• 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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Japlish and Chinglese – irresistible

It is, of course, rude to laugh at the efforts of foreigners trying to write English – especially people from the Far East. How can somebody, like me for instance who knows only two Japanese expressions (“saki” and “Tokyo Sexwale”), have the cheek to laugh?
Well, like chocolate digestives and kicking car tyres, I can’t help myself – and suppressing the temptation to laugh at Far Eastern instruction leaflets can lead to stress fractures in the lower abdomen.
Some time ago C L Voges of Lakeview, Florida, sent me the following instructions for a Japanese keyboard:
The audio speaker is so construction that a sound of volume will come out of it when a key is depressed due to the finger. This is due to an electricity of alternate flowing in the coil in it.
And how was this? – it came with a calculator.
The batterys must position so that the poles are to correspond to the like poles mark on the device. This will failure or damage device if not done so correctly.
Les Caroto sent me a letter he had received from a Taiwanese corporation:
Dear Sirs, we hereby to recommend a most practical invention, Ribbon Inker, to you. Instead of renewing a ribbon from time to time, Ribbon Inker makes it can be re-used over and over. Spenting just a little money you’ll have unexpected effect.
This machine can make the ribbon use again and again and don’t need to renewing so soon and re-used the ribbon over and over to protect the earth to increase rubbish.
All of us think that this new item will be come most necessary and most popular in the latest.
More information will be supplied at your comments. Please contact with us earlier, we assure you of our best service and quickly reply.
From an unnamed source I received these instructions which accompanied a Taiwanese-made sponge purporting to be German-made:
SPONGE SQUEEZE – please put sponge in water about 3-5 minutes to soft before use. Attention to always keep wet.
Wash the dirt, draw the handle a few times and dirt water will quick off the sponge.
NOTE: The Germany sponge features – don’t need sunburn and always keep wet after use for available. If a long time didn’t use it will dry out, please put in water again, for useful and long life.
And on a peanut packet:
GOOD EDIBLES – It is a famous local product refined with the peanuts in a special grade as raw material which are in even granule and thick in nut but thin in skin by a traditional direction in an advanced scientific method. It is a kind of good edibles which is suitable for young or old people with the special taste causing your favourite.
The Chinese use insensitive computer programmes to translate Chinese into English with sometimes hilarious results.
It prompted sports journalist, Jane Bramley, to tell me about a yoga mat she recently bought and how the instructions “nearly caused me to twist myself into a knot because I laughed so hard reading them”.
Jane then quotes:
The yogo mat is made of OVC foam materials which make it exceptionally durable, not adhinit dust, no poisonous, no sapor, block burn, defend avulsion, you can seat on the floor to practice the yoga, you can feel more comfort, act to the moment because of the yoga mat.
The rubber foam materials can greatly strengthen the resist the pull, make the action slowly, protect your body to get hurt.
Product characteristics: Flexible, comfort, touch the ground well. Excellent endure climate, protect the color. Withstand avulsion well, bear the low temperature. Good flexible, not easy to distortion
Soft chest expander. The soft chest expander is an exercise tool used to strengthen health. Its ergonomic design allows for ease of use while reducing the risk of possible injury. It’s well suitable for the length, the strength, the handgrip with the rubber foam, the pulling well, flexible comfort, antiskid good, the safe coefficient is high, it’s convenience for you stretching at home, it not only eliminate the proud flesh on the arm and the shoulder, but can also promote health develop of strengthen chest, it should exercise plump, goodliness of chest lines.
Avulsion? Like the tearing off of a limb.
Hmm. I need to exercise the plump. Maybe I should get a yoga mat and eliminate the proud flesh.
Imraan Geedat of Springs sent me the instructions for a “Magic Cube”, an elongated version of the Rubik Cube:
Exotic snake is an itellicence test to gain creativity cubic configueation and space master spilts, by spinnting the 24 bricks contionusly.
We can create thousand kings of different gitapes. This smain brochure coneats the picture created by exotic snake, please master these picture first, if you have done this then make your own pictures.
I received anonymously the instructions for a Hamanaka Pencil. It is for drawing on fabric. “For all clothes – Just only draw. You can dye”.
In case you made a mess of things it suggested: “You can clean up the colours on your hand and/or foot easily with soup.”


