• 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.

The Ice Age Commeth

In 2011 global warming caused an iceberg the size of Switzerland
to break off the Antarctic Ice Shelf and begin drifting into the
open sea. I decided to raise funds to land on it and declare it a
sovereign state.
After all, nobody owned it. And, given time, its climate will
change for the better as it drifts north into the warmer
latitudes.
Although it was born of global warming, ironically it could well
be the last nation on earth to succumb to it because it is
underlain by 543 718 886 000 tons of solid ice (approximately)
which, if multiplied by the square root of the law of thermal
dynamics, would, even on the equator, take 2 570 years
(rounded off) to melt down to the size of your average ice
cube.
I would need a few rugged and enterprising chums to help me
establish a nation. Maybe my five companions with whom I had annually cycled
in Europe in what became known as the Tours de Farce (see Blazing Bicycle Saddles)
would be suitable.
I could envisage us jumping ashore to take possession. One of us would have to say a few
important words – heroic words that would go down in history, such
as, “That’s one small step for a penguin, one helluva leap
for mankind”.
Whatever is said, it would have to be said quickly because,
knowing my friends, one of them would preempt it by
saying something like, How the hell do you keep your footing on this stuff?
Of course, before announcing the birth of our new nation, we’d have
to find it a name. This, I know, would entail a lot of argument.
“Iceland!” somebody’s bound to suggest. We’d have to tell him
that the name’s been taken.
Somebody’s then bound to say, “Well, how about Chilly?”
“How about the Republic of Iceberg?” another would cry. Or New Seal Land.
(Personally, dear reader, I’d prefer a kingdom to a
republic. I fancy myself as king – James the First – it has a ring
to it. On the other hand, what if it were a republic? Then I would be president
– the only president in the world whose presidential seal could balance a
ball on the end of its nose.
“How about Schnapps?” another might say.
“How can you call a country ‘Schnapps’?” I would say.
“No, no, I meant let’s have Schnapps to celebrate.”
Somebody would then say, “Let’s rather heat up some Glühwein!”
That’s the trouble with my friends. Here we have
the opportunity to start a country from scratch and with dignity and
provide a shining example of nationhood to a troubled world, and what would they do?
They would set up folding chairs, find some chips and dip and start
shouting “Cheers!” and “Down the hatch!”
I should never have asked them in the first place.
But just think of it – starting a new country with no pollution, no
religions, no crime, no taxes – we can make up our own laws.
I can see us now… standing there in our mukluks, claiming
sovereignty over 45 000 square kilometres of virgin territory,
knowing that wherever we drift we would have fishing rights for
200 miles around. Fishing would underpin our economy – well,
that and the export of ice blocks to countries short of freshwater.
We could develop winter sports resorts.
Our main transport in this new land would be environmentally friendly
because we would mainly be skating around on our backsides,
feet in the air.
Our towns would be built on soil-covered platforms so as not to
accelerate the melting of the ice and our currency could be
sardines. Judging by the price of fish these days, we could start off with an
exchange rate of $12.40 to the sardine.

