Friday, July 27, 2012

Captain Cook Friday, July 27, 2012

ONCE more unto the breach, dear friends … the season is at a crescendo and we ain't seen nuttin' yet. When did we last live through such stirring times? It's the Stormers tomorrow and the smart money says we'll do it. Next stop the Land of the Long White Underpants. But one thing at a time.

Last Saturday showed without doubt that the Sharks are now one of the world's top outfits. They can take on anyone. Those 15 minutes of absolutely heroic defence on our own tryline will go down in the annals of rugby history. Then there were the break-outs to run in tries. Magnificent stuff! As Katinka, Ukrainian lead dancer at the Thunder Bar, puts it: "If ze Natal Rugby Union should last a sousand years, men vill say: 'Ziss voss zeir finest hour!'"

It was a fine hour for us as well as we watched and savoured the game at a certain hostelry. Well a fine few hours, to be perfectly accurate, as we ran into a few ex-Kenyans and launched into celebratory versions of One Man Went to Mow and Good King Wenceslas in Swahili, then a Zulu version of Who Killed Cock Robin? As always, rugby brings out the best in us.

Tomorrow's prospects? Well, the Stormers ended top of the log – never forget that – and they've had a week's lay-off while our guys have been flying backwards and forward besides playing Queensland. Peter Grant of the deadly accurate boot (Maritzburg College, natch!) is always a factor. Bok captain Jean de Villiers is no slouch. None of the Stormers are slouches. Their lock forwards are King Kongs.

But our guys are on a roll. Kankowski, Coetzee, Keegan Daniel – they're everywhere. We've got probably the strongest front row in the world. The backs are running onto the ball beautifully. Freddie Michalak is calling the shots like a maestro. The handling is superb, the off-loads unbelievable. And the guys have confidence in themselves. This is close to unstoppable.

What says Katinka? Snap! Snap! She strums at her suspender belt. "Yoost look at ze betting slips I got stowed here. Sharks all ze vay! Beesmarck! Yonnie! Be-e-e-ast! Michalak, I vant to kees him! You votch Keegan Daniel! Votch JP! Votch zem all Ve got ze combination!" Snap! Snap! "Land of ze long vite onderpants, here ve kom!"

Katinka's suspender belt is seldom wrong. What an incredible finale looms if we should pull it off tomorrow. We Natalians are relaxed. Whatever happens, it's already been a great season. Anything from now is a bonus. But a bonus we'll pocket with pleasure.

It's been a great few days for sport. The First Test at the Oval; Ernie Els in the British Open. Now's the chance for us to round it off in fine style. As ever, the ladies are advised to wear knickers because the elastic is likely to be required for the fashioning of catapults for the feu de joie – a celebratory shooting out of the streetlights.

'Erewego, 'erewego, 'erewego!

The Idler, Friday, July 27, 2012


A book in the post

PRESIDENT JZ merely scratches the surface when he blames Verwoerd for the non-delivery of textbooks to the schoolchildren of Limpopo Province. Research indicates that the non-delivery can be traced right back to 1652 and the landing of Jan van Riebeeck in Table Bay.

His historic words as he stepped ashore from the Dromedaris in his plumed hat and plus-fours were: "Hier planten onz vandacht een volk. Maar de kinderen van Limpopo Provintie – die zal nooit skoolboeken krij niet!"

These chilling words were to be left in abeyance for a few years as Van Riebeeck messed about with priorities like building a castle and planting a hedge of bitter almonds. But the purpose was never abandoned.

Nor by his successors, Simon van der Stel, Willem Adriaan van der Stel and the rest. Willem Adriaan in particular was a zealot who sent scouting parties, known as Trekboere, far into the interior to survey the lands just south of the Limpopo and make sure – make absolutely bliksemse blerrie seker – that schoolbooks would never get through there.

When people like Lord Charles Somerset took over on behalf of the donderse Engelse, they also took over the Limpopo mission. When Sir Harry Smith was going about naming towns after himself and his wife, he never took his beady eye off Limpopo to make sure no schoolbooks would ever get through.

How do I know all this? One of the history books intended for Limpopo Province came to me through the post.