Be my Valentine – anybody!

I don’t get Valentine cards. But, being an optimist, around this time of the year I hang around my post office box – even as late as April. You never know, what with the post being like it is.

The last time I received a Valentine card was in 1976 when I wrote in my diary:

February 14. Dear diary, Got up. Went excitedly down to mailbox, prized open rusted lid to find I had been inundated by a St Valentine’s Day card!

Tried to remain calm by going into yoga position and doing deep breathing but found myself frenziedly tearing away envelope sending little bits of paper flying everywhere.

“WHO? WHO?” (Caught myself shouting this out loud.)

Occurred to me that really, despite my age, I still have potential as lover boy. Still have lots of own hair, quite a few teeth, and do macho things like use Mum for Men and crush empty beer cans although, these days, it takes both hands and sometimes I also have to jump up and down on them.

I am not saying I am a Sex Symbol of Our Time but considering afflictions of youth, I have reason to be satisfied. Main problem in youth was that, whenever confronted by a girl, the nose would bleed, sometimes copiously.

With great fortitude I learned to overcome this to a certain extent. I never went on a date without a pocketful of teaspoons and keys for my girlfriend to drop down my back. Also held head right back when chatting up girls but this inhibited flow of smoochy-type conversation.

Worst problem was acting nonchalant at intimate candlelit dinners with plugs of toilet paper sticking from nose. Especially if plug fell out.

Sorry, diary, I digress.

Anyway, opened Valentine card and read through fog of perfume: “Guess who, cutie pie???” That’s all. That’s all it said.

Desperately tried to recognise handwriting but totally stumped. Who was she??? Pounded the forehead.

The envelope! That’s it! The postmark! Retrieved the little scraps of envelope from bushes and reconstructed them on pavement. Postmark simply read “Johannesburg”.

But address on envelope riveted attention. The card was for next door.

Felt sick. Neighbour has less hair than me and is an accountant who wears grey shoes. “Cutie pie”? Ha! Cute like Mike Tyson!

Keep asking myself “Why him?”

Tossed card into bin. No point in complicating his life, he’d only end up with a pacemaker.

Belinda and the Bloody Lights

This week, Mrs Williams at Malhurst Primary, desirous of completing her class register, set the children the task of writing a composition on what they did at Christmas. Belinda Tamsen’s pen began to scorch up the paper.


My Crissmus by Belinda Tamsen


We hadda verry nies crissmus and I had lotsa presents in-clooding a bike witch I lern 2 ride rownd and rownd the gardin and inter the dalliers witch I flattend. My cuzzin Mark came 2 see us with his sister Mary. Mary tell me Mark tride 2 get her 2 put all her pocket munny in with his munny so they could buy thear mother a sokka ball. Mary sed she didernt forl 4 that one.

We hadda crissmuss tree with lites that go on and off but at first they wud not go on at all and daddy sed it was becos one of the tiny lites was dud and 4 an owr he cud not fine out witch one it was and he kept say-ing bluddy hell and bugga the soddin lites. Sumtiems he ack-chew-elly swear.

My little brutha gotta plorstic tool kit and just wen daddy got the lites 2 werk he hit wun with his hammer and they all went owt. My daddy orst him niesly not 2 hit the lites again but he did and they orl went owt again.

My daddy showt doant do that agen EVER or I will brane you.

My little brutha got such a frite he wet hisself.

Crissmus dinner was fun. Granny and Granpa came and bort us all sox and ornty Berrill came and she also bort sox – again. I orsk you with teers in my ize wot sort of crissmus present is sox 4 hevins sake.

She giv my little brutha a trumpit which make a sownd like a So-wetto taxy. She dusint hav any chillren so she dusint unner-stand. My brutha neva stop blowin it Paaap! Paaap! Paaap!

Daddy say if you doan stop blowin that bluddy thing I will rap it rown yor nek. Ornty Berrill say wot a terribell think 2 say 2 a smorl boy and my daddy say wy did you by him a trumpit 4 peet’s sake and she say she by him wot she like and she pick my little brutha up and hug him and he wet hisself again and orlso wet ornty Berrills dress.

She REELY doan unner-stand chillren.

