Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Idler, Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Angel of the North

SCULPTOR Andries Botha must be heartily sick of the politicos interfering with his work. If they're not kicking up a fuss over his properly commissioned elephants in the CBD, it's over his depiction of Shaka at the new King Shaka international airport.

Just what equips the critics to adjudge this sculpting is not clear. I presume Botha gets the dosh, in terms of the commissioning contracts, but it must be highly irritating all the same.

Maybe he should try Scotland. There they've commissioned a huge statue of a grouse, to stand on a roundabout on the approach to the city of Perth, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary. It will be known as "The Angel of the North."

A grouse? Here's a clue. The statue is being paid for by the Edrington whisky company. Yes, you've guessed. It's the Famous Grouse.

No controversy. No fuss, Jimmy! Slainte!

Get a real pet

ULSTERMAN Allan Lockhart was badly beaten with a sledgehammer and a crowbar when he disturbed burglars in his home at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, according to this news item.

The burglars made off with money, jewellery and the family's pet chihuahua.

One sympathises. But if you want to discourage burglars you keep an Irish wolfhound, not a chihuahua.

Crabby customs

STILL with Northern Ireland, five live crabs were discovered in a woman's suitcase when she flew into Belfast from China. They had been individually wrapped and concealed amongst personal items.

She might have made it if she'd stowed them in her knickers or somewhere. The border control agency are shy about that kind of thing.

On the other hand, it could have made for a most uncomfortable flight.


THERE'S a fuss in England over the shooting of a giant red stag named Exmoor Emperor, who weighed more than 135kg (300lb) and stood nearly 2.75m (9ft) tall. He was shot (perfectly legally) during the rutting season, which has enraged conservationists who say he should have been given further opportunity to pass on his genes.

It's all rather sickening, but here we have the central paradox of conservation. Were it not for hunting, and the revenues it brings in, the areas of pristine wilderness that have survived would not be left pristine at all. That's as true of KwaZulu-Natal as anywhere.



They're kidding!

I'M A SUCKER. I'm prepared to believe just about anything. When they tell me Honda have designed a car that weighs just 800lb and runs on compressed air, I say: "Hey, great!"

When they tell me the Mercedes-Benz Biome will be made out of material created from organic matter in a laboratory, that will absorb solar energy like a plant, I say: "Fantastic!"

But when they tell me Nissan are about to produce a car that will be grown from seed – a fast-growing ivy – then I say: "Hold on! Who are you kidding?"

Yet that's what they say about the Los Angeles Auto Show, where the top car manufacturers will compete for a "green" award later this month.

Pull the other one, it's got bells on it!


MAGGIE, a blonde city girl, marries a dairy farmer. One morning farmer John says to Maggie: "The insemination man is coming over to impregnate one of our cows today. I drove a nail into the woodwork just above the cow's stall in the barn. You show him where the cow is when he gets here - okay?"

Then he sets off for the fields.

The artificial insemination man arrives and knocks on the front door. Maggie takes him down to the barn They walk along the row of cows and when she sees the nail, she tells him: "This is the one - right here."

Terribly impressed by what he at first thought to be another dizzy blonde, the artificial insemination man asks: "Tell me lady, how did you know this is the cow to be bred?"

"That's simple. I know because of the nail over its stall', she says confidently.

"What's the nail for?"

She turns and shrugs as she walks away. "I guess it's to hang your trousers on."

(Note: No cows or blondes were hurt during the making of this joke).


Last word

You know that children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers.

John J Plomp


The Idler, Monday, November 1, 2010

This was an epic


SHUCKS, it's hard to be humble. I thought the drama and emotion of that Currie Cup final of 1990 could never be surpassed. Stephan Terblanche and his posse of heroes proved me wrong. This was consummate rugby, courage and character. What an amazing season it has been.


Western Province didn't know what hit them. They were tackled and driven out of the game. Then that desperate phase in the second half when Province took control but failed to put on points. They had the territory – we had the guts.


For the second time in a fortnight, that elusive chemistry of rugby showed itself, a cohesive team prevailing over an assembly of stars.


The groundsmen at King's Park had mowed the in-goal area at both ends into a kind of chess board of dark and light squares. Patrick Lambie couldn't resist it, he went through like a bishop, like a knight.




Boone is back


OH, OH, OH, Bernadine … Pat Boone, heartthrob crooner of the fifties, has emerged as a spokesman for the Tea Party movement in the United States, that is making waves in the mid-term elections – not just for the Democrats but for mainline Republicans as well.


The Tea Partyists – they take their name from the Boston Tea Party, which sparked the American revolution against Britain - have a disaffection with just about everything that is going on in their country these days. And they do seem attuned to the public mood.


