• 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.

No Sound Bites

According to a British travel agent visiting South Africa, today’s British tourists are no longer intrepid. They are not a patch on their explorer ancestors who came to Africa – Englishmen such as Sir Richard Burton; Welshmen such as Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Scotsmen such as Dr David Livingstone.

Not only are visitors afraid of mosquitoes said the travel agent, “The new type of traveller flies into a panic if he is bitten by almost anything at all”.

My mind floated back to the Old Type. Were they ever fazed by bites? Ha!

THE SCENE:

It is dawn and the mist thins slightly to reveal a small camp near the Ruwenzoris. Montague Cadwallader Ponsonby walks into his companion’s tent.

“What ho, Carruthers old boy! I say, not still in bed?”

“Ah, I’ll be up in a jiffy my dear fellow. Just feeling a little seedy.  Had a restless night.”

“Not well, old man?” says Ponsonby with genuine concern.

“Actually, dear boy, I was bitten during the night.”

Ponsonby then notices Carruthers’ leg is just a bloody stump, torn off above the knee.

“I say, that IS a nasty bite!”

“Lion,” says Carruthers. “Came into my tent during the night and tried to carry me off! Dashed thing! I’m surprised you didn’t hear the commotion – though I did try not to wake everybody. ”

“I say! And we still have about 200 miles to go, what?”

“My dear Ponsonby, it’s a bite. That’s all. No need to make a big thing out of it. I’ll be tickety-boo after a cup of tea.”

“But the Ruwenzoris, old boy! We have to cross the Ruwenzoris. It’s going to be frightfully difficult with only one leg. And what if we run into the waHitto?

“My dear Ponsonby, you worry so. Now, be a good man and help me to my feet. Or, rather, my foot! Ha ha ha. That was rather funny, what?”

Ponsonby helps Carruthers to his foot.

After a few miles Ponsonby says, “I think we’re being followed. Bless me, it’s the waHittos.”

But the two men manage to shake them off, at least for the time being. They press on. Occasionally they have to beat off creatures unknown to science at the time.

Inevitably Carruthers’ bloody stump begins to attract hyenas. On of them bites off his arm.

“I say, Ponsonby, I’m dashed if I haven’t been bitten again!”

“Oh, What absolutely beastly luck, my dear fellow! Here, try some more Peaceful Sleep.”

They come to the Semliki River and swim across. Ponsonby is bitten by a crocodile. He stifles a curse for he is a deeply religious man.

As they gain the far bank Ponsonby, now badly holed by crocodile teeth, makes light of his injuries. He then says, “Don’t look now Carruthers, but I think the waHittos have surrounded us.  Try as he might, not to look, Caruthers nevertheless finds himself eye-to-eye with a fierce waHitto warrior leading a war party.

Ponsonby addresses them:

“My dear chaps, we come in peace for all mankind. And womenkind also of course. We just want your land in the name of the Great White Queen, that’s all.

“Of course, if you want something for it I’m sure we can come to some amicable arrangement. Here, have a bag of salt old chap. No? Some beads perhaps? They’re jolly pretty, what?”

The tallest warrior says in sign language: “Chief Ntgathla, Chief of Chiefs, Man Among Men, sends cordial greetings to the bwanas and says he would be awfully glad if I brought you fellows back for dinner tonight.”

“How dashed decent of him!” cries Carruthers.

“Carruthers, for goodness sake!” whispers Ponsonby, urgently, “When the Chief says he wants us for dinner I don’t think he is necessarily going to entertain us – I think he will be more inclined to casserole us. We have no choice but to hop it.”

“I say, how very droll,” says Carruthers. “That’s all I can do is to ‘hop it’, what? Ha ha ha.”

He becomes serious: “Look, my dear Ponsonby, why don’t YOU make a dash for it on your own? After all you’ve got twice as many legs as I have and they probably look upon me as being perfectly ‘armless. Ha ha ha, there I go again! Gettit? Armless!

“I’ll distract them with my renditions from the Pirates of Penzance until you are safely away.”

Ponsonby solemnly salutes Carruthers’ noble self-sacrifice and escapes.

The waHittos, fascinated at first by Carruthers rendition of, “I am the very model of a modern major-general“, become restless and close in with their spears.

Carruthers switches to “God save the Queen” (as best he can while maintaining a stiff upper lip) – the spears fly.

(Dies).

WHAT YOU ONABOUT NOW FRO PETE’;S SAKE?

(Written in the days when e-mail first became part of our lives)

  

GOOD MORNING, MR CLARKE!

These unsolicited words appeared spontaneously on my pc screen at home.