We all bort millyens of thowsens of presents and daddy say it is orl a ridicu-luss waist. Mummy say we only spent abowt R20 on each so its notta train smash. Daddy say that nex year we shud all stand inna sircle on crissmuss day and hand each otha a R20 note and be dun with it.

We had turkey and ham and crissmus pudding and crackers witch we pull and things jump owt like wissels and spinnin tops. My little brutha gotta tin frog that goes click clack click clack wen you press it until peepel go mad. He drop it on the floor and my daddy ack-sid-ently stud on it and smash it inter millyens of peeses.

Wen my brutha cride my ornt pick him up and skweez him tight and he bort up all over her dress – all his crissmus pudding an turkey and custid and orl sorts of in-ter-ess-ting things sum from breck-fus.

My cuzzin then play the pee-anno. Every body clap eg-sep me. Mummy sae wie doan I tern the pages of the music so I had 2 and I ack-sid-dently drop the lid of the pee-anno on his fingas and he yell and yell but at leest he hadda stop playing and we all clap again in-cloo-ding me this time.

Father Christmas and the chimney problem

There are a lot of traditions at this time of the year and one of them is for Stoep Talk to trot out a column regarding that milestone in American journalism when a New York editor, Frank Church, received a letter from a little girl named Virginia.

Virginia told Church that her friends were mocking her because she believed in Santa Claus.

In American emetic style, Frank Church wrote:

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age… Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies.

“No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever.

“A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

One wonders how an editor might handle little Virginia’s letter in this day and age.

How, for instance, would I have handled it?

“Dear Virginia,

“Thank you for your letter of the 12th inst.

“Your little friends are dead right.

“Santa Claus! Ha! You might as well believe in fairies. Nay, you might as well believe in the Easter Bunny, politicians and airways time tables.

Make no mistake, Virginia, Santa Claus is a figment of the Chamber of Commerce’s mission statement.

“Have you ever stood back and watched Father Christmas at your local departmental store? Do you see how obscenely fat he is? Can you visualise him sliding down your chimney carrying a bicycle and a doll’s house – even supposing you have a chimney which, living in New York, you almost certainly don’t?

“Can you imagine him getting into any suburban home today without setting off alarms and Rottweilers and getting lead poisoning from 9mm slugs?

“Come on Virginia, get real.

“I am yours ever so sincerely,

“James F Clarke

Editor of the Column that Tells It Like It Is.

As I typed in that final full stop (please find) I heard the thump of gumboots getting louder and louder. They stopped outside Stoep Talk Organisation’s luxurious suite of offices.

Then a fat, white-bearded man, dressed in ridiculous red clothes launched himself at my computer’s “ZAP” button.

“Stop!” he cried. “You are crazy! You have gone insane! Look at me! Say who I am! Go on, say it!”

I said: “Who I am.”

“No, no! Tell me who, or even whom, you think I am!”

“Father Christmas,” I said, taken greatly aback. (Nay, Virginia, I was gobsmacked.)

“And how did I get here notwithstanding the absence of a chimney?”

“You screeched up on that sledge pulled by those overgrown sprinklebokkens and kicked down my door causing the picture of my aunt, Pamela Anderson, to fall off the wall.”

“Yes, well, it was an emergency. But note that your lack of a chimney was no handicap to me. I gain entry through MAGIC.”

Then he said: “Look here, do you want something really nice for Christmas?”

“Yes please. I could do with a one of those cellphones that takes movies, prints faxes, boils kettles and has a built-in Swiss Army knife. Then I’d like mag wheels for my dustbin and I’d like some socks and…”

“And what must you be to get all these things?”

“I must be a good boy.”

“Then just remember that!”

And, so help me Virginia, he hit my “ZAP” button and rode off leaving a trail of stardust which the cleaning lady is going to be spitting mad about.

Needed: a men’s liberation movement

As Monday is National Women’s Day and I have to clean my bicycle I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you, once again, of the time I wandered upstairs into my cranium to pay a visit to the Pondering Division of my Memory Bank.

It was on National Women’s Day in 1997 and this was a surprise visit.

“Busy are we?” I said.

Naturally the staff began jumping around.

I smiled. Even though I am the captain up there, I am always friendly. I asked the Head of Pondering (HOP) if it were possible that men would ever, seriously, start a men’s liberation movement?