Boonesy is looking in pretty good shape. And when he comes out for the Tea Party, it's difficult to bracket them with the Ku Klux Klan and the other nutters.


Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska, is also prominent with the Tea Party. Oh boy, this is scary!



Brave new world


DOES anyone remember the smugness with which we entered the 21st century? Globalisation was the future, South Africa was a shining beacon of rectitude in the world.


Since then we've had 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the collapse of the international banking system and widespread corruption, failure and disillusionment at home.


People are rioting in the streets of Paris. The leading industrial nations are close to bankruptcy. We are threatened by global warming. There's a nuclear build-up in the Middle East. International terrorism is ramping up. Talk about a mess!


And Sarah Palin in the US. Oh boy! Brave new world!


Banda's reign


READER David Pagan says last week's item on the puritanical values of President Banda of Malawi brings back memories of many happy holidays there during his reign.


He points out (quite correctly) that the dress code was more relaxed on the lake. (And Malawi's surface area is about two-thirds lake). Women seemed to enjoy wearing patio dresses all day, he says, and they could wear bathing costumes to swim in the lake. But he never did see a bikini.



"For all your remarks about censorship of photographs in newspapers, there is many a book I purchased and read in Malawi that was banned in South Africa. Apart from the dress rules, the country was very much less-uptight than South Africa under the Nats."


Too true. The old Publications Control Board (which didn't apply to newspapers) had adapted a well-known Italian expression to become its motto: "See nipples and die".



Bangi, bangi!


IN RESPONSE to last week's item on the botheration of trying to find Ordnance Road in name-changed Durban, Lylie Musgrave says they were much more sensible in post-colonial Kenya.


"The area of Nairobi where the Carrier Corps had their ordnance is still known as Kariobangi."






TWO Aussies, Davo and Jonno, are adrift in a lifeboat. Rummaging through the boat's provisions, Davo stumbles across an old lamp. He rubs it vigorously and a genie appears.

However, this genie says that he can deliver only one wish, not the standard three.

Davo blurtsout: "Turn the entire ocean into beer. Make that Victoria Bitter!"

The genie claps his hands with a deafening crash, and the sea turns into beer. The genie vanishes.

Only the gentle lapping of beer on the hull breaks the stillness as the two consider their new circumstances. Jonno looks disgustedly at Davo.

"Nice going Davo! Now we're going to have to pee in the boat!"


Last word

There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.

Pablo Picasso


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Captain Cook Friday, October 29, 2010

I WAS WAKENED from my slumbers a night or two ago by the raucous Australian accents of Tommy Lawton and Dick Cocks. Tommy played hooker for Natal in that epic Currie Cup final against Northern Transvaal 20 years ago, when we won it for the first time and in our centenary year. He added a wonderful solidity and muscle to our front row and, 20 years on, is still in fine fettle. It would not be a bad call to put him on the bench tomorrow to run on as an impact player. Cocksy, who was a Natal selector at the time, is also in pretty good shape in spite of being a decrepit old so-and-so.

The two were, of course, in Durban for last night's dinner at Sibaya for the band of brothers who lifted the Cup from Northerns, absolutely against all the odds. They had just landed in Durban from Australia and headed straight for the boozer and started phoning.

What kind of evil bastards phone respectable citizens at 11 o'clock at night and invite them out for a jar? Aussie rugby players is the answer. I felt so strongly about it that I got in my car and drove across to Glenwood to tell them off in person.

I found the pair of them highly wound up about tomorrow's final, and they're right. A fortnight ago people were comparing our semi-final against Northerns with that epic 20 years ago but it wasn't an exact comparison, it was a semi. Tomorrow is the real thing, the big 'un, the real moment of truth. It's going to be tighter than a duck's bum – and that's watertight. The odds are stacked against us (or so the Province pundits say), it's do or die. Once more unto the breach, dear friends …

Conversation was lively. The last time I saw Cocksy it was a beery breakfast at the Umhlanga Lifesavers' Club and talk got round to a new dog he had in Australia – he lives in a small seaside place outside Brisbane – which he'd given a Zulu name. But he couldn't remember the name. After a lot of discussion and suggestions, he took his cellphone and got his wife, Glynis, out of bed at some unearthly hour to ask: "Darlin', what's the dog's name?"


No such foolishness this time, of course. We all know the dog's name – Sondela, meaning "come forward" – but I think at some stage we might have phoned Glynis again anyway to ask her to say hello to the dog for us. I'm not sure, there was a lot going on.