Interviewing Santa Claus

HO HO HO.
It was some greeting, considering what I had gone through to get to the North Pole.
I stood there on the steps of Number One, Ice Street, exhausted. My compass, totally confused, was spinning.
My pemmican had run out at Ornskoldsvik and I had been forced to eat my mukluks (gently fried in olive oil with a little peri-peri).
Even as I stood on the steps of Number One my stomach was growling. It was White Fang, my faithful sled dog – I had been forced to eat him.
Here I was, with terrible indigestion, standing next to a brass plate inscribed “S. Claus, B.Com., MBA”.
I said: “Father Christmas, I presume?”
He said: “Ho ho ho.”
“I am from The Daily Bugle and I bring tidings from all journalists.”
“Ho ho ho,” he said.
He directed me through vast halls filled with the rustling of Christmas paper as the elves and pixies wrapped gifts for good little children wherever they may be
He showed me into an office where, behind the desk sat Dr Deng Xiaoping, PhD., M.Com.,Llb., MBA (Beijing).
He said, “I’m Santa Claus’s boss – chief executive of Toyland”.
I was taken aback.
“I was hoping to interview Santa himself,” I said.
“Out of the question,” said Xiaoping. “We are way behind schedule. It’s mainly Santa’s fault. He suggested Toyland held back its orders on toys from China in the hope the currency would weaken.”
“Ho ho ho,” said Santa, embarrassed. He then rushed off.
At this stage a fairy came in and offered me tea and then minced out again.
I said, “What I’d like to know is how does Santa get all these toys to boys and girls in one night?”
“By reindeer sleigh, of course,” he said, surprised at my question.
“This time of year reindeer have completed their migration and are just standing around eating moss. They welcome a winter job with a bit of travel thrown in. Our big problem is updating the lists of good kids on the computers. I mean, what’s a naughty kid anymore?”
Good point.
In my day you were naughty if you walked through puddles in your best shoes. Nowadays kids knock off their parents to qualify for the orphans’ Christmas party. Yet child psychologists argue that this isn’t really being naughty so much as responding to negative sociological stresses aggravated by the pressures of the ‘me’ syndrome for which children cannot be blamed.
“And what’s all this ‘Ho ho ho’ stuff? Why is Father Christmas so inscrutable?” I asked.
Inscrutable? Even as I said the word it dawned on me – inscrutable! The Inscrutable Chinese… Of course! Father Christmas himself is a Chinese businessman in disguise!
The real Santa Claus had been kidnapped by the toy mafia in the Far East. It was my bounden duty as a newspaperman to tell the world.
Xiaoping, realising the secret was out, pressed a button on his desk and a gun-toting hobgoblin walked in and opened fire with lead-free bullets. I dropped where I stood, full of holes.
Suddenly somebody was shaking me by the shoulder. A huge pot-bellied man with a red track-suit and white beard was bending over me.
I realised I was still on the snow-covered doorstep of Number One. I had been dreaming – overcome by weariness and hunger.
Father Christmas said merrily : “Come in, my boy! Come in!
I was ushered into his warm home with its merry fire and smiling elves and pixies. A leggy Snow Queen brought in some mince pies and a cognac glass of genuine French anti-freeze.
I heard somebody saying, “Ho ho ho!” and immediately recognised the voice.
It was mine.

The Christmas exodus

Psychologist Dr Niki Swart, speaking some time back at a civil defence conference said that in a disaster situation seventy percent of people become confused and panicky while 10 percent scream and cry and the rest become distanced.
I have personal experience of this. It happens every time we go on holiday which is when the entire tribe migrates down to the kwaZulu/Natal North Coast.
It is not that we want to avoid dishing out Christmas boxes back in Johannesburg to those 300 or so dustbin men who arrive in impis shouting “happeeeeee!” and armed with authentic-looking letters claiming they are indeed our municipal dustbin men.
Although, to be honest, that is partly the reason.
It is really to avoid hearing “Jingle bells, jingle bells” every time I go the shops.
But I have long realised how right Dr Swart was. My family, when setting out on a long journey, manifests the first two syndromes – confusion/panic and screaming/crying.
I tend to be like the 20 percent and become “distanced”.
We usually go down to the sea in convoy taking hours because there are so many females and females have bladders the size of eyedrop bulbs and this necessitates stopping every 20 minutes.
And then the younger ones want crisps and soft drinks so that they can mash the chips into the back seat and set the cans, once almost emptied, rolling under the front seats going downhill and rolling back going uphill.
Nowadays we rendezvous at dawn at the house of either one of my daughters where we reverse over suitcases and where we burst plastic bags.
The women tend to bring enormous quantities of food as if the North Coast is served only by a single trading store that sells candles, salt and paraffin.
“How can you have bought all this stuff?”
“It just looks a lot,” I am told. “In any event you should just see how much we left behind on the supermarket shelves.”
The scene is reminiscent of a dockside as an ocean liner prepares for the Far East.
“Who are all these people?” I cry.
But really, I know, because I recognise many of their faces.
Meanwhile every burglar south of Harare can see he has two clear weeks to clean out the house. My son-in-law says, “I just hope they’ll have time to clean out my garage too”.
On one occasion when my granddaughter was small, she spied a packed taxi pulling up and called to the people getting out: “You see this house? Well, Jesus is looking after it because we’re going on holiday.”
The drive is filled with people shouting helpful things like: “Aren’t you folks ready yet for Pete’s sake?”
“Oh no, whose are all these bags?”
“They’re yours,” I am told.
“Wadyou mean?”
“Well, there’s the dog basket and a duvet in one…”
“Dog basket? I thought he was going to the kennels!”
Silly of me.
The scene changes to become reminiscent of the Grand Staircase on the Titanic. I slide into the phase Niki Swart describes as “helplessly withdrawn”.
Inevitably, irrepressibly, the convoy moves out, forsaking the agreeable highveld climate and the peace that engulfs the suburbs at Christmas and heads southeast towards the rains and the tropical humidity that lies ahead.

