Saturday, November 27, 2010

Captain Cook Friday, November 26

ENGLAND are looking for a double – the first cricket Test against Australia at the Gabba, in Brisbane, and our scalps at Twickenham tomorrow. Things weren't looking too bright for them at the Gabba at time of writing, but there are still three days' play to go. Things don't look too bright for us at Twickers.

It's not just the arctic conditions that are closing in, it's the sense of implosion. We started our northern hemisphere tour with a display against Ireland that was uplifting. Our threequarters were moving with zest, the forwards driving well; the handling was superb. Given that we had a side with no recent match play and a lot of injuries – and that we virtually took the airport bus direct to Lansdowne Road – it was a pretty good performance against a strong and experienced Irish side.

We should have stepped it up against Wales a week later, but instead we stepped it down. All kinds of silly buggers factors came into play; we damn near threw the game away. Among those factors was the flurry of substitutions made in the second half. Why? I refuse to accept the explanation that Piet de Snor gets a regular crackle in his headphones after half-time with the Minister of Sport or the chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sport giving him instructions as to who should be given a run; but it remains a mystery. When you're only a few points ahead and in a critical phase of the game, you stick to what you've got.

Then Scotland and another step-down. Take nothing away from the Scots – they outplayed us on the day and they used the atrocious conditions perfectly. But we never looked like getting any rhythm going, having any kind of game plan. We again started kicking away possession. There was a pointlessness to it all, 15 individuals thinking of a hot shower. The Scots had the chemistry, we had none. It is most disappointing.

Doubly disappointing is that it follows a magnificent Currie Cup season in which the top sides played world class rugby, thoroughly attuned to the new laws that favour ball-in-hand play. It just hasn't translated to the national team. And when one says ball-in-hand, that doesn't necessarily mean expansive threequarter play. It also means mauling forward play, keeping possession, driving, adapting to weather conditions.

Can they get it right in a week? At least we know we have the physical ability, the skills. It's just the kop we lack at present. Can attitude be changed in a couple of days? Who can supply the spark to set us alight? Victor Matfield has a lot on his hands.

The fellows of the Florida Road rugby colloquium are in sombre mood and apprehensive. But hope springs eternal, things can change in a flash. Ladies who attend at The Pub With No Name tomorrow are advised to wear extra strong knicker elastic just in case. A Springbok victory will be greeted with unrestrained joy, and the celebratory shattering of the streetlights in a feu de joie will be performed with particular gusto. Crème de menthe all round! Frappe!

The Idler, Friday, November 26, 2010

A brilliant strategy unfolds

AT LAST a glimmering of enlightenment. At last I begin to understand what this International Youth Festival being organised by the National Youth Development Agency is all about. Let us not be parsimonious with a niggardly R29 million allocation. Let us give them what they want.

The thing is a function of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, an organisation founded in London in 1945 in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The World Federation went on to support the communist coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia in 1948, then various escapades by the Soviet Union elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It supported the North Koreans when they invaded South Korea in 1950.

Certain pages on the internet are unkind enough to describe the World Federation as having been a KGB front organisation in the days of the Soviet Union – but that is neither here nor there. The key lies in the slogan adopted after a phase of self-examination and introspection following the collapse of communism. The World Federation has now emerged - as its website cheerfully tells us – as "an anti-imperialist left-wing organisation."

Don't you see? The World Federation of Democratic Youth is the relic of an age that has passed. But it's absolutely in step with Comrade Julius – nationalisation of the mines, tirades against the wicked capitalists and colonialists – who is set on creating in South Africa some sort of Jurassic Park of the anti-colonial, anti-capitalist struggle; a socialist Disneyland where visitors can come from overseas to experience the rhetoric, the sloganeering, the anti-imperialist anger. And find that – just as in East Germany – nothing works.

Retro-experience is a powerful impulse in world tourism. People will flock to our shores just to experience the nostalgia of it.

Capitalist lackeys … Yankee-imperialist running dogs … bean soup tigers… This is absolutely brilliant! Unique in the world!

Give 'em all the money they want, I say.

Bitter is better

MY OLD war correspondent/foreign correspondent colleague, Derek Taylor (who hails originally from Down Under), disputes my version of the free beer promised by an Aussie brewery to every Australian citizen 18 or older, should the national cricket side win back the Ashes from England.

"Your traumatising distortion of the patriotic brewery offer to stand a celebratory beer to every member of the Australian nation's drinking classes - when we extract the Ashes urn from the Brits at the end of this Test series - cannot go unexposed," he says.