Cocksy tells me he still plays for a side called the KwaZulu-Natal Old Crocks. Former Natal frontranker Basher Downs – now living in the US – is a leading member and they've just had a very successful tour of Ireland. (I hope Cocksy remembered to phone Glynis and ask after the dog).

This is the spirit of Natal rugby – it's gone international. Who can stop us? With these fellows in town it's an inspiration.

See you in the Duikers'! And later, if we pull it off, at the Florida Road feu de joie where the fellows will be using the gals' knicker elastic to shoot out the streetlights in celebration. I'm tired of saying we'll moider da bums – this time we'll whup their asses! Let's do it for Cocksy and Tommy! Let's do it for Cocksy's dog!

The Idler, Friday, October 29, 2010

Dick King rides again

ABSA'S withdrawal of sponsorship from the Natal Rugby Union presumably means we can go back to calling the stadium where tomorrow's Currie Cup final will be contested "King's Park" – the way it always was in our private conversations anyway.

As rugby writer Mike Greenaway remarked in his column yesterday, professional rugby has to remember where it came from, as much as where it is going.

Would it be too much to hope that, as we conclude a Currie Cup season that has positively sparkled, the NRU could consider reincorporating the word "Natal" into the side's name? That we should recover some of our virtue, the way Western Province have?

To the argument that there is no longer a province known as "Natal" there are two responses. One is: So what? A rugby union doesn't have to correspond to any political/geographical entity. And, secondly, there never has been a province called "Western Province"; nor one called "Griqualand West" or "Boland". Where's the problem?

Okay, they've been marketing the Sharks internationally but there'd be no harm in reincorporating "Natal" into the Currie Cup name. Rugby supporters identify fiercely with locality. And professional rugby has to remember where it came from.


Bizarre linkages

MIKE Greenaway said the only name he could think of that was less appealing and utterly soulless than "Absa Stadium" was a football side who called themselves "Jake's Autolot United".


Yes, it's bizarre. Sponsors insist not just on associating themselves with a club or a venue or a competition but on having their name fully incorporated with it. They don't seem to realise how counter-productive this is, causing either irritation or hilarity.

A few years ago, first division club Maritzburg Police accepted sponsorship. They were known as Rent-a-fence Maritzburg Police (the word "fence" being, of course, traditional argot in criminal circles for a receiver of stolen goods).

The perils of the professional era.


The real prize


MEANWHILE, Durban is filling up with significant pockets of blue and white as Western Province supporters fly in.

Hotel and bed and breakfast occupancies are soaring and the nightspots are gearing up for a bumper weekend. It's like having a late extension of the Football World Cup.

It's all very welcome, of course. But the top prize is Stephan Terblanche getting his mitts on the Currie Cup. Let's not forget that.

PAUL the psychic octopus who achieved world renown during the Football World Cup by correctly predicting the outcome of Germany's seven matches, then Spain beating the Netherlands in the final, has died in his aquarium at Oberhausen. He was two years old – about the end of an octopus lifespan.

Nobody thought before this sad end of asking Paul to predict the outcome of tomorrow's Currie Cup final. But reader John Knottenbelt says his last words were: "Sh-a-a-a-a-rk!"

Bumper sticker

FORGET world peace. Visualise using your indicators.


MURPHY shows up at Mass and the priest almost faints. Murphy has never been to church in his life.

After Mass the priest catche up with him and says: "Murphy, I am so glad ya decided to come to Mass. What made ya come?"

Murphy: "I got to be honest with ya Father, a while back, I misplaced me hat and I really, really love that hat. I know that McGlynn has a hat just like mine and I know he comes to church every Sunday. I also know he has to take off his hat during Mass and figured he would leave it in the back of church. So, I was going to leave after Communion and steal McGlynn's hat."

The priest: "Well, Murphy, I notice that ya didn't steal McGlynn's hat. What changed your mind?"

Murphy: "Well, after I heard your sermon on the Ten Commandments, I decided I didn't need to steal McGlynn's hat after all."

The priest (with a tear in his eye): "After I talked about 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' ya decided you would rather do without your hat?"

Murphy (slowly shaking his head): "No, Father, after ya talked about 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery' I remembered where I left me hat."



Last word

At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Idler, Thursday, October 28, 2010

Steamed up by the mini-skirt

THE MINI-SKIRT has a unique capacity to stir controversy. There was a time in this country when a man named Gert Yssel insisted it was responsible for causing drought.

In Malawi it was banned outright by President Hastings Banda and there have been rumblings against it in Kenya and Uganda from time to time.

Now a seaside town in Italy plans to also ban the mini outright, using powers against anti-social behaviour delegated by the national government. Castellammare di Stabia will fine girls between 25 and 500 Euros for wearing minis or other revealing clothing.