Loosening up the Brits

A Springbok rugby player has been quoted as saying the English are a “stuffy people”.  Britain’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, agrees. He once appealed to young Britons to show their emotions more and wear ties less…

Sir Rodney Ffeines Featherstone-Hough – nephew of Lord Westland, chairman of the Mad Cow Control Board and the Blood Sports Preservation Society – sits at his customary end of the long dinner table uttering the occasional hurumph. He is a portly man in his late 60s.

A hurumph – a kind of cough – is a peculiarly English expression indicating irritation. It is not done to ask a fellow why he his hurumphing but Lady Jane, Rodney’s wife, has never been one for convention. She is seated at the other end of the table but still within hailing distance.

“Wodney! Wot on arth is the mattah?”

“It’s this fellow, Blair.”

“Blaar?”

“The Prime Minister chap.”

“I think he’s wather cute, actually.”

“Cute like a fox, m’dear. He says the English must throw away their ties and express their emotions. What else can one expect from a Prime Minister who calls himself Tony? Imagine Anthony Eden calling himself Tony! Hurumph!”

“I agwee it’s widiculous! Imagine, deah boy, you walking into the club sans tie!”

She laughs at the thought.

“I don’t even bath without a tie,” says Sir Rodney. “As for showing emotion – does Blair want to have men running around kissing each other like those garlic-eating Frogs across the Channel?”

“But I thought your Conservative Party palls kiss each other all the time,” says Jane.

Rodney, chasing a pea round his plate, does not seem to hear.

“Anyway, you cannot change a country like that,” says Sir Rodney. “Imagine trying to change Italy from being a bottom-pinching, carousing, noisy, nation-without-ties into something, well, civilised, like England!”

Sir Rodney stabs the pea rather viciously.

Lady Jane leans forward: “Wodders?”

Rodney “What is it my dear?”

“Take awff your tie!”

“What? At dinner!”

“Take it awff! Go on!”

“Don’t be absurd.”

At this moment the butler walks in and Rodney says: “Ah, Roehampton. A little more wine … and did you happen to read The Times this morning?”

“You mean, Sir, Mr Blair’s appeal to the English to loosen up a bit?’

“Quite.”

“Frankly, Sir, the gentleman’s statement shocked me.”

Suddenly Lady Jane says: “Roehampton! Take awff your tie!”

“I beg your poddon moddom?”

It is like asking Roehampton to remove his teeth. He is acutely embarrassed, but after several more entreaties he reluctantly removes it and is even persuaded to undo his collar revealing a breastbone reminiscent of an uncooked chicken.

As the confused butler withdraws from the room Lady Jane succeeds in badgering her husband into removing his tie. She even gets him to undo two shirt buttons. She then persuades him to remove his jacket.

