• 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.

No Sound Bites

According to a British travel agent visiting South Africa, today’s British tourists are no longer intrepid. They are not a patch on their explorer ancestors who came to Africa – Englishmen such as Sir Richard Burton; Welshmen such as Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Scotsmen such as Dr David Livingstone.

Not only are visitors afraid of mosquitoes said the travel agent, “The new type of traveller flies into a panic if he is bitten by almost anything at all”.

My mind floated back to the Old Type. Were they ever fazed by bites? Ha!


It is dawn and the mist thins slightly to reveal a small camp near the Ruwenzoris. Montague Cadwallader Ponsonby walks into his companion’s tent.

“What ho, Carruthers old boy! I say, not still in bed?”

“Ah, I’ll be up in a jiffy my dear fellow. Just feeling a little seedy.  Had a restless night.”

“Not well, old man?” says Ponsonby with genuine concern.

“Actually, dear boy, I was bitten during the night.”

Ponsonby then notices Carruthers’ leg is just a bloody stump, torn off above the knee.

“I say, that IS a nasty bite!”

“Lion,” says Carruthers. “Came into my tent during the night and tried to carry me off! Dashed thing! I’m surprised you didn’t hear the commotion – though I did try not to wake everybody. ”

“I say! And we still have about 200 miles to go, what?”

“My dear Ponsonby, it’s a bite. That’s all. No need to make a big thing out of it. I’ll be tickety-boo after a cup of tea.”

“But the Ruwenzoris, old boy! We have to cross the Ruwenzoris. It’s going to be frightfully difficult with only one leg. And what if we run into the waHitto?

“My dear Ponsonby, you worry so. Now, be a good man and help me to my feet. Or, rather, my foot! Ha ha ha. That was rather funny, what?”

Ponsonby helps Carruthers to his foot.

After a few miles Ponsonby says, “I think we’re being followed. Bless me, it’s the waHittos.”

But the two men manage to shake them off, at least for the time being. They press on. Occasionally they have to beat off creatures unknown to science at the time.

Inevitably Carruthers’ bloody stump begins to attract hyenas. On of them bites off his arm.

“I say, Ponsonby, I’m dashed if I haven’t been bitten again!”

“Oh, What absolutely beastly luck, my dear fellow! Here, try some more Peaceful Sleep.”

They come to the Semliki River and swim across. Ponsonby is bitten by a crocodile. He stifles a curse for he is a deeply religious man.

As they gain the far bank Ponsonby, now badly holed by crocodile teeth, makes light of his injuries. He then says, “Don’t look now Carruthers, but I think the waHittos have surrounded us.  Try as he might, not to look, Caruthers nevertheless finds himself eye-to-eye with a fierce waHitto warrior leading a war party.

Ponsonby addresses them:

“My dear chaps, we come in peace for all mankind. And womenkind also of course. We just want your land in the name of the Great White Queen, that’s all.

“Of course, if you want something for it I’m sure we can come to some amicable arrangement. Here, have a bag of salt old chap. No? Some beads perhaps? They’re jolly pretty, what?”

The tallest warrior says in sign language: “Chief Ntgathla, Chief of Chiefs, Man Among Men, sends cordial greetings to the bwanas and says he would be awfully glad if I brought you fellows back for dinner tonight.”

“How dashed decent of him!” cries Carruthers.

“Carruthers, for goodness sake!” whispers Ponsonby, urgently, “When the Chief says he wants us for dinner I don’t think he is necessarily going to entertain us – I think he will be more inclined to casserole us. We have no choice but to hop it.”

“I say, how very droll,” says Carruthers. “That’s all I can do is to ‘hop it’, what? Ha ha ha.”

He becomes serious: “Look, my dear Ponsonby, why don’t YOU make a dash for it on your own? After all you’ve got twice as many legs as I have and they probably look upon me as being perfectly ‘armless. Ha ha ha, there I go again! Gettit? Armless!

“I’ll distract them with my renditions from the Pirates of Penzance until you are safely away.”

Ponsonby solemnly salutes Carruthers’ noble self-sacrifice and escapes.

The waHittos, fascinated at first by Carruthers rendition of, “I am the very model of a modern major-general“, become restless and close in with their spears.

Carruthers switches to “God save the Queen” (as best he can while maintaining a stiff upper lip) – the spears fly.


Nothing (comprehensible) excites a geologist

I’ve received an interesting email based on an informal note by a mineralogist at Mintek in Randburg nroth of Johannesburg  commenting on how the media rarely present geologists to the general population.

If you discount the “sound bytes” on Discovery Channel’s volcano specials, they rarely get a mention, he says.

Well, no wonder…

A big American TV company last year tried to integrate geologists working in hazardous circumstances into a “Survivors” style show.

It hired a production crew and corralled a group of geologists prepared to vote each other off based on how they reacted while performing hazardous tasks such as crawling around active volcanoes, testing landslides, making hazardous flights into remote areas and so on.

The last remaining “hard-core geologist” would win a prize.

The team was plagued with problems from the beginning. They found six male and three female geologists and flew them to a very unstable volcano in the Philippines.

The nine scientists bonded nicely on camera, especially when given alcohol. But the camera crew noticed that even after drinking “gallons” the geologists continued talking in “an obscure jargonised language about ‘breccia,’ and ‘lahars,’ none of which made for good reality TV”.

The only rise in tension came when the seismologist and the structural geologist got into a yelling match over the best recipe for chilli.

When the geologists climbed the volcano to probe its secrets they went in different directions and camera crew was unable to find more than two working together.

The geologists felt that the volcano could erupt any moment. On hearing this the cameramen disappeared.

The result was almost no footage, and the TV editors were unable to make sense of what they had because they had no idea what the geologists were talking about.

Few of the scientists seemed to understand the concept of voting off another member. Finally, they were told to just get rid of someone on any sort of criteria so they decided to dump whoever had the worst aim with a rock hammer.

The second event, landing in a ski plane in Alaska’s frozen waste, failed because none of the geologists was nervous and thus there was no sense of drama – except among the camera crew. The crew refused to go on site. Instead it gave the scientists two cameras and asked them to film themselves.

When the editors went through the footage they found it was all about “glacial erratics”

Only 10 percent of the footage showed humans- mainly a petrologist standing passively to show scale.

In Hawaii’s volcanic zone most of the cameramen quit, defeated by the chilli diet and stressed by the danger. And only five geologists remained. The rest had become so fascinated by rock formations that they stayed behind.

Paying for an almost-constant supply of beer and the transportation of the geologists’ heavy piles of rock samples almost exhausted the budget..

The project has now been canned.

So geologists will remain an enigma.

In my experience palaeontologists (fossil hunters), despite the same pre-occupation with rocks, are far better material. They would make a splendid “Survival” series for they are very quarrelsome; they have a great sense of humour and they behave dramatically when, after days of lying in the dust scraping away at the ground, they leap around in ecstasy.

Glenn C Conroy, a professor of palaeo-anthropology (palaeo-anthropologists look mainly for pre-human bones) at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, told me about a cannibal restaurant that charged four times as much for cooked palaeo-anthropologists as it did for cooked missionaries.

Asked why, the chef said, “Have you ever tried to clean a palaeo- anthropologist?”


It’s much the same with geologists.



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