It seems drastic. The only objection to the mini, surely, is girls wearing it who shouldn't. It's very unforgiving to those who don't quite have the figure.

The mini seems to be coming back into fashion in Durban, judging by the damsels to be seen at rugby these days, who combine the mini with knee-high boots. Most fetching it is.

You won't see them at Castellammare di Stabia. But you will at College Rovers.


Not just the mini

PRESIDENT Banda's puritanism was not directed only at the mini. Women were not allowed to wear trousers of any sort. Men were not allowed to wear shorts. Nor could they wear flared trousers.

Nor could men wear long hair. A barber shop set up near the immigration counter at Blantyre airport did a roaring trade.

The overseas newspapers were censored. Officials would go through every copy before it went on sale and any news photograph or advertisement showing a woman with her skirt above the calf or – horrors! – in a swimsuit was blacked out with a crayon, from her chin down to her toes.

Banda, who had trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, was a man who took his puritanism seriously.

Glasgow games

THE COMMONWEALTH Games in Delhi came and went, with all kinds of hiccups. Now Glasgow – a city with a reputation for toughness – has put in a bid. A copy of the proposed Glasgow schedule of events has come this way.

Opening ceremony: The Commonwealth flame will be ignited by a petrol bomb thrown by a native of the city (preferably from the Gorbals area), wearing the traditional tammy. The flame will be contained in a large chip van situated on the roof of a local tenement.

The events: In previous games, Scottish competitors have not been particularly successful. In order to redress the balance, some of the events have been altered slightly:


·         100 m sprint - Competitors will hold a video recorder and microwave oven, one in each arm, and on the sound of the starting pistol a police dog will be released from a cage 10 yards behind.

·         100m hurdles - As above but with added obstacles (car bonnets, hedges, garden fences, walls etc.).

·         Shooting - The first target will be a moving police van. In the second round, competitors will aim at a post office clerk, bank manager or wages deliveryman.

·         Boxing – This will be restricted to husband and wife teams, taking place on a Friday night. The husband will be given 15 pints of white lightning while the wife will be told not to make him any dinner when he gets home. The bout will then commence.

·         Modern pentathlon - Amended to include mugging, breaking and entering, flashing, joyriding and arson.

·         Swimming - Competitors will be thrown off the bridge over the Clyde. The first three survivors back will decide the medals.

·         Men's 50km walk - Cancelled as the police cannot guarantee the safety of anyone walking the streets of the Eastside.

·         Rhythmic gymnastics - Competitors will be graded on ability to sway drunkenly to Metallica/Tupac/Runrig

·         Relay - Four competitors removing an appliance from a house in Condoratt and getting back to George Square, Glasgow, using at least four stolen cars.




A SCHOOLTEACHER was arrested at King Shaka international airport yesterday as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator. A police spokesman said he was believed to be a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement and had been charged with carrying weapons of maths instruction.

Last word

Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.

Oscar Wilde


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Idler, Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's the great damp squid

THE 2010/2011 telephone directory has just arrived. It appears to ignore Durban's new street names, the way the post office does in making deliveries. I'm told the Deeds Office in Maritzburg doesn't recognise the new names either.

Whatever the purpose of the renaming process, it seems therefore to have been what we seaside people call a damp squid. One government department and two parastatals – all of which deal essentially with street addresses – just don't go along with it.

I'm sure most of us ignore the whole silly thing, the way the post office and Telkom do. We of the St Petersburg Forum – St Petersburg, Leningrad, St Petersburg again – know that tomfoolery will not endure.

But it can be irksome if you're in an unfamiliar part of town and looking for a street address. I looked up the address of a business in the new telephone directory. It gave Ordnance Road. But to find Ordnance Road is not as simple as it sounds when its name has been changed to Bram Fischer Street.

I suppose Ordnance Road was so named because there was an ammunition depot or an armoury or something of the sort in the vicinity in the old days. It's not something that kept me awake at night.

But I do know for certain, of course, who Bram Fischer was. He was a man who had undeniable guts and commitment to his cause, but whose original Afrikaner nationalism morphed weirdly into an infatuation with Stalin, the mass-murderer who outdid even Hitler. Fischer never did repudiate Stalinism.

Stalin presided over a command economy that specialised in doing things on a grand scale but not always with great forethought. A factory would turn out millions of boots – but all of them left-footed.

Perhaps the new street names are appropriate after all. Dysfunctionality might in fact be some kind of greater good of which we - the bourgeoisie who are afflicted with false consciousness - are not aware.