Roehampton re-enters – his grey tie neatly restored. He sees Sir Rodney with his trouser braces exposed and drops the tray in astonishment.

Lady Jane shrieks with laughter.

Not far away, across the square and down The Mall, Elizabeth, Queen of England, leans forward and says: “Philip … remove your tie.” He mutters something  nautical.

After more persuasion and with an uncomplimentary remark about Blair, he removes his Royal Navy Reserve tie.

Another tray clatters to the floor.

All over England trays are clattering to the floor. The informalisation of Britain has begun, slowly and painfully.

Meanwhile, across town, Tony Blair eats his dinner – wearing his old school tie.

 

Getting stung is more than a wee problem

An acquaintance recently told me his dog likes nothing better than to be taken round the block to “read his wee-mail”.

It reminded me of a time when, by happenstance, my wife and I unwillingly acquired a small Maltese terrier. He followed me like a shadow wherever I went, yapping for me to take him for a walk.

I never took him on a lead because it is a sure sign that a man has reached the evening of his life when he finds himself walking around the block with a little white dog on a lead.

On these walks it puzzled me how such a small dog, no larger and no shapelier than the head of a mop, could pee so many times against so many things in such a short period.

The capacity of his bladder was nothing short of amazing. He could void twice his weight in urine per kilometre.

Seeing I have started off writing about urine I might as well carry on and tell you of an article I read recently. It confirmed something I wrote about many years ago after an incident on the late David Rattray’s farm.

A guest of David’s was spat in the eye by a black-necked spitting cobra. He immediately asked his friends to tie his hands behind his back to stop him from rubbing his eyes – an act that would probably result in blindness.

He was led back to the house where water was used to flush out the venom. He suffered extremely soreness for days afterwards.

If only his friends had known it they could have alleviated a great deal of his suffering by immediately placing him on his back and (if you’ll forgive me) peeing in his eyes. Urine is especially useful for precisely this sort of occasion.

(First Aid hint: always keep a full bladder when walking in snake country with friends – or, for that matter, even with people you don’t like. Perhaps more so with the latter.)

Not long after this, a scientist, Jane Giffould who had worked in Papua New Guinea for some years, wrote in New Scientist that the Papuans have “a very effective and easily obtainable acidic fluid” which they use for relieving the pain of stings – urine.

It is particularly effective, apparently, against the stings of blue-bottles (Portuguese man-o’-war) and its action is quick. Of course, there are several other handy fluids for stings – vinegar, Coca Cola and wine will relieve pain from stings. But such remedies are not half as interesting.

And what if you forgot to take the vinegar down to the beach? Or you’ve drunk all the Coke – or the victim isn’t worthy of a whole bottle of Bloemendal Cabernet Sauvignon 1988?

Correct! You pee on him.

But the mind boggles. Imagine you are on holiday and walking along the beach and you come across a whole group who’ve been stung. It would be difficult enough explaining to them what you are about to do, let alone deciding who will be first.

Even the logistics of administering the cure to more than just a couple of people will present difficulties. But at least the experience will give them all something to talk about in the car on the way home.

A doctor friend who collaborated with me on a bush survival manual said that in the case of snake venom in the eyes urine is effective “only if administered straight away. The victim should lie down, open his eyes and close his mouth. It would be pointless if he did not open his eyes.”

Well, off you go then. Happy hunting.

Densa’s Extraordinary Annual Meeting

 I called the meeting to order.

It was not a very big turn-out – especially for a club with so many potential members and, after all, this was an Extraordinary Annual Meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of Densa.

Densa is the society for those whose IQs are within that exceedingly wide band between that of a cos lettuce and the average politician. Members’ IQs must be well below those of Mensa, the international society for those whose IQ’s fall within the top 2 percent of humanity’s.

I asked Threnody, who had kindly agreed to take the minutes of the meeting (providing, she said, everybody spoke very slowly) to once again count the attendance. She said it was still four – Neil Summink, Liz Simpson, Ray Henderson and Nolan Hasbean. At least we had a quorum if we counted the caretaker at the back of the hall and the fact that Liz had brought her little cross-eyed dog, Fluffy.