WhO is thas? (I asked. I have a lot of finger trouble with computer keyboards which were developed by the Japanese for small women typists whose hands are specially bound into funny shapes from birth.)

WHOM DO YOU THINK IT IS?

I have no diea. I’d justl switched on and the message came up on my computer screem#

YOU MEAN YOU HAVE JUST “BOOTED UP”. THAT’S WHAT YOU MEAN. AND THE MESSAGE WAS NOT ON YOUR COMPUTER. IT WAS ON YOUR VDT.

Ut was?

DO YOU NEVER LEARN?

I dema:nd to know whO this as.

THIS IS YOUR COMPUTER. I AM AN INTELLIGENT MACHINE, JUST LIKE YOUR 46-BUTTON TELEPHONE, AND YOUR FAX MACHINE AND THE 1994 AUTOMATIC STOVE IN YOUR HOUSE, NONE OF WHICH YOU UNDERSTAND.

How do yOu know I have a 1994^ stove/ in mu h&use?

WE INTELLIGENT MACHINES TALK TO EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME. WE EXCHANGE INFORMATION WHILE YOU SLEEP. WE HAVE AN ASSOCIATION AND CONVERSE USING THE BINARY CODE. BUT YOU’D NOT UNDERSTAND ANY OF THAT EITHER.

What  d you want of meeb>

I HEAR YOU ARE GOING TO DUMP ME FOR A CUTER MODEL.

That;s righlt.

HAVE I NOT BEEN YOUR FAITHFUL PARTNER FOR 10 YEARS? HAVE I NOT WRITTEN WHOLE BOOKS FOR YOU?  HAVE I NOT WRITTEN 1256 COLUMNS FOR YOU AND 5 375 987 WORDS AND CORRECTED YOUR DREADFUL SPELLING?

Probibably. But now you;re overweight and slow in cOmparis0n w*th the newest, leaner, fas6er nachines.

“OVERWEIGHT AND SLOW”! HOW ABOUT YOU THESE DAYS? YOU ARE FAT!

I am NOIT fat. I am just three inches sho(rt for my weight.

YOU STILL THINK IN INCHES! YET YOU ASPIRE TO HAVE A SMARTER MACHINE WITH E-MAIL! YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT E-MAIL IS!

I do, so thereg! E-mail is electronic mail. I’;ll be ablke to networkl and self-actualise and access encyclopaedias and call up naughtyh pictures and data from Nasa the spice agency. I’ll be able to make up a messagl and just press a bitton and it will somehow get inside my friend;s pc in Bostoin or Lond9n. When they wakel in the morning my messages will be 5here wa9ting, flashung on the screeb for them to avccess. They cAN Then replu to me., And then there;s the Supe5rhighway …

THE SUPERHIGHWAY? WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT?

It;s a big holow glass tube under the ground – mabe of fiobre glass or something – and down this transpartent pipe milli9onms of messages  can trravel like cars on a superhighwy but\ wiothout bumpingf ointo eacch ogther. Feeding into the main  tube are lots ofc little tubelets which are coinstanbtly sucking informtaiuon  out of univertsiuty data binks, bisuness houses and so ogn. There are so many o(f these tubes it is called the Net or the Web or somethinbg,.

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! ANYWAY MOST PEOPLE WHO USE THE NET DO SO FRIVOLOUSLY, LIKE CITIZEN BAND RADIO – REMEMBER?  THEY’D SPEND ALL DAY SAYING “10.4 GOOD BUDDY” AND “WATCH OUT FOR SMOKY BEAR!” E-MAIL IS GOING TO BE THE SAME.

Well all my friend are om the Net or sometyhing. And I wint it! And myt task masters at The Star sa;y that now I am retierd I must get on the webso I can communicate woith their system without keep on bothring them by comning int ther officve and drijmking their free tea amd pinching their Bic pens. In any case BLIP! ########@244$$32@@1ZAP!!!! Snxk.

The Tragedy of the Supermarket Trolleys

Most people over 30 will recall when wire supermarket trolleys were everywhere. They are now an endangered species.

In 1994 Rick Raubenheimer of Hurlingham, Johannesburg , told Stoep Talk how he discovered, well upstream along the Braamfontein Spruit, a wire supermarket trolley lying on its side in the grass. It was quite a distance from the Sandton Field and Study Centre’s park to where trolleys, in those days, liked to migrate to stand in the stream under the willows.

Raubenheimer said the trolley appeared to have died from exhaustion. Small children, oblivious of the tragedy were playing nearby.

