, “gathering” and, therefore, in this hunter-gatherer society it fell into the women’s department.

 One day Og said to Ug, “Flog is all very well but why not invent a game where we just kick a big, soft ball? We could call it soccer!”

 “It will never catch on,” said Ug. “It is better that we try to improve the game of flog. Maybe it will be more fun if we deliberately aim for holes to see who can sink their ball in the least number of strokes.”

 Flog, when all is considered, has not improved much beyond this stage although cutting the grass was a useful step.

 Sports historians – ignorant of the foregoing – generally believe that it was the Scots who invented the game around the 1300s. That is what is written in the history books.

 Certainly the Scots turned the game around by aiming for holes somewhat smaller than warthog burrows. They also turned the name of the game around – “flog” was reversed to become “golf”. It’s amazing how few people know this.

 From here on the history of the game is more accurately documented. Encyclopaedia Britannica says that by the mid-1400s James II decreed that “Golfe be utterly cried down” because it was rivalling archery as an outdoor pastime and you couldn’t really defend the realm with number nine irons.

 Some say the game originated in Holland or Belgium and grew out of the game of chole. Chole was a cross-country game in which opposing sides set off to hit the ball across many kilometres to a target such as a church door. After one side had played three strokes the other side had the right to hit their opponents’ ball into the nearest hazard – even over a cliff.

 This, today, could result in tantrums.

It might be significant that the Scots bought their balls from Holland until James I curbed the trade because “no small quantitie” of gold and silver was being spent on their purchase.

 I gave up golf many years ago after the primeval thrill of hunting for my ball had grown thin.

The art of head punching


Watching a French rugby game on television recently  I saw a French reservist come on to the field punching his own head.

 In 1998, while watching France play England at the Stade de France, I saw a large French player do the same thing – running onto the field punching his own head using both fists. Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!

It was as if he was saying, “Head! Just get used to this because for the next couple of hours – allowing for injury time – you are going to get knocked around tres terrible!”

The first time I witnessed this strange behaviour was in 1993 during a boxing match on television.

Boxing was never my game. I did a bit at school but my problem was that my nose would spurt blood as soon as the bell went for round one.

 n this day in 1993, having nothing better to do, I was switching through the channels as one does when one’s mind has gone, when I saw this hooded boxer, Louis Gent of Britain.

He was moving down the aisle towards the ring with a theatrically mean expression. Gent was prancing, skippityskip, like a schoolgirl dancing along a pavement trying to avoid stepping on the cracks, and he was punching the air as if he had something against sparrows.

 I felt he needed professional help.

 Then came his opponent, Nigel Benn, also of Britain. Unlike Gent, whose skin was a shade lighter than that of a plucked French hen, Benn’s skin was boot-polish black.

Benn was punching his own head as he walked down the aisle – a habit, I thought, that must have caused his mother considerable anxiety.

 As the two danced around in the ring glaring belligerently at one another, I noticed the black man had “Dark Destroyer” embroidered on his gown and the white man had “Lethal Weapon”.

This was to be the welterweight championship of the world or some such place.

The MC was shouting into a microphone. At a boxing match, everybody shouts. This is perfectly normal for a boxing match.

When a commentator asks an expert sitting right next to him what he thinks about the last round, the question is shouted with the same volume one normally reserves for asking a Bulgarian peasant for directions to Panagyurischte.

 And the expert bellows back so that his neck veins stand out like ship’s hawsers.

 he announcer informed us that Gent was the one wearing red shorts and Benn was the one wearing blue. This saved drawing attention to the fact that one was white and the other black.

 Early in the first round the white man began to bleed copiously. Even his back began to bleed.

In the second round he went down five times – I had the impression he was looking for his teeth.

The commentator kept shouting, “Gent is hurt! Gent is hurt!”

 An expert was more clinical, “Gent is hurt bad!”

Yet we could all see that Gent was hurt bad. In fact, he looked as if he had fallen off the north face of the Matterhorn. We could even have told them who did it (it was the guy in the blue shorts).

 At the end of the round, the referee stopped the fight and declared Benn the world champion. Benn then did an amazing thing: he gave Gent a big kiss.

I considered punching my own head each morning instead of doing as I usually do – beating my chest and shouting “Tora! Tora! Tora!” – but I never remember until around 10am and by then I am usually in the office or at a traffic light and this is not a good time to do it.



Getting stung is more than a wee problem

An acquaintance recently told me his dog likes nothing better than to be taken round the block to “read his wee-mail”.

It reminded me of a time when, by happenstance, my wife and I unwillingly acquired a small Maltese terrier. He followed me like a shadow wherever I went, yapping for me to take him for a walk.

I never took him on a lead because it is a sure sign that a man has reached the evening of his life when he finds himself walking around the block with a little white dog on a lead.

On these walks it puzzled me how such a small dog, no larger and no shapelier than the head of a mop, could pee so many times against so many things in such a short period.

The capacity of his bladder was nothing short of amazing. He could void twice his weight in urine per kilometre.

