Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Idler, Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crisis in Greece

GREECE teeters on the brink. This ancient cradle of democracy is on the skids. Where to now for the European Union? It seems Greece's entry to the Eurozone – the common currency – was based all along on a financial fiddle.

On TV the other night there seemed something terribly incongruous as Greek Minister of Finance Evangelos Venizelos pleaded in parliament for acceptance of his austerity measures. Venizelos is one of the most stupendously fat politicians I have ever seen. He makes our fellows look positively twig-like. A belt-tightening speech from a man of his bulk seems bizarre.

But something positive could come out of it. Venizelos could be used like one of those "before and after" ads when a whale in a one-piece bathing suit becomes a dishy doll in a bikini after so many weeks on the slimming course. He could be wheeled out regularly to prove to the populace – the demos – that he is swallowing his own prescription for the country of austerity, cutting down on the lunches and dinners and elevenses; using the treadmill.

Perhaps Athens can in this way teach us something once again about elected and accountable democracy. Can Venizelos slim down?

Frontiers of science                               

PHYSICISTS at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland think (fear might be a better word) they have disproved Einstein's Theory of Relativity. This holds that nothing can exceed the speed of light.

Yet their laboratory appears to have clocked neutrinos travelling fast enough to shatter this central pillar of physics. But they cannot quite believe it themselves, they say, because according to Einstein's famous 1905 equation, E=mc2, it is simply impossible.

"The feeling that most people have is this can't be right, this can't be real," says James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN. He says the readings have so astounded researchers that they are asking others to independently verify the measurements before claiming an actual discovery. "It's a shock. It's going to cause us problems, no doubt about that - if it's true."

How tentative can you get? Yet one appreciates the unease. Once an unravelling starts you never know where it's going to end. Isaac Newton was quite wrong about that apple that landed on his head. Galileo was deluded about the earth orbiting the sun. In fact, Oom Paul and the flat-earthers had it right all along.

All this is beyond me, I'm afraid - neutrinos (whatever they might be) whizzing about in colliders, whatever they might be. It's difficult enough getting to grips with this question of how many angels can balance on the point of a needle.

Les Blancs


READER Hannah Lurie asks how on earth the French could have been expected to beat the All Blacks when they were wearing white jerseys?


"They are known as Les Bleues - The Blues. Isn't this asking for trouble?"


I know, Hannah, it's perverse. England are sometimes playing in black jerseys instead of white. Except these days it's for some reason known as a "strip", not a jersey.


You can understand if the Boks are playing Ireland, with their almost matching shades of green, or if the Scots are playing France, both with blue as their national colour.


But the game is full of perversity these days. Look at the way they've changed the playing colours (not to mention names) in the Super 15. It's the Ponytails. I think they nurse a secret hatred of rugby and its traditions.



Apart from that ...


NEWS from Zimbabwe. Four men were apprehended by police in Harare. The police forgot to handcuff their captives and left them unattended in a police car whose engine was running, while they chased after another suspect. The four in the car put it in gear and drove off, chased by the police in a second car which then ran out of fuel. The fugitives got away.


The government-supporting Herald newspaper described the escape as "the conclusion of an otherwise highly-successful police operation."



A CUSTOMER goes into a pub and stares with astonishment. A horse is behind the bar serving drinks.

Horse: "What are you staring at? Have you never seen a horse serving drinks?"

Customer: "It's not that. It's just I never thought the parrot would sell the place."

Last word

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.

Herm Albright


The Idler, Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The fiscal properties of beer

NOTHING is certain in life except death and taxation. Taxes are generally on a sliding scale, punishing the really high earners. But it's contentious. Barack Obama has caused a huge row in the US by proposing a special tax on those who earn a million dollars a year. The Republicans accuse him of class warfare.

It's a vexing question and not as clear-cut as might seem. It has more than passing relevance to ourselves.

Reader Al Cameron, of Richards Bay, expresses it in terms of beer.

If every evening 10 men go out for beers and the bill for all comes to R100, he says, if they pay their bill the way we pay our taxes, the first four (the poorest) pay nothing. The fifth pays R1. The sixth pays R3. The seventh pays R7. The eighth pays R12. The ninth pays R18. And the tenth (the richest) pays R59. That's what they do.

Then one day the owner says they are such good customers, he's going to reduce the cost by R20. Drinks for the 10 are now just R80.

