• 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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Romans in the Gloaming

Recently, while in England’s Lake District  I read of a Northumberland site – on the other side of the country – where archaeologists were excavating a Roman fort called Vindolanda. Alas I never had time to get over to it although in kilometres, from one side of England to the other, is not far. People have driveways that are longer.

There is so much exciting stuff being unearthed in this enormous camp that archaeologists were appealing for volunteers to help them dig. They have unearthed hundreds of letters and notes written in ink on “tablets”. The tablets in this case are wafer-thin pieces of wood the size of postcards.

The messages indicate that the Roman soldiers of Vindolanda were “preoccupied with socialising and writing letters begging for luxuries from home”. Although under the command of Rome it seems most of the soldiers had been recruited from Holland and Belgium.

One letter challenged the image that Romans were master road-builders. Signed by a Roman named Octavius it inferred that the Romans hated the English weather and, surprisingly, that their roads weren’t fit for wheeled traffic.

One can guess at the letter’s details…


Mars XV

Dearest Mama,

It has not stopped raining since Septem and my skin is all white and crinkly. My helmet has half-a-XII rust spots and my leather skirt is green with mildew.

I beseech you, Mama, please send me some olive oil, a new toga and some vino.

Our civil engineers are having a bad time building roads. Because of the weather they quickly become quagmires and the local savages have taken to them like ducks to water. They trundle up and down with their infernal herds and their crude ox-drawn produce-laden sleds which our commander, Flavius, euphemistically categorises as “British Market Wagons”.

These BMWs cause massive congestion.

Yesterday I was stuck in an hour-long chariot jam on the MV, the new route to Londinium. O Jupiter! All those horses and cattle and ox-carts. By the time traffic eased the malodorous pollution was axle deep and steaming like Vesuvius.

The Druids, who are very wise and very aloof, say the gaseous odours from this pollution, unless there is some sort of emission control, will eventually change the weather causing a hot climate. Flavius says they are insanely optimistic.

The worst drivers are women although there are not many of them. Down in Londinium there is one, Boadicea, who has it in for us. Instead of hubcaps on her chariot she has curved knives and races through our garrisons whipping off the centurions’ knee caps – and worse with the shorter fellows.

She is typical of all the locals – they resent all we do for them. They seem to forget that until we arrived they had no idea what a shovel was! (The Picts are not bad though. Octavius says that with C Picts and shovels he could construct XIV kilometres of roads per diem.)

I cannot wait to get home and am ever grateful that your wise counsel led me to invest all my dinars in that little townhouse in Pompeii. At least there is no air pollution there.

Hail Caeser and all that,


PS. Don’t forget the vino.

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