Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Idler, Monday, March 28, 2011

The more things change ...


THEY were squabbling about public funds a long time ago. A court report comes this way from The Mercury of December 1858, headed: "State Prosecution for Slander."


"In the Supreme Court of Natal – The Queen versus John Moreland, a member of the Legislative Council, before the Hon Justice Phillips.


"This trial excited an unusual degree of interest in the community – being a prosecution instituted by Government in behalf of one of its officers against a member of the Legislative Council who has been one of the most uncompromising opponents of the Government.


"The following is the indictment (Abstract):


·         That John Moreland, Government Surveyor, is guilty of the crime of maliciously committing an injury by writing, to the character of a public officer, Phillip Allen, Colonial Treasurer ... to insinuate that the said Phillip Allen had robbed the Treasury chest on 29th October 1853 (of some £800).

·         (Generally) of speaking to the same slanderous effect.


"Mr Moreland was acquitted on the first charge. On the second, the point was reserved whether spoken slander could be prosecuted criminally and not civilly for damages.


"A majority of the Judges subsequently decided that the action was legally brought, and sentenced Mr Moreland to pay a fine of 20 shillings and to enter into his own recognances to keep the peace towards Mr Allen for twelve months."


We're not told what happened to the peace between Messrs Moreland and Allen when the 12 months was up.


The court report comes from the "Annals of old Natal" section of a special supplement to The Mercury of May 31, 1924, commemorating a century of colonial settlement. It is supplied by reader Reg Style, of Durban North, and is a mine of information about the early days.


The style of court reporting has changed since those times. But when you consider some of the e-mails that are doing the rounds today, alleging financial impropriety in public office, not that much has changed.


All the news


MORE from the Annals of old Natal:


·         "Revival of the Town Council" (November 1858) - "The Town Council, after a long season of suspended animation, revived last evening."

·         "Filibusters" (November 1858) - "Two Natal farmers are in prison at Ladysmith for having led an armed force of Amaswazis in an affray against the Zulus."

·         "Legislative Squabbles" (December 1858) – "On several occasions, this evening, the angry feeling developed among members rose to an alarming height. These unfortunate squabbles are now of nightly occurrence, and the Council threatens to become a repetition of the American Senate."


It was all happening, then as now. Today's Legislature gets pretty disputatious as well. I recall an army officer being prosecuted in the 1970s for serving as a mercenary with one of the factions at Msinga.


But should they really have revived the Durban Council in 1858, or allowed it to slumber on? It could have saved a lot of trouble.



Algebra to English


READER Eric Hodgson sends in a limerick with a difference. Written by Jon Saxton, an author of maths textbooks, it is first expressed algebraically:

((12 + 144 + 20 + (3 × 4 (1÷2))) ÷ 7) + (5 × 11) = 9² + 0

Then it's translated into English:

A dozen, a gross and a score
Plus three times the square root of four,
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Equals nine squared and not a bit more.

This is fiendishly clever.


Substance abuse


VAN DER MERWE has become addicted to brake fluid. But he says it's no real problem – he can stop any time.


Bedtime story


MORE useful statistics: six out of seven dwarves are not Happy.




AN ENGLISHMAN, an Irishman a Scotsman, a Welshman, a Latvian, a Turk, an Australian, a German, an American, an Egyptian, a Japanese, a Mexican, a Spaniard, a Russian, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Swede, a Finn, an Israeli, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Swiss, a Greek, a Singaporean, an Italian, a Norwegian and a South African go to a night club.


The doorman says: "Sorry, I can't let you in without a Thai."



Last word

Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the fine line between sanity and madness gotten finer?

George Price


The Idler, Friday, March 25

More Zululand pranks


HOW INFORMATION flashes about the world these days, in nanoseconds. Hardly had yesterday's account hit the streets of the sucking pig which leaped from the platter at a mayoral banquet in Empangeni when word arrived from Australia, of all places, of a similar bit of Zululand prankery.


My correspondent is none other than Jon Penn, my predecessor in producing this column, who is now on the Gold Coast of Australia, where he spends his time looking out to sea and playing the didgeridoo.


He says the Zululand Observer, a paper based in Empangeni (natch!), once ran a report on April 1 about a genetic world first when local scientists managed to cross a rhino with an elephant, producing what they called a "rhinophant". The Observer also published a photograph of the animal (amazing what you can do with Photoshop and the other electronic stuff these days).


