Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Idler, Friday, April 29, 2011

Libya: sinister developments


ITALIAN prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has announced that his air force is to join the Nato operations in Libya.


It could be most sinister. Berlusconi is already accused of sleeping with an under-age Morroccan prostitute. He is accused of running a web of procurement of young women to participate in "bunga-bunga" sessions at his residence.


Morrocco, like Libya, is part of the North African Maghreb region. Could it be that the pilotless drones currently deployed over Libya will be equipped with cameras to zoom in on what could be promising bunga-bunga material in Tripoli and other places?


With anyone but Berlusconi, the idea would be fantastical.


Romance and squelch


READER response to this week's piece on romance/squelch rhyming couplets has been fairly brisk. The idea – first floated in the Washington Post - is to produce a couplet with the first line quintessentially romantic and the second the exact opposite.


Here's the contribution of Gary Gower:


You were my Princess and I was your Frog,

But who made the wish that turned you into a dog?



Sarita Mathur:


I met you at Lovers' Gate,

Only to realise it was a disaster date.



Julia Tootill:


You are my heart's desire,

But a lady of the night I would rather hire.


Two of these seem to be at the expense of the ladies. That's not fair, romance/squelch is a two-way street. Let me try to balance matters, put myself in the place of the fair damsel:


Your rugged maleness has me all a-quiver.

Where did they find you? Did they drag the river?


Let's have some more!


Attila the Hen

A HANDBAG has been donated to a charity auction by Baroness Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain – known during her term of office as the "Iron Lady" and "Attila the Hen" – and is expected to fetch £100 000.

The handbag was part of Thatcher's power dressing formula and accompanied her to most meetings, including with President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

All the same, it's astonishing that humdrum items should achieve such a rarity value from the status of their owner.

A half-smoked cigar left by Winston Churchill in a wartime cabinet meeting fetched £4 500 in a similar auction last year and a set of his false teeth raised £16 000.

Why the huge discrepancy? You could at least light up and smoke the rest of Churchill's cigar. I can't imagine anyone using his false teeth.

Paton's toy train

"FROM Ixopo the toy train climbs up into other hills, the green rolling hills of Lufafa, Eastwolds, Donnybrook ..."

Alan Paton's evocative lines from Cry, the Beloved Country are recalled every time a train pulls out from Ixopo, drawn by a Garrat narrow-gauge locomotive, to steam through some of the most beautiful countryside this province has to offer.

It is a faithful reconstruction of Paton's "toy train", put together by a group of steam enthusiasts who call their operation the Paton Country Narrow-Gauge Railway. The train leaves from an authentic colonial era wood-and-iron station and travels past landmarks mentioned in the book.

The narrow-gauge railway has attracted steam enthusiasts from all over the world – Britain especially – and the aim is to also attract people with a feeling for literature and history. It is seen as a driver of tourism in the southern districts of KwaZulu-Natal, in conjunction with a broad-gauge steam train that runs between Creighton and Underberg.

The Paton toy train departs from Ixopo on another excursion this Sunday at 10.30am. Tickets are R150 (children R100), including a free pizza lunch which the railroad folk proclaim to be the best you will ever taste. Bookings can be made by telephoning 082-3741417 or 039-8342963.

I've been several times, since the railway was in its infancy several years ago. I can recommend it.


A MAN walks into a Welsh pub and orders a drink. The bar goes silent as everyone stares at him.

"Where are you from?" somebody asks. "You sound English."

"I'm from across the Severn," he replies a little nervously.

"And what do you do, just across the Severn?"

"I'm a taxidermist."

"And what on earth is one of those?"

"I mount animals."

"It's alright, boyos!" roars the barman. "He's one of us!"

Last word

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

Benjamin Franklin


The Idler, Thursday, April 28, 2011

The nanny states rules, OK!


THE NUTTINESS of the politically correct nanny state is a feature of our times. It is captured in a series of scenarios set in America.


Scenario 1:

Jack goes quail hunting before school and pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack (Astonishing the age at which Yanks are allowed to drive).

In 1957 – The vice-principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun then goes to his car to get his own shotgun to show Jack.

