• 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.

Father Christmas and the chimney problem

There are a lot of traditions at this time of the year and one of them is for Stoep Talk to trot out a column regarding that milestone in American journalism when a New York editor, Frank Church, received a letter from a little girl named Virginia.

Virginia told Church that her friends were mocking her because she believed in Santa Claus.

In American emetic style, Frank Church wrote:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age… Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies.

“No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever.

“A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

One wonders how an editor might handle little Virginia’s letter in this day and age.

How, for instance, would I have handled it?

“Dear Virginia,

“Thank you for your letter of the 12th inst.

“Your little friends are dead right.

“Santa Claus! Ha! You might as well believe in fairies. Nay, you might as well believe in the Easter Bunny, politicians and airways time tables.

Make no mistake, Virginia, Santa Claus is a figment of the Chamber of Commerce’s mission statement.

“Have you ever stood back and watched Father Christmas at your local departmental store? Do you see how obscenely fat he is? Can you visualise him sliding down your chimney carrying a bicycle and a doll’s house – even supposing you have a chimney which, living in New York, you almost certainly don’t?

“Can you imagine him getting into any suburban home today without setting off alarms and Rottweilers and getting lead poisoning from 9mm slugs?

“Come on Virginia, get real.

“I am yours ever so sincerely,

“James F Clarke

Editor of the Column that Tells It Like It Is.

As I typed in that final full stop (please find) I heard the thump of gumboots getting louder and louder. They stopped outside Stoep Talk Organisation’s luxurious suite of offices.

Then a fat, white-bearded man, dressed in ridiculous red clothes launched himself at my computer’s “ZAP” button.

“Stop!” he cried. “You are crazy! You have gone insane! Look at me! Say who I am! Go on, say it!”

I said: “Who I am.”

“No, no! Tell me who, or even whom, you think I am!”

“Father Christmas,” I said, taken greatly aback. (Nay, Virginia, I was gobsmacked.)

“And how did I get here notwithstanding the absence of a chimney?”

“You screeched up on that sledge pulled by those overgrown sprinklebokkens and kicked down my door causing the picture of my aunt, Pamela Anderson, to fall off the wall.”

“Yes, well, it was an emergency. But note that your lack of a chimney was no handicap to me. I gain entry through MAGIC.”

Then he said: “Look here, do you want something really nice for Christmas?”

“Yes please. I could do with a one of those cellphones that takes movies, prints faxes, boils kettles and has a built-in Swiss Army knife. Then I’d like mag wheels for my dustbin and I’d like some socks and…”

“And what must you be to get all these things?”

“I must be a good boy.”

“Then just remember that!”

And, so help me Virginia, he hit my “ZAP” button and rode off leaving a trail of stardust which the cleaning lady is going to be spitting mad about.

Needed: a men’s liberation movement

As Monday is National Women’s Day and I have to clean my bicycle I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you, once again, of the time I wandered upstairs into my cranium to pay a visit to the Pondering Division of my Memory Bank.

It was on National Women’s Day in 1997 and this was a surprise visit.

“Busy are we?” I said.

Naturally the staff began jumping around.

I smiled. Even though I am the captain up there, I am always friendly. I asked the Head of Pondering (HOP) if it were possible that men would ever, seriously, start a men’s liberation movement?

After all, we ARE liberated; we ARE our own masters; we ARE . . .

I was interrupted by a voice that made everybody jump. It came in from outside entering the operations area through both ears and reverberating off the walls.

It was the wife from the kitchen.

I said: “What is it, dear heart?”

She wanted to know what I was doing. I shouted back: “I was just talking to myself.” (She would never have understood the truth.)

She wanted to know when I would fix the iron. I said: “Yes, light-of-my-life, I’ll drop everything and fix it right away. I mean, I am only trying to earn an honest living but we don’t need money in this house because we get everything free just by shuffling our pack of plastic cards at the supermarket, at, the butcher, at the blasted dress shop . . . ”

I admit that most of this was said, sort of softo voce.

I leaned against the doorpost of the Pondering Department. Many staff members were scratching their heads. They tend to do this a lot in this section.

The Head of Memory (HOM) popped his head in. Useful fellow to have around. I told HOP and HOM that men have men’s clubs and the difference between a man’s club and woman’s is that most of the time a man’s club is silent. We have little need to speak. But when women meet they can’t stop.

The voice came crashing through again.

