• 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.

Shedding more light on Darkest Europe

Maybe we are getting older. The Tour de Farce team I mean. We who took part in this month’s Tour de Farce VIII expedition in France are all over 40 y’know. Yes, all right, over 50. OK, over 60…
But once again, we did it: 1000 km across France. Well, OK, let’s say 800. Mind you, it might have been only 700. Certainly we cycled more than 600. Oh yes. Definitely more than 600. Even 620.
We always go in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring.
As many readers know, the annual Tour de Farce is when, ever so intrepidly, six of us set out from Africa to explore, on bicycles, Darkest Europe and bring back tales of the natives there.
There were only four of us this year – two having been temporarily stricken by problems that typically afflict the over 40s such as ones spine crumbling like a cheese straw or ones hip joints running out of axle grease.
They’ll be back next year.
Our difficulties began right at the start, at the railway station at Paris’s Charles de Gaul Airport. Peter Sullivan (who normally takes charge at stations and airports) asked for tickets to Haute Peronne 100km north in the Somme valley.
Explorers such as Marco Polo, David Livingstone and Bartholomew Dias would understand what I mean by “difficulties”.
“No station at Peronne,” said the ticket man.
“But it says here we must take a train to Haute Peronne,” said Peter.
“No train. Go to Amiens and catch a taxi.”
At this stage, as expedition leader, I took command. Bearing in mind that one has to speak loudly when speaking English in France, I waved our instructions, explaining that there were people waiting for us at Haute Peronne station. I added, “Très important people”.
He shrugged in that dismissive way that Frenchmen learn at shrugging collièrge.
Then he said, “Ah, Péron! Bourgogny!”.
“Non. Non! Picardy.”
“Ah, Picaaardeee! Oila!”
Next thing we were getting off the train at Picardy’s tiny station where we were greeted by two young ladies from the Somme Tourist Board who were providing the bikes for the first leg of our heroic ride. They whisked us by car 9 km east of Peronne through villages whose names we could not pronounce.
We stayed in Buire-Courcelles on Joel Bleriot’s ancient endive farm, Moulin de Binard. This beautiful farm is set amid deep meadows sparkling with daisies and buttercups. Below is a shady stream that emerges from dense woodland whose branches accommodate a full choir of birds.
Just as the Pilgrim Fathers opened up America for those who came later so it was our bounden duty to open up this area of France to future cyclists – families, groups of friends and so on.
People ask us: Is it safe? Is it expensive? Is the terrain challenging? Is it interesting? Do you need to move your own luggage each day?
The short answers are: yes, no, yes, yes, no.
We spent three days cycling in the Somme Valley though not as far as its huge estuary famous for its waterfowl. That would b a great ride – via Amiens and Abbeville.
Occasionally we found ourselves on busy highways yet with careful map reading (something that eludes us) it is possible to pick ones way clean across France using only quiet, almost traffic-free country roads. But with four of us reading individual maps and all four possessed of 100 decibel voices we were inclined to shoot off at different angles shouting contradictory pieces of unheeded advice.
The next two weeks took us down the Somme with its lakes and streams, along the Normandy coast and then across to Burgundy for the final week – all to unveil, for the people of Africa, yet another corner of Darkest Europe.

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