Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Idler, Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cultural cross-pollination

STONE the crows! Starve the flamin' lizards! Thousands of Aussies are expected to descend on Durban during the Football World Cup and camp out at Kingsmead. All those Sheilas, all those Bruces with their barbies and their six-packs of stubbies and their didgeridoos, waiting while their billy boils. Whacko the diddle-oh, mate, this'll be better'n Earls Court in the good old days! Wotchunder!

That's one of the by-products of the World Cup – cultural cross-pollination. As happened originally in Britain.

There I strode down the Earl's Court Road,

The set-up I had mastered,

When this nosey Pom said: "Where're you from?

I can't tell what you're classed as."

So I told him straight: "Australia, mate!

And I feel like getting plastered,

The beer's all crook and the sheilas look

Like you, you Pommie bastard!"

How will things go at Kingsmead? What new lyrics are likely to enrich the poetic genre?

There I strode down the Old Fort Road,

Completely flabbergasted;

Nobody told us at Kingsmead

The tide comes in just when you need

A dry spot for the barbie;

Your tents are mush, the mullet leap,

The fiddler crabs upon you creep

With pincers poised to disturb your sleep

In manner that's plain ghastly.

I tell you straight, in Australia mate

This would be cause for barney

On civil rights and oversights and short-change on our money;

But when we speak to the groundsman bloke

He acts as if it's all a flamin' joke

And says: "Hee hee! Tomorrow spring tide, Larney!"


Telling 'em!

PEOPLE who hit potholes in the road should not sue the government, they should rather be grateful they have roads at all – or so says Chris Hlabisa, head of the KZN transport department. It is a standpoint that has not met with universal support.

Ron Coppin, of Hillcrest, sends in a response. It's in the design for a licence disc holder that carries - around the glued edge and clearly visible to any official who looks at the vehicle's windscreen – the message:

"Yes, I've paid my licence – Now you blankety-blank off and fix some potholes!"

That 's telling 'em!

Evil regime

SADDAM Hussein's cousin and henchman, "Chemical Ali", is hanged in Iraq for gassing to death thousands of Kurds. In Britain, Tony Blair's former spindoctor, Alastair Campbell, gives evidence before the Chilcot inquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq war.

Satirical magazine Private Eye takes it up under a newspaper masthead, Baghdad Times. "COMICAL ALI – NOT TO HANG" declares the headline.

"The evil genius behind the most hated regime the world has ever seen will not be hanged, it was revealed today.

"Alastair Campbell, known as 'Comical Ali', was for years the right-hand man of the hated dictator Tony Blair. During his time in office he was responsible for a number of atrocities, including the notorious 'Dodgy Dossier'.

"When he went on trial this week before the specially constituted Chilcot Tribunal, Comical Ali defiantly refused to admit to any wrongdoing.

"Instead, in a typically maniacal outburst, he ranted for several hours incomprehensibly.

"'I am proud of what I have done,' he told his baffled inquisitors. 'I haven't done anything.

"'I would do it all again,' he went on, ' if I was given the chance. I didn't tell any lies. Everything I said was 100 percent true, even when it wasn't.'

"Asked if he would stand by the statement that 'without doubt' Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, Ali said: 'Yes. And by that I mean no'…"

And so it goes on. Wonderful stuff!

Toxic pancakes


A KLOOF housewife sends in the warning that we should beware of pancake and other bakery mixes that have passed their use-by date. Apparently they develop toxic moulds that can set off potentially fatal allergies. A boy in America very nearly died after eating pancakes his mother had baked from a mix that was way past use-by date.


A check on the Internet suggests this incident did in fact happen. So - throw out all outdated pancake, muffin, brownie and other mixes.



WHAT does a maths graduate say to a sociology graduate?

"I'll have the burger and fries please."

Last word

Critics search for ages for the wrong word, which, to give them credit, they eventually find.

Peter Ustinov



The Idler, Monday, February 1, 2010

How to help America

A WHILE ago the US government was offering good prices to the owners of old jalopies so they could be taken off the road and junked. The idea was to stimulate the economy by lifting the motor industry as the beneficiaries bought new cars.

It seems the tactic might be repeated. Reader Ron Duckworth has received the following from a friend in the US:


"Sometime this year, we taxpayers may again receive an economic stimulus payment. It is an exciting programme.

"I'll explain it using the Q and A format:

"Q: What is an economic stimulus payment?
"A: It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

"Q: Where will the government get this money?
 A: From taxpayers.

"Q: So the government is giving me back my own money?
 A: Only a smidgeon.


"Q: What is the purpose of this payment?

 A: The plan is for you to use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

"Q: But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?
 A: Shut up!

"Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the US economy by spending your stimulus cheque wisely:
• If you spend the stimulus money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China.
• If you spend it on gasoline, your money will go to the Arabs.
• If you purchase a computer, it will go to India.
• If you purchase fruit and vegetables, it will go to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala ..
• If you purchase a car, it will go to Japan or Korea.
• If you purchase useless stuff, it will go to Taiwan.
• If you pay your credit cards off, or buy stock, it will go to management bonuses and they will hide it offshore.

"Instead, keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales or going to ball games or spending it on hookers or beer or tattoos. (These are the only businesses still operating in the US).

"Conclusion: You can help America by going to a ball game and drinking beer all day with a tattooed hooker you met at a yard sale."




LAST week's mention of a 1922 report on the warming of the Arctic reminds Norman Maurice, an avid reader of MAD magazine, of a cartoon in July 1982, almost 18 years ago.


A couple are parked in Lovers' Lane and the guy is saying to his girlfriend: "Look at the full moon glowing through our rapidly dissolving ozone layer and forming the deadly greenhouse effect … look at the trees, still damp from the gentle mist of acid rain …"


She says: "Oh Joe, you're such an incurable romantic!"



Digitally unsavvy


IAN GIELINK says his son has installed an aeroplane simulator programme on his computer. He let his going on four-year-old grandson Robbie have a go at flying the plane, a Cessna, when he got bored with TV.


He crashed it a few times then got bored with this as well and asked: "Grandpa, please take the plane out of the computer so I can play with it."


Well, why didn't he take the plane out of the computer so the boy could play with it? Or am I betraying my ignorance of computers and things digital?


Reclusive writer


JD SALINGER, writer of The Catcher in the Rye, one of the most successful novels of the 20th century, has died aged 91 at his home in New Hampshire.


He became a recluse not too long after the book - his only full-length novel - was published in 1951. Other brief fragments - Lift High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction - showed the same quirky brilliance.


Why did Salinger shut up shop like that? What did he do otherwise over almost 60 years? Surely he didn't spend his time just staring at the wall. If the 1940s could generate something as innovative and paradigm-shifting as The Catcher in the Rye, what of the decades that followed? Is something more about to emerge, a posthumous blockbuster? We wait with interest.






Q: What do a tornado and a redneck divorce have in common?

A: In the end, someone is going to lose a trailer.

Last word

Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.

Will Rogers

Captain Cook Friday, January 29, 2010

I SUPPOSE we have to be thankful that we still have some players left in the national cricket side. Coach, selectors – vamoso! Has there ever been a putsch such as this anywhere in world cricket? And putsch it has to be because when the coach walks off with a R4.5 million golden handshake after an ostensible resignation, there must have been some hard bargaining and arm-twisting behind the scenes.

Here's one sure bet: Mickey Arthur will say nothing, because that's almost certainly part of the deal. But here's another sure bet: Whatever lies behind this night of the long knives will eventually come out, however tight Arthur's lips remain zipped. You can't just fire the coach and selectors and expect life to carry on as normal. The details will dribble.

The extraordinary thing is that the team has done pretty well under Arthur. We beat the Aussies at home for the first time ever. We had our dips since, but the performance against England was more than creditable. Those two drawn Tests were down to the wire. We do need another natural spinner but the lack of such players in South Africa is a national malaise, reaching down to schools level, hardly the fault of the national coach.

Where does this leave South African cricket? Up sewage creek in a barbed-wire canoe, surely. Nobody is indispensable, not Mickey Arthur or anyone else. But the brutality of the move – Oh, I beg your pardon, of course, he voluntarily resigned - coupled with the scything down of Mike Procter and his fellow-selectors does nothing for morale. It is still not clear who played Rasputin in this palace intrigue, but it will surely emerge.

Meanwhile, we have to tour India. It will be astonishing if the fellows are able to put together anything like what they did against England. But we live in hope.

And we do not repine. Whatever the ructions of the world of cricket, rugby is with us again. Tonight we see what Plummers has put together against the Stormers (aka Western Province) in the strangely named Neo Africa Tri Series, a pre-season warm-up for the Super-14. We didn't do too well against the Western Force (another strange name – they're based in Perth where they don't even play rugby) but it was very much a scratch-together side that took the field. Tonight should be more like the real thing. It will be interesting to see how flyhalf Steve Meyer performs off the bench after his spell with Perpignan. European club rugby invariably sharpens the lads considerably.

We're almost out of this interregnum of sports and seasons where nothing much seems to be happening apart from assassinations in South African cricket. Next weekend the Six Nations kicks off, running into the Heineken Cup, the Guinness Premiership and the Super-14. The rollercoaster ride begins.