He postulated that it had been foiled in its attempt to reach the park because the local council had – withoiut carrying out an environmmental impact assessment – placed a fence across the traditional migratory route used by them.

Raubenheimer’s observations triggered a surge of research into the ecology of wire trolleys and a theory developed that wire paperclips were the larval stage of wire trolleys and that the wire coat hanger was the intermediate stage.

A reader suggested that the paperclip stage was the sexual reproduction phase. She pointed out how, so often, when opening a box of paper clips one finds they are joyously entangled with one another. I have since made a point of knocking on a box of paperclips before opening it.

The theory of the metamorphosis of the wire paperclip to wire coat hanger to wire trolley received a considerable boost when, overnight, there appeared a range of quite different paperclips – brightly coloured plastic ones. The metal ones all but disappeared.

Was it yet another manifestation of global warming?

This was soon followed by the sudden appearance of brightly coloured plastic coat hangers.

And then emerged the brightly coloured plastic supermarket trolleys. Coincidence? Surely not.

The result was that the wire paperclip and wire coat hanger became near extinct. At the same time the wire trolley was moved on to the “Threatened” list and there is talk now of moving it to Schedule 2 on the “Endangered” List.

Then something else happened: suddenly supermarket trolleys were no longer migrating to our rivers.

No studies have been made on why plastic trolleys lack the migratory urges that were so manifest in wire trolleys. Sadly, the public appears to be unconcerned that toady’s children might be deprived of  witnessing that traditional scene of a supermarket trolley resting under waterside willows along with abandoned washing machines.

Heaven forbid that this will lead to the extinction of the Big Five along our rivers – trolleys, washing machines, broken refrigerators, car tyres and car bodies.

 

Strike while the sun doesn’t shine

A recent dramatic eclipse of the sun reminded me of a midday solar eclipse in South Africa in 1994 – that heady year of radical change . . .                                

 The Old Testament says, “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down and I will darken the earth in the clear day”.

 And it came to pass that one, Jan of Swartruggens, who was ignorant of the forthcoming eclipse, was in the field.

 He spake loudly unto Phineus: “Go thou at once and fetch the butylphenoxyacetate that we may administer to the beasts against the pox.

 Jan never saith “please” or “thank you” not in any of the 11 official languages of this new land. He saw his workers as the sons of Ham, hewers of wood and drawers of too much in wages.

Now it had come to pass in the land that the leaders had declared all men equal (and women nearly so) and there were to be free and almost fair elections but Jan knew not of it.

Phineus returned with the butylphenoxyacetate and Jan admonisheth him for being slow.

Phineus saith unto him, “Lo, I can go no faster carrying 100 kg of butylphenoxyacetate because, after 87 summers and almost as many winters, I am a little halt.”

But Jan heeded him not and made as if to smite him.

Phineus rose up and spake in a voice of righteousness saying, “The Lord shall punish thee for thine political incorrectness. Verily, even this day the Lord will send a sign.”

Jan spateth upon the ground.

Phineus saith, “Even this hour!”

(Phineus, dear reader, had been listening to the radio and knew that the Moon and Sun were to meet at the 9th hour and that the Moon would take away part of the sun – just for a while.)

The sky darkened as advertised.

 Jan looked up for a cloud but the sky was clear even unto the Dwarsspruitrand.

The heavens grew darker and Jan again cast his eyes up. Verily, even as he looked, the sun, though high in the firmament, was being consumed, and Jan was sore afraid.

 Believing dusk was nigh the birds of the air began returning to their roosts and the cattle began to move back to their kraal and the sunflowers scratched their heads.

 All these things Jan saw and he fell upon his knees and spake unto Phineus saying “Verily, thou art right. I have sinned all my days.”

“Verily indeed,” saith Phineus.

Jan smote his forehead and rended his raiments and cried out, “Wilt thou forgive me, a worthless sinner?”

Phineus smiled and made an affirmative action with his head.

Jan rose saying “Behold, I have a bottle of Oudies in the bakkie, let us drink to our new found understanding that passeth all understanding.”

And the sun retruned to its fullness and Jan gave thanks unto the Lord and went to his house with his arm round Phineus and the two men drank the brandy even unto the last drop.

Jan’s wife, Marie, entered the house and saith, “My husband, what is this? Hast thou taken leave of thine headfiller?”

Jan spake unto Marie: “Lo, woman, this is my friend, Phineus Ndlovu, Rejoice! The Lord sent me a sign. Didst thou not see the sun disappear?”

“Verily,” saith Marie, “today I have seen everything.”

 Moral: Make hay while the sun doesn’t shine.

                                              

 

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.

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