Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Idler, Friday, Jly 2, 2010

Back to the track, Mac!


IT'S PLEASING to note that our technological marvel, the Gautrain, runs on a track whose gauge has been scientifically calculated on the combined width of the rear ends of two horses. Our engineers have resisted the temptation to do something rash like base it on an elephant's backside, say, or on the combined backsides of a troika of wildebeest. You have to be scientific and exact about these things, not willful and impulsive.


These musings are prompted by a photograph of the Gautrain running on a track that is quite obviously wider than the railtracks we are used to in this country. What we call broad-gauge, the rest of the world calls narrow-gauge (or Cape gauge). What we call narrow-gauge is toy train stuff elsewhere.


Yes, the Gautrain has adopted what the rest of the world calls standard gauge – 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (1 435mm for obsessive decimalists) instead of the 3 feet 6 inches gauge in the rest of the rail network. This is what gives the Gautrain its high-speed capability. Presumably standard gauge will eventually reach to us here on the coast if this talk of high-speed rail travel replacing air travel gets beyond the talking stage.


But how did they arrive at a measure of 4 feet 81/2 inches? That's where the horses come into it.


Rail travel was first developed in England. The first roads in England were built by the Romans, who had colonised the place. Every road was rutted. These ruts were 4 feet 81/2 inches apart, this being the combined width of the rear ends of the two horses that pulled a Roman chariot.


When the English started building their own wagons, they had to fit the ruts in the roads, otherwise they would soon break up. When they started building railroads, they used the axles they already had – 4 feet 81/2 inches. The measure went all over the world.


So if you want to know who dreamed up the Gautrain – it was some horse's ass.



Space Shuttle


THE HORSE'S ass has also played through into the space age. The Space Shuttle has on it two cylindrical objects beside the fuel tank, known as solid rocket boosters.


These SRBs are manufactured in Utah and transported to Cape Kennedy by rail. The railroad has to pass through a tunnel. And the dimensions of the tunnel are determined by – yes, you've guessed – the width of two horses' backsides. So the design and shape of the SRBs is likewise determined by the horse's ass.


It's quite a thought. Space travel was determined more than 2 000 years ago by the width of a horse's backside.


History can be fun.


A breathless hush


MICHAEL Green, retired editor of our sister newspaper, the Daily News, notes something that has been largely ignored in the controversy of the disallowed England goal against Germany.


"In the controversy about the referee's failure to see England's goal against Germany there appears to have been very little discussion about the German goalkeeper's admission: 'I realised the ball was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over'.


"Surely this blatant cheating, and the apparent lack of concern by commentators, are a sad reflection on the ethics of modern sport.


"Was it a German poet who wrote: 'But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote/ Play up! Play up! And play the game!'


"Oh no, my mistake. It was Sir Henry Newbolt, writing in a forgotten time, about a forgotten morality."


Bafana blues


READER Lydia Reddy versifies the saga of Bafana Bafana in the World Cup:


A Brazilian by the name of Carlos Alberto Parreira

Was chosen to coach Bafana Bafana.

He did his very best

To put their skills to the test.

They played for pride

By beating a debilitated, depleted side.

Alas when it came to the crunch

They were a disappointing bunch.

Our hope was dashed to the ground

When they were booted out of the next round.

And this I fear is the sad, sad saga of the pride of nation

Bafana Bafana.




A FROG'S perspective on life: Time's fun when you're having flies.

Last word

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Benjamin Disraeli



The Idler, Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some tips on pet care

LET'S take a break from the Football World Cup. Let's take a look at pet care for a change. And I'm obliged to reader John Knottenbelt for this succinct advice on how to administer medicine to a cat, as well as to a dog.

The cat first:

·         Pick up cat and cradle in the crook of left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

·         Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process. Retrieve cat from bedroom and throw soggy pill away.

·         Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of 10. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe.

·         Call spouse in from garden. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously. Retrieve cat from curtain rail.

·         Get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.

·         Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans and drink one beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap. Retrieve cat from neighbour's shed.

·         Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard and close door onto neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

·         Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whisky compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw T-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

·         Call fire department to retrieve damn cat from top of tree across road.

·         Take last pill from foil wrap. Using heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed, tie little bastard's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour two pints of water down throat to wash pill down.

·         Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to emergency room. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call at furniture shop on way home to order new table.

·         Arrange for SPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.

And now the dog:

·         Wrap pill in bacon. Toss in the air.

Yes, the different species require totally different approaches.

Politicos and sport

MEANWHILE, what Sepp Blatter had to say about President Sarkozy's apparent plans to intervene in French football was fascinating. He bluntly told Sarkozy that if his government tried to interfere in any way, France would be suspended from international competition.

Quite right too. Sport is not within the domain of government.