It caused a stir world-wide and CNN approached the Observer offering to buy exclusive TV rights.


I'm not sure if Jeff Gaisford, of Ezemvelo KZN Tourism (who brought us the sucking pig story) knows anything about this. Indeed, I suppose it's possible he was behind it.


What it does tell us is that up in Zululand they have a highly developed instinct for practical jokes. Nothing is ever quite what it seems.


That's what I always liked about Stan's Bar in Babanango. One evening I found myself beside a fellow who told me he operated the town's telephone exchange. He was taking shelter from the thunderstorm, he said.


"But there's no thunderstorm."


"There is. Happy hour is from five to six. People can never raise the Babanango exchange between five and six because of the thunderstorm. And I'm always here between five and six, sheltering from it."


That's the Zululand I know.

The real Libya

YOU CAN'T beat the Fleet Street red-top tabloids for an angle. Here is coverage by the Daily Star of the crisis in Libya.

"Desperate Colonel Gaddafi was hiding in a secret desert bunker last night guarded by 40 female virgins.

"The dolled-up bodyguards, supposedly banned from having sex, have sworn an oath to die protecting evil despot Colonel Gaddafi.

"They all wear bright coloured lipstick, jewellery, have polished nails and totter around in high-heels.

"But despite looking harmless, they are said to be armed to the teeth and trained in hand-to-hand combat. The crazed dictator parades them as a symbol of female freedom, but is said to demand sexual favours from them.

"It's claimed the girls, who wear Kalashnikov rifles like Gucci fashion accessories, never leave his side, night or day. Many have given their lives for him.

"The monster has also surrounded himself with mercenaries bribed with gold bullion from a massive personal stash."


What more could you want to know about the political dynamics of the Middle East and the strategic/economic implications of the Libyan conflict?



A WOMAN treats herself to a facial for her 50th birthday. She feels pretty good about the result.

She asks a newspaper vendor: "How old do you think I am?"

"About 32."

"Nope. I'm exactly 50."

She goes into McDonald's and asks the counter girl the same question.

"I'd guess about 29," the girl says.

The woman replies with a dazzling smile: "Nope, I'm 50."

She asks the same question in a drugstore, where she buys some mints, and gets the same kind of answer. Then at a bus stop she puts the question to an elderly man who is also waiting.


"Lady, I'm 78 and my eyesight is going. But when I was young there was a sure-fire way to tell how old a woman was. It sounds very forward, but it requires you to let me put my hands under your bra. Then, and only then, I can tell you exactly how old you are."

They wait in silence on the empty street. Then she says: "What the heck, go ahead!"

He slips both hands under her blouse and begins to feel around very slowly and carefully. After a couple of minutes of this, she says: "Okay, okay ... how old am I?" 

"Madam, you're 50."

"How can you tell?"


"I was standing behind you in McDonald's."


Last word


If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.

George Carlin


The Idler, Thursday, March 24, 2011

These Zululand pranksters

HARDLY have I digested this strange story about the ostrich in Romania that showed the instincts of a homing pigeon by escaping and running back to the farm from which it had been stolen, when I am assailed by an even stranger one.

Jeff Gaisford, of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, tells of the occasion when a sucking pig leaped off the platter at a mayoral dinner in Empangeni and ran squealing down the table, scattering wine glasses and plates. Its squeals were in protest at the mayor having jabbed a carving fork into its behind.

How this happened was that some Zululand practical jokers – they infest places like Empangeni – had switched the cooked sucking pig for a real, live piglet which had been sedated with knock-out drops supplied by the local vet. It had also been shaved and garnished with cherries and so forth and had an apple in its mouth.

Jeff doesn't say what the upshot of this incident was. I sense a restiveness about him these days. He retires from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife next month, after a long and distinguished career, and my guess is that he plans either to put together a collection of such yarns or embark on a new career of practical jokery.

The executive at Ezemvelo would do well to check their offices after he leaves, in case they have been booby-trapped with whoopee cushions, exploding pens and stink bombs.



AND SPEAKING of yarns, I've had a glimpse of the latest offering by Spyker Koekemoer (aka Pat Smythe, raconteur), which will no doubt be aired one of these evenings at a St Clement's soiree, which is where local literati and wordsmiths get together now and again to whoop it up.