After all, we ARE liberated; we ARE our own masters; we ARE . . .

I was interrupted by a voice that made everybody jump. It came in from outside entering the operations area through both ears and reverberating off the walls.

It was the wife from the kitchen.

I said: “What is it, dear heart?”

She wanted to know what I was doing. I shouted back: “I was just talking to myself.” (She would never have understood the truth.)

She wanted to know when I would fix the iron. I said: “Yes, light-of-my-life, I’ll drop everything and fix it right away. I mean, I am only trying to earn an honest living but we don’t need money in this house because we get everything free just by shuffling our pack of plastic cards at the supermarket, at, the butcher, at the blasted dress shop . . . ”

I admit that most of this was said, sort of softo voce.

I leaned against the doorpost of the Pondering Department. Many staff members were scratching their heads. They tend to do this a lot in this section.

The Head of Memory (HOM) popped his head in. Useful fellow to have around. I told HOP and HOM that men have men’s clubs and the difference between a man’s club and woman’s is that most of the time a man’s club is silent. We have little need to speak. But when women meet they can’t stop.

The voice came crashing through again.

I replied: “Yes, chickabiddy, just getting the jolly old insulation tape. Can’t fix the iron without insulation tape, can we? You could get your little self e-lec-tro-cuted! ZAPPPPP!”

I told the Head of Memory: “Expunge that thought!” I heard the sound of flushing.

“Women chatter so,” I went on. “They chatter about each other. They chatter about anything.

“Men merely exchange views.”

Later, in the Memory Department’s operations room I caught somebody shovelling neurons into a bin. “Hey!” I cried, “what are you dumping?” I recognised my history notes from school. “You can’t throw these away!” I scolded. “And what’s this? My bachelor memories of Felicity Throgmorton and that time we had in a field outside Stratford! Dear old Throgs!”

I said to HOM, “How can you throw precious stuff like this away?”

He grumbled that I stored so much useless information that it was no wonder they couldn’t always come up with answers when I needed them.

“Please,” he said, “get away from those bins. Just leave us to do our job? You can’t possibly remember everything at your age.”

The Voice once more came bursting through, this time sending a memory file crashing to the floor. The dust made everybody sneeze. HOM said: “You see what I mean?”

His words were drowned by The Voice.

“Quick,” I said to HOM, “I am supposed to be fixing the iron. Where the devil did I leave the insulation tape last time I used it?”

“Search me,” he sniffed.

What happened to the real James Bond

Britain’s M15 says secret agents are “beyond it” by 50. – report.


Bond appeared in the doorway, “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Grant of M15 said, “Who?”

“You know,” said Bond, “007! Licensed to kill and all that.”

“And all what?”

“Well, it depends on the season… but I’m also licensed to drive a vehicle that can do 320km/h, with machine guns in the hubcaps and an 88mm cannon disguised as an exhaust pipe and a grenade launcher in the boot and…”

“What on earth do you drive – a Soweto taxi?”

“An Aston Martin, actually.”

“Isn’t that a football team?”

“You’re thinking of Aston Villa,” said Bond.

Grant, “Anyway, old man, the name’s Grant, Sebastian Grant, 9800956. If you’ve been sent by Sir Andrew, I suggest we  move!”

Grant vaulted through the window to avoid being seen by those who (or even whom) he knew would be watching the front entrance. He landed lightly, three floors down. Bond followed, but landed astride some railings. He winced visibly and Grant, retrieving Bond’s tripod walker, noticed the old man’s eyes smarted, just a little.

“You OK?”

“Fine! Got this damned brittle-bone problem. Don’t worry – I can set my old bones myself once we’re in the car.”

Both 007 and 9800956 were gunning the M15’s Jag XJ 220 (with stereo radio and tape deck) along the M25 when 007 asked, “Tell me, old boy, whatever happened to Botvinik?”

“Old Botty – the Russian spymaster? He retired. We gave him a part-time job at M15, tidying up our files. He was more familiar with them than we were. We’ve given up chasing Russians, of course. Nowadays we buy their secrets through a mail-order catalogue. It’s the Arabs now.”

