Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Idler, Thuirsday, June 16, 2011

More aviation fall-out

MONDAY'S item on the photographer who fell out of a Harvard training aircraft off South Beach recalls a couple of other hair-raising incidents.

It was in Pretoria soon after World War II that air force pupil pilots were training in Canadian-designed Chipmunks, which had the pupil in the front cockpit and the instructor behind. Each had a wooden joystick to control the plane, that screwed in at the floor.

When the instructor felt the pupil had got to the stage he could fly solo, he would tell him to make a pass over the airfield. Then he would unscrew his joystick, fling it over the side and tell the pupil to take her round again and land.

Everyone knew, however, that the instructor had a spare joystick clipped to the side of the cockpit. It was always there.

The instructor did his trick flinging the joystick over the side. But this pupil was a bit of a smart Alec. Instead of taking over the controls on his own, he unscrewed his joystick and flung it over the side as well.

The instructor reached for his spare and – horrors! – this time it was missing. They had to bale out and the Chipmunk crashed.

It must have been an embarrassing board of inquiry. But boys will be boys.

Horror story

THE OTHER incident also involved a photographer, in fact a man – let's call him Frank – who had accompanied me to Angola on occasion. The news service to which we were attached had made a significant investment in a camera that had a strong zoom lens that worked through an arrangement of mirrors. It was flat in appearance and did not look like a bazooka as most long lenses did in those days. (It was not wise in Angola to point anything that looked like a bazooka). It was state of the art equipment and had cost a bomb.

We were back in Johannesburg and Frank borrowed the camera to shoot some skydiving. A few of us were in a hostelry washing down the dust of the day when Frank came in. He was scratched, bleeding, bruised and looking shaken. He proceeded to tell a tale that made the blood freeze.

He was at the open door of the Dakota, taking shots of the skydivers as they manoeuvred into a pattern below, when suddenly something caused him to lurch out. He had no parachute but his leg was caught in a leather strap and he was being dragged, banging against the side of the aircraft. Nobody else was left in the plane apart from the pilot at the controls.

Frank was himself a skydiver. He tried to kick free of the strap so he could freefall to the group below and grab on to one of them. But then some kind of backdraught pulled him into the plane again.

The bar fell silent as this horror story was related. Then the head of our news service spoke, a lanky individual – let's call him Stringbean – who was doyen of the Africa press corps.

"You're damn lucky you didn't break our camera. You'd have been in serious trouble!"



THE WASHINGTON Post encourages its readers to send in neologisms. Here's a selection from some of those judged the best:


·         Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.


·         Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.


·         Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.


·         Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.



·         Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease.


·         Karmageddon (n): Its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.



·         Glibido (v): All talk and no action.


·         Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.





DANCE hall dialogue:

He: "Would you like to dance?"

She: "I hate this tune and anyway I wouldn't dance with you to any tune."

He: "You misheard me. I said: 'You look fat in that dress!'"


Last word

Anything not worth doing is worth not doing well. Think about it.

Elias Schwartz


The Idler, Wwednesday, June 15, 2011

The guyness quotient

A SCIENTIFIC quiz comes this way, designed to determine what they call a man's "guyness quotient". It puzzles me greatly. What on earth are they getting at? But here goes:

·         Alien beings from a highly advanced society visit Earth and present you with a small but incredibly sophisticated device that is capable of curing all disease, providing an infinite supply of clean energy, wiping out hunger and poverty and permanently eliminating oppression and violence everywhere. Do you: a) Present it to the president of the United States? b) Present it to the secretary-general of the United Nations? c) Take it apart?

·         As you grow older, what lost quality of your youthful life do you miss the most: a) Innocence? b) Idealism? c) Cherry bombs?

·         When is it okay to kiss another male: a) When you wish to display simple and pure affection without regard for narrow-minded social conventions. b) When he is the Pope (though not on the lips, of course.)? c) When he's your brother and you're Al Pacino and this is the only really sportsmanlike way to let him know that, for business reasons, you have to have him killed?