Tonight we make believe with the Stormers warm-up match. But it should be fun and it could be a good pointer to the Super-14 and the Currie Cup. It's better than dwelling on the Machiavellian world of South African cricket.

The Idler, Friday, January 29, 2010


Three-D sport

DO WE really want Bakkies Botha and company rampaging through our living rooms? Sport goes three-dimensional for the first time this weekend when Sky News  screens the  football match between Arsenal and Manchester United in 3-D in nine selected pubs on Sunday in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Dublin. Viewers will wear special glasses to see the game in an extra dimension.

In April, Sky is to launch a dedicated 3-D channel. Will it come here as well?

Enthusiasts say the new technology brings new dimensions to watching sport, you're right there, virtually participating.

But it could also be fairly alarming to have the ruck played out on your Persian rug, Female wrestling could be absolutely terrifying.


I wonder if 3-D television really will catch on. When the technology came to the film industry in the 1950s it was all the rage for a while, then it fizzled.


The most extravagant special effects are no substitute for good plots and good acting. I'm sure you can say much the same about sport.


WE ARE dismissed by the police of Leith, the police of Leith dismisseth us.

A tabulation comes this way of things that are difficult to say after a few drinks:

·         Innovative.

·         Preliminary.

·         Proliferation.

·         Cinnamon.

These are very difficult to say after a few drinks:

·         Specificity.

·         Anti-constitutionalistically.

·         Passive-aggressive disorder.

·         Transubstantiate.

These are downright impossible to say after a few drinks

·         No thanks, I'm married.

·         Nope, no more booze for me!

·         Sorry, but you're not really my type.

·         No thanks, I'm not hungry.

·         Good evening, officer. Isn't it lovely out tonight?

·         Oh, I couldn't! No one wants to hear me sing karaoke.

·         Thank you, but I won't make any attempt to dance, I have no coordination. I'd hate to look like a fool!

·         I must be going home now, as I have to work in the morning.

More crocs

FRANCIS Fynn, of Vryheid, takes me to task for describing the Tugela as crocodile "infested". How can this be when the river is their natural habitat?

He has a point. Perhaps I've spent too much time in the company of foreign correspondents who were forever swimming "crocodile-infested rivers" in Africa, and occasionally venturing into "shark-infested waters", for the benefit of their readers in London and elsewhere overseas.

He says the Umgeni has probably always had crocodiles and I should not be surprised to bump into a leopard one day. Like the Umgeni crocs, they too are invisible and probably account for the number of dogs and cats that go missing.

"So be alert when entering thick 'green' spaces!"

Is he having me on?

Climate change

READER Cora Mulholland sends in a report from the US.

"The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consul Ifft, at Bergen, Norway . Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met with as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3 100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds."

The report, by Associated Press and published in the Washington Post, is dated November 2, 1922.


THREE small boys give their teacher a present each. She takes the first gift-wrapped box, shakes it and smells it.

"Candy?" she asks, knowing the boy's father is a confectioner.


She takes the next, shakes it and smells it.

"Flowers?" She knows the boy's father is a florist.


She takes the third box and notices it is leaking. She knows the boy's father owns a bottle store.


"No, it's a puppy."

Last word

I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.

JD Salinger


The Idler, Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who's counting?

HIGH comedy last weekend as it turned out that Welsh rugby club Ospreys briefly had 16 men on the field in their European Cup match against Leicester. Where does the 16th man hide himself when a scrum goes down?

The referee had angry words on the touchline with the Ospreys management. Now Leicester have lodged a formal complaint, claiming the extra Ospreys player interfered materially with play, possibly costing them the match (they lost 17-12) and the opportunity to play in the competition quarter-finals.

Ospreys in response claim Leicester also had an extra man on the field at one stage.

If this is premiership rugby in Britain, what's it like in fourth division?

It recalls the case in South Africa when a streaker tackled a Western Province player as he was about to score against Free State, robbing Province of a place in the Currie Cup semi-finals.

The SABC had a policy of ignoring streakers, turning the camera away. Listeners to the Afrikaans commentary were astonished to suddenly hear: "En hy word deur die kaal man gevat!"

Things kids say

SMALL kids (and their parents) can be a barrel of laughs. Some examples that have come this way:

·         "I was driving with my three young children one warm summer evening when a woman in the convertible ahead of us stood up and waved. She was stark naked! As I was reeling from the shock, I heard my five-year-old shout from the back seat: 'Mom, that lady isn't wearing a seat belt!'"

* On the first day of school, a first-grader handed his teacher a note from his mother. It read: "The opinions expressed by this child are not necessarily those of his parents."