Exactly the same applies in rugby. If the IRB were happy with Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira playing for the Springboks, who were our Ministry of Sport to interfere? When they leaned on the rugby administrators to suspend his selection until his citizenship was processed, they must have come perilously close to crossing the line.


What do you call a Frenchman in sandals? Philippe Philoppe.


Last word

The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.

Mark Russell


The Idler, Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paul the psychic octopus

ENGLAND'S defeat by the Germans in the World Cup second round last weekend was predicted by a psychic octopus. The octopus, known as Paul, has so far correctly predicted all the German wins and defeats in the competition from his tank in the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in Germany.

Two plastic boxes, with the flag of each country on the front, are lowered into his tank. Each contains food.

The box that Paul opens first is judged to be the predicted winner of the game. So far he's been spot-on.

We stand by to see what Paul predicts for Germany versus Argentina – and what happens. Paul will either be a world sensation and celebrity– or simply a damp squid.



More cruel jokes

Meanwhile, the cruel jokes keep rolling in:


·         What do Frank Lampard's goal and the SAS have in common? They're invisible behind German lines.

·         (To the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight – also known as Wimoweh):

In the jungle, the South African jungle, three lions sleep tonight ...

Cos in the morning, the early morning,

They have to catch a flight.



No win away no win away no win away no win away ...


·         Police are investigating reports that someone has sound-proofed Hadrian's Wall. This follows five million phone calls from Scotland saying that it's all gone quiet over there.


·         England have just announced flood warning alerts as five million Scots swazz themselves laughing.


·         What's the difference between England and a tea bag? The tea bag stays in the cup longer.

Those are the printable ones.

Blattering on

MEANWHILE, reader Brian Kennedy sends in a letter that appeared in the Irish Times:

"May I propose a new verb to be added to the English language? To blatter: to continue to ignore the obvious benefits of modern technology."

Collective noun

ANOTHER collective noun is suggested for vuvuzelas. A "cacophony" of vuvuzelas comes from Rosemary Marais, of Morningside.  She says when she switches on the TV she is reminded of a ditty she learned as a child. It began: "The raucous cacophony of inebriated hyenas …"

"Does this fit?"



STILL with vuvuzelas, and their apparent infiltration of the world of rugby as well as soccer, reader Buck Rogers suggests that traditionalists respond with naartjies.


"Now that it seems the vuvuzela is being embraced by certain juvenile rugby fans as a "traditional instrument", perhaps it is time to bring back the naartjie.


"Anyone old enough will remember farmers outside the rugby stadiums selling bags of naartjies. This wonderful fruit had three uses. One could inject them with cane spirit or the best brandewyn and suck this delicious mix during the game; without this fortification they quenched the thirst perfectly ; and most importantly, they made excellent missiles to be thrown at noisy or objectionable opposition fans.


A salvo of well-directed naartjies would quickly silence anyone crazy enough to blow one of these stupid "horns" and proper fans could then get on with the game."



THE PROMPTNESS with which the police have responded to incidents of crime during the World Cup, and brought the culprits before special courts for swift justice, has been a marvel for a population accustomed to the exact opposite.

It has also been reassuring to note a strong and highly visible police presence at popular gathering points such as Florida Road. The patrols clearly are there to protect, not harass. If only normal daily life could be like this.

However, there was also the uneasy feeling that this focus on World Cup localities would leave other areas under-resourced and exposed to crime.

I'm sure everyone commiserates with the deputy minister of police at his home in Pretoria being burgled. But at least a point has been got across where it counts.


Little girl" "Mummy, where do babies come from?"

Mother: "The stork, dear."

Little girl: "Mummy, who keeps bad people from robbing our house?"

Mother: "The police, dear."

Little girl: "Mummy, if our house was on fire, who would rescue us?"

Mother: "The fire department, dear."

Little girl: "Mummy, where does food come from?"

Mother: "Farmers, dear."

Little girl: "Mummy, what do we need Daddy for?"



Last word

People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.

W. Somerset Maugham


The Idler, Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup shakes out

WUNDERBAR! Verdampte Tommies! Raus, raus! Verschtinkende schweinehunde! Vot mit der goal nicht toegegewen? Hee, hee, hee! Hoo, hoo! Ich halen an der grosse Boy Louw: "Looks at der scoreboard, mein herr!" Hee, hee, hee! Lieflich, wunderbar! Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles!

As I remarked a few days ago, I've drawn Germany in a non-Fifa sweepstake on the World Cup so I have some money riding on it. But I will not allow this to colour my commentary on the competition in any way. I am absolutely dispassionate and impartial.

Hoch de Kaizer!

Unkind jokes

MEANWHILE, some unkind jokes are coming in. David Blaine is an English magician who achieved fame some years ago by sitting for weeks on end in a box dangling over the Thames from a crane.