Lay off Angie Motshekga! She's a victim of colonialism!


Howick Collider


ROB NICOLAI, Howick's Chief Investigator of Particle Physics, says he's decided to build in the town a Large Hadron Collider similar to the one at Cern, in Switzerland, so that he can continue his research into the Higgs Boson.


It will cost about €24 billion and he wonders if Mercury readers would be prepared to pass the hat around in the interests of science?


I'm sure that would be no problem. I wonder how Rob's date went – the one I organised for him with the Sharks cheerleader?




Eye of newt …

SCIENTISTS in California have managed to make a jellyfish that swims of its own accord, using pulsating rat heart cells.

The Medusoid – as it's known – is made of transparent elastic silicone onto which the muscle pattern of a jellyfish has been printed. The protein molecules from rats' hearts were added and, in response to a five-volt electric current, they contract and cause the Medusoid to swim.

I know this sounds a bit like the cauldron scene in MacBeth, but science marches on relentlessly. Next they'll introduce stinging cells and –Presto! – the Medusoid will ruin bathing on the California beaches.

Theirs and ours


THE REVERBERATIONS of the First Test at the Oval continue. The London Times has a cartoon. Two old buffers are sitting glumly at the Oval with their pints of beer.


One says: "Their South Africans are better than our South Africans."




Sporting glory


MEANWHILE, so overcome with the sports achievements is Ian Gibson, poet laureate of Hillcrest, that he has penned not one but two limericks.


That superb batsman called Hashim

Played long and heroically to smash 'em;

So calm and assured,

All attacks he endured,

Giving his team enough time to then thrash 'em.




That golfing 'old' stalwart called Ernie,

Thanked Madiba for winning his tourney;

His putter on fire,

He went to the wire,

Adding the Open to our week's sporting glory.




"HOW DID your new job as a store greeter go?"


"Not well. Lasted only a day.


"How's that?"



"About two hours into my first day on the job a very loud, unattractive, mean-acting woman walked into the store with her two kids, yelling obscenities at them all the way through the entrance.

"I said pleasantly: 'Good morning and welcome to Sunshine Superstore. Nice children you have there. Are they twins?'

"This ugly woman stopped yelling long enough to say: 'Hell no, they ain't twins. The oldest one's nine, and the other one's seven. Why the hell would you think they're twins? Are you blind, or just stupid?'

So I said: 'Ma'am, I just couldn't believe someone slept with you twice. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Sunshine Superstore.'

"My supervisor said I'm probably not cut out for this line of work."




Last word

Why is this thus? What is the reason for this thusness?

Artemus Ward


The Idler, Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rhino poaching saga

ARRESTS in the rhino poaching saga. Yay! But the slaughter continues in Zululand. Groan!

But maybe people are beginning to box clever. When KZN Wildlife and people like Ian Player start suggesting we look at legalising the international trade in rhino horn – in that way collapsing prices and undercutting the international poaching syndicates – we surely need to take notice.

Key to it is the 21-ton stockpile of legal rhino horn, gathered over the years by natural attrition. Do we burn it, the way the Kenyans did with elephant ivory a few years ago, or do we use it to cheapen the commodity and make poaching no longer worthwhile? It's an agonising choice. Does one not then encourage men in the Far East in their wayward belief that rhino horn is an aid to sexual potency and possibly also a cure for cancer?

Reader Robin Stanford, of Mandeni, sends in an essay he wrote for a young girl to help in her schoolwork, setting out the overall threat to wildlife – rhino in particular. He covers trophy hunting and "canned" hunting – that especially obnoxious practice where caged lions are shot so that the "hunter" can afterwards pose for a photograph with a foot on the dead animal.

Also, of course, the rhino poaching and the horn issue, including the mooted legalisation of the horn trade. It's pretty thorough.

A final page is headed "Top Secret". It tells how to become a billionaire in three easy steps:

·        Take four six-ton trucks to the national stockpile of rhino horn.

·        Bribe the security guards with R1 billion each to look the other way.

·        Load up the 21 tons of rhino horn (worth R1 trillion) and drive off.