·         What about hugging another male? Is it okay: a) If he's your father and at least one of you has a fatal disease? b) If you're performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre (repeatedly shouting: "I am just dislodging food in this male's trachea! I am not in any way aroused!")? c) If you're a rugby player and a teammate scores under the posts to clinch it in injury time (You also pounding him fraternally with your fist, hard enough to cause fractures)?

·         In your opinion, the ideal pet is: a) A cat? b) A dog? c) A dog that eats cats?

·         You have been seeing a woman for several years. She's attractive and intelligent and you enjoy being with her. One leisurely Sunday afternoon the two of you are taking it easy. You're watching a rugby game; she's reading the papers - when she suddenly says she really loves you, but where is the relationship is going? Do you reply: a) That the two of you have a future but you don't want to rush it? b) That you have strong feelings for her but you don't want to hurt her by holding out false hope? c) That the ref is not just blind, he's insane.

·         Okay, you've decided you truly love a woman and want to spend the rest of your life with her. Do you tell her: a) In a nice restaurant ? b) On a walk on a moonlit beach? c) Tell her what?

·         What is the most reasonable explanation for the fact that Moses led the Israelites all over the place for 40 years before they finally got to the Promised Land: a) He was being tested? b) He wanted them to really appreciate the Promised Land when they finally got there? c) He refused to ask directions?

·         What is the human race's single greatest achievement: a) Democracy? b) Religion? c) The remote?


Give yourself a point for every time you picked answer "c." A real guy would score six or higher on this test. Or so the scientists say. But I still haven't a clue what they're on about.



A MAFIA mafia don is dying and calls for his grandson to approach the bed: "Lissin a me. I wanna for you to taka my chrome-plated 38-calibre revolver so you will always remember me."
The grandson smiles weakly and replies: "But Grandpa, I really dona lika da guns. Howzabout you leava me you Rolex watch instead?"

The old man answers with a snarl: "Shuddup you an lissin. Somma day you gonna runna da business. You gonna have a beautifula wife, lotsa money, a biga home and maybe a couple bambinos."

After a slight pause to catch his breath he continues: "Somma day you gonna comma home and maybe find you wife inna bed wit anuddaman. Whadda you gonna do then ... pointa to your watch and say: 'Times up'?"


Last word

Never explain - your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.

Elbert Hubbard

The Idler, Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More bang for the buck

WE ENTER a new era in newspapers. We have to fight for our share of the government's advertising budget of R1 billion. Only those who give the government more bang for their buck can expect to benefit. Let us not shrink from the task. Let us get on with telling the story as it really is.

A trawl through the newswires reveals the following:

·         Various disadvantaged townships across the country came to a virtual standstill yesterday as jostling crowds blocked the main thoroughfares, joyfully expressing their delight at the recent municipal elections and the imminent delivery of services such as electric light, water and sanitation. Unable to restrain their glee, certain groups lit bonfires made of old tyres and danced about them. Police had to be called to the scene to control the jollifications and good-naturedly fired rubber bullets into the air.

·         The Department of Trade and Industry has announced a national Tenderpreneur of the Year award. It will be open to the politically connected at all levels of government – local, provincial and national. Points will be awarded in an inverse ratio to skills, knowledge, experience and actual delivery, while failure – for example, housing projects that have to be demolished and rebuilt – will attract bonus points. A national winner will emerge from a series of elimination contests at the various levels and will be rewarded with a super-contract to convert all police stations into hospital clinics and all hospital clinics into police stations. Announcement of the Tenderpreneur of the Year competition in Pretoria yesterday was unfortunately marred when the ceiling of the newly completed government offices collapsed, burying members of the media and the Government Communication and Information Service in rubble. There were no fatalities and all is well.

·         At a local level, forensic investigation of the circumstances leading to the financial collapse of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg, has discovered that it was caused by a long-hidden accounting error during the colonial era. An item: Mayor's allowance - £1 1s 0d (one guinea) - went through as £110. Compounded over the years, and taking into account inflation, it formed a financial black hole down which the capital's finances eventually disappeared entirely. Those in office in recent years are exonerated, and one has been duly recognised by being appointed to another high position.

