• 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.

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
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
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

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.”


“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?’


“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!”


“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.  

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