Top Secret? The whereabouts of the national stockpile has to be kept secret, otherwise there will be a national traffic jam, every road crowded with politicos driving six-ton trucks.

That schoolgirl will no doubt get three gold stars.


Free verse

MEANWHILE, Sarita Mathur (who I'm sure I can remember writing for us when she herself was still a schoolgirl) sends in some impassioned free verse on behalf of the rhino.


Today we have the

Power of choice …

To rejoice

In the planning of Project

Save the Rhino.


Let us exercise this choice

And take action

So that there is a mass reaction

Against the inhumane slaughter of the rhinoceros.

This magnificent animal,

Grazer and browser,

Eating grass and twigs,

Part of the Big Five,

Let us help it survive

So that it can exist in peace,

Even though it doesn't have a voice,

The power of speech

To plead its own cause.

Let it exist,

To be looked at and admired,

From generation to generation,

God's wonderful creation.

Part of our heritage,

As is the earth

And the animals and trees in it.

I want my children and later my grandchildren

To go on safaris

Watching and learning about the rhinoceros.

However, they will not be able to

If this carnage does not stop.

The rhino, both black and white will become extinct,

Part of a history that no longer exists

If poachers aided by greedy, avaricious men and women

Do not stop their avarice.

It has a place in our world and in the lives of those who come after us.

Rhino horns … do they really boost sexual energy and cure disease?

No one knows for sure and nobody must care to answer this question,

For the fact remains

That the horns belong to a live animal

And to no-one else,

Not to corrupt people, poachers and those who

Would kill and slaughter

In order to enrich themselves in forbidden trade.

They are willing to see the end of a species …

Make it extinct …

I have a choice

Right now to take action.

So that my voice can be added to others,

Millions more

So that awareness is created and policies made so that people and poachers may cringe and take fright,

Afraid of policies and the might

Of those whose mission it is to

Save the rhino.

I have a choice,

By adding my Voice,

Save the rhino.




Secretary: "I've got bad news for you."

Boss: "Why bad news? Be more positive."

Secretary: "Okay. The good news is you're not sterile."

Last word


Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.

John Barrymore


The Idler, Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The countdown begins


THE OLYMPIC countdown is on. The South African flag is flying proud in the Olympic village in London. Hopes are high. We have the best coaching available, the best physio, the best dieticians. How things have moved on since we first sent a team.


This was in 1912 to Stockholm, Sweden. (Though it seems we also sent some sort of pre-Union team to the 1908 Olympics in London).


Gavin Maasdorp, former economics prof and varsity rugby figure, has dug out some information (from The Story of the Olympic Movement in South Africa 1907-1987, by Rudolf Opperman and Lappe Laubscher) that reveals somewhat Spartan circumstances for the early teams.


Cyclist Okey Lewis had no idea where Stockholm was, but he knew it must be a fair distance so he took with him two spare shirts, a pair of trousers and a spare pair of socks.


The 21-man team were quartered five to a room in a flat on a Stockholm street with such traffic noise that sleep was impossible.


Yet they came away with four gold medals and two silvers.


In the pre-Union London Olympics, Reggie Walker won gold, setting a new record for the 100 metres. Charles Hefferon won silver in the marathon.


Interesting stuff. I hope the present team do as well. Also that they thought to take spare socks.



Learning French


THEY say the best way to learn French is to get a French girlfriend. Second best, I suppose, is to listen to a chanteuse.


And, sure enough, at St Clement's the other night after a couple of songs by auburn-haired Natalie Winter, and after a couple of glasses of claret, I could understand every word. But then people pointed out that she was also singing the occasional song in English.


Be that as it may, it was a great show. Natalie writes most of her own music and lyrics. Her melodies and delivery are lovely and she accompanies herself on the acoustic guitar and puts in the occasional burst on the harmonica. The atmosphere is the French café. The boulevard comes to the Berea.


Next Monday, St Clement's will feature Alan Manning reading from some of his own writings. Alan is one of Maritzburg's more noted eccentrics. He recently won a special award for quirkiness in a St Clement's short story competition. A sailor was so caught up in dalliance with a wharfside damsel that he missed the sailing of his ship – the Waratah. The evening should be a hoot.