·         Still at a local level, the street-naming process in Durban has been anything but the fiasco portrayed by reactionary elements. In fact it has been a stunning success, and it can now be revealed that it was done in concert with Military Intelligence. As a large seaport, Durban is in the front line of any assault by international forces of reaction and imperialism. As any military strategist knows, an elementary precaution when invasion is imminent is to turn around or take down all the signs so the enemy don't know where they are. The sight of bewildered postmen, taxi drivers and ordinary citizens of Durban wandering about the city totally lost is proof of the efficacy of the measures. If the name changes can disrupt life for those who live here, what will they do for the invading reactionaries and imperialists? (In fact, there is strong suspicion that some of the bewildered postmen are actually American agents trying to infiltrate).

·         The fight against crime continues unabated. The latest equipment purchased includes squeeze bottles, embroidered towels, drawstring backpacks, golf caps and golf shirts – all for a modest R3.2 million – while entertainment of the men in blue at a one-day function cost no more than R12 million. That's known as getting bang for your buck.



From: GCIS

To: Treasury

Kindly reward The Mercury with a 10cm ad in the Classified Section. Adult Entertainment will do.

New Speaker

IAN GIBSON, poet laureate of Hillcrest, pens a few lines on Logie Naidoo, former Deputy Mayor, becoming Speaker of Ethekwini municipality.



We see that Logie's not camera-shy,

He's not a modest kind of guy;

In Metro Beat

He's on every sheet.

Will he ever eat humble pie?




DID YOU HEAR about the lecherous Scot who lured a girl up to his attic to look at his etchings? He seduced her and afterwards sold her four etchings.

Last word

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

Havelock Ellis

The Idler, Monday, June 13, 2011

One day, two adventures

CHRIS Christensen, of Assagay, writes in to ask if anyone remembers an incident "in the 1950s or 60s" when a photographer fell out of a Harvard aircraft over South Beach and was rescued by lifesavers. He cannot recall the photographer's name.

Well, as it happens, I can help. The photographer was Stanley Gee and he was taken up in the Harvard by Graeme Schwikkard, a fighter pilot in the South African Air Force during World War II who in the early 1950s was in the air force reserve.

They went up to get pictures in the air of the SAAF's new Vampire jets. Gee was in the rear cockpit with the canopy open.

Louis Botha airport had just opened but the air force was still based at Stamford Hill Aerodrome, which had been a fighter base during the war.

Flying north over the Bay, the Vampires flew over the Harvard then suddenly went into a steep dive, presumably to avoid the flight path to Louis Botha. Schwikkard also dived. When he came out of it, he asked Gee through the communication tube if he was all right. No reply. When he asked a second time and there was still no reply, Schwikkard turned round and saw the rear cockpit was empty.


Gravity had caused Gee to pop out like a cork. He must have had his seatbelt undone (though he denied it at the subsequent inquiry). It was compulsory to wear parachutes in SAAF aircraft and, even though he had never parachuted in his life, Gee managed to open his chute. Schwikkard saw him floating down into the sea.


Both were badly shaken by the incident and in the Air Force Club that night inflicted severe damage on a bottle of whisky. However, Gee's adventures were not quite over for the day.


When Schwikkard drove him home late that night, they were met by a fuming Mrs Gee. Stanley Gee tried to explain. "You see, my dear, I fell out of an aeroplane …"


At which his wife gave him a klap you could hear four blocks away.


Colourful character


GRAEME Schwikkard was a colourful character who farmed at Umvoti Mouth. He had an airstrip there on which he would land his private aircraft after dark and without lights on the ground. I'm obliged for the above information to his son, Dave, who is gathering together his father's memoirs.


The story of Stanley Gee's parachuting exploit became slightly embellished over the years. Once Schwikkard flew two passengers to Swaziland and was asked if he knew the "true" story about the fellow who was ogling the girls on South Beach and fell out of the aircraft, he was paying such close attention.


