• 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.

Gorilla in their midst

It was The Selectors on the phone. They wanted to know if I still had contact with Freek Saunders, owner of the Ventersklip Private Zoo. Readers might recall the name – he owns Smiler, the semi-tame, 400kg gorilla that he trained to play rugby.

When I say “semi-tame”, I mean the gorilla’s discipline during games was about on a par with the All Blacks.

Some readers might recall how Freek tried Smiler out in 1996 when the Ventersklip Witrenosters agreed, as an experiment, to slip him into their team for their annual needle match against the Lichtenburg Wild Bulls.

The Witrenosters knew, heavy though their pack was, that they’d need a bit more weight if they were to succeed against the Bulls.

And, anyway, the Bulls themselves had few scruples. They once fielded a thinly disguised Massey Ferguson tractor on their side. After the match in which Smiler featured, many said that, from a sportsmanship point of view, it was not one of rugby’s nobler moments.

The final score, 378 – 0, and two dead, is still talked about.

Smiler’s main advantage is that he is good at tackling – he does it with one hand while he uses the other to tear the ball away. Sometimes hre tears away far more than that.

Provided that Smiler wears rugby togs, few people notice anything odd when he runs onto the field.

The long and short of it is that I was able to help The Selectors and, Smiler is now training with the Springoks.

But some people are worried. While the French might not notice gorillas in their midst, the English probably would. The Australians too. For this reason The Selectors might hold Smiler back until the Boks meet the All Blacks again.

It is true that when, in the Witrenosters game, Smiler ran out onto the field, some of the opposing side looked at him sideways. This was not so much because of his hair or absence of neck, nor was it because of his practically audible smell – it was because of the way in which Smiler stopped to scratch himself and for how long and where.

Freek directs Smiler from the touchline with a series of whistles, and in the loose scrum he has got Smiler to push the other side back 60m with team mates clinging to him.

Once, when a ref dared to show him a red card, he ate it.

The Witrenosters v Bulls went into two hours of injury time and the final movement was when Freek whistled to Smiler to “get ball”. Unfortunately it was just at the moment when the ball had been intercepted by the Witrenoster’s own captain, so Smiler took his own captain’s head off, tucked it under his arm, dropped onto his knuckles and went for the try line.

Fans on both sides now had reason to cheer him on although the captain’s wife was concerned that this might be a career-limiting injury for her husband.

Smiler touched down with the head, but the ref ruled against it – at least until Smiler menacingly moved towards him, beating his chest. Then he allowed it.

One of the worries The Selectors have is that for the first time in history a country will be fielding

a team weighing well over a ton and this might raise suspicions.

Footnote: Happily, the captain, after a transplant operation involving a pumpkin, was able to pursue a career in Parliament.

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