In 2011 – The school goes into lockdown, the FBI is called, Jack is hauled off to jail and he never sees his truck or gun again. Counsellors are called in for traumatised students and teachers.

Scenario 2:

Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

In 1957 – A crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.

In 2011 – The police are called and a SWAT team arrives. They arrest both Johnny and Mark. Both are charged with assault and both are expelled from school.

Scenario 3:

Jeffrey will not be still in class; he disrupts other pupils.

In 1957 - Jeffrey is sent to the principal's office and given a good paddling. He returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt things again.

In 2011 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for Attention Deficiency Disorder. The family gets extra money from the government because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4:

Billy breaks a window in his neighbour's car and his dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

In 1957 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.

In 2011 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario 5

Pedro fails high school English.

In 1957 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English and goes on to college.

In 2011 - Pedro's cause is taken up. Newspaper articles explain that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. A class action lawsuit is filed against the state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is banned from the core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 6:

Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

In 1957 - Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

In 2011 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She gets three years in prison. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy.

This is too close for comfort. Just what has happened to us?



Big cat


"LION spotted on KZN beach" – so declared a contents bill of our sister newspaper, The Independent on Saturday.


But they're surely mistaken. If it was spotted it must have been a leopard.


No buzz

A READER who calls himself Hughbythe sea comments on a recent Mercury headline: "Deaf feel left out of pre-election buzz".

"Being hard of hearing myself, all I can say is: 'Aren't they, like me, lucky!"



Customer: "In what aisle could I find the Irish sausage?"


Attendant:"Are you Irish?"


Customer: "Yes I am, but let me ask you something. If I asked for Italian sausage, would you ask if I'm Italian? If I asked for German bratwurst, would you ask if I'm German? If I asked for a kosher hot dog would you ask if I'm Jewish? If I asked for a taco, would you ask if I'm Mexican? If I asked for Polish sausage, would you ask if I'm Polish?"


Attendant: "No, I probably wouldn't."


Customer: "Well then, when I asked for Irish sausage ... why did you ask if I'm Irish?"


Attendant: "Because you're in Builder's Warehouse".


Last word

If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?

Scott Adams


The Idler, Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tattoos decades from now

IN A LOCAL hostelry the other night I was quietly admiring the butterfly a young girl with a bare midriff had tattooed about her navel. She was without doubt a zoology student.

But then I cast my mind forward 30 years or so. What would that butterfly look like then? A Galapagos tortoise? A gila monster? The mind recoils in horror.

The tattooist's art is permanent, it cannot be recalled. The consequences can be dire. For Los Angeles gangster Anthony Garcia it has landed him in jail.

Garcia was so proud of his part in a gangland killing that he had the details of it tattooed across his chest – the street scene, the hit and an accurate sketch of the trajectory of the fatal bullets.

LA police sergeant Kevin Lloyd was paging through a mugshot book when he spotted a bare-chested Garcia. Suddenly he realised the tattoo was a map of the death scene in a murder that had been unsolved for years.

Garcia was pulled in and convicted. Next month he will be sentenced to between 65 years and life in prison, which amounts to much the same thing.

What the chest tattoo will look like by then is anyone's guess. Something from Dante's Inferno?

Wildlife perils

A WOMAN in Palmetto, Florida, had the alarming experience of finding a large, hissing alligator in her bathroom one morning. It had apparently come into the house through a catflap.

It was removed by an officer of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Wildlife officials have now warned people to be cautious because it's the alligator mating season.

Now I know alligators are dangerous – but are they that dangerous?

Jazz, jazz, jazz

THE NATIONAL Lottery is under fire for granting R3.7 million via an organisation called the Jazz Foundation to sponsor a tour of South Africa by the soul band, Earth, Wind and Fire. The criticism is that this tour was a purely commercial venture and the Jazz Foundation is really a private sector events organiser.

R3.7m is, of course, peanuts compared with the R40m granted to the National Youth Development Agency for its world conference against imperialism. But it is also money many believe could be better spent.


There are also concerns about the ponderous, cash-consuming bureaucracy of the Lotto. And about the anonymity of the winners.

Who remembers the Natal Lotto? It had a paid staff of three. The management were unpaid volunteers. It produced a regular flow of revenue to support rural schools and other good causes.

