• 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.

When does a passenger become a soul?

A few years ago I was invited to spend four days along the coast of Mozambique aboard the Italian-owned cruise liner, Symphony.

The 16 000 ton liner (it has since been renamed) was a beautiful and elegant liner – smooth-sailing and generous with the duckling bigarade.

And I can tell you that many single women on board had been stimulated by the film Titanic. Everybody was talking about the Titanic. In fact a friend who had just returned from a voyage on the Cunard Line’s QE2 reported it was the same on board that ship.

He had dined at the captain’s table and the captain told how, in the 1920s, the chairman of the Cunard Line  had dined with King George V. He had told the king “in the strictest confidence” that Cunard planned to build a liner even bigger than Titanic which had belonged to the recently bankrupted White Star Line.

The ship was to be ready in 1934 and was to be named after “the greatest queen Britain has ever had”.

Now all Cunard ships ended in “ia” – Lusitania, Mauritania and so on. The new one was to be the Victoria.

But King George thought “the greatest queen” referred to his wife, Queen Mary. He then told Mary and she  wrote a personal letter to the Cunard chairman saying how flattered she was.

Thus Cunard felt obliged to break its tradition and name its next ship the Queen Mary.

On the Symphony I met Moss Hills, cruise director, who had recently survived the sinking of two liners. Oned was the Oceanos (which the Greek captain and crew had quietly abandoned off the South African coast without warning the 600 passengers that the ship, was doomed) and the Achille Lauro which sank a couple of years later.

When Moss told me he’d twice been shipwrecked I thought I’d better pop up to the Symphony’s lifeboat deck and check the scene.

There I found notices headed HOW TO SAVE YOURSELVES. This seemed to imply that the crew would already be in the lifeboat scoffing the emergency chocolate and there’d be none of this “women and children first” nonsense.

The next line was equally enigmatic:  A SIMPLE EXERCISE TO DOUSE A BOAT TO THE WATER.

I imagined the Symphony sinking and passengers shouting “Douse the boat! For Pete’s sake, somebody douse the bloody boat!” And everybody wondering what “douse” meant.

I  read on in increasing wonderment:

Rule 1: Release the gripes.

(Panic again: “The gripes! Somebody release the gripes!”

“Gripes? What are gripes?”

A helpful passenger pushes his way down the seething Grand Staircase to the ship’s library and grabs a dictionary. He then fights his way back up to the lifeboat deck and starts to read aloud to the anguished assembly… “Gripe (verb) – to complain; gripe (noun) – sudden intestinal pain; gripe (noun) – firm grip; gripe (verb) – to come into the wind despite the helm; gripe (noun) – Australian grape…”

They throw him overboard.

Rule 2: Lift the brake lever … “Brake? Lifeboats have brakes!”

Rule 3: Strech (sic) the frappping lines … loosen the fricing lines and embark in an odely (sic) way. “Somebody frice the mainbrace!” “Who’s made that terrible oder?”

Rule 4: Loosen the frapping lines. Lift the brake lever … (“For Pete’s sake, somebody, frap the FRIPPING lines. I mean flip the flapping lines!”)

Rule 5: Loose left purchaserove away using the floating anchor. (“Anchors FLOAT?”)

“Frop!” “Frap!” – the sound of people leaping over the side.

The notices were taken down soon after I wrote about them and were replaced by smaller ones. The new ones bore an illustration that looked like a web spun by a spider on Ecstasy.  It had but three words: “Release the gripes“.

I have since often wondered, at what stage in a shipping disaster do passengers become souls?

When ships sink the papers never say so many passengers died. They say so many “souls were lost” or so many “souls perished”. But when an aircraft crashes or a bus goes over a mountain side passengers just die and that’s that.

In order to become a soul, I suppose, you first have to come to gripes with a lifeboat.

Loosening up the Brits

A Springbok rugby player has been quoted as saying the English are a “stuffy people”.  Britain’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, agrees. He once appealed to young Britons to show their emotions more and wear ties less…

Sir Rodney Ffeines Featherstone-Hough – nephew of Lord Westland, chairman of the Mad Cow Control Board and the Blood Sports Preservation Society – sits at his customary end of the long dinner table uttering the occasional hurumph. He is a portly man in his late 60s.

A hurumph – a kind of cough – is a peculiarly English expression indicating irritation. It is not done to ask a fellow why he his hurumphing but Lady Jane, Rodney’s wife, has never been one for convention. She is seated at the other end of the table but still within hailing distance.

“Wodney! Wot on arth is the mattah?”

“It’s this fellow, Blair.”


“The Prime Minister chap.”

“I think he’s wather cute, actually.”

“Cute like a fox, m’dear. He says the English must throw away their ties and express their emotions. What else can one expect from a Prime Minister who calls himself Tony? Imagine Anthony Eden calling himself Tony! Hurumph!”

“I agwee it’s widiculous! Imagine, deah boy, you walking into the club sans tie!”

She laughs at the thought.

“I don’t even bath without a tie,” says Sir Rodney. “As for showing emotion – does Blair want to have men running around kissing each other like those garlic-eating Frogs across the Channel?”

“But I thought your Conservative Party palls kiss each other all the time,” says Jane.

Rodney, chasing a pea round his plate, does not seem to hear.

“Anyway, you cannot change a country like that,” says Sir Rodney. “Imagine trying to change Italy from being a bottom-pinching, carousing, noisy, nation-without-ties into something, well, civilised, like England!”

Sir Rodney stabs the pea rather viciously.

Lady Jane leans forward: “Wodders?”

Rodney “What is it my dear?”

“Take awff your tie!”

“What? At dinner!”

“Take it awff! Go on!”

“Don’t be absurd.”

At this moment the butler walks in and Rodney says: “Ah, Roehampton. A little more wine … and did you happen to read The Times this morning?”

“You mean, Sir, Mr Blair’s appeal to the English to loosen up a bit?’


“Frankly, Sir, the gentleman’s statement shocked me.”

Suddenly Lady Jane says: “Roehampton! Take awff your tie!”

“I beg your poddon moddom?”

It is like asking Roehampton to remove his teeth. He is acutely embarrassed, but after several more entreaties he reluctantly removes it and is even persuaded to undo his collar revealing a breastbone reminiscent of an uncooked chicken.

As the confused butler withdraws from the room Lady Jane succeeds in badgering her husband into removing his tie. She even gets him to undo two shirt buttons. She then persuades him to remove his jacket.

Roehampton re-enters – his grey tie neatly restored. He sees Sir Rodney with his trouser braces exposed and drops the tray in astonishment.

Lady Jane shrieks with laughter.

Not far away, across the square and down The Mall, Elizabeth, Queen of England, leans forward and says: “Philip … remove your tie.” He mutters something  nautical.

After more persuasion and with an uncomplimentary remark about Blair, he removes his Royal Navy Reserve tie.

Another tray clatters to the floor.

All over England trays are clattering to the floor. The informalisation of Britain has begun, slowly and painfully.

Meanwhile, across town, Tony Blair eats his dinner – wearing his old school tie.


%d bloggers like this: