• 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.

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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.


One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs and commented:
    Ahh. Those were the days .

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