Its big winners were named and their photographs were published in the newspapers. It was total transparency.

Then when the Natal Lotto had to close to make way for the national one, the pot of money it held was invested to provide continued support for the charities it had served.

Things have changed somewhat.

Kaiser Bill

A LOW-KEY debate has developed in Britain over whether male primogeniture should continue to decide succession to the throne. In other words, should a prince take precedence over his older sister.

Writing in the Spectator, historian Andrew Roberts points out that had it not been for male primogeniture when Queen Victoria died in 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany – "perhaps the most psychologically damaged monarch of the 20th century" – would also have ended up King of England.

But then, surely, there would have been no World War I; no Russian Revolution; no Adolf Hitler; no World War II; no Cold War. Can this be bad?

Of course it's all conjecture. To take the realist position, if my auntie had gonads she'd be my uncle.

Royal discrimination

MEANWHILE, also writing in the Spectator, Charles Moore points out that under the present "discriminatory" arrangement, queens have reigned in Britain for 123 of the past 174 years.


VAN DER MERWE'S daughter asked for a pet spider for her birthday, so he went to the pet shop. They were R100 each.

"Bogger this!" said Van. "I'll get one cheaper off the web."

New job

PADDY starts a new job in Seoul next week. It's a good Korea move.



THE AUTOMOBILE Association van was parked at the kerb. The driver was sobbing uncontrollably at the wheel. Clearly he was heading for a breakdown.



Last word


Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.

W C Fields


The Idler, Monday, April 25, 2011

Wedding of the year


SOME of Fleet Street's agony aunts have been remarking on the paucity of street parties planned to celebrate this weekend's royal wedding, especially in the north of England. Satirical magazine Private Eye takes it up.


"As wedding fever grips the nation, councils up and down Britain are recording a sensational number of applications for licences to hold street parties.


"From Land's End to John O'Groats, the story is the same. From the Outer Hebrides to inner Croydon, Britain has responded with one voice.


"Yes, a staggering zero applications have been made for joyous outdoor celebrations to mark the historic wedding of Ed Miliband and Justine Thornton.


"Said a council spokesman: 'It's phenomenal. We've never seen anything like it. By my reckoning, there will be no bunting, balloons or banners at all anywhere.'


So as 'Waity Justine' finally gets to marry her dashing politician, Ed, and the handsome young couple walk up the aisle of the registry office accompanied by their children, they will be watched by an estimated global audience of none."


I guess most of us had not registered the news that Miliband, Leader of the Opposition, is to marry his "partner" of six years next month. Private Eye don't miss much.


Dry policing

FRENCH riot police are outraged by plans to stop them taking a chuggalug of wine or beer while having a break from controlling demonstrators.

This follows controversy when photographs appeared of the Compagnies Republicaines de Securite (CRS) drinking beer while policing a student demonstration.

But the police unions protest that the ban interferes with a long-cherished tradition of drinking alcohol with their meals. Apparently when the riot police go out, they routinely have at least a can of beer packed in their lunch box.

According to union boss Didier Mangione, police officers - like most other workers in France - are entitled to "a small quarter-litre of red to accompany meals on the ground".

Zut alors! We just don't ask what our own riot police might have drunk (or smoked) before they go into action.

Dynamite gran

YOU DON'T mess with grannies in the West Country of England, especially not disabled midget grannies.

The granny in question is just five feet tall and was on her way home on a mobility scooter, used by the disabled, in Barnstaple, Devon, when she was set upon by a group of teenage thugs in hoods, who tried to snatch her handbag while they kicked her.

The granny - not named – thought of what her 24 grandchildren would want her to do then headbutted the leader of the gang, breaking his nose. At this the whole lot of them fled.

Grannies 1 – Hoodies 0.



PEOPLE in England keep dropping animals in wheelie-bins. Two nurses in Manchester found a small lamb in a wheelie-bin. It is now being cared for by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Not long ago a woman was fined £250 for dropping a cat into a wheelie-bin.

This cruelty to animals is most distressing. The only live creature that can be justifiably dropped into a wheelie-bin is a door-stepping political canvasser or an encyclopaedia salesman.


CHINESE firefighters were called to an apartment building in Anshan, Liaoning Province, to rescue a man who was spotted clinging to a ledge five storeys up.

Rescue workers got into the flat from which he seemed to have emerged and tried to pull him in. Another climbed up outside the building to try to push him back in. The whole thing was filmed and put on state television.

Embarrassingly, the rescued man turned out to be not a householder in distress but a burglar for whom things had gone wrong.

Ah, yes. As Confucious say: This not Year of Cat Burglar.

Club news


FROM the minutes: "This week's Yeast Club meeting is now in session ... all rise!"



World news


"World's oldest man dies." (Why does this keep happening?)


Libya latest


NEWSFLASH from Libya - Special forces have captured Colonel Gaddafi and are going to put him somewhere where he can't do harm to anybody ... up front for Arsenal.




Did you hear about the fat, alcoholic transvestite? He wanted to eat, drink and be Mary.

Last word


You probably wouldn't worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.

Olin Miller


The Idler, Friday, April 22, 2011

May the Osterhase visit

THE EASTER Bunny is in fact a hare, it seems. The Osterhase came to America in the 18th century with German immigrants, along with the tradition that children who have been good receive coloured eggs, placed in their caps and bonnets. And like everything American it's spread all over the world.

The precise origin of the custom of colouring eggs is not known, though Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day dye them red, symbolising the blood of the crucified Christ. Eggs coloured green are believed to symbolise the advent of spring in the northern hemisphere.

The important thing about the Easter Bunny, of course, is that he should visit.

That's just a kids' story, you say? Come on! Let's take a vote on it.

Have a good one!

Easter hiccup


I HOPE the Easter eggs get through to Zambia this time. Some years ago there was a major hiccup when the Easter Bunny failed to visit Lusaka – or anywhere else in the country.


Two huge refrigerated trucks were stopped at the border post, crammed with Easter eggs which they had carted all the way from South Africa.


"Where's your veterinary certificate?" said the Zambian customs official.


"Veterinary certificate?"


The official tapped sternly at the waybill. "It says here 'eggs'. To import eggs you need a veterinary certificate."


The trucks were parked off for two days while the matter was sorted out. Without the engines running, the refrigeration stopped. Two days in the heat of central Africa melted the chocolate into a shapeless mass.


It was not a good Easter for the kids.


Drug research


THERE'S a drug for everything these days. A source within the medical fraternity supplies a list of diseases for which he says cures are being researched by the pharmaceutical companies:


·         RDD - Refrigerator Door Disease. This is characterised by standing in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open, staring blankly into a collection of fuzzy jars of grape jelly, half- eaten margarine tubs with bread crumbs, and something that used to resemble fresh fruit (but might actually be meatloaf). It strikes only at night, and is accompanied by light sensitivity that makes the refrigerator light seem ten times brighter than normal.

·         LOD - Language Obfuscation Disorder. This strikes mostly doctors and surgeons. Its victims speak in unintelligible medibabble - Greek replacing normal English words - imagining they make perfect sense.

·         OHDD - Obsessive Hosiery Dislocation Disorder (OHDD), characterised  by a frantic household search for the other sock of any given sock pair. Victims, when finding only one sock from a pair, feel the universe has fallen into a state of great imbalance.

·         CAD - Commerce Anxiety Disorder. Heightened worry over whether your credit card charge will be declined at the cash register. Victims experience sweaty palms and heart palpitations.

·         RDD - Repetitive Remote Disorder This devastating disease afflicts mostly males aged 15 to 35 and is characterised by rapid channel surfing of television using a remote control device. This near-subliminal exposure can cause long-term damage to the retina and visual recognition system, leaving victims in a permanent zombie-like state where they can no longer recognise  anything other than brand logos or sports teams.

·         OWCD - Obsessive Wardrobe Change Disorder. This afflicts mostly women and is characterised by the incessant changing of clothing before a planned event (for which the victim is usually late). Women with OWCD are often married to men with Repetitive Remote Disorder, which actually works out nicely because the husband has something to do while waiting .

