• Message from James Clarke

    "South Africa's Best Humour Columnist"

    - SA's Comedy Awards September 2008

    “South Africa’s funniest columnist.”

    - Financial Mail

    WELCOME TO MY BLOG

    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 ....


    ooo

    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.

Back from Honkers

I have been in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks with my companion, Mary, who knows the region well. Her son and family live there.
It was my first visit and while I was not surprised by what I saw on Hong Kong island – apart that is, from finding it was two-thirds dense forest – I was surprised by an adjacent island, Lantau.
So rather than discuss that familiar pile that is downtown Hong Kong – colloquially “Honkers” – I want to tell you about Lantau, a “suburban island” twice the area of Hong Kong island. Continue reading

Beryl and other perils

 

Health and safety officers in Britain are alarmed at the number of children doing adults’ work – illegally.
They found a 12-year-old operating a mechanical digger laying drives in Birmingham, and a 13-year-old girl working as a hospital receptionist. – Report.
Beryl (13) knew, in her heart of hearts, that she was too old for Selwyn (12), but then, she told herself, Selwyn was way ahead of his years.
Did he not drive a 32-ton mechanical digger which could, with one scoop, lift out a fair-sized cottage?
Indeed, had he not done just that – accidentally?
The problem was, Beryl said to herself as she examined her acne in the little mirror at Thornton Hospital reception desk, Selwyn was doing a man’s job – yet her parents refused to admit it.
Ok, so it was their cottage he had totalled. But still, it was no reason for them to go on and on about it for two whole days.
The telephone rang and Beryl chanted: “Thornton Hospital! How may I help yoo-hoo?”
It was a very excited woman on the other end. Beryl puzzled, removed the phone from her ear and stared for a moment into the earpiece. Then she said “What? I mean pardon, madam? You say your waters have broken?
“I think you need a plumber. Try the Yellow Pages.”
Beryl put down the phone in time to see the dragon-like Mrs Monckton coming down from seeing her husband in ward 6. The old lady waddled up to the reception desk and announced “Ernie is much better today. He says he’s dying to come home.”
“It’s the anaesthetic,” said Beryl, “it can’t have worn off yet.”
Beryl removed the wooden tongue-depressor she used as a bookmark and tried to continue reading Nancy Drew and the Arab Prince. But her mind was in turmoil.
There was the disco tomorrow night, and what to wear, and Bob’s invitation to his school dance.
Bob, now in Std 9, was working part time driving locomotives. His kid brother, too young to even climb on to one of those monsters, had to be satisfied working a signal box on Saturday mornings.
It was nice earning money, Beryl told herself, as she thought of all her friends who were either studying or in labour.
The phone rang again: “ThorntonHospitalhowmayIhelpyoo-hoo?”
It was a woman asking how it was that her husband, who was being treated for asthma, died of heart disease? Beryl reassured her: “Please, madam, if the hospital was treating your husband for asthma he would have died of asthma.”
Beryl saw young Doctor Harding walking past, nonchalantly swinging his stethoscope. She sighed a little sigh. He once did 10 tonsillectomies in an hour. Everybody said that wasn’t bad for a 15-year-old.
Her thoughts slipped back to her boyfriend, Selwyn. Maybe she thought, he would look older if his mother let him wear longs. But his mother wouldn’t buy him any until he learned to do joined-up writing.
It was fair enough. Selwyn had a little dyslexia but it was hardly a handicap. There was just the one incident where Selwyn had ripped up the drive of number 31 Oak Avenue instead of number 13. But everybody makes mistakes.
And, anyway, it was nothing compared with what Bertie Grimes did at the airport. But then Bertie was only 11 and, as the chairman of the board of inquiry said, at Bertie’s age, he should never have been put in charge of air traffic control.

Continue reading

The power of scent

I recently mentioned eating silkworms and I have since received some interesting new facts about them but, alas, no recipe.
One thing: if you eat them rest assured they do fall within the new “no carbs” diet.
Apparently if you catch 350 000 female silkworms – they are a doddle to catch being very slow – and empty their scent glands, you will end up with a tiny dab of greasy substance called bombycol.
It smells vaguely like leather. It is an alcohol. If you count, carefully, you’ll find it has 16 carbon atoms to the molecule.
Your sample should be just enough to allow you to weigh 0,000 000 000 000 004 of an ounce (roughly) – that’s about 0,000 001 of a picogram if you want to be pernickety.
Now wave it around in the near presence of a male moth and note how, like an Italian in a Gorgonzola factory, it becomes frantic with desire.
Even at 1km silkworms males can detect it.
Indeed, the male emperor moth is even cleverer: he can detect a female’s minute speck of a scent gland at 8km.
Yet, for all that, moths have a sense of smell only eight times better than a man’s. Note, I didn’t say “a woman’s”. A woman’s sense of smell is many pictograms more sensitive than an emperor moth’s. Believe me.
And, I’ve discovered, bee swarms have their distinctive smell and kill interlopers. In fact smell plays a vital role in the lives of all animals including humans.
I read of a study that indicated a young woman’s sense of smell is at times extremely acute and she is attracted by the smell of a man’s skin – especially the odour of a man’s palms. Try it chaps.
Herd animals, by rubbing against each other acquire a group smell and will instantly detect an interloper. Human are herd animals when you come to think of it (with a lot of predator thrown in) and, certainly, smell plays a part in our behaviour. Some community smells among humans are known to repulse other communities.
Yet body odour is a turn-on in many societies and has always been. When Henry IV was coming home from war he sent a message to Corisande de Gramont (whom he fancied), “Pray, do not bath”.
It makes you wonder what perfume, deodorants and after-shave are doing to our sense of smell and behaviour patterns.
There’s also the question of the way some animals spread their personal scent around. I am sure we once did that.
Dogs do it by lifting a leg against an object such a lamppost or tree.
Apropos of this, Farley Mowat, the Canadian biologist and author was sent by the Canadian Wildlife Service to study wolves in the Arctic. In Never Cry Wolf he tells how he pitched his tent and, each dawn, the wolf pack trotted past it, studiously ignoring him as he sat just metres away.
One day, when the wolves had gone off on their daily hunt, Mowat decided to mark his own territory just as the wolves do.
It took him the entire day to demarcate a modest area, and he had to drink litre upon litre of tea and water. Just for fun he usurped part of the wolves’ territory by peeing across their well-worn track.
The wolves came trotting back and when the lead wolf reached Mowat’s first mark it stopped dead, sat down and turned its head and looked squarely at him.
It then sniffed around Mowart’s entire demarcated area and, in a minute or two, the wolf left his mark, a couple of drops a time, on the outside of each of Mowat’s.
From then on the wolves religiously made a detour around Mowat’s territory.

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