• 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.

Aunt Prudence strikes again

Few readers know it but The Stoep Talk Organisation – the holding company for the Stoep Talk Column – has a rich history of helping people and at one time ran an agony column by “Aunty Pru”. Readers were invited to send her their problems.
Mindful of how some agony columnists are said to make up their own questions – something Stoep Talk (as everybody knows) would never do – we employed Miss Prudence Subtle-Boozer.
She wrote part time while running a home for fallen women in Ventersdorp. She was later matron at Stilton College, a well-known maximum security boys’ school in Natal and had enormous experience solving irritating personal problems such as bad breath and criminal insanity.
Aunt Prudence, in her sensitive columns, saved many a couple from the marriage yoke and set many an acne-tortured teenager on the right path (to lovers’ leap, mostly).
Some who responded were trying to strike up a relationship with a boy/girl/their mother/a Maltese poodle – others had problems such as itchiness or self-actualising and how to neck when one has a heavy cold.
This was 11 years ago and Aunt Pru is still around.
But the day we launched we were inundated by three letters:
Dear Aunt Prudunce,
(Please ecxuse my typing) Accordinh to my stars – I am Pisced by th way – I am abour to meet a tall, dark, hangsome man yet I am enfaged to a short, bald fat man who plays with model trains. He even maks me imitate train tooting becasuse, he say, it turns him on. Should I (at 43) wait for the TDH man or marry what’s in hand? Deepl:y Troubled, Tonteldoos, Ext 3.
Dear Gertie, you say you are Pisced. I do hope you meant Pisces. (If not try switching to low alcohol beer.) I would certainly give that frustrated would-be shunter a final shunt. You’ve waited at least 20 years for the right man so why not hang about a bit longer because, in the new South Africa, tall dark handsome men are, these days, going places fast?
Dear Aunt Prudence,
I cannot bear my fiancee’s name – Monica Piddlington (but please don’t use this as her mother will murder me) – yet she flatly refuses to change it. I have suggested Brunhilde (I am German). Piddlington will, of course, fall away when we marry and become Von Kimmelling-Berscheshagenoffenbach. What worries me is that if she won’t do little things for me now – like changing her first name – what about when we get married and I might require bigger things? For example, she will need plastic surgery to change her face so that it is in keeping with what I expect of a wife. Werner, Dinwiddie.
Dear Werner, women can be very unreasonable and stubborn. Monica’s mother might be a problem too. If you really HAVE to marry the girl – on account of, say, her money – why not let her keep her name Monica on paper but call her Brunhilde in the house? She’ll soon warm to it.
Dear Aunt Pru,
I am 18 and all my friends have dates except me – all I seem to have is acne. What can I do? Tearful, Midrand.
Dear Tearful, there’s nothing wrong with going out with acne. I accept that acne isn’t going to pay for your cinema ticket or a meal in a fancy restaurant but it will always be there next morning which is more than your girlfriends can say about their boyfriends. From your picture you have a particularly hideous case of acne. Try wearing a bag over your head. Boys love a mystery.

Marking secretaries’ day

What with the strike in the public service and Secretaries’ Day coinciding last week, business fizzled and telephones went unanswered throughout Gauteng.
It was no different at the headquarters of the Stoep Talk Organisation. Threnody Higginbottom, my private secretary whose name we pronounce as “Smith” and who files everything under “M” for Miscellaneous, had conspicuously circled Secretaries’ Day on her desk calendar when it was still barely mid August outside.
I pretended not to notice. I like her to think I can remember special days unaided.
Halfway through Wednesday I said, “Happy Secretaries’ Day!” and from behind my back I brought out a surprise in an envelope. She opened it and exclaimed, “But it’s a Christmas card!” That was the surprise, I said.
Oh my, how we laughed.
Well, I certainly did.
It’s always nice to give a little surprise on Secretaries’ Day. Last year I surprised her with an expensive (and hardly used) “Get Well” card. The year before it was a birthday card.
Every boss should have a sense of humour.
I fully realise it is also incumbent on the boss to do something bordering on the generous on Secretaries’ Day otherwise you get tea slopped in your saucer for months afterwards. So I took Threnody, once again, to lunch at Bobo’s where, I was pleased to see, they’d installed seats at last. It made it a lot more comfortable than having to stand at the counter admiring the back-lit blown-up photographs of sausages and chips.
“This is your day,” I told her, “and you may order whatever takes your fancy! Spare no expense! Even the ‘Special’ – a ladies’ steak and chips, if you like.”
To be frank, this annual lunch requires a very real sacrifice on my part. It’s not just the money it’s that Threnody is so very reserved. She sits up very straight and tense while I tend to be an exuberant eater, waving my fork around and dropping things down my tie which, when I get home, I often dig straight into the compost heap.
I allow her to drop the “Mr Clarke” and just call me “Sir”. I call her “Threnody” although, in the office I never address her as anything but “Miss Smith”. Threnody ordered a small hamburger, with chips. I ordered just a cold drink for myself but told her not to worry about me. “Just relax,” I said. To show her that I was perfectly at ease and that there was no need for her to hurry the meal, I tapped a little tune on the table with my fingers.
The conversation, as always, comprised mainly of little fits of coughing.
Cough, cough, cough she went and then she said how long it had been since she’d had a salary increase. Naturally, I was curious. “How long?” I asked.
“(Cough. Cough.) Four years.”
She confessed she’d actually prayed for a rise. I was shocked that she should have gone above my head and said if she wanted a rise she must say so.
“(Cough. Cough.) Well, I do!” she said.
Then I too went into paroxysms of coughing and subtly changed the subject: “How’s your mother?” I asked. (A lot of bosses don’t care about their secretary’s family.)
“Fine,” she said.
I asked her if she liked my “surprise” card. She said “Yes.” Then I reminded her of last year’s “Get well” card and we had another jolly good laugh.

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