Just as well that didn't come out at the time. Mrs Gee would have taken his head off.





Marxist mayor

IN HIS LATEST grumpy newsletter, investment analyst Dr James Greener notes that Durban is now probably the largest city, outside China and North Korea, to have a communist as mayor.

"Mayor James Nxumalo, draped with the city's R2.3m mayoral chain of office, looked rather un-proletarian but declared himself to be an activist and servant of the people without any aspiration to being a capitalist. Well that sounds very good then. Good luck, James."

Hold-up line

WHAT do interior decorators shout at a stick-up?


Quirky one

ANOTHER quirky limerick by Kirk Miller.

The weather gal's boyfriend named Joe

Said, "Honey, I'd sure like to know

When rain pours from the sky

Where up there is it dry?"

She said, "Somewhere over the rain, beau."


A SUSPICIOUS husband hires a Chinese private detective to follow his wife. He reports as follows:

Most honorable sir,

You leave house. I watch house. He come house. I watch. He and she leave house. I follow. He and she go hotel. I climb tree. I look window. He kiss she. She kiss he. He strip she. She strip he. He play with she. She play with he. I play with me. I fall off tree. I no see.

No fee,
Cheng Lee

Last word

I'm worried that the universe will soon need replacing. It's not holding a charge.

The Idler, Friday, June 9, 2011

The gamebreaker chimp

SCIENTIFIC researchers in Leipzig, Germany, were very impressed with the problem-solving capabilities of chimpanzees in the local zoo. The researchers would place a peanut to float on a small quantity of water in the bottom of a vertical glass tube, out of the chimps' reach.

Nearby they would place a water dispenser. The chimps discovered that by taking water from the dispenser then walking across to the peanut tube and spitting in the water, they could gradually raise the level until they could reach the peanut.

Hey, pretty good. But then along came the gamebreaker chimp, the thinker outside the box, the Einstein of the ape world. Instead of spitting water into the peanut tube, gradually raising the level, he widdled into it.

The peanut rose swiftly to within reach, at which he grabbed it and chomped it, regardless of its being soaked in urine.

We all know humans with similar characteristics. They might be brilliantly clever but they lack the social graces. They absolutely ruin a party.

Very silly

HIGH court super-injunctions – preventing newspapers from naming certain people and the lurid details of their sex lives – continue to make the news in Britain as Twitter names them with impunity. How can this continue?

Satirical magazine Private Eye has one of its more splendid covers. Under the headline "Complete Twitters", a procession of judges make their way down a street outside the law courts in their wigs, scarlet robes and gaiters.

"These super-injunctions could make us look very silly indeed!" says a speaks bubble from one of their lordships.

Harbour options


IT'S DISTURBING, this report on declining water quality in the harbour. The authorities just have to get their act together and clean up industry and clean up the rivers that seem to be doing most of the damage. Otherwise a wonderful resource and amenity could be destroyed.


And here's twopence hapen'orth. If they're thinking of dredging the old airport into a container port, why not go the whole hog and make a second entrance to the main harbour as well, at the Bayhead via the Umlaas Cut?


Imagine the increased tidal flow. Imagine the contentment of the folk on the Bluff who would at last be an independent island, the way they've always wanted.


It's not a completely crackpot idea. The Smuts government had it planned in the '30s but were overtaken by World War II, then the Nats.


Navigational error


WHOOPS! Geography never was my strong point. Yesterday I placed my old colleague, John Vigor, in the American state of Oregon. He actually operates from Bellingham (which I got right) in the state of Washington.


To compensate, I now provide pinpoint accuracy by telling you Bellingham is in Whatcom County. So there!


District Columbia


THE ABOVE recalls the encounter Van der Merwe had with an American (during the days of the old vehicle registrations).


"My name's Hiram J Schuster III, from Washington DC."


"I'm Koos van der Merwe from Johannesburg TJ."



New wine


NEWS from Down Under. South Australian vintners in the Barossa Valley area, who primarily produce Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio wines, have developed a new hybrid grape that acts as an anti-diuretic.

