• 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.

Death of the intrepid traveller

Death of the intrepid traveller.

Death of the intrepid traveller


Travel and travellers have changed drastically since I was a boy in the late Pleistocene. For instance, I was in the Okavango Swamps in Botswana not long ago where I realised how neurotic tourists were about insect bites. One evening, an English family became almost hysterical when the father found he had an itchy raised spot on his arm – probably a mosquito bite.

Amid the hubbub my mind went back to a 2010 travel conference in Britain where a travel agent said that British travellers to Africa flew into a panic if they were bitten “by just about anything”.

The British – that one-time nation of intrepid explorers – never used to be like this…

1850. The scene –  The early morning mist lifts to reveal a small camp in Africa.

Ponsonby (walking into his companion’s tent): What ho, Carruthers! I say! Still in bed?

Carruthers: Be up in a jiffy old bean. Had a tiresome night.

Ponsonby: Not well, old boy?

Carruthers: Actually dear boy I was bitten during the night.

Ponsonby (noticing Carruthers’ leg has been torn off at the knee): I say, that IS a nasty bite!

Carruthers: Lion. Tried to carry me off! I’m surprised you didn’t hear the commotion – though I tried not to wake everybody.

Ponsonby: I say! But how are we going to cross the Semliki?

Carruthers: My dear Ponsonby, it’s a bite. That’s all. I’ll be tickety-boo after a cup of tea.

Ponsonby: But what if we run into the waHitto and have to make a run for it?

Carruthers: My dear boy, you worry so. Be a good man and help me to my feet. Or, rather, my foot! Ha ha ha. That was rather droll, what?

Ponsonby helps Carruthers to his foot.

They make their way through the jungle occasionally beating off creatures unknown to science. Inevitably Carruthers’ bloody stump attracts hyenas. One bites off his arm.

Carruthers: I say, Ponsonby, I’m dashed if I haven’t been bitten again!

Ponsonby: What beastly luck. Here, try some more Peaceful Sleep.

In crossing the river Ponsonby is bitten by a crocodile. Stifles a curse. On the far bank he whispers: Don’t look now but we are surrounded!

Try as he might not to look, Carruthers just has to peep. He finds himself touching eyeballs with a fierce waHitto warrior leading a war party.

Ponsonby (addresses them): My dear chaps, we come in peace for all mankind. And also womankind 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… A bag of salt maybe? Beads? We have some lovely beads.

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

Carruthers: How dashed decent of him!

Ponsonby (whispering): For goodness sake Carruthers! When the chief says he wants us for dinner I rather think he wants to casserole us. We must hop it!

Carruthers: That’s all I can do is “hop it”. Ha ha ha. (Then, becoming serious) Look, Ponsonby old boy, you make a dash for it. You’ve got twice as many legs as I have and the waHitto probably see me as being perfectly ’armless. Ha ha ha! There I go again. Armless! I’ll distract them with my rendition of Greensleeves until you are safely away.

The waHittos, fascinated at first by Carruthers’ quite beautiful singing (under the circumstances), 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 sink home.

Carruthers: Ouch! (Dies)

Extract from “Recalculating”, a new book of travel humour by James Clarke.   Available on Kindle or Smashword

Wimbledon and the spitting season

Not long ago I was reminiscing how, when I was a Boy Scout, we held spitting contests. This brought an email from Jack Adno to say he was glad Tiger Woods was fined for spitting on the golf course. Jack thought it a pity that other sports don’t do the same.

I have a feeling it is nowadays being frowned upon at Wimbledon. There’s even a move  in the United Kingdom towards restraining soccer players on the field  “not just from spitting at their opponents but spitting in general”.

The problem is that television has brought the habit right into one’s lounge. There you are watching tennis and reaching forward for another Marie biscuit – when, splat!

Remember the tennis ace, Lendl, and his high velocity spitting? He could kill sparrows on Centre Court.

It would be interesting if the machine that measures the speed of balls also measured the speed of players’ spit.

Tilly Vosloo emailed asking, “Why don’t women tennis players spit?” Good question. Can you imagine Maria Sharapova letting fly with a sparrow-killer?

Is it perhaps a male signalling device – does it turn on the ladies?

High velocity spitting isn’t easy. I’ve tried it. I spent a morning in the garden behind the beans trying to do it in a nonchalant macho way and had to change my shirt.

During a recent rugby match between the Springboks and Australia the camera, swinging around to relieve viewers from having to watch medicos performing reconstructive surgery on the touchline, focused on Bakkies Botha just as he let fly with a pigeon killer. Soccer players are something else. Not content with dribbling they seem to spit in synchronisation with the cameras.

In ancient times expectorating was anything but casual – especially among refined people. Spittle was believed by religious nutters to contain some of one’s soul and one’s enemies could collect it and use it as a magic potion.

For this reason great men had their own spittle collectors who would carry a spittoon and bury the contents each evening.