"The free beers offered are not Foster's Lager (a pale, whey-faced imitation of real beer) but Victoria Bitter or Victoria Best Bitter and the offer/wager was first announced in the Melbourne newspapers this week.

"It would take up most of the Mercury's columns for me to describe in accurate and exhaustive terms the spiritual, nourishing and taste-bud glories of VBB and so I will say no more except that my lawyers are now employing local Brazilian heart transplant experts to establish the extent of cardiac damage your report has, however unintentionally, caused me to suffer.

"At the moment I can only say that your damages consist of your getting the next round."

What a pleasure. I think the story is that the patriotic brewery involved produces beer in various Australian states, under different names. In New South Wales it's Foster's Lager; in Victoria, it's Victoria Best Bitter. And, of course, it's very different beer.

Whatever, chuggalug – that's if they can win the Ashes!


Aussie good life

THE ABOVE recalls the lyrical celebration of the Australian good life by Barry McKenzie, hero of Barry Humphries's cartoon strip in Private Eye magazine many years ago.

I was down on Bondi pier with a tube of ice-cold beer

And a bucketful of prawns upon my knee;

I swallowed my last prawn,

Had a technicolor yawn

And I chundered in the old Pacific sea …





CURRENT events on the Korean peninsula must trigger a few memories for the aforementioned Derek. He was technically involved as a combatant in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 because he'd been called up for national service in the Royal Australian Air Force about a week before hostilities ended.

Or is it the Crimean War I'm thinking about?



"I GOT kicked out of the chef school."


"My dog ate my homework."

Last word

Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made.

Otto von Bismarck


The Idler, Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chanterelles, honey, orange, peach ...

IT'S ENCOURAGING to know that wine writing flourishes in the Nordic regions. Divers recently salvaged 168 bottles of champagne from a wreck in the Baltic Sea that was almost 200 years old. Experts and enthusiasts gathered at in Mariehamn, in Finland, to grab a glass of the ancient bubbly.

The vintage treasure included bottles of both Veuve Clicquot and the now defunct Juglar brands.

But there weren't too many bubbles. The champagne had lost its fizz. However this did not deter a Swedish wine connoisseur, who discovered in the Juglar "hints of chanterelles, honey, orange and peach" and in the Veuve Clicqot "linden blossoms and lime peels".

How inadequate one feels in the face of such prose. Some of us might have just described it as "flat champagne".


Space probe (1)

A GROUP of amateur space enthusiasts in Britain have completed their own successful space probe – and on a shoestring budget.

Steve Daniels, John Oates and Lester Haines made a three feet wingspan glider out of straws covered with paper. They fitted it with a camera, attached it to a helium balloon then launched it from Spain last month.

It soared an astonishing 23 miles above the ground, taking dozens of photographs before the helium balloon burst – as anticipated – in the thin atmosphere and the glider brought the camera safely back to earth 100 miles away from the launch site.

A remarkable feat and achieved without the billions poured into Nasa and other programmes. Steve, John and Lester need to be encouraged to make their next probe from the Bluff which, as we all know, is already a centre of inter-galactic activity.

Space probe (2)

HOWEVER, the British effort doesn't quite have the pizzaz of the activities in the mid-1960s of the Zambian National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, headed by one Edward Makuka Nkoloso.

Nkoloso (who was disowned by the Zambian government) then had the objective of reaching the moon before the Russians or Americans. He claimed to be training 12 astronauts including a "specially trained spacegirl, two cats (also specially trained) and a missionary", all of them ready for a mission to Mars.

The astronauts were spun around a tree in an oil drum and taught to walk on their hands, to equip them for getting around on the moon. Nkoloso also rolled them down a hillside in oil drums, to accustom them to the sensation of weightlessness.

Some said Nkoloso was nuts. Whatever, he seems to have faded from the scene. Perhaps, disgusted by lack of support from his government, he did secretly blast off for Mars. Maybe his missionary married him to the spacegirl. Who can tell?



Free, so free


AN ITEM of free verse has come this way, possibly inspired by a zol or two. There can be no mistaking the earthy South African authenticity of the lines.


The sun shone out of the heavens,

The birds they all were still,

And only the song of the koppies

And the donga's bark so shrill

Broke the silence and heat of the noonday,

While under the summer sun

Two little mosbolletjies wandered

And laughed in childish fun.

Still were the tall maasbankers

And even the wild konfyt

Slept in the shade of the voorslags

Although the hour was late.

Herds of beautiful voetsaks

Ate the succulent short green kloof;

While a couple of drunken disselbooms

                    Slept on the farmhouse roof.