The group still want the taxation formula. The first four are unaffected and still drink for free. But how do the paying customers divide the R20 windfall? R20 divided by six is R3.33. But if they subtract that from everybody's share, the fifth and the sixth man end up being paid to drink beer.

The landlord suggests it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage, the poorer he is, to follow the principle of the tax system. The fifth man, like the first four, now also pays nothing. The sixth now pays R2 instead of R3 (a 33 percent saving). The seventh pays R5 instead of R7 (28 percent). The eighth pays R9 instead of R12 (25 percent). The ninth pays R14 instead of R18 (22 percent). The tenth pays R49 instead of R59 (16 percent).

Each of the six is better off. And the first four continue to drink for free. But, outside the bar, the men begin to compare their savings. "I got only a rand out of the R20 saving," declares the sixth man. He points to the tenth. "But he got R10!"

"Yeah, that's right!" exclaims the fifth. "I saved only a rand too. It's unfair - he got 10 times more benefit than me!"

"That's true!' shouts the seventh man. "Why should he get R10 back, when I get only R2? The wealthy always win!"

"'Wait a minute!' yell the first four in unison. 'We didn't get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surround the tenth and beat him up. Next night he doesn't show up for drinks, so the nine sit down and have their beers without him. But when it comes time to pay, they discover they don't have enough money between them for even half the bill.

"And that, boys and girls, labour unions and government ministers, is how our tax system works," says Al. "The people who pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up any more. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

"For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible."

Yes, and the distressing thing is the yawning gap between those who get it and those who will never get it. But isn't it odd how the use of beer as an analogy clarifies issues? In vino veritas. In Castle claritas.


Orange croc

SNAPPY, a 2.5m crocodile at the Roaming Reptiles wildlife park in Victoria, Australia, has suddenly turned bright orange. His keepers think it's caused by vegetation and algae in his water, there because he attacked and chewed up the filtration pump.

If he stays that colour they could always put a bowler hat on him and send him to Northern Ireland for the marching season.


A BLONDE is flying to New York. How do you pinch her window seat?

You tell her the seats in the middle row are the ones going to New York.

Last word

The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky.

Solomon Short



The Idler, Monday, September 26, 2011

Ageist discrimination

A TELLING blow is struck against discrimination on the grounds of age and sex. A group of British TV lovelies are sick of the way producers continue to cast men when they are well into their fifties and sixties, while women start getting dropped once they hit the forties.

Sherrie Hewson and Andrea McLean, from Loose Women (no significance in the title), Beverley Callard, of Coronation Street, and Gillian Taylforth, of East Enders, decided to do something about it.

They stripped as a foursome for Best magazine, appearing totally (though tastefully) nude in an explicit repudiation of the ageist prejudices of TV producers. Boy, does it have impact! Those male chauvinist producers have been shamed. They must be quaking in their boots.

This the kind of exercise to be encouraged world-wide. Women must not sit back and accept ageist discrimination. They must get out there and get into the glossies in the nude, shame these male chauvinist sexists. Let's hear from them!

I'm sure every real man, who respects and champions the rights of women, will be 100 percent behind them.

Bling car

AN INDIAN motor manufacturer has brought out a once-off bling version of one of the world's cheapest cars. The Tata Nano normally sells for the equivalent of £1 300. This version, encrusted with gold, silver and gemstones is worth £2.9 million.

Thirty master craftsmen used 80kg of gold, 15kg of silver and thousands of gemstones to create the bling version, which is eye-catching but, er, would not be to the taste of everyone. It was built to honour 5 000 years of Indian jewellery craftsmanship. It's not for sale.

That's a pity. Add a few touches like hubcaps that keep spinning at a stop street; artificial leopard skin on the dashboard; a nodding dog in the rear window;and a plastic orange on the aerial – add those and it would be a natural for Durban, a welcome accretion to the transport pools of the bling plutocrats who have arisen in our midst.


Sheila shenanigans

AUSTRALIA'S public broadcaster has come under fire for a TV comedy showing a lookalike of red-haired Prime Minister Julia Guillard romping naked with a man under the Australian flag. Bad taste, they say. They're so right. But it's funny.

Local scriptwriters – don't even think about it! Nor you, Zapiro!

Hear ye, hear ye!

HERE'S a bit of mediaeval news. Six Italian scientists and a former government official are on trial for manslaughter over the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila. The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.

It is claimed they failed to alert the populace to the danger of an earthquake. The scientific community is outraged, saying there is no way to predict major earthquakes, even in a seismically active area; that it is not their duty to do so anyway.