Some people spit on their hands to get a better grip on things and this has become ritualistic in many cultures – men make a show of spitting on their palms to indicate they are ready for a task even if it’s only to put the garbage out.

One just hopes bakers don’t do it.

But in sport it’s something else. I have noticed in rugby there are two kinds of spitters: those who do it carelessly and those with style. The latter close their eyes, purse their lips and incline the head slightly forward as if about to kiss a girl on the tip of her nose and then “thpaaaat!

TV cameramen have a knack of interpreting the signals and cry out to each other: “Quick chaps! Here comes a real CM!” (CM = “crater-maker”.)

Tilly says it’s worse on a tennis court.

Sadly tennis groupies pick up all these habits. Look how Bjorn Borg used to blow on his nails while waiting for a serve – today even the women do it.

Look how Chris Evert-Lloyd used to crouch over the base line and wiggle her bottom when waiting for a serve. Now all the women do it.

I don’t know about bottom wiggling but spitting is out of hand.

Wimbledon and chicken “poks”

In prehistoric times sports clubs were popular. They were big and heavy and were used to bash one’s opponent on the head.

Games tended to be short.

Today games go on for hours, sometimes days.

Can you imagine how many man-hours, not to mention women-hours, are wasted during, say, the Cricket World Cup?

Even rugby games – which used to be short and brutish – are now getting longer and longer because of injury time and the slowness of the MASH teams on the side line.

And now tennis. Look at Wimbledon.

Although individual games get shorter and shorter the tournament goes on for two weeks making a mockery of productivity in offices and workshops across whole countries.

Wimbledon used to be genteel. We spelt racket “racquet” in those days and ladies played in long skirts and one simply never saw their nickers.

The racquet’s “cat gut” strings were so elastic one could use  it  as a keep net for trout fishing.

When you hit the ball it went “Plunk!” Then came “rackets”. They had tight nylon strings and went “Pluck!”

But the game was still quite leisurely compared with today.  Even players such as Rod “Rocket” Laver would puck away for 10 minutes before one of the linesmen would wake up and call “OUT!”

Modern rackets, with graphite frames and reinforced strings,  when they connect with the ball,  go “pok!” and propel it almost as fast as a Lear jet.

Now that Wimbledon’s here again, one’s lounge will be filled with the sound of “Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok-Pok! Pok! Pok!” coming from the television set. Close your eyes and it’s like listening to a chicken about to lay an egg.

Today with 2 metre high players you hear:

“Pok!” … “Fifteen love!”

“Pok!” … “Thirty love!”

“Pok! Net! Fust suvvus.”

Pok!” “40 love.”

“Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok! Pokkk!!!”

“Game Mister Shekenoskovicenski.”

I have seen games won with only four “Poks”.  At this stage the winner punches the air while the loser spits – “Plik!”

Lendl used to kill sparrows on Centre Court when he spat.

I see that the tennis generals are now considering using bigger and therefore slower balls. They realise that sizzling aces are fine but the crowd-pleasers are the multi-pok rallies.

Crowd pleasing is important for tennis is a labour-intensive industry. There can be 13 people on a court, all being paid to watch where the ball goes. And that’s not counting the players. Even then, the ball can beat them all.

“OUT!” cries a linesman.

The player stops dead. He stares incredulously at the linesman who looks stoically ahead; then at the umpire who is studying his fingernails, then at heaven and then he goes to the spot where the ball, in his view, landed, and he stares at it and probes it with his foot and looks again at the umpire.

Then he spits. Pfhttt!

Another sparrow dies.




Making a bob or two

Bob-a-job, that annual Saturday event when Boy Scouts, the world

over, used to offer their services around the community, is more or less

a dead institution today. A pity because it was very character building.

We were prepared to do anything for a bob (a ‘bob’ was otherwise

known as a shilling and worth in today’s context five pence).We were even prepared to

work. At the end of a hard bob-a-job day the Yellow Six, after much

accounting, would end up with three or four bob. This was, of course,

after deducting our subsistence and travel allowance.

When we came calling, villagers who knew us would barricade

their doors or paint white crosses on them, but a few kind souls would

go out of their way to find jobs for us such as turning three tons of

compost or cleaning out the coal shed.

In 1946 the Yellow Six was booked a week in advance for bob-a-job

by the Cowins who owned a chain of confectioners. By the time

Saturday came we had worked ourselves into quite a froth of

expectation, Laidlaw saying he was sure Mr Cowin would want us to

wrap sweets or squirt jam into doughnuts. For this reason I suggested

we all scrubbed our fingernails and made sure we smelled of Lifebuoy

before we knocked at Cowin’s door.We mustered outside the gate at

7am feeling unusually antiseptic and then marched up the drive in

single file.

Making quite a display of our fingernails we saluted Mr Cowin. He

asked us if we had brought our trek cart. Most troops had a largewheeled

trek cart in which they carried rope and tents and framed

pictures of Jane Russell and the King. Thoughts filled our minds of

being asked to take a trek cart full of sweets and sherbert sticks and

distribute them, at our own discretion, among the underprivileged.