Siesta fiesta

SPAIN has held its first siesta championship, the title going to a 62-year-old Ecuadorian who scored bonus points for his thunderous snore. About 360 snoozers took part in the competition – with substantial prize money – which was held in a Madrid shopping centre.

Security guard Pedro Soria Lopez – originally from Quito, Ecuador - managed to fall asleep for 17 minutes, netting him the title of siesta champion. His impressive 70-decibel snores pushed him ahead of another competitor who actually slept a minute longer.

Senor Lopez, we trust, does not work the afternoon a shift as a guard.

Local contender

HOWEVER, I have a worthy contender for the siesta title when Senor Lopez defends it next year. A Durban personality who makes regular contributions to this column emits snores that make 70 decibels sound like a silent movie.

When he spent the night in my house once, it seemed somebody had started a Lancaster bomber in the spare room.

Step forward Tom Dennen, Irish-American raconteur, gourmet cook and bon vivant.



THOSE of us who have worked in Mozambique are familiar with the siesta. The place closes down after a leisurely lunch and starts coming to life again only in mid-evening – and that's not to clinch deals and that sort of thing, it's to go out on the razzle.

Newcomers with busy diaries find it frustrating but you adjust.

It might seem terribly wasteful and inefficient – but at least a lot of bad decisions don't get made.

The Spanish siesta competition was apparently an attempt to bolster a tradition that is under pressure as Germanic norms of working hours and effort spread insidiously through the European Union. I worry for Spain and Portugal.







YOU'RE on a horse, galloping at a constant speed. On your right side is a sharp drop and on your left is an elephant travelling the same speed as you. Directly in front of you is a galloping zebra and your horse is unable to overtake it. Behind you is a lion running at the same speed as you and the zebra. What do you do to get out of this dangerous situation?

Get off the merry-go-round – you're drunk!

Last word

Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

Tom Stoppard


The Idler, Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pointsmen and pilots


AIR TRAFFIC controllers are the pointsmen of modern life as hundreds of thousands of people flit about the globe every day. It's absolutely vital work. Everything seems to go like clockwork. Yet communications between aircraft and control towers seldom come to light.


Here are some actual exchanges between pilots and control towers:

* Tower: "Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o'clock."

Delta 351: "Give us another hint. We have digital watches."

* Tower: "TWA 2341, for noise abatement turn right 45 degrees."

TWA 2341: "Centre, we're at 35 000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?"

Tower: "Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?"

* A pupil pilot was lost during a solo cross-country flight. Attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, Air Traffic Control asked: "What was your last known position?"

Pupil: "When I was number one for take-off."

* A DC-10 had come in a little hot and had an exceedingly long roll-out after touching down.

San Jose Tower: "American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able, take the Guadeloupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport."

* The pilot of a Cherokee 180 was told by the tower to hold short of the active runway while a DC-8 landed. The DC-8 landed, rolled out, turned around, and taxied back past the Cherokee. Some quick-witted comedian in the DC-8 crew got on the radio and said: "What a cute little plane. Did you make it all by yourself?"

Cherokee pilot: "I made it out of DC-8 parts. Another landing like yours and I'll have enough parts for another one."

* Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway."

Frankfurt ground control: "Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven."

The BA 747 pulls onto the main taxiway and slows to a stop.

Ground control: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"

Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."

Ground: "Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?"

Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark and I didn't land."

* Taxi-ing at Gatwick airport, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Fort Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US aircrew, screaming: "US Air 2771, where the hell are you going? I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there! I know it's difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right! Now you've screwed everything up! It'll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don't move 'til I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour, and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The ground control communications frequency fell into embarrassed silence. Then an unidentified pilot came over the air: "Wasn't I married to you once?"





LINDA Vandeverre, of Cowie's Hill, brings to our attention the little plastic bracelets a number of people are wearing? They look like cheap plastic watches, she says, but they aren't cheap and apparently they improve one's balance, flexibility and core strength.


They put her in mind of a little verse:


Oi only drink to calm meself,

Me steadiness to improve;

Last night Oi got so steady,

Oi couldn't 'ardly move".


Good heavens! Linda must have been the lady sitting opposite me at the Trafalgar Day lunch last weekend.


Wrong turn


ANOTHER item from Bill Bryson's Bizarre World (Warner Books).


An elderly couple in Hot Springs, Arkansas, took a wrong turn while driving to a restaurant near their home, tried to get back to where they were but took another wrong turn and finally ended up near Nashville, Tennessee, 60 miles away.




I DON'T know what to do. I went to a Chinese restaurant last night and my fortune cookie contradicted my horoscope.


Last word


Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself.

A H Weiler