And that, alas, will mark the end of this season of St Clement's soirees. They will resume in a couple of months. Watch this space!



Contact sought


READER Audrie Ryan picks up on a mention about two months ago of a Trevor Culverwell who climbed Mount Snowdon, in Wales, in 1960 with a chap called Garry Rabie.


She says a relative living in Britain is writing a book about the Culverwell family and she wonders if Trevor was the father of two sons, Joe and Stenning. If so, she would be grateful if he (or anyone else in the family) would contact her at 031-7051866





A GUY is getting ready to tee off on the first hole when a second golfer approaches and asks if he can join him. The first says he usually plays alone, but agrees to the twosome.


They are even after the first few holes. The second guy says: "We're about evenly matched, how about playing for five bucks a hole?" The first guy says he isn't much for betting, but agrees to the terms. The second guy wins the remaining 16 holes with ease.


As they walk off number 18, the second guy is counting his R80.00. Then he confesses that he's the pro at a neighbouring course and likes to pick on suckers. The first fellow reveals that he's the parish priest.


The pro is flustered and apologetic and offers to return the money. The priest says: "You won fair and square and I was foolish to bet with you. You keep your winnings." The pro says: "Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?" The priest says: "Well, you could come to mass on Sunday and make a donation. And if you want to bring your mother and father along I'll marry them."



Last word


Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself.

AH Weiler



The Idler, Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day trip to the past

HEY, NOTHING like a day trip that takes you back 75 000 years. A group of folk picnicked and had fun up the North Coast last weekend, among them Dr Frank Mdlalose, KwaZulu-Natal's first Premier, and Professor Otty Nxumalo, from the University of Zululand and of much the same era.

The occasion was an expedition to Sibudu Cave, near Tongaat, organised by Amafa/Heritage, the provincial heritage agency. The cave is about to be proclaimed a provincial heritage landmark.

Sibudu is a massive rock overhang where our very distant ancestors lived and made merry all those thousands of years ago. To get there you wade through the Tongaat River, which is icy at this time of year. (Dr Frank, who is 80, took it in his stride). Then you clamber up a rock face and you're there, where teams of archaeologists from Wits and Tubingen University, in Germany, are digging.

The place is rich in artefacts – arrowheads, blades, scrapers and so forth from the mid Stone Age. As Amafa's James van Vuuren explained, we should not think of these distant folk as having been unintelligent. They almost certainly had the same cognitive abilities as ourselves, they just didn't have the accumulated store of knowledge we have. They were just starting out.

That's right, no PIN codes, no Facebook, no Heavy Metal music. No financial meltdown. No pollution, no hassles. Standing there looking down an exquisitely beautiful bush-lined valley, with the rushing sound of the Tongaat coming up like a lullaby – and with hornbills calling from the cliff face - you realise those folk of so long ago had a lot going for them.

Those archaeologists must not let us down. They really mustn't discover a stone age discotheque.


Meteor shower

THERE'S been a meteor shower of sports achievement in recent days. There was Hashim Amlas's triple ton against England.

Then, while England were chasing leather to every corner of the Oval, suddenly the local fans were on their feet and cheering. Bradley Wiggins had won the Tour de France, the first Englishman ever to do so.

Then there was Ernie Els coming from way behind to take the British Open at Royal Lytham and St Anne's.

All of this on top of the Sharks' absolutely stunning win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

Is it the Higgs Boson? Is it that eruption from the sun? Stand by for the Olympics. Things are happening.


IT WAS EXTRAORDINARY to watch a procession of South African batsmen come out to the crease at the Oval, to be bowled at by Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.

Which side is South Africa A? Which is South Africa B? The series has some way to run, but the balance has certainly tipped in favour of the fellows who still live and play in South Africa.


WHY DOES the cricket at the Oval end so early? With the sun still high in the summer sky, the bails were whipped off at 6.55 pm exactly (British summer time, 7.55pm South African time). And why that odd time? Why not on the hour at 7 pm?

It was fascinating to watch the shadow of the grandstand creep across the ground. It was like watching a sundial.