It is expected to reduce the number of trips older people have to make to the loo during the night.

The new wine will be marketed as Pinot More.


Better days?


IAN GIBSON, bard of Hillcrest, says we should all welcome the new mayoral team at city hall and pens a few lines in hope of better days to come.



Durban's previous council and mayor

Disliked the "colonialist" rate-payer;

And changed street names 

To punish past shames.

Will the new mayor be a less punitive player?



A couple are on holiday in Jamaica. Touring the market-place, they hear: "You foreigners! Come in.  I 'ave some special sandals. Dey makes you wild at sex."

Husband: "How could sandals make you wild at sex?"

"Just try dem on, mon."

The husband slips them on. He gets a wild look in his eyes. He rips off his clothes. Then he pounces on the Jamaican shopkeeper.


The Jamaican screams: "You got dem on de wrong feet, mon!" 


The Idler, Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scamper up the ratlines

HERE'S a blast from the past. Many of you will remember John Vigor, one of my illustrious predecessors. John wrote the Idler's column for many years, bringing a breath of the salt sea air plus driving the decimalisation goons in Pretoria crazy by refusing to accept that there were such things as kilograms or that weight had suddenly become mass. They were particularly irked by his insistence on describing a kilometre as a metric mile.

John left for America quite a few years ago (I think to escape decimals) and today writes yachting stuff from the port of Bellingham in Oregon state, just south of the Canadian border.

He returns today as a guest writer – not of his own accord but through the weird workings of cyberspace that also make it possible for a congressman in Washington to Twitter his cookies, enclosed in grey underpants, to a female college student in faraway Seattle.

Yes, I've burgled John's blog. As usual he's writing about grog. It's very interesting.

He says there's been a long tussle between puritans and libertarians over drinking. It was not always considered shameful to be drunk. In the 17th century the crews of sailing ships were served a half-pint of rum each per day, which is quite a lot. They would not have been allowed to drive cars (if there'd been cars in those days), yet managed to scamper up the ratlines to the foretopsails, and out along the yards to set, reef, or hand the canvas in all kinds of wind, wave, and weather.

Their rum ration was known as grog, named for "Old Grog," Admiral Edward Vernon (1684 – 1757). His nickname appears to have been derived from his favorite "grogram" or foul-weather cloak described as a "coarse fabric of silk, mohair, and wool, or these mixed, often stiffened with gum." It was Old Grog who first ordered that the rum ration be diluted because sailors were hoarding it then going really on the batter.

The rum ration continued in the Royal Navy until 1970, and British warships are to this day not dry, the way American ones are.

John says there was a suggestion recently that the skippers of American yachts should be tested for sobriety even while their vessels lay safely at anchor, because they were still technically in charge and might need to get under way at short notice..

"No more dark-'n-stormies in the cockpit after a long day's sail? Who could be so cruel?"

Aye, aye! I'm with you there, shipmate.

Do I feel ashamed at pillaging John's work like this? Not at all, he owes it to his old readers. But I will buy him a half-pint of rum at Point Yacht Club when he drops in next. Up spirits!



THE OTHER day we speculated as to whether we also have waterspouts off our coast, similar to one in Australia? Also whether, as in Australia, sea creatures are sucked into the thing and deposited far inland? There might even be the possibility that waterspouts account for the appearance of weird political specimens in regions such as Limpopo.


Hardly had this appeared when a waterspout was spotted far out to sea off Scottburgh. Two readers – the Rev Andrew Luke and Peter Vos – have sent in photographs which show the waterspout clearly enough but unfortunately are too faint for reproduction in a newspaper.


"You asked if we get waterspouts on our coast," says Rev Luke. "Well, as it happens, we had one off Scottburgh yesterday - genuinely. People in the caravan site were lined up with binoculars watching. As yet, no new weird political specimens - but who needs new ones?"


Peter Vos says much the same. "It was a heck of a way out to sea. Fortunately it didn't make land, nor deposit any politicians, and fizzled out entirely in 15 minutes."





