• 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.

Strike while the sun doesn’t shine

A recent dramatic eclipse of the sun reminded me of a midday solar eclipse in South Africa in 1994 – that heady year of radical change . . .                                

 The Old Testament says, “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down and I will darken the earth in the clear day”.

 And it came to pass that one, Jan of Swartruggens, who was ignorant of the forthcoming eclipse, was in the field.

 He spake loudly unto Phineus: “Go thou at once and fetch the butylphenoxyacetate that we may administer to the beasts against the pox.

 Jan never saith “please” or “thank you” not in any of the 11 official languages of this new land. He saw his workers as the sons of Ham, hewers of wood and drawers of too much in wages.

Now it had come to pass in the land that the leaders had declared all men equal (and women nearly so) and there were to be free and almost fair elections but Jan knew not of it.

Phineus returned with the butylphenoxyacetate and Jan admonisheth him for being slow.

Phineus saith unto him, “Lo, I can go no faster carrying 100 kg of butylphenoxyacetate because, after 87 summers and almost as many winters, I am a little halt.”

But Jan heeded him not and made as if to smite him.

Phineus rose up and spake in a voice of righteousness saying, “The Lord shall punish thee for thine political incorrectness. Verily, even this day the Lord will send a sign.”

Jan spateth upon the ground.

Phineus saith, “Even this hour!”

(Phineus, dear reader, had been listening to the radio and knew that the Moon and Sun were to meet at the 9th hour and that the Moon would take away part of the sun – just for a while.)

The sky darkened as advertised.

 Jan looked up for a cloud but the sky was clear even unto the Dwarsspruitrand.

The heavens grew darker and Jan again cast his eyes up. Verily, even as he looked, the sun, though high in the firmament, was being consumed, and Jan was sore afraid.

 Believing dusk was nigh the birds of the air began returning to their roosts and the cattle began to move back to their kraal and the sunflowers scratched their heads.

 All these things Jan saw and he fell upon his knees and spake unto Phineus saying “Verily, thou art right. I have sinned all my days.”

“Verily indeed,” saith Phineus.

Jan smote his forehead and rended his raiments and cried out, “Wilt thou forgive me, a worthless sinner?”

Phineus smiled and made an affirmative action with his head.

Jan rose saying “Behold, I have a bottle of Oudies in the bakkie, let us drink to our new found understanding that passeth all understanding.”

And the sun retruned to its fullness and Jan gave thanks unto the Lord and went to his house with his arm round Phineus and the two men drank the brandy even unto the last drop.

Jan’s wife, Marie, entered the house and saith, “My husband, what is this? Hast thou taken leave of thine headfiller?”

Jan spake unto Marie: “Lo, woman, this is my friend, Phineus Ndlovu, Rejoice! The Lord sent me a sign. Didst thou not see the sun disappear?”

“Verily,” saith Marie, “today I have seen everything.”

 Moral: Make hay while the sun doesn’t shine.



Hospitals – Oh the noise! And the people!

Have you noiticed how one no longer sees signs reading “Silence” outside hospitals?


This is worrying. Those signs were there for a good purpose. A loud hoot from the street, the sudden bark of tyres skidding on tar, and you could have patients, fresh out of surgery, sitting bolt upright, their stitches popping like burst zips; or a surgeon, scalpel poised, about to perform an appendectomy involuntarily performing something quite different.


I have discovered the reason why: it is because there is so much noise inside hospitals these days that the signs became superfluous and it is only a matter of time before the noise inside hospitals begins upsetting passing motorists.


I once had a spell in hospital. I wish I could say it was an interesting injury – an old shoulder injury sustained when playing against the All Blacks perhaps; a fracture from failing off my bike during the Tour de France; even an injury from an old beetle drive fracas.


But it was nothing of the kind.


The fellow in the next bed, whose name was Gerry and who was a great deal older than me, was in for a knee operation because an old rugby injury was interfering with his tennis. By contrast, I was in for a colonoscopy which entails introducing into the bowels, lights, cameras and assorted strangers. This was followed by a minor but undignified operation which is often performed on cars with faulty tailpipes.


I told Gerry how lucky he was. He could show his operation to his visitors who would then congratulate him on the way it was healing. So, while Gerry’s visitors crowded around his knee, mine distinctly stood back, uncomfortably, saying things such as “Well, how’s the . . . er, how’s the um . . .”   and going into paroxysms of coughing. Or they would make wincing expressions and say, not without genuine sympathy “Is it sore. . . that is to say, are YOU sore?”


You would reply, as helpfully as possible: “What the bloody hell do you think?” and this would lead to more coughing and ones visitors looking at their watches and even shaking them in disbelief .


And when they’d gone the hospital noises would take over.


I am convinced that nurses spend much of their day moving tin dustbins and rearranging heaps of small girders.


Down at the end of the corridor (hospital corridors are designed to enhance acoustics) is the sluice room from whence come the incessant clanging and boinging of aluminium bedpans which, in one’s analgesic stupour, sounds like an Eastern punk rock band.


Nurses clop up and down the corridor in specially designed clip-clop shoes fashioned for nurses by blacksmiths.


Then there are the cleaners with their Hoovers and polishers; there are air conditioners that sound like idling Boeings. There’s the industrial rattle of the mealtime trolleys and the afternoon cup-laden tea trolley.  If, like I had, you have a “Nil per mouth” sign above the bed you can actually hear the afternoon banana cake being sliced.


I had to wait 10 hours for my operation and had forgotten to bring something to read. I needed something to take my mind off my gnawing hunger. I stopped a nurse and said: “If anybody dies out there, please grab his newspaper.”


An hour later I saw her again. “Nobody dead yet?” She shook her head apologetically.


“Even if somebody falls asleep…” I said.


She found me a magazine and it was then, in my tortured state, I realised how obsessed magazines are with food. Almost every advertisement shows pies and plates of duckling and green peas and gravy and steaming crayfish… my rumbling stomach now added to the institutional cacophony.


I will spare you details of the post operation experience, except to say that after I’d been discharged I became certain that a camera had been left inside my colon. I phoned the surgeon and he asked me to describe exactly what it felt like.


I said it felt like a 1980 model of a Nikon F with a 300 mm lens.


He said this was normal.


I then told him how nothing would dislodge it. “I’ve eaten bowls of stewed prunes and bran – but still nothing has happened. What must I do?”


Apart from warning Civil Defence, he said, I should stay close to the house.

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