 “Grant, I must confess I don’t know why Sir Andrew sent me to you. My game was chasing Russians. Of course, once we realised most of the M15 and CIA chiefs had been Russian agents all along the situation became uncertain and we spent a lot of time chasing each other – often round our own desks.

Bond began to reminisce … “Once I turned 50 they gave me an Austin Mini – imagine! One day I was chasing Botvinik in his Fiat 1100…” Bond laughed at the memory and was instantly racked by a paroxysm of coughing.

“Anyway, we drove straight into a canal! I said to myself, ‘Bond, this is the end of the road! You’re past it!'”

Bond wiped some dribble off his club tie, the thin end of which hung lower than the fat end.

“But surely, Grant old boy, Arabs must be easier to spot? Look, there’s one!”

“By jove,  Bond! It’s Ali Salim Salim Ali, licensed to deal in Scuds. Hold tight!”

The rocket-assisted XJ 220 soared over the top of the Arab’s SL 960 (four-door with disc brakes), touching down just in front of it. Ali Salim immediately pulled off the road, grabbed his secret plans, umbrella and sandwich tin and sprinted into the fields with Grant in hot pursuit and Bond in cooler pursuit.

As Grant disappeared into the distance, Bond, out of puff, lay in the grass and closed his eyes.

He sensed a shadow fall over him and found himself gazing up into the liquid brown eyes of  Princess Fabiola Aman Ik Aman the famous Arab spy.

“Hello, James,” she breathed.

“Hello, my dear,” said Bond.

“Can I loosen your tie?” she sighed.

But Bond was already snoring.

Gorilla in their midst

It was The Selectors on the phone. They wanted to know if I still had contact with Freek Saunders, owner of the Ventersklip Private Zoo. Readers might recall the name – he owns Smiler, the semi-tame, 400kg gorilla that he trained to play rugby.

When I say “semi-tame”, I mean the gorilla’s discipline during games was about on a par with the All Blacks.

Some readers might recall how Freek tried Smiler out in 1996 when the Ventersklip Witrenosters agreed, as an experiment, to slip him into their team for their annual needle match against the Lichtenburg Wild Bulls.

The Witrenosters knew, heavy though their pack was, that they’d need a bit more weight if they were to succeed against the Bulls.

And, anyway, the Bulls themselves had few scruples. They once fielded a thinly disguised Massey Ferguson tractor on their side. After the match in which Smiler featured, many said that, from a sportsmanship point of view, it was not one of rugby’s nobler moments.

The final score, 378 – 0, and two dead, is still talked about.

Smiler’s main advantage is that he is good at tackling – he does it with one hand while he uses the other to tear the ball away. Sometimes hre tears away far more than that.

Provided that Smiler wears rugby togs, few people notice anything odd when he runs onto the field.

The long and short of it is that I was able to help The Selectors and, Smiler is now training with the Springoks.

But some people are worried. While the French might not notice gorillas in their midst, the English probably would. The Australians too. For this reason The Selectors might hold Smiler back until the Boks meet the All Blacks again.

It is true that when, in the Witrenosters game, Smiler ran out onto the field, some of the opposing side looked at him sideways. This was not so much because of his hair or absence of neck, nor was it because of his practically audible smell – it was because of the way in which Smiler stopped to scratch himself and for how long and where.

Freek directs Smiler from the touchline with a series of whistles, and in the loose scrum he has got Smiler to push the other side back 60m with team mates clinging to him.

Once, when a ref dared to show him a red card, he ate it.

The Witrenosters v Bulls went into two hours of injury time and the final movement was when Freek whistled to Smiler to “get ball”. Unfortunately it was just at the moment when the ball had been intercepted by the Witrenoster’s own captain, so Smiler took his own captain’s head off, tucked it under his arm, dropped onto his knuckles and went for the try line.

Fans on both sides now had reason to cheer him on although the captain’s wife was concerned that this might be a career-limiting injury for her husband.

Smiler touched down with the head, but the ref ruled against it – at least until Smiler menacingly moved towards him, beating his chest. Then he allowed it.

One of the worries The Selectors have is that for the first time in history a country will be fielding

a team weighing well over a ton and this might raise suspicions.

Footnote: Happily, the captain, after a transplant operation involving a pumpkin, was able to pursue a career in Parliament.

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