I adjusted my sash of office which is of a fetching purple material although, I noticed too late, it did need pressing. A dab of tetrachloride here and there would have helped too. It has “PRESIDANT” proudly emblazoned in it.

I then declared the meeting open. Everybody clapped and the little dog yapped.

I recounted our humble beginnings in an office at The Star on March 5 1993 and told how, eventually, Densa became far more powerful than Mensa. After all, we have a DAILY newsletter (called The Star) which is a cut above Mensa’s monthly newsletter that uses old jokes to fill up spaces.

I warned Densans of our growing responsibilities. Lots of high-IQ people have left South Africa because of crime and the way government people run off with our money, and the soccer. This brain drain throws an extra burden on us Densans because very soon there’ll be only us left (not forgetting Fluffy who could end up as Minister of something).

At this point I made a little aside to myself. THINKS: Secretly I welcome the brain drain because I have always found intelligent people difficult to understand. I recall driving on the M1 in the rush hour when a female member of Mensa was explaining something on the radio. I had to concentrate so hard that my car juddered to a halt in the middle lane.

But Mensans – the very name sounds as if their members come from somewhere far out in the firmament, like Pretoria, are very vulnerable.

For example, I recall a Mensa newsletter in which a mensan said that a meeting of the Academy for Future Science “nearly blew my mind”. Mensans are very susceptible to this kind of injury. They can read A Short History of Time while chewing gum but ask them something simple like, “What is the square root of the Shri Lankan XI?” and it can blow their minds as surely as one can blow an egg – phoop!

I drifted further into reverie and wondered what happened to a mensan whose mind had blown? I suppose a little ceremony is held and they get the Pointy Cap with the Big D on the front and are guided towards the door.

But what do you think it was that nearly blew this mensan’s mind? It was a scientist who said, “aliens are stealing humans to experiment on them. Some are returned. Some are not.”

This came as no surprise to me. For years I’ve suspected that aliens come in the night and steal people’s brains while they sleep. These are then pan-fried in Martian restaurants. When the victims wake up they are – naturally – none the wiser but, for some reason, become seized by a desire to enter politics.

Thus have aliens come to rule the world.

Now where was I? Hey, Threnody! Where’s our quorum gone? Threnody? Thren… Fluffy?

No such thing as a free lunch

It was Bosses’ Day on Friday. I’d never heard of it until I sensed Threnody, head secretary of the Stoep Talk Organisation, hovering near my desk. 

“What is it, Threnody?” I asked rather testily which, on a Friday morning a boss is entitled to be. “Can’t you see I’m busy?” 

She looked at my screen for a second and said, “(Cough. Cough.) If you move the four of clubs over to there it will release the five of hearts which can then go up there and then that one…” 

“I was about to do that,” I said. 

Those who have played solitaire on their computer, and get it to work out, will know the glow of satisfaction, the burst of pride, the ecstasy, that overpowering feeling of having mentally triumphed over mankind’s most complicated and daunting piece of machinery.

 “(Cough. Cough) Do you know what day it is?” Threnody asked a little hesitantly. 

“I suggest you consult the nearest calendar,” I said dryly.

 “(Cough. Cough.) “It’s Bosses’ Day!”

“So?” 

“Well, in September, on Secretaries’ Day, you took me to lunch so my mother said I (Cough. Cough) should take you to lunch!” 

I swivelled my boss’s chair around and tilted it in an executive-like way so that I could see her more clearly. I noticed, for the first time, that she was wearing quite a snazzy dress and had had her hair done. I was, to tell the truth, quite taken aback.

  “YOU? Take ME to lunch?” I said. Then, a little suspiciously I asked, “Where?” 

“Well, not that hamburger place that you took me for Secretaries’ Day. When I told my mom I was thinking of taking you there she nearly had a fit. She said I should take you to La Maison Cuisine.” 