I replied: “Yes, chickabiddy, just getting the jolly old insulation tape. Can’t fix the iron without insulation tape, can we? You could get your little self e-lec-tro-cuted! ZAPPPPP!”

I told the Head of Memory: “Expunge that thought!” I heard the sound of flushing.

“Women chatter so,” I went on. “They chatter about each other. They chatter about anything.

“Men merely exchange views.”

Later, in the Memory Department’s operations room I caught somebody shovelling neurons into a bin. “Hey!” I cried, “what are you dumping?” I recognised my history notes from school. “You can’t throw these away!” I scolded. “And what’s this? My bachelor memories of Felicity Throgmorton and that time we had in a field outside Stratford! Dear old Throgs!”

I said to HOM, “How can you throw precious stuff like this away?”

He grumbled that I stored so much useless information that it was no wonder they couldn’t always come up with answers when I needed them.

“Please,” he said, “get away from those bins. Just leave us to do our job? You can’t possibly remember everything at your age.”

The Voice once more came bursting through, this time sending a memory file crashing to the floor. The dust made everybody sneeze. HOM said: “You see what I mean?”

His words were drowned by The Voice.

“Quick,” I said to HOM, “I am supposed to be fixing the iron. Where the devil did I leave the insulation tape last time I used it?”

“Search me,” he sniffed.

What happened to the real James Bond

Britain’s M15 says secret agents are “beyond it” by 50. – report.


Bond appeared in the doorway, “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Grant of M15 said, “Who?”

“You know,” said Bond, “007! Licensed to kill and all that.”

“And all what?”

“Well, it depends on the season… but I’m also licensed to drive a vehicle that can do 320km/h, with machine guns in the hubcaps and an 88mm cannon disguised as an exhaust pipe and a grenade launcher in the boot and…”

“What on earth do you drive – a Soweto taxi?”

“An Aston Martin, actually.”

“Isn’t that a football team?”

“You’re thinking of Aston Villa,” said Bond.

Grant, “Anyway, old man, the name’s Grant, Sebastian Grant, 9800956. If you’ve been sent by Sir Andrew, I suggest we  move!”

Grant vaulted through the window to avoid being seen by those who (or even whom) he knew would be watching the front entrance. He landed lightly, three floors down. Bond followed, but landed astride some railings. He winced visibly and Grant, retrieving Bond’s tripod walker, noticed the old man’s eyes smarted, just a little.

“You OK?”

“Fine! Got this damned brittle-bone problem. Don’t worry – I can set my old bones myself once we’re in the car.”

Both 007 and 9800956 were gunning the M15’s Jag XJ 220 (with stereo radio and tape deck) along the M25 when 007 asked, “Tell me, old boy, whatever happened to Botvinik?”

“Old Botty – the Russian spymaster? He retired. We gave him a part-time job at M15, tidying up our files. He was more familiar with them than we were. We’ve given up chasing Russians, of course. Nowadays we buy their secrets through a mail-order catalogue. It’s the Arabs now.”

 “Grant, I must confess I don’t know why Sir Andrew sent me to you. My game was chasing Russians. Of course, once we realised most of the M15 and CIA chiefs had been Russian agents all along the situation became uncertain and we spent a lot of time chasing each other – often round our own desks.

Bond began to reminisce … “Once I turned 50 they gave me an Austin Mini – imagine! One day I was chasing Botvinik in his Fiat 1100…” Bond laughed at the memory and was instantly racked by a paroxysm of coughing.

“Anyway, we drove straight into a canal! I said to myself, ‘Bond, this is the end of the road! You’re past it!'”

Bond wiped some dribble off his club tie, the thin end of which hung lower than the fat end.

“But surely, Grant old boy, Arabs must be easier to spot? Look, there’s one!”

“By jove,  Bond! It’s Ali Salim Salim Ali, licensed to deal in Scuds. Hold tight!”

The rocket-assisted XJ 220 soared over the top of the Arab’s SL 960 (four-door with disc brakes), touching down just in front of it. Ali Salim immediately pulled off the road, grabbed his secret plans, umbrella and sandwich tin and sprinted into the fields with Grant in hot pursuit and Bond in cooler pursuit.

As Grant disappeared into the distance, Bond, out of puff, lay in the grass and closed his eyes.

He sensed a shadow fall over him and found himself gazing up into the liquid brown eyes of  Princess Fabiola Aman Ik Aman the famous Arab spy.

“Hello, James,” she breathed.

“Hello, my dear,” said Bond.

“Can I loosen your tie?” she sighed.

But Bond was already snoring.

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