He's said to be gutted. His record of sitting doing nothing in a box for 42 days has been broken by Wayne Rooney.


Also, they're asking what an English fan does after England wins the World Cup? He switches off his playstation.


These sports jokes are terribly cruel.

The rankings

YET SURELY everyone is proud of the way Bafana beat France (ranked fifth in the world) and drew with Mexico (ranked 17th). Does it matter that they didn't make it through to this round? Did anyone really expect they would?

Reader Dave Freshwater reminds us of the line in the old Nat King Cole number: "Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game, all in the wonderful game...."

A video doing the rounds by e-mail expresses similar sentiments, saying failure to qualify just doesn't matter at all, especially when weighed against what has been achieved. It urges people to:

·         Choose another country to support.

·         Paint your face in its colours.

·         Fill the fanparks.

·         Help a tourist.

·         Say hello to somebody new.

·         Fly the flags high.

·         Be proud.

That's the spirit! Deutschland! Red, white, black and gold!


I HAVE to confess that my personal experience of football is limited. I did once represent Natal against Pondoland on a sandbank in the Mbotyi lagoon at low tide, but that's as far as it goes. Yet I am discovering in this World Cup a spirit and camaraderie that is appealing.

At a hostelry in Florida Road the other evening I encountered a Scotsman with the Cross of St George painted on his face. He was wearing an Irish T-shirt with the slogan : "Anyone but France!" – a reference, of course, to the Thierry Henry handball atrocity in the qualifier, for which Bafana were in the end the instruments of justice.

Was he confused? It's unusual to find a Scotsman so enthusiastic about England. Anyway, in honour of Ireland, we sang a few verses of Molly Malone.

I also met up with two Americans named Jeff and Seth, who are mightily impressed with Durban. Conversation covered a range of issues. Jeff comes from Philadelphia, which reminded me of the inscription on the tombstone of WC Fields: "On the whole I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia." He took it in good part and said he'd still rather be in Durban.

It's amazing what a good impression Durban seems to have made on our overseas visitors. Perhaps I won't move to Matatiele after all.



A WEALTHY businessman suffered from the most terrible migraines. The doctors seemed unable to do anything for him. In desperation, he visited an Eastern mystic. This guru told him to do naked press-ups on the lawn every evening.

With great scepticism he tried it. To his astonishment it worked. The migraines disappeared completely. Naked press-ups on the lawn became part of his routine.

Then he found himself at a business conference in London, staying at the Dorchester. No lawn. He consulted the doorman, who pointed to Hyde Park just across the road.

He was going through his press-up routine in the park that evening when a tipsy guards officer came along, on his way home from his club. He watched for a while then prodded the businessman with his umbrella.

"Old chap, you're wasting your time. She's already gone home."

Last word

You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.

Al Capone


The Idler, Monday, june 28, 2010

Rugby vuvuzelas

JUDGING from the Test in East London on Saturday, the vuvuzela has invaded rugby as well. Much the same was true of the Super 14 final and the Test against France, but this could be explained by the novelty of the setting – Soweto. But Buffalo Park in East London is a traditional rugby setting and the vuvuzelas there could have been at Moses Mabhida. The din was enormous and sustained. Rugby fans have clearly latched onto the vuvuzela as well.

Is this something to be deplored? The vuvuzela is no more gormless than the bursts of rock music the rugby people put over the PA system these days when there is a hold-up in play.

And it's probably unstoppable. Just take along an umbrella against the rainstorm of spittle the stands will produce.


Collective noun

LAST week we discussed the collective noun for vuvuzelas, settling on the word "swarm" because the buzzing, droning hum of a stadium full of them is very like a swarm of bees.


Michael Green, retired editor of our sister newspaper, the Daily News, now suggests a "plague" of vuvuzelas, citing Shakespeare:

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices

Make instruments to plague us.

                                 King Lear


Posting horn

YET I MUST confess I was once an enthusiastic blower of the vuvuzela. Well, not quite the vuvuzela; I blew the posting horn, which is much the same shape as the vuvuzela except much longer and bigger and made of copper. It also produces a few notes (which the vuvuzela does not) and is occasionally used in an orchestral arrangement. It was blown from stagecoaches in the 18th century as they approached a village.

Many years ago, I lived in a flat in London. Across the landing were a couple whose names were magnificently inscribed in gilt lettering in the hallway: "Major-General Sir Dashwood and Lady Strettle."

The flat I shared had, hanging on the living room wall, three magnificent posting horns, there for decorative purposes. Late one fine summer evening, two Aussies and myself decided it was time these posting horns should give tongue.

We took up position at the windows and played into the square, all kinds of stirring stuff. It was well past midnight.

Then there was a long and stern ring at our front doorbell. Sir Dashwood was in his dressing gown: "If you don't stop blowing those confounded trumpets, I'll call the police!"