“But that’s very expensive!” I said. 

“My mother gave me some money.”

“Well then, have you booked? I mean, what are you waiting for? They could be full!” 

And so it was that I found myself walking into La Maison Cuisine and ordering extra large huitres and roti carnard a l’orange with une bouteille de vin rouge and waving la fourchette as I told Threnody my life story.

I told her how I had started out in adult life with just a bicycle (albeit a three speed one with drop handlebars and a loud bell) and how, over the years, I became an intrepid reporter until one day I was able to buy myself a 12-speed bicycle…

“What year was that?” she asked.

“You tell me,” I suggested.

“1916?” she said. 

“What!” I said. “My gosh! How old do you think I am?”  (I was barely 50 at the time.) She thought for a long time and said at last: “Sixty?” 

“What!? What!”

“Sorry, Sir, am I a bit out?” 

“A bit? You’re 10 years out!” 

“You mean you’re 70!” 

This greatly curbed the appetite which, up to that point, had been shouting up from below that it wanted crème broulet.

Although Threnody only sipped her wine and was still on her first glass, the bottle, miraculously, was empty. I ordered another and solemnly toasted her dear old mum. 

Threnody ate with surprising energy while I traced my writing career from primary school. I had barely reached my prize-winning composition (well, it was a consolation prize actually) in fifth grade, when the bill came.

Threnody, without looking at it, folded a R50 note inside it and placed it back in the folder. 

“That won’t be sufficient,” I said, thoroughly alarmed. 

“That’s all my mother gave me! My mother said ‘R50 should be enough for that old skinfli… for your dear old boss’.”

I had to pay the R425.45 balance AND part with a 20c tip. 

Back at the office I looked in vain in the dictionary for the word “skinfli”. It was quite some time before my colour returned. Threnody, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically chipper and hummed a little tune.

Obviously the vin rouge.  

Flying and the Art of Staying Up

I have always enjoyed history.

If you think history lacks humour then you haven’t heard of “feel-good history”. Feel-good history is a branch of history where the authors set out to make people feel good about their past. I was taught it at school in Britain during and after World War 2.

We were told that the dense smogs that settled over Britain and brought its traffic to a standstill for days on end were a sign of Britain’s industrial might and how this had enabled us to buy up whole countries in Africa, freehold, for vast sums of beads. Sometimes beads were not enough and so gunboats were used. But as kids we felt good about it.

Every community has its own version of history, some dafter than others.But in the United States , “African-American Baseline Essays” published by the Portland Public Schools Board, was recently censured for going too far. Their history book said black people in Africa invented the aeroplane.

Where the Portland essays were accused of going  overboard was in giving the impression that, first, all Ancient Egyptians were black and, second, that they invented the aeroplane. The essay claimed a 14 cm model glider was, at some stage, unearthed somewhere in Egypt and quotes an obscure British authority saying “the ancient Egyptians used their early planes for travel expeditions and recreation …”

Personally I was surprised that there should be any controversy. It is common knowledge in the circles in which I move – mainly tight circles – that the Ancient Egyptians had aeroplanes and flew them all over the place.

These planes were originally called Pharaoh-planes in honour of the 18th dynasty of Pharaohs who financed their research and development. After the Pharaohs died out the “ph” was dropped and the machines were simply called “araoh-planes” and, later, “aeroplanes” (Annals of Heavier than Air Machines, Tablets III-IV. 3/7/1999BC.).

A pharaohdrome was recently unearthed near Cairo (op cit).

The first Pharaoh-plane was developed at Luxor by none other than Damocles Caliph III and was named the DC3 in his honour. It was known as a heavier-than-air machine on account of it being made from the same type of stone as the Pyramid of Khufu (cit op).

It was not terribly successful as aircraft go (el cid). Few Egyptologists have been prepared to admit that the pyramids were designed not as tombs but as launch pads for the Mark 1 pharaoh-plane. Slaves would drag the machine to the top, pour honey down the sides for lubrication, and release the aircraft down the slope.

