Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Idler, Monday, October 1, 2012

Captured for posterity

THE INFAMOUS headbutt by French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane on Italian Marco Materazzi in the 2006 Fifa World Cup (won by Italy) has been captured for posterity in a giant bronze sculpture that has been placed outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Titled "Headbutt", the work is by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed.

Whatever next? Statues and paintings celebrating such things as illicit seizing of the genitalia of line-out jumpers in rugby? The mind, senor, she boggles!

Meanwhile, Russian media billionaire Alexander Lebedev has been charged with "hooliganism" for punching property developer Sergei Polonsky during a live TV chat show.

Hooliganism is, of course, considered a serious crime in Russia. Members of the female punk group, Pussy Riot, are in jail for their anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

Lebedev says the charge levelled at him is political victimisation. He's probably right.

But whatever happens, somebody should commission Adel Abdessemed to capture for posterity "The Punch". It would look good in bronze outside the Kremlin.

Mining aggro

THERE'S lots of aggro at the platinum mine, all kinds of people stirring it up. All kinds of hidden agendas. Some horrific violence. Lots of boozing; quite a bit of sex. Plenty of disturbing underground action.

This flies from the keyboard of my old newspaper colleague Pixie Emslie (Pixie Malherbe in the days I knew her).

No, Pixie isn't writing for one of our more august financial papers about the Marikana hassles (though she almost could be), this is a novel based on her experience of the mining industry, where she produced magazines for various companies.

Cry of the Rocks (Strategic Book Publishing) is fiction. The police break up a couple of bar brawls, they don't open fire on strikers. Ju-Ju doesn't feature. The NUM is there but the breakaway union is not.

Yet parallels with Marikana uncannily are there – the dreadful conditions underground, the constant danger; the proliferation of shanty slums in the post-apartheid era; the manipulation of the workforce; the overseas financial dimension.

Where Marikana has dodgy trade unionists, dead-beat politicians and unsophisticated workers, Pixie introduces a criminal twist with an international dimension - kidnapping, extortion, sabotage. And, of course, some pretty harrowing underground stuff. The plot gets very tight toward the end.

Do the good guys win? I'm not tellin' ya!



Bar fight

OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "So there we were in this bar-fight – two against 10. Boy, did we flatten those two bastards!"

Finger lunch

AN AMERICAN man who lost four fingers in a freak accident on a lake has found one of them – in the stomach of a trout.

Hans Galassi lost the fingers when the rope towing him behind a motorboat on a board tightened on his hand while ski-ing on Priest Lake, Idaho.

Three months later a fisherman hooked a trout eight miles away and made the grisly discovery of a little finger inside the fish.

Police fingerprinted it and traced Galassi, who says he does'nt want it back.

Great coincidence, great police work. And maybe that's why a small trout is known as a fingerling.



AMERICAN scientists have for the first time captured – on high-speed cameras – the biomechanics of the way hummingbirds fly backwards.

Dr Nir Sapir and Robert Dudley, of the University of California, have found that hummingbirds' backward flight uses similar amounts of energy to flying forwards.

According to Dr Sapir, the most important finding of the study is that flying backwards uses a similar amount of energy to flying forwards, both of which are more efficient than hovering.

I'm glad they've established that. It had been keeping me awake at nights.


Prison paintings


ST CLEMENT'S rides again! Except that this month the Monday at Six weekly soiree in support of the arts will be held not at the usual venue in Musgrave Road but at the Alliance Francaise, in Sutton Crescent, Morningside.


Tonight Paulette Barker will put on a slide show of paintings done by inmates of Westville Prison. Table bookings: 031-3682022.


In November the soirees revert to St Clement's restaurant, Musgrave Road.



Small boy (lost at the mall): "I've lost my grandpa."

Security officer: "What's he like?"

Small boy (after a pause): "Jack Daniels and ladies with big boobs."


Last word


When someone tells you something defies description, you can be pretty sure he's going to have a go at it anyway.

Clyde B Aster



Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Idler, Friday, September 28, 2012

Cars without drivers


IN CALIFORNIA they're preparing for driverless cars. Governor Jerry Brown rode to Google headquarters in a self-driving Toyota Prius before signing legislation this week that will pave the way.

The bill will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

The cars use computers, sensors and other technology to operate independently, but a human driver can override the autopilot function and take control at any time.


"Today we're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality - the self-driving car," Brown says. "Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they'll get over it."