The law takes its course. They used to call it witch-burning.

Giant croc

THE WORLD'S biggest crocodile in captivity has been named Cassius and given a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Cassius is about 100 years old, he's 5.2m long and he weighs more than 2 200lb.

He was caught in Australia's Northern Territory in 1987 and put in a crocodile park on Green Island, off the Queensland coast.

Intriguingly, although Cassius is the world's largest captive croc he should measure even longer. About eight inches of his tail had been bitten off in a fight before his capture.

Shouldn't Guinness be looking for the crocodile that did the biting?


Numerate blonde

I WAS AT the local garage when this blonde walked in and said she needed a 710 for her car.

"A 710?" said the mechanic. "What's that?"

"It's that thingy in the middle of the engine."

"Thingy in the middle of the engine?"

"Every car has one."

"Can you show me on this car?"

She sighed and walked across to a vehicle that had its bonnet up. She pointed to a screw cap on the engine. It was marked: "OIL"


DESCARTES walks into a pub. The barman says: "A beer sir?" Decartes says: "I think not."

Then – Ping! – he disappears.

Last word

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.

Joseph Heller


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Idler, Friday, September 23, 2011

Rugby and national sentiment

THERE'S something atavistically stirring about any rugby international. The anthems, the often ancient flags and banners. There's a thrill, a sense of the old physical contests of history repeating themselves (though thankfully within a framework that keeps the rough stuff within reasonable bounds). Twickenham I've always found especially evocative.

In this sense rugby probably is a war substititute, though in the most positive sense. Thirty men engage in physical struggle for 80 minutes to assert national honour. People daub themselves in war paint in the national colours; they wave the national flag. It's a high point in national sentiment.

It's a little surprising therefore to see how many players involved in the current World Cup in New Zealand actually don't have their origins in the country for which they are playing. In fact it is only Argentina, Georgia and Romania that have fielded teams 100 percent born and bred in their country.

Reader Eric Hodgson supplies an analysis based on where the players were born. Clearly this does not always coincide with nationality, nor does it take into account descent. But it's interesting all the same. To take the "senior" sides:

·         Australia has seven "outsiders" in its squad – two from South Africa, two from New Zealand and one each from Fiji, Papua-New Guinea and Saudi Arabia.

·         England has eight – Two from New Zealand and one each from South Africa, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, the USA, Kenya and Samoa.

·         France has just two – One each from the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

·         Ireland has four – From the USA, New Zealand, Israel and Australia. (Who knew Ronan O'Gara was born in the USA?)

·         South Africa has just one – That's Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira, from Zimbabwe.

·         New Zealand has four – Three from Samoa, one from Australia.

·         Scotland has seven – Three from England, two from Australia and two from Hong Kong.

·         Wales has five – Four from England and one from Tonga.

Has rugby always been this mixed up? In a sense, yes. John Allen played for South Africa and Scotland. Nick Labuschagne played for England and Natal. But there can be no doubt that professionalism, and the mobility that goes with it, has speeded up the process.

And so what? In those real battles long ago, there were always plenty of mercenaries offering their services where required.


Show some respect!


HERE'S a rah-rah-rah! for Springbok lock Bakkies Botha:


·         Bakkies Botha is so strong he can tear a page out of Facebook.

·         Bakkies Botha has already been to Mars; that's why there are no signs of life.

·         Death once had a near-Bakkies Botha experience

·         Bakkies Botha can slam a revolving door.

Hey, that's our man - Bakkies Botha!

Army ditty

THE ABOVE recalls a ditty/chant popular in army messes:

That was my brother, Sylvest'.

What's he got?

A row of forty medals on his chest,

Big chest!

He killed fifty bad men in the west,

He knows no rest!

Think of a man, hell's fire, don't push, just shove,
Plenty of room for you and me.

He's got an arm like a leg:

A lady's leg!

And a punch to sink a battleship,

Big ship!

It takes more than the navy and the air force

To put the wind up Sylvest'!




AND IN SIMILAR tough guy vein, a Russian billionaire who now owns two Fleet Street newspapers punched a fellow guest on a TV programme in Moscow the other night.

Alexander Lebedev, who owns the London Independent and the Evening Standard, punched and floored fellow-oligarch Sergei Polonsky during a discussion of the global financial crisis.

Later he said it was a pre-emptive blow as Polonsky was threatening to punch him.