·         RPSS - Repetitive Pocket Searching Syndrome:This frustrating  condition is characterised by repeated searching of one's own pockets, several times over, following the misplacement of some small item such as car keys, in the belief it will somehow appear after the third or fourth search.


That sock thing is especially tormenting. Some say beetroot, garlic and the African potato will do the trick. Some swear by whisky. But those of us who are of a modernist, scientific bent wait for the drug companies to come up with the answers.




IF SANTA Claus shows up on your roof this weekend, don't worry. It's just Van der Merwe delivering the Easter eggs.


Last word


Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
Pope John Paul II


The Idler, Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'll huff and I'll puff ...


HUMAN Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale has no doubt been reading up on the Three Little Pigs. The house of straw was no good against the huffing and puffing of the Big Bad Wolf, nor was the house of wood. But with the house of bricks he could huff and puff as hard as he liked and the little pigs were still able to cock a snook at him through the window.


It seems that of the RDP houses built since 1994, 1.5 million might as well have been built of straw or wood. Forty percent are built so badly they need work on them and a further 20 percent need to be demolished and rebuilt.


Here's a suggestion. Why not get people to build their own houses?


I once met a very wise man in local government who said: "When a man builds his own house, it doesn't fall down."


It was in Angola, at the small seaport of Lobito, where a slum had developed of appalling stench and squalor. I've never experienced anything like it anywhere else in Africa.


A new mayor – a man named Orlando Costa – arrived on the scene and found the slum unacceptable. He cleared it in no time at all and with a minimum of bureaucratic activity.


He selected a healthy plateau just outside the town. He put in tarred roads and street lamps plus occasional communal wash-houses and a clinic, which was run by the Church. Then he set up a brickworks nearby and sold the bricks at cost.


People poured out of the slum and started building their own homes. Every one was different, there were no plans, no bureaucracy. Each home had its own character. Some were miniature castles, complete with battlements. It was wonderful to see.


And not one ever fell down. When a man builds his own house ... As Costa also said: "We Portuguese are terrible planners but we're good improvisers."


This was, of course, just before the civil war. Those houses have no doubt since been pounded into rubble. But the idea of assisting and harnessing individual ingenuity surely still stands.


Maybe Tokyo needs less rigidity and more improvisation.


Cumbersome names


IT'S ODD THE way the Department of Housing has suddenly become the Department of Human Settlements. Why the cumbersome evasion? Similarly, the Department of Foreign Affairs – everyone knows what it means – has become the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation.


It's not quite Orwellian – in Nineteen Eighty-Four the Ministry of Peace was responsible for war, the Ministry of Love propagated hatred – but there seems to be a kind of fudging, a reluctance to accept that, in "human settlements" for example, Tokyo Sexwale, actually is responsible for providing houses.


Where does it end? Does the Department of Health become Department of Preventive Measures and Epidemiological Control? Education might be considered to sit better as Pedagoguery and Intellectual Development; Agriculture as the Department of the Horn of Plenty(Except that's too simple. Cornucopia would be better).


No, let's end it where it already is. Apart from seeming to duck the issues, the new names are examples of appallingly ponderous English.


More fool you


RECENTLY this column mentioned Tom Fool (real name Thomas Skelton) who entertained and lampooned authority at Muncaster Castle, England, in the 15th century.


Reader Ian Pillay asks if this means that anyone who makes fun of politicians is a fool?


"Thanks to Thomas Skelton we have 40 million fools, or more, in South Africa."


Total boredom


A SNIPPET from Bizarre World, by Bill Bryson (Warner Books).


After shooting and wounding his wife and young son, Louis Pilar, of Rheims, France, told police that a three-week strike by television technicians was to blame. "There was nothing to look at," he explained, "And I was bored." Fortunately his wife did not seem to mind being shot at. From her hospital bed she said: "I don't blame my husband. It really has been very boring in the evenings."




He: "You're A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K."

She: "What's that mean?"

He: "Adorable, Beautiful, Cute, Delightful, Elegant, Foxy, Gorgeous, Hot."

She: "Oh, that's so lovely. What about I, J, K?"

He: "I'm Just Kidding."

Hospital visiting hours: 10am to 8pm.


Last word

A rumour without a leg to stand on will get around some other way.

John Tudor