                    Krantzes and veldskoens in hundreds

Scented the summer air,

The spruits were laden with berries,

Truly the world looked fair.

Over the gravelled naartjies

A lonely biltong ran,

I gazed at it all in wonder,

And murmured, "Ag, sies tog man!"



Two Irishmen are standing at the base of a flagpole, looking up. A blonde walks by and asks what they are doing.

Mick:"We're supposed to be finding the height of this flagpole, but we don't have a ladder."

The blonde takes a shifting spanner from her bag, loosens a few bolts and lays the flagpole down. She takes a tape measure out of her pocket, measures and announces it is 18 feet 6 inches. Then she walks off.

Mick to Paddy: "Isn't dat just like a blonde! We
need de height and she gives us de length!"





Last word

I don't like composers who think. It gets in the way of their plagiarism.

Howard Dietz


The Idler, Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Firing squad politics UK

WHO WOULD be in British politics? There they're dismantling the welfare state as fast as they can. Only the national health service and education are ringfenced. They are doing everything the purple-faced squires and retired major-generals have been demanding for years. Cut the benefits! Get the slackers out to work!

Then an elderly cove known as Lord Young, who is some sort of enterprise adviser to the government, applauds all this and mildly remarks that some people in Britain think the state owes them a living.

This sets the geiger-counters chattering. Whoops! Political fall-out! Next thing Lord Young is out on his ear.

The Tories will do anything to rid themselves of their image as the harsh, uncaring party. Even if it means firing squads for their own when they step ever so slightly out of line.


Politics USA

IN AMERICA, politics has taken an ugly turn following the mid-term elections. Steven Cowan, of Wisconsin, was "fed up with politics" as he sat down to watch on television the popular celebrity dance show, Dancing With The Stars, having taken a few drinks to get himself in the mood.

Then who should he see on the screen but Bristol Palin, daughter of Tea Party figure Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska, who had been prominent on the channels in the run-up to the elections.

This enraged Mr Cowan, who fetched his shotgun and blasted the screen. When his wife, Janice, remonstrated, he pointed the gun at her. She fled and called the police.

A police team surrounded the couple's farmhouse throughout the night and negotiators eventually persuaded Cowan to give himself up. He has been charged with reckless endangerment.

His wife says he was upset that the controversial Sarah Palin's daughter should be dancing on television in spite of her lack of talent.

Some might say the same about Bristol's mum on the national political stage.

Politics Argentina

MEANWHILE, politics has taken a robust turn in Argentina. During a budget debate in the legislature, Graciela Camano and opposition politician Carlos Kunkel had an exchange of words, after which the Senora got up and punched Kunkel in the mouth.

Then she stalked out of the debating chamber. Hell hath no fury ...

The incident was captured on live TV.

There's been only one incident of fisticuffs in our parliament that I can recall. This was when a brawl broke out in the National Assembly as it adjourned. There was once a case in the House of Commons when Northern Irish MP Bernadette Devlin rushed across the floor to pull the hair of Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe and scratch his face.

It's not for nothing that the distance across the debating floor in the House of Commons (and our old House of Assembly) is two sword-lengths.

It's different in other parliaments, where the lay-out is semi-circular and proceedings – in France and Italy especially – are often more like tag-wrestling.

Democracy has wonderful variety.

Sweet tooth

HERE'S an idea for Johannesburg restaurateur Kenny Kunene who celebrates his birthday by eating sushi off the bodies of semi-naked ladies. In New York, clothing designers and pastry chefs have teamed up to create edible catwalk outfits.

Models strutted up the catwalk in outfits such as a white chocolate Urban Superwoman and a milk chocolate version of Lara Croft, the video game tough gal archaeologist.

The annual New York Chocolate Show, which is in its 13th year, opened last week at the Metropolitan Pavilion - attracting more than 10 000 chocolate lovers.

Just call him Sweet Tooth Kenny!

Peachy pooch

A CHIHUAHUA named Momo (Peach) has qualified as a police dog in Japan. She will be placed in the handbag of a plainclothes policewoman who will mingle with crowds. Then, at a signal, Momo will emerge to spring at the jugular of pickpockets and muggers.

No, only kidding. The 3kg dog will be part of a search-and-rescue team used for disasters such as earthquakes. Her small size means she will be able to squeeze into places too narrow for dogs such as German shepherds.

The heavy work is still for the rottweilers.


IF MARTIANS live on Mars and Venusians live on Venus, who lives on Pluto?


Last word

Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.