It's very much a local yarn concerning two trawlermen, Lefty Saaiman and Eenoog Plaatjies, who were persuaded by the Devil to pinch the boss's bank bag, containing wages and tonnage bonuses, while he wasn't looking.

They proceeded to get zonked on cheap wine, just a few hundred metres from the scene of the crime and, once they'd spent R20, didn't know what to do with the rest.

I don't want to give away the whole story. Suffice it to say that Spyker Koekemoer writes in the idiom of Herman Charles Bosman. That the trawler boss who forgave and forgot should have ended up dying of Alzheimer's is vintage Bosman.


Jacobs the master


WHO REMEMBERS the wonderful waterfront yarns of WW Jacobs?


"'E 'opped about that bar arf crazy and it took the landlord, 'is brother, two sojers and a 'elpless cripple wot was selling matches to put 'im outside 'til 'e could speak proper English."


The angry hopper had just lost a shilling in a bet over whether he could down a pint of beer in one go. Halfway through, somebody asked the landlord: "Did you poison it or catch it in a trap?"


Lovely stuff!


Grand faux pas

WHOOPS! England seemed well on their way to winning their first Grand Slam in the Six Nations rugby tournament since 2003, until they went down 24-8 to Ireland last weekend.


Now footage has emerged of a video made by Nike, the sponsors, celebrating the Grand Slam – shot while the tournament was still at the halfway stage.


The footage has action shots of several players and ends with the words "Grand Slam Champions 2011" under the red rose of England.


The Rugby Football Union describes the leak as "disappointing" but emphasises that it had nothing to do with having the video made. Embarrassing – but at least England did win the championship, if not with a Grand Slam.





MICK O'Leary has been married five years and there's no sign of a child. He goes to the doctor. The doctor examines him and tells him he can't find anything wrong.

Mick goes home but, try as he might, he cannot make the wife pregnant.

He goes back to the doctor who examines him again and again can find nothing wrong. He says: "I don't know Mick, all I can recommend is that you consider taking in a lodger".

Off goes Mick and about two months later the doctor meets him in the street. "Hello Mick, how are things going? Did you take my advice?"

"Great, Doctor, says Mick. "The wife's pregnant, and so's the lodger."


Last word

Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings.

Evan Esar


The Idler, Wednesday, March 23

When knowledge disappears

IT'S SPOOKY when a civilisation loses information in large quantities. In South America and various other places, great pyramids overgrown by jungle mark the site of civilisations that rose and flourished, mapped the heavens, explored the mysteries of science, then subsided into primitiveness.


Something of the sort seems to be happening here. Yesterday on this very page my old pal Max du Preez, the Pale Native, wrote a brilliantly argued piece for renewable energy as an alternative to nuclear (and, by implication, coal-fired) energy.


I particularly liked this paragraph: "This is a moment of rare opportunity. Mobilise all the scientists, engineers and inventors in the private sector and at universities and develop technologies in the renewable energy field that will make us the envy of the world."

I've good news for Max. Much of that work has already been done. From 1947 until the late 1980s a team of scientists and planners worked on development of the Tugela Basin, a unique geological feature of KwaZulu-Natal that, they calculated, could provide the hydro-electric energy to sustain several cities the size of Johannesburg and leave enough water flowing into the sea to power a city the size of Greater London.

The trick is that the Tugela Basin tilts in such a way that the water can easily be made to gravitate backwards toward the Drakensberg; it can be made to flow about more or less in perpetuity, driving all kinds of turbines..

People spent their careers working on the plan. PhDs were earned. The economics of it, the agricultural spin-offs, the environmental impacts have all been minutely studied.

The Department of Water Affairs identified something like 26 hydro-electric sites on the Tugela and its tributaries. It planned longer-term for water to be transferred to the Tugela Basin from the Transkei, a massive canalisation project that would have provided employment for decades.

But when you asked officials in Pretoria why nothing was happening, their eyes would glaze over and they would mumble about "priorities". In a nutshell, the Nats were not going to develop a province that voted against them or a pesky homeland that refused to accept "independence."

The scientific information is all there in a magnificent document, "Towards a Plan for the Tugela Basin", by Eric Thorrington-Smith, of the Natal Town and Regional Planning Commission, in which he pulled together all the studies. Clearly, the Tugela Basin could supply a large portion of South Africa's energy needs, replacing the nuclear and coal-fired options.