But we had no cart. I said we would come up with a plan. Mr Cowin

then asked us to follow him round the back. There we discovered Mr

Cowin’s second interest – keeping chickens.

He said he needed three sacks of chicken manure delivered to his

brother near Four Oaks, five kilometres away. Hence the need for a

trek cart. He would pay us ten bob, a sum of money which had us

clutching at each other.We said we’d be back.

After some debate outside on the pavement we realised we were

unlikely to find a cart and so decided to forget it and, instead, try our

luck door-to-door.

We knocked on a door in Thornhill Road – a road of fairly large

houses. At our very first house a distraught woman, who was new to

the area, came to the door with a screaming baby which looked as if it

had only recently been dropped by a stork. ‘Bob-a-job!’ I said,

saluting. ‘Can we be of service ma’am?’ She grabbed me by my bird

recognition badge ‘Please!’ she said, ‘Take my other child for a walk in

her pram!’

The infant was, I suppose, not much over one year. The pram was

of high class coachwork like Buckingham Palace’s Irish State Coach.

It had high leaf springs and felt as if it had power steering. Everybody

wanted first go. But, as L*E*A*D*E*R of the Yellow Six, I took first

shift at pushing it. It was agreed, after a lot of unseemly shouting and

shoving, that after 500 paces the others would get a turn in

alphabetical order. Laidlaw then accused me of taking long steps.

Arbuckle was next and we all said he was deliberately walking too fast

for us to do an accurate count. In retaliation he started to run and the

baby began to cry. We all stopped and peered under the canopy.We

were assailed by the most nauseating stench. Even Laidlaw turned

puce. The baby, on seeing us, stopped crying and smiled.

Arbuckle suddenly announced he had completed his 500 steps. I said

I had counted only 250. The Welsh Kid said 100.We all said yes, 100.

Then the Welsh Kid, who was never a slow thinker, shouted ‘Chicken

manure!’ or something synonymous. We looked at him. Bongo! With the

pram we could easily move three bags of manure in one haul.

To cut a long story short we raced back to the Cowins’, dumped

the three bags on the pram (remembering to move the baby to the far

end) and roared off to Four Oaks taking shifts of twenty paces each

which was as long as any of us could hold our breath. It began to rain.

The pram, the whole soggy pile, was now releasing enough nitrogen,

methane and other greenhouse gases to turn Britain into a tropical

wonderland. It also seemed to anaesthetise the child who grinned

continuously in a cross-eyed sort of way.

We delivered the goods and, somewhat overdue, raced back to

Thornhill Road. The distraught mother, supported by neighbours and

a totally sympathetic Constable Cope (who, for some reason, kept all

our names in his notebook), rushed to the pram and took out her baby.

As she blissfully hugged the noisome little bundle of mostly youknow-

what, burying her lips time and time again in the soiled chicken

feathers adhering to it, I thought to myself what a wonderful thing was

mother love.

She never did pay us.


S*X for the Extremely Shy


Women’s magazines, Sunday papers and the Reader’s Digest have been writing more and more about sex in recent years. They carry candid letters from girls who can’t achieve orgasm or men who fear impotence. They solicit replies from sexologists, whose advice, for some reason, is always written in bold face, and who provide long and explicit answers which never fail to badly shock those of us who were brought up in mid-20th century when the most explicit things in newspapers and magazines was advertisements for Maidenform bras. Today, magazines publish a zillion words a year just on how to find your partner’s G-spot.
I don’t even know what a G-spot is – and I daren’t ask.
What these journals fail to realise is that out there, there are people who have difficulty finding even a decent parking spot and who also wouldn’t know what a G-spot was even if it leapt out and bit them on their backsides.
The following advice is for them.
If only editors knew it, there are millions of people who can be classed as Extremely Shy and who need just very basic advice so that they can take it s l o w l y.
In the 1950s everybody was shy. Or nearly everybody. For a start your parents never told you anything, but they would issue many an enigmatic warning about, well . . . you know . . . about, well, s*x, the very mention of which would induce a violent fit of coughing. Or they might have slid you some sort of book written by an elderly clergyman, who’d obviously never had it, which would warn you about not playing with yourself.
As a consequence of all this one would – in fact two would – feel guilty about being sexually attracted and the sex act itself was one stage short of robbing a bank or snatching an old lady’s walking frame as she was hobbling to the shops. One would writhe in agony before summoning up the courage to make a date. Men especially.
In those days few of us had telephones so, if you wanted to ask a girl for a date, you had to do it face to face… if you’ll pardon the expression.
And my generation did not do a much better job in sexually educating our kids. In the 1950s and 1960s you’d no more think of discussing sex at the table than you would flick food at the ceiling to see if it would stick.
Today sex can come up in normal conversation at dinner. “Aesthetically speaking,” one sister might say to another, “whadya think of this new female condom?” The other, idly chasing a pea around her dinner plate…

Extract from “Sex for the Terribly Shy

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