* A woman was trying hard to get the tomato sauce out of the jar. The phone rang so she asked her four-year-old daughter to answer the phone. "Mommy can't come to the phone to talk to you right now. She's hitting the bottle."

* A little boy got lost and found himself in the women's locker room. The room burst into shrieks, ladies grabbing towels and running for cover. The little boy watched in amazement: "What's the matter, haven't you ever seen a little boy before?"

* Police report: "While taking a routine vandalism report at an elementary school, I was interrupted by a little girl about six. Looking up and down at my uniform, she asked: 'Are you a cop?' I answered 'Yes' and continued writing the report. 'My mother said if I ever needed help I should ask the police. Is that right?' I told her: 'Yes, that's right.' She extended her foot toward me: 'Well, then, would you please tie my shoe?'"

* "While working for an organisation that delivers lunches to the elderly, I used to take my four-year-old daughter on my afternoon rounds. She was unfailingly intrigued by the various appliances of old age, particularly the canes, walkers and wheelchairs. One day I found her staring at a pair of false teeth soaking in a glass. As I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of questions, she merely turned and whispered: 'The tooth fairy will never believe this!'"

* A little girl was watching her parents dress for a party. When she saw her dad donning his tuxedo, she warned: 'Daddy, you shouldn't wear that suit.'

'And why not, darling?'

'You know that it always gives you a headache the next morning.'

* A little girl had just finished her first week of school. "I'm just wasting my time," she said to her mother "I can't read, I can't write, and they won't let me talk!"

* A little boy opened the big family bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly something fell out of the bible. He picked up the object and looked at it. What he saw was an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages. "Mama, look what I found," the boy called out.

"'What have you got there, dear?"

With astonishment: "I think it's Adam's underwear!"


WHAT do you call a dog in jeans and a sweater? A plainclothes police dog.

Last word


University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

Henry Kissinger

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Idler, Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy swashbuckler


EVERY now and then a bonus comes one's way. As part of another project, I find myself reading The Happy Warrior, the story of TC Robertson, conservationist, Smuts confidante, raconteur and general roustabout.


The book (published by the TC Robertson Trust) is written by Shirley Bell and based in part on research by Sally Frost, who I think is still on the local university campus.


It brings to life a colourful character who enlivened conservation, politics and journalism over several decades. TC Robertson used to produce the most evocative writing in support of conservation issues – soil erosion especially - equally at home in English or Afrikaans.


Very close to Smuts, TC was like him a polymath with a grasp of a range of scientific issues and having a particular background in botany. Head of Smuts's anti-Nazi information services during World War II, he also fully grasped Smuts's pioneering philosophy of Holism (another such was Albert Einstein) and it dovetailed with his thinking on conservation and economic sustainability.


But it was an attraction of opposites. Where Smuts was aloof and ascetic, TC was one of the boys, a larger than life carouser and womaniser. I met him in the 1960s when he was Director of the National Veld Trust and Chairman of the Tugela Basin Development Association.


Years later in the press gallery at Parliament, there was a legend that, back in the 1930s, somebody from the press gallery had seduced a girl on the Speaker's chair in the House of Assembly (after hours, of course).


Reading this book, I discover it was none other than TC, then political correspondent of the Rand Daily Mail. Am I surprised? No!




TC ROBERTSON had the most ribald sense of humour. The MEC for Education in those days was Major G Leonard Arthur, a man who was always immaculately turned out in pinstripes, a red carnation in his buttonhole.


When the politicians were taken on their annual tour of the Zululand game reserves, Major Arthur did abandon the pinstripes for khaki – but the red carnation was still there.


The bus stopped in Mkhuze game reserve one morning for the all-male party to relieve themselves at the roadside.


At which TC suddenly exclaimed: "I say, Major! Would that be the root of your carnation?"


Tugela Basin


AT THE time TC was promoting the Tugela Basin, everyone thought development of this natural resource was imminent; that we would soon have a local version of Roosevelt's Tennessee Valley project.


The Basin has a unique topography which allows its river system to be recirculated for hydro-electric and irrigation purposes. Geographers and hydrologists have earned PhDs studying the properties of the Basin. From 1946 to the 1980s the Natal Provincial Administration had a commission that minutely planned its development, taking into account environmental impacts, everything. The Department of Water Affairs identified more than 20 potential hydro-electric sites.


It was calculated that the Tugela Basin could produce the energy to serve several cities the size of Johannesburg. There were plans to augment it with waters transferred from the Transkei river system, which in itself would require a labour-intensive canal-building programme that would last generations.


