• 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.

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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.



Elephants, Canaries and Brigitte Bardot

People can be quite lazy about answering letters. Brigitte Bardot for instance. I wrote to her once.

That delectable, pouting French film star of the 1950s who, in later life, became an animal rights activist (and is very sun-dried these days) – had written an impassioned plea to Nelson Mandela.

She asked him to intervene in an international dispute concerning elephant culling in Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Zimbabwe and Botswana wanted to cull their elephant herds but had, up to then, bowed to pressure from Europe’s “bunny-huggers”. As a consequence 70 000 elephant which travel to and fro between these two countries irreparably damaged the ancient riverine forests along the Linyati and it was a case of either cull or face further ecological calamities.

There are 100 000 now.

It is difficult for people living in areas where elephants are rare – such as San Tropez and say, Manchester’s southern suburbs – to understand the environmental impact of elephant overpopulation

And certainly the people of Europe have no idea of the flatulence problem that elephants have. Their voluminous bowels are filled with methane gas. This is why these animals are so enormous.

If an elephant were to be totally degasified it would be the size of a warthog. Few people appreciate this.

If you were to light a match behind an elephant you could create a bizarre parody of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.

I felt honour-bound to send a letter to Miss Bardot with whom I was in love from about 1954 until around 1969 when I switched to Francoise Hardy:

Ms B Bardot

La Beach

St Tropez


Mon petit cabbage,

Bonjour, etc. Comment ca va? Enchantee, I’m sure.

I fear you do not understand what all these surplus elephants are doing to our environment here in Africa.

Do you realise how much flatulence – if I may be so bold – there is in just one elephant? I know I can discuss such matters freely with you because I saw you in Doctor in the House in 1953.

One elephant lets off half-a-ton of methane gas a year! Five hundred kilograms! (Don’t ask me how scientists weigh it but, indeed, they have.)

There are 70 000 elephants criss-crossing between Zimbabwe and Botswana. If they are left to go on increasing – and elephants breed just like rabbits except they huff and puff a bit more – will produce enough methane gas to greenhouse the world.

And because they have demolished the forests that used to sustain them, they now have to live mostly off grass which produces in them a degree of flatulence you’d not believe.

They could, one day, blow a hole clean through the ozone layer. They could turn your precious St Tropez into a tropical hellhole filled with mosquitoes and rampaging government troops and crazed dictators.

A herd of 70 000 elephants, living off grass, will release in one year, 35 000 tons of methane.  When even a small herd passes through a wooded area, yellow-eyed canaries fall out of the trees like ripe plums.

Elephants live 50 to 60 years. Thus, in a lifetime, this herd will produce 1.7 million tons of gas!

Bearing in mind that methane, as a greenhouse gas, is 20 times more efficient than carbon dioxide, these elephants are going to pass into the atmosphere (if you will pardon moi) the equivalent of 30-million tons of carbon dioxide.

Then you have the problem of elephant dung. Well, YOU don’t because you are fortunate enough to be sitting on the beach at St Tropez rubbing dolphin-friendly sunblock on your bare whatsits. But WE do.

Seventy thousand elephants would leave more than 2 million tons of le poop grand in the veld in just one year.  And, if we don’t cull them, the volume will increase by 5 percent per annum compounded.

Can you imagine 2 million tons of this stuff, compounded?

Imagine the methane arising there from?

Just think, in a few years from now, how innocent people will be wading about central Africa, knee-deep in elephant droppings! Imagine if somebody were to carelessly strike a match.

Well, mon petit epinard, I hope you now realise how misguided your campaign against culling is.

Au revoir mamoiselle,

James F Clarke

(Je suis votre trés grand devoté 1954-1969)

She never did reply.

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