There were lots of accidents. How do you think the Sphinx lost its nose? The first planes simply speared into the sand but Thutmose IV ordered a lighter and more porous stone from Thebes and this led to the first reported flight by Mentuhotep II (none other) in 1286 BC at Kittihorus (Ibid., op cit. sit op.).

Many who witnessed its flight over the First Cataract thought it was a swan and cried out “A swan! A swan!” From this incident Aswan, just below the cataract, derives its name.

Did YOU know that?

Eurocentric history books do not record that Nefertiti began her career as an airhostess with Ancient Egyptian Airlines (Annals of Ramses II 1174 BC, Tablets IV – VII). The general manager was the up-and-coming Tutankhamen.

It is also not widely known that another great Egyptian queen began her career as an airline hostess (Op cit., El Al) – Cleopatra herself. Cleopatra eventually founded Cleo’s Air Operations, abbreviated as C-AIR-O. The name was eventually adopted by Egypt’s capital.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, after defeating the Egyptians by verily smiting them with large catapulted rocks, took over the airline and unwisely started a price war with the Bedouin caravans whose camels were in fact faster than even the later Bronze Age aeroplanes, weight still being quite a problem.

The last Ancient Egyptian Airlines plane to fly had none other than the Roman, Pontius Pilot, at the controls. The plane crashed in the desert near A-syut in the Lower Nile Valley. According to legend the name, A-syut, is derived from Pontius Pilot’s last words before he hit the ground.

Aircraft made a brief comeback in the Early Iron Age but again the material was unsuitable. It was left for Wilbur and Orville Wright to re-invent the plane in the 20th century.(Email: jcl@onwe.co.za) 

Enclosed, one child, please find

   Dateline London – A plan to postcode children so that, if lost, they can be delivered home via the Post Office will be launched by Britain’s Royal Mail service. Parents place stickers carrying identification data into their children’s shoes. – UK report.

Dateline Johannesburg – A letter posted on February 29 1992 in Booysens was received 3km away in Doornfontein 17 months later. Some people claim that airmail takes even longer than surface mail – SA report.

The year is 2033. A postman arrives at a Durban house.

Sound effects: Knock, knock.

Voice off: Who’s there?

Postman: It’s the Post Office – the Kiddimail Service – for Mrs van Zyl.

Mrs van Zyl (an elderly woman, half opens the door and, suspiciously, sticks her head around it.): “Yes?”

Postman: Madam, do you remember subscribing to the Post Office’s Kiddimail Service in 2003?

Mrs van Zyl: No. How can I remember that far back?

Postman: It’s only 30 years, ma’m. In postal delivery terms that’s not long at all. May I remind you that you sent for one of our identification stickers with respect to your son Dirk.

Mrs van Zyl (eyes mist over): Dirk! Aaaagh. My dear little Dirk. How I miss him. Aged only two he was. We lived in Germiston then. He was always rushing out of the gate to watch all the robberies and hijackings taking place up and down the street. One day he just never came back. Yes, I remember now. I stuck one of those ID labels in his shoe so that if he ever got lost somebody would pop him in the post. Fat lot of good that did!

Postman: That’s not quite true madam. He was indeed found – wandering about in Dinwiddie. The Post Office posted him to you but got the postal code wrong. He was returned “undelivered”. Then we found you had moved to Durban…

Mrs van Zyl (voice wavering): AaaaaAaaaaAaaaaaeeeg etc.

Postman (adopting apologetic tone): …and the post being what it is…

Mrs van Zyl (suddenly notices postman is carrying a parcel somewhat longer and thicker than himself. This she opens with trembling fingers. Out pops big, bearded Dirk, aged 32, holding a teddy bear. His forehead is covered in registered postmarks dating back to 2003): AaaaAaaaAaaeeegh. (Then querulously…)Why did it take them so long?