Seeing I have started off writing about urine I might as well carry on and tell you of an article I read recently. It confirmed something I wrote about many years ago after an incident on the late David Rattray’s farm.

A guest of David’s was spat in the eye by a black-necked spitting cobra. He immediately asked his friends to tie his hands behind his back to stop him from rubbing his eyes – an act that would probably result in blindness.

He was led back to the house where water was used to flush out the venom. He suffered extremely soreness for days afterwards.

If only his friends had known it they could have alleviated a great deal of his suffering by immediately placing him on his back and (if you’ll forgive me) peeing in his eyes. Urine is especially useful for precisely this sort of occasion.

(First Aid hint: always keep a full bladder when walking in snake country with friends – or, for that matter, even with people you don’t like. Perhaps more so with the latter.)

Not long after this, a scientist, Jane Giffould who had worked in Papua New Guinea for some years, wrote in New Scientist that the Papuans have “a very effective and easily obtainable acidic fluid” which they use for relieving the pain of stings – urine.

It is particularly effective, apparently, against the stings of blue-bottles (Portuguese man-o’-war) and its action is quick. Of course, there are several other handy fluids for stings – vinegar, Coca Cola and wine will relieve pain from stings. But such remedies are not half as interesting.

And what if you forgot to take the vinegar down to the beach? Or you’ve drunk all the Coke – or the victim isn’t worthy of a whole bottle of Bloemendal Cabernet Sauvignon 1988?

Correct! You pee on him.

But the mind boggles. Imagine you are on holiday and walking along the beach and you come across a whole group who’ve been stung. It would be difficult enough explaining to them what you are about to do, let alone deciding who will be first.

Even the logistics of administering the cure to more than just a couple of people will present difficulties. But at least the experience will give them all something to talk about in the car on the way home.

A doctor friend who collaborated with me on a bush survival manual said that in the case of snake venom in the eyes urine is effective “only if administered straight away. The victim should lie down, open his eyes and close his mouth. It would be pointless if he did not open his eyes.”

Well, off you go then. Happy hunting.

Densa’s Extraordinary Annual Meeting

 I called the meeting to order.

It was not a very big turn-out – especially for a club with so many potential members and, after all, this was an Extraordinary Annual Meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of Densa.

Densa is the society for those whose IQs are within that exceedingly wide band between that of a cos lettuce and the average politician. Members’ IQs must be well below those of Mensa, the international society for those whose IQ’s fall within the top 2 percent of humanity’s.

I asked Threnody, who had kindly agreed to take the minutes of the meeting (providing, she said, everybody spoke very slowly) to once again count the attendance. She said it was still four – Neil Summink, Liz Simpson, Ray Henderson and Nolan Hasbean. At least we had a quorum if we counted the caretaker at the back of the hall and the fact that Liz had brought her little cross-eyed dog, Fluffy.

I adjusted my sash of office which is of a fetching purple material although, I noticed too late, it did need pressing. A dab of tetrachloride here and there would have helped too. It has “PRESIDANT” proudly emblazoned in it.

I then declared the meeting open. Everybody clapped and the little dog yapped.

I recounted our humble beginnings in an office at The Star on March 5 1993 and told how, eventually, Densa became far more powerful than Mensa. After all, we have a DAILY newsletter (called The Star) which is a cut above Mensa’s monthly newsletter that uses old jokes to fill up spaces.

I warned Densans of our growing responsibilities. Lots of high-IQ people have left South Africa because of crime and the way government people run off with our money, and the soccer. This brain drain throws an extra burden on us Densans because very soon there’ll be only us left (not forgetting Fluffy who could end up as Minister of something).

At this point I made a little aside to myself. THINKS: Secretly I welcome the brain drain because I have always found intelligent people difficult to understand. I recall driving on the M1 in the rush hour when a female member of Mensa was explaining something on the radio. I had to concentrate so hard that my car juddered to a halt in the middle lane.

But Mensans – the very name sounds as if their members come from somewhere far out in the firmament, like Pretoria, are very vulnerable.

For example, I recall a Mensa newsletter in which a mensan said that a meeting of the Academy for Future Science “nearly blew my mind”. Mensans are very susceptible to this kind of injury. They can read A Short History of Time while chewing gum but ask them something simple like, “What is the square root of the Shri Lankan XI?” and it can blow their minds as surely as one can blow an egg – phoop!

I drifted further into reverie and wondered what happened to a mensan whose mind had blown? I suppose a little ceremony is held and they get the Pointy Cap with the Big D on the front and are guided towards the door.

But what do you think it was that nearly blew this mensan’s mind? It was a scientist who said, “aliens are stealing humans to experiment on them. Some are returned. Some are not.”

This came as no surprise to me. For years I’ve suspected that aliens come in the night and steal people’s brains while they sleep. These are then pan-fried in Martian restaurants. When the victims wake up they are – naturally – none the wiser but, for some reason, become seized by a desire to enter politics.

Thus have aliens come to rule the world.

Now where was I? Hey, Threnody! Where’s our quorum gone? Threnody? Thren… Fluffy?

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