You couldn't make it up. Not that long ago Lebedev was a KGB operative in the Cold War. Today he's a Fleet Street baron, a modern-day Beaverbrook .

Will BBC discussion programmes develop into cage fights? Watch this space!



HOW MANY existentialists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the light bulb itself symbolises a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity, reaching towards the ultimate horror of a maudlin cosmos of bleak, hostile nothingness.

Last word

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.
Mae West

The Idler, Thursday, September 22, 2011

In search of happiness

WHAT is the nature of happiness? It's a deep philosophical question which I'm glad to find tackled by none other than John Vigor, my old shipmate who wrote this very column many years ago and was a mainstay of Point Yacht Club, where I also hoist a pint from time to time.

John is now stationed at Bellingham, just beneath the Canadian border on the west coast of America, and is still very much involved in yachting. He blogs a regular column, a recent one advising a reader who signs himself "Disillusioned."

"For more than 20 years I have been kept going by my dream of finally taking off into the blue on my yacht, of finding the happiness I have dreamed of for so long. Now you tell me that the success rate among people who plan to go long-term cruising is only 35 to 40 percent. I can't stand the thought that I've been waiting and preparing in vain. Why is the cruiser drop-out rate 60 percent? What makes them unhappy?"

John replies: "The first thing is that most people need a goal when they go cruising. They need to feel they have a plan, that they are making progress and that they will eventually accomplish something worthwhile. But too many people don't put enough thought into creating a goal. They believe they can just take off into the sunset with a champagne glass in hand and find happiness on the way. They can't.

"The second thing is that they don't understand what happiness is. It's not the evanescent feeling of joy and laughter you get from watching the clowns. It's not non-stop smiles and jokes. It's far deeper and longer-lasting than that.

"Democritus, one of the leading Greek philosophers, taught that the goal of life is happiness.

"So what is happiness then? Democritus described it as a state of mind, an inner condition of tranquillity, a harmony of the soul, a combination of reflection and reason ... in fact, what amounts to serenity.

"My own theory is that happiness is serendipitous. It sneaks up on you and ambushes you when you're quietly going about your normal day-to-day cruising activities. If you set out purposely to pursue happiness, it flees in front of you and you can never catch it. But ignore it and it will creep back and embrace you."

I like it. John can chalk up another one I owe him. Splice the mainbrace!

Greasy grub

SAUDI-Arabian motor mechanic Mohammad Omar enjoys snacking and slukking on the job. According to this news snippet, he says he drinks between two and four cans of engine oil a day and eats 2.5kg of grease.

I know there are probably fellows out there would say that sounds just like their landlady's cooking but actually this is excessive intake of greasy food, even though Omar tries to balance it out by drinking radiator water, battery acid and brake fluid.

Where does he get roughage into his diet? Does he collect slivers of white metal from the crankshaft bearings?

We're not told if Omar smokes. If he does, he needs to detach his lips from the car exhaust forthwith. His lifestyle is unhealthy enough as it is.

Tarantulas online

STAFF at Chessington Zoo, in London, are puzzled by a large, hairy tarantula that was handed over to them by a woman who said it arrived with an order she had made online. It was there in the bottom of the box.

They are still baffled as to what species it is, though they think it might be an African baboon spider. "It's very fast, it's very aggressive, and it's very big," says Rob Ward, who has taken charge of the creature and of discovering what it is. It is being fed on insects, though it is believed its diet in the wild might include lizards and small mammals.

Those handling it wear gloves because nobody knows if its bite is poisonous.

Suggestion: They should check it for radioactivity. As we all know, the Amazing Spiderman got his powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider. This could be the effective counter to London's inner-city rioting.



WOULD a pun about a Mexican long-haired chihuahua puppy qualify as a short shaggy dog story?

Last word

About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.

Josh Billings


The Idler, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The jargoneers

AMERICA'S Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a statement on its progress in implementing the recommendations of a management consulting firm (an exercise that cost a mere $5 million).

"The agency will focus on assessing the schedule, costs, and management bandwidth required for each initiative; identifying cross-work-stream integration points; and developing a detailed prioritisation and implementation plan that sequences the various implementation activities," it said.

"The process will likely focus on thinking strategically and prioritising the various initiatives. It is critically important to conduct the analysis of the recommendations at the same time: otherwise, the cross-workstream overlaps, integration points and dependencies may not be detected."

Er, yes. But don't forget the vertical access slippage factors, the inverse gearing ratio kick-ins and the interventions of parallax. Ignore those and you could surrender positional adherence – or, as some might say - come unstuck.