At 6.55pm exactly it reached the batting crease at one end. Another over and the batsman would have been in the semi-dark. Precision stuff.

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?

Olympics row

A BIG ROW has broken out in the Irish synchronised diving team at the Olympics. Mick accused Paddy of copying him.


Czech this


MEANWHILE, a Czech artist has turned a trademark London double-decker bus into an athlete doing push-ups to celebrate the  Games.

David Cerny bought the 1957 London bus, attached two huge metal arms, installed an electric engine and the six-ton vehicle now does push-ups, accompanied by loud groans.

It's called the London Booster and is to be installed near the Czech team's living quarters.

All very well, just so long as they don't start getting silly.




WHAT'S greasy and flaps about the church steeples of Paris?

The lunchpack of Notre Dame.

Last word

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Redd Foxx


The Idler, Monday, July 23, 2012

Colorado horror show


A GUNMAN mows down scores of people in a cinema in, Denver, Colorado after lobbing a couple of teargas grenades to get them running in a panic. They had been at the premiere of a movie about Batman.


America has an extraordinary capacity to combine the horrific with the banal.


The gunman had military-type automatic weapons, of a sort that could have no lawful application in a civilian setting. Yet he was able to buy them over the counter in a store, no questions asked.


It's as astonishing as it is appalling. The lobby against America's bizarre gun laws – which amount to non-laws saying: "Mind your own business, it's the citizen's right to bear arms" – has been activated yet again.


Yet nobody seems to look at the other side of the equation. What role does the digitalised mayhem of the playstation have? Where, from the earliest age, children are exposed not just to Batman, Superman and Spiderman but to conflict with a range of monsters and hobgoblins. Where the objective is to destroy – Zap! Zap! Zap!


What kind of reality do such people grow up in? It's surely just a shortish step to oneself becoming the Joker with an automatic weapon in a crowded cinema.


Who ever heard of anyone running amok after reading Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island or Ivanhoe?


Election non-issue


ALMOST inevitably, the Denver atrocity is being talked up into an election issue. But it's really a non-issue.


Even if Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney were to publicly agree that America's gun laws need radical overhaul and that they would each work for it, whatever the election outcome, not much would happen.


America doesn't have a House of Commons that can simply enact a law controlling gun ownership. The citizen's right to bear arms is written into the constitution. And it's the constituent states of the USA that actually decide what their gun laws should be. To override them is near-impossible. Let's not even talk about the powerful Gun Lobby.


So stand by for more horror, more banality.


Oval drama


IT'S A THREE-WAY match at the Oval between England, South Africa and the Clerk of the Weather. The smart money is on the Clerk.


It's also the start of a series to decide which is the world's top test cricket side. Some would say it's between South Africa A and South Africa B.


Some would also say it's to decide who is South Africa A and who is South Africa B.


Air miles


INVESTMENT analyst Dr James Greener is not exactly bowled over by the growing accord with China. Nor, in his latest grumpy newsletter, is he impressed by the constant jetting about.


"It's a pity that the air force VIP transportation unit don't award air miles to loyal and frequent fliers. Our Pres JZ would have bucket loads of them by now and might be able to take all the wives along on his jaunts instead of having to choose just one each time.


"This week he went off to China to bow very low to their President Hu Jintao before renewing the invitation for them to attend our forthcoming R3.2 trillion infrastructure programme. BYOC (bring your own cash).


"Apparently the official view is that the presence of a Chinese supermarket in every country village, selling plastic bowls and T-shirts, is a 'good sort' of foreign presence, compared to the previous invaders during the past 400 years who merely brought development."



A golfer accidentally overturns his cart.

A beautiful girl living on the golf estate rushes out to help him. "Come to my villa, rest up and I'll help you get the cart up later."

"That's mighty nice of you but I don't think my wife would like it."

"Aw, come on."
"Well, okay. But my wife won't like it."

After a few drinks one thing leads to another and they wind up in bed making passionate love. Then he kisses her on the cheek and gets dressed.

"I feel a lot better now, but I know my wife is going to be real upset."

"Don't be silly, she won't know anything.
Where is she anyway?"

"Under the cart."



Last word

They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.

Tallulah Bankhead