This prejudice against vuvuzelas has been around for a while.

Rapper serenade


Great booty, better thighs,

I ain't wanna tell her bye

First I tell her hi,

Then I give her one and let her fly

Never tell a lie,

Tonight you couldn't find a better guy …

THE POLICE in Manchester, England, are plagued by a man – they say he sounds like a Jamaican – who has been phoning the 999 emergency number for months now, bombarding the call operators with rap songs, preaching and loud music.

He's made 700 calls in the past three months alone and it's costing the force £1 000 a month to handle them. More than 60 SIM cards have been blocked by the police but the rapper continues to acquire unregistered phones to continue his serenades.

The police are concerned that he is blocking the line for callers reporting genuine crimes and emergencies. They have appealed for information as to who this pest might be.

Have they thought about Christopher Coke, the Jamaican druglord who has just been extradited to America? There was a terrible shoot-out on the island before they picked him up, it went on for months, and he possibly needed something to take his mind off things. With satellite technology, phoning Manchester from the West Indies would be a piece of cake.

On the other hand, it could simply be a public-spirited individual expressing support and encouragement for the forces of law and order. I myself often phone the Metro police when at a loose end and yodel to them for five or 10 minutes at a time. It's a way of expressing appreciation for the grand job they are doing.



WHAT goes: Clip-clop clip-clop Bang! Clip clop clip clop …? An Amish drive-by shooting.

Last word

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

Albert Einstein



The Idler, Friday, June 25

The hand of fate

THE OTHER day we considered the court case in which an Irishman living in County Roscommon was fined and given a suspended prison sentence for widdling on the French loaves in a supermarket, in protest at the way Ireland were cheated out of participating in the World Cup by French footballer Thierry Henry, who blatantly handballed in the qualifier.

Our sister newspaper in Dublin, the Irish Independent, was a little more subtle as it reported the French defeat by Bafana Bafana and their ignominious departure from the tournament.

A front page headline read: "End of world for Henry now hand of fate evens the score."

The report read: "Irish fans could not be blamed for a little gloating last night as a dejected Thierry Henry quit the World Cup stage. The man who cheated us out of making it to South Africa will return home today in complete humiliation after France were beaten by hosts South Africa.

"Irish fans did little to conceal their joy at France's defeat and even French supporters had no words of defence for their players' performance in the competition. What goes around comes around. Adieu Henry!"

Then the news staff went out to look for the French loaves section of a supermarket.

Aussie traditions

SOMEHOW I didn't get round to visiting the Aussie tent city at Kingsmead. I wonder if they're striking camp now that the Socceroos have been blown out of the World Cup?

Things must have been pretty lively down there. The Aussies have their particular traditions when taking a few chuggalugs.

News comes in of two fellows who were sharing a few beers the other evening in the Grampians, a series of hills near Melbourne. It seemed a good idea to liven things up a bit with some target practice with an airgun.

One would bend over and the other would fire at the target presented. Then they'd swap round.

It was a lot of fun but it ended in hospital with the doctors and nurses rather busy with the tweezers.

On reflection, Kingsmead probably was a good place to stay away from.

Local traditions

THE ABOVE recalls a guinea fowl shoot near Estcourt some years ago. One gun had a terrible day, not bringing down a single bird. They were ribbing him about it over a few beers afterwards.

"Look," said this one fellow. "I'll bend over 100 yards away and you couldn't hit me up the backside!"

One thing led to another. The challenger handed the other bloke his shotgun, walked off a hundred paces and bent over.

What he knew (and the other didn't) was that he'd removed the shot from the cartridges in the gun. The other guy was going to miss again. Great humiliation.

But the other fellow looked at the cartridges. SSG – buckshot. That was a bit rough, he decided, so he replaced them with two cartridges of birdshot from his own belt.

Wham! Wham! Both barrels!

The doctors and nurses had a busy night with the tweezers.


I'M OBLIGED to reader Rob Loreiro for this short, witty dictionary:

·         Adult: A person who has stopped growing at both ends and is now growing in the middle.

·         Beauty parlour: A place where women curl up and dye.

·         Cannibal: Someone who is fed up with people.

·         Chickens: The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.

·         Committee: A body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.

·         Dust: Mud with the juice squeezed out.

·         Egotist: Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.

·         Inflation: Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.

·         Mosquito: An insect that makes you like flies better.

·         Raisin: Grape with a sunburn.

·         Secret: Something you tell to one person at a time.

·         Toothache: The pain that drives you to extraction.

·         Tomorrow: One of the greatest labour-saving devices of today.

·         Yawn: An honest opinion openly expressed.

·         Wrinkles: Something other people have – similar to one's own lines of character.




GIVE a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Last word


The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.

Samuel Butler