Isaac Asimov



Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Idler, Tuesday, November 23, 2010

All of it eminently sensible

THE GUINNESS Book of World Records has always attracted the weird and the wacky. It reaches a crescendo every year on Guinness World Records Day, and last week more than 200 000 people took part, hoping to make it. Among the feats:

·         In Gloucestershire, England, pensioner Thomas Lackey broke his existing record as the world's oldest wing walker by flying 500 feet above the ground, strapped to the wing of an aircraft.

·         In London, American Ashrita Furman broke the world record for the heaviest shoes by walking 10 metres at Tower Bridge in shoes weighing a total of 146.5kg.

·         In Paris, can-can girls at the Moulin Rouge produced the most high kicks ever in a single 30-second chorus line.

·         Also in Paris, Anatol and Monika Stykan - a male and female balancing act - broke the world record for the most stairs climbed while balancing a person on the head - on the steps of Sacre Coeur Basilica.

·         In New York, 400 dogs put on cowboy hats, tiaras, T-shirts and ponchos to clinch an entry as the largest-ever convention of pooches in fancy dress.

Other records toppled included the largest painting by numbers, the world's largest shoe (a canvas trainer, Size 845) and the most concrete blocks broken whilst holding a raw egg.

Well, that's what the rest of the world was doing. Very sensible. We've yet to learn what Julius Malema was up to.


AN AUSTRALIAN brewery has offered a free beer to every adult citizen in the country, should the national cricket side win back the Ashes from England in the series which begins this week.

The free beers – offered by Foster's Lager - would become available through vouchers printed in the newspapers countrywide.

This might seem the ultimate in cricketing patriotism, the start of a party reaching from Botany Bay to Beyond the Black Stump.

Yet the exercise would cost about A$20 million. Maybe Foster's believe they're on safe ground.

Flag splendour

BRITISH prime minister David Cameron was interviewed on TV over Nato and Afghanistan. Standing in the corner in the background was a Union Jack.

When did the Brits adopt this American practice of displaying the national flag indoors on such occasions?

We adopted it in the days of PW Botha. Every government office suddenly had its flag, every desk had its miniature. The practice is still going strong today.

It recalls the words of the Chinese sage who inspired the title of Evelyn Waugh's novel, Put Out More Flags.

"A drunk military man should order gallons and put up more flags in order to increase his military splendour."

This is not to suggest that Cameron was squiffy drunk on TV. But, having scrapped the Ark Royal, maybe he does need to boost the military splendour a bit.


SOME truisms on the banister of life:

·         The only time the world beats a path to your door is if you're in the bathroom.

·         I hate sex in the movies. Tried it once. The seat folded up, the drink spilled and that ice, well it really chilled the mood.

·         It used to be only death and taxation. Now, of course, there's shipping and handling too.


A MARRIED couple in their early 60s are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic little restaurant. Suddenly a tiny, beautiful fairy appears on their table. She says: "For being such an exemplary married couple and for being loving to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish."

The wife says: "Oh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband."

The fairy waves her magic wand and - poof! - two tickets for the Queen Mary appear in her hands.

The husband thinks for a moment: "Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this will never come again. I'm sorry my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me."

The wife and the fairy are deeply disappointed, but a wish is a wish. So the fairy waves her magic wand and - poof! - the husband is 92 years old.

Moral: Men who are ungrateful bastards should remember that fairies are female.

Last word

What we call "Progress" is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.

Havelock Ellis


Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Idler, Monday, November 22, 2010

What about bunnychow, pap en wors?


WE'VE missed a trick. At a conference up in Nairobi, Unesco (United Nations Economic and Social Commission) has been busy doing things like put France's traditional gastronomic meal on to the world's "intangible heritage list".

The traditional gastronomic meal, I gather, is the full thing from hors d'oevres, right through six courses to the coffee and cognac. Were it not for this Unesco intervention, there would be a danger of Paris going over to McDonald burgers and hot dogs.

Unesco has also put on the list traditional Mexican food; plus cultural non-food items that are considered to be at risk in today's globalising world – Spanish flamenco dancing, Colombia's marimba instrument and chants from the Pacific coast (also Colombia). Also the huaconada, a traditional dance of the Mito people in the Peruvian Andes. Plus Mongolian folk dancing, the tango in Argentina and Croatian lace-making.

It's nice to know Unesco is not shirking these vitally important issues but what is our diplomatic service doing to get our own cuisine and culture on that intangible heritage list? Things like bunnychow, pap en wors, spook 'n diesel and the gumboot dance.

We pay our dues to the UN. Let's get value for money.

