• 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.

Is there a Santa Claus?

I wish to commemorate that milestone in American emetic 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. 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, in this day and age, an editor might handle little Virginia’s letter.
How, for instance, would I have handled it?
“Dear Virginia,
“Thank you for your letter of the 12th inst. Herewith is my response, please find enclosed.
“Your friends are dead right.
“Santa Claus! Ha! You might as well believe in fairies. Nay, you might as well believe in the Easter Bunny, time tables and what you read in the newspapers.
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 – 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.

The collected papers of …

Today is International Columnists Day when newspaper columnists the world over traditionally update a past column so they can knock off early and sort out their beer mat collection.
It gives me the opportunity to recount how, some years ago, I read that Princeton University was working on the collected papers of Albert Einstein. Time said it was “one of the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the history of science”.
Ha! I tried to imagine what it would be like if somebody tried assembling the collected papers of James F Clarke when he finally parks his bicycle.
Actually, my papers are already in a collected condition – piled high in cupboards, on shelves and in boxes in the garage.
Finding material that might prove remotely interesting would be the challenge.
I can see it now – a two-man team from the new University of Ogies’ English department headed by Professor Fanie Phello.
The prof stands scratching his brainbone. He is dwarfed by a mountain of paper – cuttings, tear sheets, lists headed “things to do” and inscribed, “fix back door, replace hall light, sharpen knives, get Band Aid, get car serviced; cholesterol check; pick up post; Marmite; cheese; superglue; fix kitchen tap…”
Prof Phello speaks to his assistant, Thola Izibi: These lists of ‘things to do’ are endless and obviously he never got around to doing them. Take ‘Fix kitchen tap’ – it appears on lists spread over many years.
Izibi: Over here are drawers and drawers of papers and boxes all labeled “M”.
Prof: Yes, that would be his secretary, Threnody Higginbottom whom he insisted on calling ‘Miss Smith’. She filed everything under M for Miscellaneous.
Izibi: Well it’s mostly letters from readers whom, I understand, used to write his column for him. And lots from medical aid.
Prof: Medical aid? That could be interesting – they might tell us something about his health.
Izibi: The letters are mostly to inform him that his medical fund is not prepared to pay his Wine Club bills and that he must desist from trying to claim them each month. It appears he read somewhere that red wine was good for the heart and he felt it should be considered as “chronic medicine”. He also used to send them his bills for All Bran and …
Prof (interrupting): Ah, what have we here? A letter from Buckingham Palace! It’s from the Queen’s assistant deputy private secretary, Sir Percy Snodfellow, begging Clarke to stop asking the Queen to write a foreword for his proposed book titled Prince Charles and me,(or I). It appears he once met Prince Charles and shook his hand and said “How d’you do?” That, for a journalist of Clarke’s calibre would have been the basis for a thick ganglion-flattening book.
Izibi: We must surely find something that gives an insight into what sort of fellow he was. He rose, after all, to head the biggest society in South Africa – Densa, the club for those too stupid for Mensa, the society for the highly intelligent.
Prof: Yes, that figures.
Izibi: But, Prof, Densa had some great ideas. Imagine if Densans had taken over South Africa! Who knows – traffic lights might have worked again; traffic cops would have come out from behind the bushes to help motorists for a change.
The cops would have arrested bad taxi drivers and sentenced them to filling in potholes.
The government would have introduced capital punishment for anybody caught putting up posters on suburban trees… or saying “isit?” every time somebody told them something.
Prof: You seem to be impressed by Densa.
Izibi: (Cough. Cough.) My grandfather was a closet member.

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