• 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.

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.
That’s where we stayed in a 14th-floor apartment overlooking the South China Sea. From there we could see Hong Kong’s toothy cityscape in the distance; a 25-minute fast ferry ride away.
Lantau is the largest island in the region which was a British Crown Colony until ceded to China 17 years ago.
By the way, on Hong Kong itself, beyond that famous skyline, I saw towering 70- storey, soulless apartment blocks packed tight like bamboo clumps – thousands of families compressed into thousands of tiny apartments. I recalled Canadian columnist, Robert Fulford’s remark, about megacities: “I have seen the future – and it doesn’t work”.
By contrast Lantau, where widely spaced “towering villages” of high apartment blocks sprout from deeply forested hills, highrise living works just fine.
We stayed in Discovery Bay in the northeast where small clusters of apartments (up to 24 storeys high) rise from the hillsides – “DB” is an amphitheatre of landscaped parks looking down on the “The Plaza” – a huge, Mediterranean type “square” (it’s round actually). It is busy with children scooting or riding their bikes; parents and off-duty Philippino “domestics” drink coffee and passengers hurrying to the ferry terminal or to the spotlessly clean buses which provide a 10-minute service to each of the bay’s complexes.
One is aware of children – hundreds of them. And dogs. The Chinese, who represent 88 percent of the population, love dogs as much as the expatriates love dogs. They walk them morning and evening, disposing of their droppings in special bins.
Even along Lantau’s many paved nature trails through the forests there are dog latrines.
There are no privately-owned cars in the quiet bay, just golf carts.
Shops ring the Plaza. So do restaurants catering for the tastes of around 30 nationalities, including many South Africans. (We even found, not far away, a South African-owned beach café called The Stoep).
But whether Asian or “Gweilo” (meaning “ghosts” – the slightly derogatory name for whites) most who fill the regular rush-hour ferries are white-collar workers, smartly dressed and brisk of pace.
We sometimes caught a rush-hour ferry and, on arrival on Hong Kong island, became swept along with other passengers from other ferries to be absorbed into the great pile of gleaming buildings, many linked by skywalks. We rarely walked on pavements.
The glue that holds Discovery Bay’s disparate communities together is partly the vibrant Plaza where children mix and, by default, families meet but also its large, socially-aware International School and its magnificent club with its many sports facilities.
There’s almost no litter and no theft.
In a nearby “village” is a huge, colourful facility with a score or more activities for children – trampolines, slides, climbs, games of skill – all well supervised where children can be left.
Lantau’s success is due in part to its highly participative stratum of professional people but also because it avoided the overwhelming waves of dispossessed rural Chinese who fled communism and swamped the rest of Hong Kong region.
The concern now, throughout the territory, is how soon Beijing might stifle political freedom and regiment Hong Kong’s vibrant cultural life and businesses.
Beijing promised that free elections would continue in Hong Kong but now insists on choosing the candidates. Hence history’s most peaceful and civilized mass protest. We looked down from a skywalk on an amazing scene: hundreds (sometimes the crowd can swell to thousands – of mainly young Hongkongers camping in the main thoroughfare. They study there; hear university lecturers there; hold services and sing-songs there and behave impeccably.
Beijing, acutely embarrassed and knowing the whole world is watching (except, that is, for their own people who are shown only carefully selected and negative snippets on TV) is faced with a dire challenge.
It knows that if it allows Hong Kong the right to self-expression then, like the Ebola virus, liberalism could spread through the whole of China.

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