Robot runner

A TINY green and white robot, powered by batteries and only about 20 cm tall, is to tackle the 143km Iron Man Triathlon course in Hawaii next month.

The automaton, named Evolta, has already scaled the cliff walls of the Grand Canyon and driven the course of the 24-hour Le Mans race. In Hawaii it will run, swim and ride a miniature bicycle.

Will we next see Evolta tackling Polly Shorts in the Comrades? Canoeing down the Dusi? Anything's possible these days. But the point of these exercises escapes me. Maybe they're trying to frighten the leprechauns.


Common Sense

AN ITEM has been circulating in cyberspace for some time, purportedly an obituary that appeared in The Times, of London. Whether that is so or not I cannot tell. But in the light of the London riots it's worth looking at.

"Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense , who has been with us for many years. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; that life isn't always fair; and that maybe it was my fault.

"Common Sense
lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

"His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.
Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

"Common Sense
lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

"He declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a pupil became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

"Common Sense
lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

"Common Sense
took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

"Common Sense
finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realise that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

"Common Sense
was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

"He is survived by his four stepbrothers: I Know My Rights; I Want It Now; Someone Else Is To Blame; and I'm A Victim."


IT'S A DARK bar. This fellow leans across and says to a large woman sitting there: "Pssst! You wanna hear a funny blonde joke?"

Large woman: "Before you tell that joke, you should know something. I'm blonde, six feet tall, 210lb and a professional triathlete and bodybuilder. The blonde girl next to me is six feet two inches, she weighs 220lb and she's an ex-professional wrestler. Next to her is a blonde who's six feet five, weighs 250lb and she's a current professional kick-boxer. Do you still want to tell that blonde joke?"

Fellow: "Not if I've got to explain it three times."


Last word

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

Henry J. Tillman


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Idler, Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Durban's centenarian

THE ADMIRAL celebrates his 100th birthday at Mitchell Park this Saturday. The giant tortoise is the survivor of three that were left in the care of the supervisor of the zoo in 1915, during World War I, by a naval officer who never did return to pick them up.

They were brought from the Aldabra islands, in the Seychelles, at a time of poor refrigeration facilities when tortoises were kept on board ship as a protein source.

In 2001 the 300kg tortoise was named The Admiral and made an honorary member of the Durban naval base since he had been part of the community for so long and has a naval background.

To mark his 100th birthday, the Mitchell Park Trust has organised a celebration on the paddock lawn at 11.30am. Master of ceremonies will be Zakia Ahmed, of Lotus FM, and The Admiral will be presented with a birthday cake and fruit baskets.

The SARS dog unit will put on a display and there will be a karate demonstration. Other fun will include pony rides and face painting, while food stalls will serve hot dogs and boerie rolls.

For more information contact Des Ramsay at 031 566-6300 or go to the website at


BASED on the naval connection, the Mitchell Park Trust has hit on an ingenious fund-raising device. People are invited to go into the website and buy themselves a naval rank, ranging in price between R50 for Able Seaman to R5 000 for Admiral of the Fleet. Companies are invited to buy warships, which range from R1 000 for a frigate to R10 000 for an aircraft carrier.

But – oh dear! – some of the ranks, as depicted on the site, are wrong. The "stripes" often worn on the sleeve by naval ratings and senior ratings have nothing to do with the stripes worn by NCOs in the army. They don't indicate rank, they indicate years of service. In the navy they are called "service badges".

The insignia of crossed anchors denotes a Petty Officer. But on the website an Able Seaman is also given the crossed anchors, as is the Chief Petty Officer. In fact an Able Seaman has no badge of rank (I should know – I am one) and the Chief Petty Officer wears no long service badges/stripes. His badge of rank is three brass buttons on the sleeve, there to stop the midshipman (a very junior officer) wiping his nose on it. In fact for this reason the midshipman is known as a "Snotty".

One doesn't like to niggle about this esoteric stuff, but I'm sure The Admiral would be most put out to know about the confusion below decks.

Sic 'im!

MEANWHILE, it's intriguing that SARS should have a dog unit. This could be pretty spectacular – a German shepherd bringing down at full speed a book-keeper running away with a ledger; a rottweiler savaging a money launderer; a spaniel sniffing out fraudulent entries.

Come to Mitchell Park and find out what it's all about!