Street names

A LAND surveyor of my acquaintance was at work in one of the townships on the periphery of Durban when he was approached by a group of men carrying sticks and looking none too friendly. They wanted to know if he was responsible for putting in the street name signs.

He was not. It turned out they were annoyed that people from elsewhere had been employed to dig the holes and put in the signs. Local people should get those jobs, they said.

The tension had vanished. To make conversation, the surveyor asked what names had been chosen. Mbeki? Malema? There was a great stock of heroic names from which to choose.

The leader of the group shook his head vigorously.

"No, we name our roads after trees and animals. People are only trouble. If they name a street after a person, we pull the sign down"

Yet Ridge Road becomes Peter Mokaba. Essenwood (a tree) becomes, Oh, I forget now. Broadway becomes Swapo (a group of people). And so on, and so on. You have to go to a township to hear some sense.

Mind you, the thing is still sub judice, to be decided by the Court of Appeal. We of the St Petersburg Forum – St Petersburg, Leningrad, St Petersburg again – look on with amused detachment.



Carbon hysteria

STOCKS analyst James Greener does not share our city manager's enthusiasm for the international climate change conference being held in Durban next year.

To quote his newsletter:

"Once again throngs of carbon-based life forms with zero knowledge about science will gather to demand in voices filled with carbon dioxide that the rather vital 6th member of the periodic table be banned from the globe. It will be a mess and another bill for ratepayers."

You could hardly put it more pithily.



That's showbiz


READER Brian Kennedy notes that RTE Ireland's radio and television had a headline on its website last week: "Britain's Prince Wiliam to marry". It was under the heading "Entertainment".


Well, that's it: bread and circuses.


High heels

IF YOU'RE flying Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to London, don't get a fright if the stewardess in the red outfit and high heels has a beard. It will be Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Air, paying off a wager with Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia.

Each had agreed to dress up as a stewardess and serve on the other's airline if his Formula One motor-racing team lost to the other.

Branson's Virgin Racing entry to the F1 lost to Lotus, headed up by Fernandes. Although both teams completed the season with zero points, Lotus were placed ahead in the rankings because of better finishing positions.

These international financiers play it tough.



BUTTERCUP and Daisy are chatting and chewing the cud.

Buttercup: "'Ere, have you heard about this mad cow disease?"

Daisy: "Yes. Sounds nasty."

Buttercup: "Makes me glad I'm a chicken."


Last word

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.

Andy Rooney


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Captain Cook, Friday, November 19


The Idler, Friday, November 19, 2010


It's the computer age

ETHEKWINI municipality has a way to go. A man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in New South Wales, Australia) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away. He received another bill and threw that one away too.

The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note saying they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn't send them $0.00 by return mail. He phoned them and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it.

Next month he decided it was about time he tried out the troublesome gas line, figuring that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament. However when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off.

He phoned the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said they would take care of it. Next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue.

Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.

Next month he got a bill for $0.00. This also said he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt.

Giving in, he mailed the company a cheque for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the gas company nothing at all.

A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of the bank phoned and asked what he was doing writing a cheque for $0.00. The $0.00 cheque had caused the bank's cheque processing software to fail. It therefore could not process any cheques received from any of their customers that day.

The next month the gas customer received a letter from the company saying his cheque had bounced and he now owed them $0.00. Unless he sent a cheque by return mail, they would take immediate steps to recover the debt. At this point he decided to file a debt harassment claim against the company.

It took nearly two hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he wasn't joking.
The gas company was eventuallyordered to rectify its accounts system, compensate the customer for cheque dishonouring charges, compensate all the bank's other clients whose cheques had bounced and pay the customer $1 500 a month for five months of aggravation.

Moral: Computers can cost you.


Aussie idiom

THIS is the first time I have known the name Mudgee to appear in such a context. Usually it's a part of Australian idiom, an expression of appreciation of a well-endowed sheila.

"Like a set of Mudgee mailbags, mate!"

Zambia patrol

SOME news from Zambia. A young police officer was taking his final exam at police staff training college . Question:

"You are on patrol on the outskirts of Lusaka when an explosion occurs nearby. On investigation you find a large hole has been blown in the road and there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants - a man and a woman - are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your divisional inspector, who is at present away on a peace-making mission. A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you recognise him as a man who is wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent dam by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

"Describe in a few words what action you would take."

The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote: "I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd."



EMPEROR Nero: "Why aren't we making any money out of this colisseum?"

Financial adviser: "The lions are eating up all the prophets."

Last word

In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.

Andre Maurois