Postman: Well, apparently, the second time we sent him by airmail and …

Dirk (happily): Clickety-clack, clickety-clack thump, thump, thump.

Postman: I’m afraid he has spent too much time among the franking machines – he thinks one of them is his mother – he learnt from it how to speak.

Mrs van Zyl: AaaaaAaaaaeeeeee.

Dirk: Click, whirrr. Thump. Thump.

Postman: Well, I must be off. Oh yes, what with inflation being what it is, there’s a R170 500 surcharge to pay because the parcel was under stamped.

Mrs van Zyl digs hand into apron pocket and pays him.

Fade out as Mrs van Zyl re-enters house followed by a man with a bear.

James Bond – the truth

I saw an old James Bond movie on television recently and it reminded me of the words of the French director-general of La Securité Exterieure almost 20 years ago. He said, “Avez-vouz une bonne recette pour le poulette?” He added as an afterthought, “Aimez-vous le riz au lait?”  

Being a bit of a linguist, I knew immediately what he was trying to say – that the old-type spy, such as  James Bond, was obsolete and that office-bound nerds behind computers were taking over.

 I was in counter-espionage myself in those days.

 Let me take you back to 1976. 

I was in a Rome hotel. Bond entered the room by kicking down the door. We old boys in counter-espionage never knocked. Bond suspected I had gone over to the other side. It was a story MI5 had put around to help me infiltrate the Russians. 

Bond said, “The name’s Bond. James Bond. Double-O-Seven. Licensed to kill and all that.” 

I said, “The name’s Clarke. James Clarke. 76598/337/76447A. Licensed to sell toiletries in the magisterial district of…” 

Bond was not amused and cut me short, “Where’s Botvinik?”  I neither answered nor got up. I stayed where I was – in the bathtub, with my little plastic battleship, trying to sink the floating lid of the shampoo bottle.

Frankly, although I did not show it, I was surprised to hear Bond was still chasing Botvinik. Botvinik, I could have told him if I’d wanted, had been switched to computers long ago but had proved too old to adapt and so the Russians had, as we computer buffs might say, configurated him. 

I sat there, tossing the soap from hand to hand to show my total indifference to the Walther pistol leveled at my head. Inevitably, I dropped the soap and had the devil’s own job catching it again under water.

Bond waited, arms folded, pistol cradled in the crook of his arm. I found the soap, tossed it to him and said, “Catch!”

He automatically dropped his gun and tried to catch the soap, but it kept popping out of his hands. While he was thus occupied, I nipped out of the bath, shaved, squirted a little Mum under the armpits, dressed, got the fat end of my tie to hang lower than the thin end and leapt into my old Toyota 1.6.

 I saw in my rear-view mirror Bond gunning his Aston Martin DB 116 in my wake. Thus we burned up the kilometers on the Roma/Napoli autostrada.

In all his 30 years in the game, Bond never scared me. I knew too much about him. He was no better than those wimps who appear in cough mixture ads on television, whose wives give them medicine and tuck them into bed. But Bond doesn’t have a wife.

Ever wondered about that?

Bond was gaining. My previous Toyota had a special feature – at speed, its hubcaps fell off, causing the fellow behind to lose concentration. My present car had no hubcaps, so I ripped the spine off my copy of Computing for Dummies and tossed it out of the window. As the pages stuck against  Bond’s windscreen he hit 16 Alfas and eight Fiats.

I visited him in hospital. He was entirely cocooned in plaster and I’d been chatting to him for at least half an hour before I realised the cocoon was empty and that Bond was behind me, this time with a 9mm parabellum leveled at my 166mm cerebellum.

I never carried a gun – the bang always makes me jump – and the nearest bar of soap was in the bathroom. But I fooled him. I shouted, “Catch!”

His gun clattered to the floor. I kicked it under the bed. He was helpless.

“I’ve brought you flowers,” I said.

He was touched. I left him holding them. They were timed to explode in 60 seconds.   .

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