The Nats are history. The newcomers appear not to know about this undeveloped powerhouse.

Yes, it's spooky how information can simply disappear. It's not just the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Soccer jersey

LONDON is where it's all happening, investment analyst Dr James Greener tells us in his latest grumpy newsletter.

"The national soccer team's new jersey (designed in Germany, made in China?) is to be launched at 'a glittering ceremony in London'. How odd."

C'mon, Doc. You must have heard of globalisation.


New crisis

MORE news from the turbulent Middle East A crisis has erupted after Dubai Television was refused permission to broadcast The Flintstones.

A spokesman for the series said: "A claim was made that people in Dubai would not understand the humour, but we know for a fact that people in Abu Dhabi do."

The big numbers

A READER sends in a reminder of what the big numbers, that are so readily spouted, really mean:

·         A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

·         A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

·         A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the stone age.

·         A billion days ago nothing walked on the earth on two feet.

·         A billion rands ago was only 27 hours and 12 minutes back from now, at the rate our government is spending.



PADDY is in New York. He's patiently waiting and watching the traffic cop at a busy street crossing. The cop stops the flow of traffic and shouts: "Okay, pedestrians!" Then he allows the traffic to pass again.

He's done this several times, and Paddy is still standing on the sidewalk. After the cop shouts "Pedestrians!" for the tenth time, Paddy crosses to him and says: "Is it not about time ye let the
Catholics across?"

Last word

No man ever listened himself out of a job.

Calvin Coolidge


The Idler, Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A sense of déjà vu


THE FORENSIC inquiry announced into the top administration of Ethekwini Municipality is not quite as unprecedented as some imagine. Back in the 1960s the provincial administration appointed a judicial commission of inquiry into the doings of the Durban City Council.


This ended in the sitting mayor going to jail. The chief constable also went to jail and a senior councillor and former mayor just happened to be overseas at the time the James Commission reported, and he somehow mislaid his return ticket and never did come back.


What were the major offences uncovered? Er, dodgy deals with the municipality actually.


The more things change … The folk of Durban look on with interest.




THE REPORTING of the James Commission in 1966 presented Durban newspapers with an agonising dilemma - this one especially. The commission had been investigating for years. Its report had been compiled and released to the press under strictest embargo.


The contents were dynamite. The embargo was until midnight on September 6, 1966. The Mercury had its front page cleared for the next day to carry the report's sensational content and recommendations. Page after page inside was filled in advance with other James Commission material.


Then, around 2pm that afternoon, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated in the House of Assembly when a parliamentary messenger plunged a carving knife into him.


What took precedence? The explosive James Report that recommended prosecution of the mayor of Durban and others? Or the murder of the prime minister? For this newspaper it was a terrible predicament. Remember, there was no TV in those days, all of this was hot, hot news.


In the end The Mercury ran the James Commission as the main item on the front page, as planned. Then we had a wraparound with the news of Verwoerd's assassination – in effect we had two front pages.


It was about all we could do. It never rains but it pours.


Balance sheet?


EUPHEMISM corner: the US, the Brits and others are reported to have deployed various "assets" to the Mediterranean, Malta, Italy and elsewhere. Where did they find these assets? On a balance sheet somewhere?


No, these assets are warships, submarines, stealth bombers and other aircraft. Why not just call them what they are? Things in Libya are bad enough. There's surely no point in trying to disguise the military aspect.


Bolshoi blackmail

THE NIGHT the awful night that Spitzikovsky split his tights ... the head of Russia's Bolshoi ballet troupe has resigned after hundreds of pornographic pictures of him appeared on the internet.

The pictures of Gennady Yanin, aged 42, were posted online and circulated via a web link to thousands of e-mail addresses. He had led the troupe since 2005. The website where the pictures appeared has since been closed down.

Newspaper critic Tatyana Kuznetsova says it seems the talented dancer was the victim of a smear campaign similar to those used in the past to unseat politicians.

Bringing KGB tactics into ballet? What an intricate entrechat!

Big bust

FRENCH detectives have recovered jewellery worth R150 million, stolen in a daring heist from a boutique on the Champ-Elysees, in Paris, by four gunmen, two of them dressed as women.

While Christmas shoppers passed by outside, the gang took only 15 minutes to steal the jewellery.