Patrick Leeman


IT WAS WITH great sadness that I learned of the death last week of my old friend and colleague, Patrick Leeman, who until his retirement from The Mercury had been faithfully reporting news events in KwaZulu-Natal for more than 40 years.


Patrick covered a range of subjects, political and labour developments included, but his special interest was music and the arts, which he not only critiqued but supported passionately in all kinds of ways. He combined this with an intense involvement with the Catholic Church.


Patrick knew just about everybody of any prominence in KZN, and they all knew him. Apart from a spell in the London office of The Mercury in the 1960s, he was based throughout his career in Durban. He was possessed of a wealth of background knowledge in all kinds of areas.


In retirement, for a while he kept up much of his writing on a freelance basis. But his health went into serious decline about a year ago. He will be sadly missed.




THEY tell me ice is no longer available at the Faculty of Agriculture in Maritzburg. The girl who knew the recipe has graduated.


"DOCTOR, what should I do if my temperature goes up by more than a point?"

"Sell, sell!"

Last word


Saying what we think gives us a wider conversational range than saying what we know.

Cullen Hightower

The Idler, Monday, September 19, 2011

Free at last!

SKY NEWS had some appealing footage of a large group of chimpanzees being released into the open air for the first time in their lives. It showed them venturing hesitantly through the open door of the building where they had been kept, looking with bafflement up at the sky they had never seen before then, as they slowly unwound, grabbing one another in hugs.

The 38 chimps had been taken from their mothers shortly after birth and kept in a research facility in Austria. They were rescued after the pharmaceutical company behind the research was sold.


It's a heart-warming story, yet disturbing also. How can intelligent animals – or any animals for that matter – be used virtually for a lifetime for pharmaceutical research purposes? Did they test their lipsticks on these chimps?

I liked the posted comment of a viewer: "The video reminds me of the Big Brother house, although the inhabitants on this video seem far more intelligent."


Lines in exile

AN EVOCATIVE poem comes this way, written by Michelle Frost, formerly of Bulawayo and then East London, who now lives in Scotland with her Scottish husband.

I wish you an African morning,
I wish you an Eden land.
Ivory grasses spread at your feet,
Thorn trees and copper sand.
Where the first cool moments of dawning
are scorched by the bright sun's birth,
and molten horizons miraged by the heat
quiver above the earth.

I wish you an African sunset,
I wish you a sky on fire.
A thousand red blood-glow horizon
of the day's passed funeral pyre.
Where the shredded clouds form a dark net
to catch the last bright blaze
of the mighty fleeing bronze-cast sun
As it sets in a scarlet haze.

I wish you an African midnight.
I wish you a heavenly sea.
To drown in a dark star ocean
And float on the tide back to me.
Where the foam of the waves is the starlight
that swirls through the endless skies.
To billow and crash without motion
And beach in a spray of fireflies.

Yep, Africa gets to you.



Naval battle

THE OBITUARY pages of the London Daily Telegraph make fascinating reading. A recent entry records the death at age 92 of Captain Douglas Stobie. He was in the last naval surface battle of World War II

"The 26th Destroyer Flotilla, which included Saumarez, Venus, Verulam, Vigilant and Virago, was stalking the Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro in the Malacca Straits.

"Stobie was the torpedo officer in Saumarez which, as the attack developed, became the main target for Haguro's 8-inch guns.

"One shell punched through her forecastle and another took off her funnel-top. Splinters cut the wireless aerials, but the sides of the destroyer were so thin that they did not set off Haguro's biggest shells. (How's that for precarious living?)

"Stobie was on the starboard bridge wing when a 275lb shell exploded in the sea nearby, throwing up a vast sheet of water that drenched him ... As the water drained away, Stobie wiped his eyes to see Haguro crossing the prongs of his torpedo-aiming sight; all eight of his torpedoes were fired.

"Several other destroyers fired too, and at 01h15 three explosions split the darkness, while 'gold-coloured splashes' towered higher than Haguro's bridge ... a short while later the blazing wreck capsized. Stobie and several officers and men of the 26th Destroyer Flotilla received awards for their outstanding courage, coolness and skill during the action."

Stobie was born in Durban. Will they name a street after him? No.



AN 82 YEAR-OLD man goes to the doctor for a physical check-up. A few days later the doctor meets him in the street with a gorgeous young woman on his arm.

"You're really doing great, aren't you?" says the doctor.

"Just doing what you said, Doc: 'Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.'''

"I didn't say that. I said: 'You've got a heart murmur; be careful.'"

Last word

Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel.

Oscar Levant