But nothing happened. They call it government inertia. Now, instead of having a local equivalent of the Tennessee Valley project generating clean, green energy on a totally sustainable basis, Eskom are going for more coal-fired plants; pebble-bed nuclear reactors (with the possible by-product of crayfish that glow in the night). This at a time there is great concern about greenhouse gases and global warming.


Is it not crazy? The research on the clean alternative has already been done. The planning is there.


Or is it just me that's stoopid?




A CANADIAN park ranger is warning some ramblers about bears.


"Brown bears are usually harmless. They avoid contact with humans so we suggest you attach small bells to your rucksacks and give the bears time to get out of the way. How ever, grizzly bears are extremely dangerous. If you see their droppings, leave the area right away."


"How do we know if they're grizzly bear droppings?"


"They're full of small bells."


 Last word


It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.

James Thurber


The Idler, Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beer and biscuits

ONE OF the more remarkable rescue stories from the earthquake calamity in Haiti is that of Wismond Exantus, who was dragged from under the rubble after being trapped for 11 days.

He had survived on beer, cola and biscuits, stocks in the grocery store where he was working when the quake struck.

To which news report a blogger responds: "That's nothing. My grandma lived for 84 years on beer and crisps."

Be that as it may, Exantus was fortunate to have space to move around and to have access to food and fluids. But what of the other survivors, who are still being found more than a week after the rescue experts said there was no further hope? Are the Haitians especially tough and resilient?

In The Comedians, Graham Greene painted a nightmarish picture of Haiti under the dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier. Since then matters appear to have deteriorated.

Today's Haitians are descended from people who survived the hell of the slave ships; from people who survived the hell of Papa Doc Duvalier's and subsequent regimes. Survival of the fittest. Maybe the toughness is in their genes.

New vocab

WITH THE football World Cup getting closer, attention is being paid to getting South Africa's vocabulary right. We have to show we are at the cutting edge of modernity and political correctness. It simply would not do for hundreds of thousands of visitors to arrive here to find this is one of those archaic places where a spade is called a spade, not an instrument of manual excavation.

A glossary of new job titles has come this way:

·      Murderer: Population Stabiliser

·      Beggar: Financial Gatherer

·      Cleaner: Hygiene Specialist

·      Rapist: Senior Practitioner in Sexual Practices

·      Gardener: Landscape Executive

·      Housemaid: Family Environs Upkeep Manager

·      Receptionist:Front Office Manager/Office Access Control Specialist

·      Messenger: Business Communications Conveyer

·      Tealady: Refreshment Overseer

·      Garbage Collector: Public Sanitation Technician

·      Watchman: Theft Prevention and Surveillance Officer or Wealth Distribution Prevention Officer

·      Prostitute : Practical Sexual Relations Officer

·      Thief: Wealth Distribution Officer

·      Driver: Automobile Propulsion Specialist

·      Cook: Food Preparation Officer

Totally bonkers

THE BRITS are about to go into an election which the Tories – presently in opposition – are likely to win, not because of their particular brilliance but because of the buggeration factor, which is one of the most powerful forces in politics.

The Tories are campaigning in part on a platform of support for the institution of marriage – tax breaks for married couples, to counter the many disincentives to marriage such as financial support for single mothers.

Labour now accuse the Tories of "social engineering". Support for marriage and the family unit is social engineering? Where do these fellows start out? If some of our politicos are weird, some of theirs are totally bonkers.

At least nobody can accuse Jacob Zuma of discouraging marriage.

More on marriage

JUST after his marriage, Phillip Webb, aged 24, of Birmingham, confessed to his 22-year-old bride that he had never actually got around to divorcing his first wife.

After hearing this, according to Bill Bryson's Bizarre World (Warner Books), his bride burst into tears and left him. Mr Webb thereupon learned that his first wife had divorced him without letting him know, so he wasn't a bigamist after all. At last report he was still looking for his second wife.



A WOMAN spots a big, beautiful parrot in a pet shop. A sign on the cage says R50.

"Why so little?" she asks.

The pet shop owner looks embarrassed. "This bird was brought up in a brothel and sometimes it says some pretty vulgar stuff."


But the parrot is so beautiful she decides to take it. She hangs up its cage up in the living room and waits for it to say something.

The bird looks around the room, then at her, and says: "New house, new madam."

The woman is a bit put out by the implication but then thinks: "That's really not so bad."

Her two teenage daughters come back from school and the parrot says: "New house, new madam, new girls."

The girls and their mother laugh at the situation. You had to allow for where the parrot was raised.

Then husband Dave comes home from work.

The parrot: "Hi Dave!"


Last word

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.

George Santayana