The detectives discovered the stash in a plastic container that had been cemented into the rain outlet of a house in the city's Seine-Saint-Denis area. Nineteen rings and three sets of earrings - one pair valued at R120m - were recovered from the hiding spot.

You don't mess with Inspector Clouseau.


Och aye!


IAN GIBSON, bard of Hillcrest, obliges with some verse to compensate for the mistake he made in describing the Arbroath Smokie, a delicacy in Scotland, as a herring instead of a haddock. "Lang may yer lum reek," he says. "Dinna fash yersel'."


There's a Scottish town called Arbroath,

Where folk are clearly not loath

To eat a smokie a day,

Cured in the old Arbroath way

For high tea, with a dram and a proud Gaelic oath.






EPITAPH on the gravestone of a blues singer: "I didn't wake up this mornin' …"


Last word


If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day.

John A Wheeler


The Idler, Monday, March 21, 2011

Shower with a friend


INTERNATIONAL Water Week starts today. To coincide with it, the Department of Water Affairs has been pushing a pamphlet on water saving into letterboxes all over the country.


It contains some gems of information, spelling, grammar and style:


·        "Look at the toilet pipes and klepps. The rinsehead should only rinse for 2-4 seconds and the uranal for 6-8 seconds)'

·        "Make sure you close the taps and fix taps that is leaking – one drop every second waste up to 30 litres per day. (10000) litres per year).

·        "If you have to bath, only put in enough water or share your bath water."

·        "Do not rinse your glasses and cutlery under running water."

·        "If your garden needs less watering but deeper (for a long time period) watering, you are encouraging a deeper root canal, which stronger plants will be a consequence. The usage can make some of the deeper plants more dependable."


If this glossy brochure went to every household in the country (say fifteen million?) it must have been quite a production and printing contract. Next time they should splash out and hire a copywriter and a proofreader.




THERE'S no definitive word yet on the fate of the Richards Bay float-boat – made out of the float of a Sunderland flying boat – about which Jeff Gaisford, of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, seeks information (It was built by his uncle who is now 96 and lives in America).


Jeff says people remember it lying in the bush for years behind the Richards Bay Yacht Club. It might have come to grief when bulldozers went through the area in a development phase, but he's still looking.


Meanwhile, Zoltan de Rosner, of Pennington, recalls another float-boat at Kosi Bay in the late 1940s.


"As a preteen in '49 I used to holiday with a school friend's family on the beach at Kosi Bay. On the shores of the large lake – I think it was the fifth - there was a small trading store at which we'd stop to buy final provisions before going on to the beach.


"A float-boat was there, owned by two brothers, on which we youngsters were once taken out fishing on the lake. We were told it came off a Sunderland and they'd cut the top half off and braced it inside with a wooden frame and bench seats. It was powered by one outboard engine.


"Those two guys were wild. After a few grogs they'd slip moorings and head out to hunt crocodiles for their skins. They would gaff the croc, head and tail, hoist it into the boat and somehow subdue it."


Yep, them were the days. Kosi Bay, float-boats and grogged up croc hunters. It doesn't get better than that.




Smoked haddock


PEOPLE can become exercised over the most unexpected things such as the Arbroath Smokie – a smoked haddock from Arbroath, Scotland, also known as a finnan haddie - which somebody had the effrontery to describe as a smoked herring. A reader sends in a limerick on the dispute.

It seems everyone's up in a paddy

Over something they call finnan haddie.

Well, the haddock has got

A distinguishing spot

That sets it apart – got it, laddie?



AFTER having their 11th child, an Irish couple decide that is enough. The husband goes to his doctor who tells him there is a procedure known as a vasectomy that will fix the problem - but it's expensive.

A less costly alternative is to go home, get a large firecracker, light it, put it in an empty beer can then hold the can up to his ear and count to 10.

"M'goodness, I may not be de smartest man in de world, but I don't see how putting a firework in a beer can next to my ear is goin' to help."

"Trust me, it will do the job", says the doctor.

So the Irishman goes home, lights a cracker and puts it in a beer can. He holds the can up to his ear and begins to count: "One, two, tree, four foive ..." at which point he pauses and places the beer can between his legs so he can continue counting on his other hand.

The procedure also works in New Zealand and Tasmania .

Last word

Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting.

Alan Dean Foster