A PHOTOGRAPHER is confronted by a ghost, who demands that his photograph be taken. The ghost poses for several shots and the photographer then hurries away with the scoop of the century. Unfortunately, as he develops the pictures in the darkroom, he discovers they are black and underexposed. Nothing at all is visible. Moral: The spirit was willing but the flash was weak.

Last word


First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.

Honore de Balzac


Idler Werdnesday, June 8, 2011

The real lesson of Crotchgate

OH DEAR, the pitfalls of the digital age. The Weinergate/Crotchgate scandal in Washington reaches denouement. Congressman Anthony Weiner now recognises the crotch in grey underpants that arrived on the screen of a female college student living in Seattle as belonging to himself. He now recalls having sent the image to her on Twitter.

Why he should have done so is a matter for the shrinks to debate. What we can concern ourselves with is how easy it is these days for somebody to come unstuck the way he has. Not too many years ago a fellow who had the urge to send a girl a photo of his crotch and underpants would have had to go through quite a procedure – posing while somebody else took the shot; getting the film developed and printed at the chemist's; putting the print in a large addressed envelope; going down to the post office, licking a stamp and putting it in the postbox.

At some stage during this protracted procedure he would have had time to reflect on the error and foolishness of his actions and change his mind. Can anyone recall college girls in Seattle or anywhere else receiving through the mail photographic prints of the nether regions of US congressmen? I think it seldom happened, if ever.

Yet now it's too easy. A quick shot with the camera gadget on the Blackberry. Then put it out on Twitter. What a lark! A few seconds' madness – and a career ruined.

We all of us need to be careful. The laptop has on it a thing that calls itself Crystal Eye, used to transmit video images on Skype. Never sit down at the keyboard in your Y-fronts or less. Who knows what Crystal Eye might not pick up and put out on Twitter, reaching female college students in Seattle?

It's a strange and unsettled world we live in.

On the plaas

MEANWHILE the computer age has also arrived on the platteland. No longer are our deep rural districts slow-moving relics of a bygone age. They are up to the minute, up to the nano-second. The platteland farmer is as attuned to the digital age as the urban stockbroker or commodities dealer.

A South African Farmers' Computer Dictionary has come this way, presumably compiled by Agri SA. Some entries:

·         Monitor - Keep an eye on the braai.

·         Download - Get the firewood off the bakkie.

·         Hard drive - Trip back home without any cold beer.

·         Keyboard - Where you hang the bakkie and bike keys.

·         Windows - What you shut when it's cold.

·         Screen - What you shut in the mosquito season.

·         Byte - What mosquitoes do.

·         Megabyte - What mosquitoes at the dam do.

·         Chip - A bar snack.

·         Microchip - What's left in the bag after you've eaten the chips.

·         Modem - What you did to the lawns.

·         Dot Matrix - Oom Jan Matrix's wife.

·         Laptop - Where the cat sleeps.

·         Software - Plastic knives and forks from KFC.

·         Hardware - Real stainless steel knives and forks from Checkers.

·         Mainframe - What holds the shed up.

·         Web - What spiders make.

·         Website - The shed (or under the verandah).

·         Cursor - Oom Tos, who swears a lot.

·         Search Engine - What you do when the bakkie won't go.

·         Yahoo - What you say when the bakkie does go.

·         Upgrade - A steep hill.

Let nobody accuse our farmers of being backward.

Quirky verse
READER Eric Hodgson sends in some limericks by Kirk Miller. They have about them an appealing  quirkiness and an unusual metre. An example:
A bad over-actor named Sam
Explained his philosophy to Pam.
'Like Descartes, I can see
The real essence of me.
I think and so therefore I ham.'




VAN DER MERWE goes into the pharmacy to get something for the weekend. He's tongue-tied with embarrassment as an attractive blonde comes up to serve him. He also has a bit of a language problem.

"Kondome asseblief."

"I beg your pardon."


"Can of Doom? Is it for flying insects or crawling insects."

"No, no! Is sommer for ordinary sex!"


Last word

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. - H L Mencken