But here's an anomaly. We've had cars without drivers for years. They jump red lights, weave in and out of traffic at high speed and stop wherever they like. They behave of their own volition. They cannot have at the controls a human being who has been programmed to observe the highway code. They are controlled by something that is close to alien.


A variant is the super-luxury driverless limousine whose auto-pilot is in constant telephone transmission to Sadie at the tennis club, Tracy at the hairdressing salon or the maitre d' at whatever lunch establishment the GPS is zeroed in on.


Are we ahead of California? Well, obviously not when you look at the wreckage. What we need is an inversion of that fail-safe technology – something to override the human being behind the wheel



Cock Robin


THERE'S been response to the request for the Fanagalo version of Who Killed Cock Robin? Readers Clark Leroy and Ian Rich supply the Chilapalapa version (the equivalent of Fanagalo in Zimbabwe and Zambia) but the local version remains elusive, apart from the chorus:


Zonke zinyoni phezulu

Yena khala kakhulu,

Yen' izwile yen' ifile

Inyoni Kokilobin …


Here's an extract from the Chilapalapa version as sung by entertainer Wrex Tarr:



Ubani bulalili Cocky Lobbin?

Mina said the sparrow

Na lo picannini bow and arrow

Na lo intercontinental ballistic missile kamina,

Mina bulalili Cocky Lobbin.


Tarr was laying it on rather, in the interests of comedy.



I'm afraid stargazing correspondent Richard Siedle is not much closer to getting all the words of the local Fanagalo version that he requested. But I can direct him to a hostelry in Windermere Road where he will find a fellow who can be persuaded to sing One Man Went To Mow in Swahili. I don't know if that helps.





FANAGALO is, of course, a somewhat despised pidgin patois invented for communication on the mines a long time ago when workers were recruited from all over southern and central Africa. It's not really respectable to speak it these days.


Mind you, do we have any control over the melting pot? Do we have any control over language? Swahili is a similar patois of Arabic and the indigenous languages of East Africa. The Tsotsi Taal of the modern townships is creeping in everywhere.


Hey, Bru?


Army tradition


INTERESTINGLY, reader response reveals that Cock Robin (sung in English) is an integral part of the formal mess dinners of two local regiments, the Natal Mounted Rifles and the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, with a build-up in Zulu.


Ronnie Coppin says a formal dinner of the NMR begins with the commanding officer crying: "Sesifikile!" (We've arrived!) Then three times he shouts: "Kubulawayo!", to which all present respond "Ji!"


Then they sing the chorus of Who Killed Cock Robin? – "All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing …" etc.


Then the padre says grace and the dinner commences.


Charles Wilson says it's the same with the dinners of the UMR.


Where does all that come from? Why a children's nursery rhyme? Why Cock Robin?




AN ABERDEEN housewife reached into her cutlery drawer for a teaspoon … and found instead a red, black and brown-striped snake coiled up.

She phoned the Scottish SPCA, who came and captured the snake and are caring for it. They describe it as a harmless milk snake, probably an escaped pet.

Obviously it was in the cutlery drawer by mistake. It was looking for the fridge.


A SCOTSMAN, an Essex Girl and a Martian walk into a bar.

Landlord: "What's this? Some kind of joke?"

Last word

Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn't work out, you haven't wasted a whole day.

Mickey Rooney



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Idler, Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bushcraft for survival

EARLIER this week we discussed the possibility of using leopard dung to frighten vervet monkeys away from our gardens (one of the problems being how to get hold of this commodity, short of inviting leopards into your garden).

Now reader Valerie Johnson sends in a letter from the Mozambique wildlife authorities warning tourists of the danger of lions. Tourists out in the bush are advised to wear small bells on their clothing to frighten off any lions; also to carry a pepper spray.

The letter advises tourists to be on the look-out for lion activity in their vicinity. One of the danger signs is the presence of fresh lion dung.

This dung deserves closer investigation. If it's full of berries and dassie fur, then it's from young lions and there is no danger. If it's from adult lions, look out!

The dung of adult lions can be identified by being full of small bells and smelling of pepper.

Africa is a complicated place.

Cato home

LAST week reader Kim McCarthy appealed for information about Linwood Villa, down the bottom end of Smith Street near the Hotel D'Urban, where her father lodged in the 1950s. What became of the place? Does it still exist?

A response comes from Andy Kirkland, who not only worked for the town planning section of the City Engineer's but himself once stayed in an annexe to the D'Urban.

The D'Urban was originally the home of George Cato, the first mayor of Durban, he says. It was named Linwood. Cato built a double-storey villa in the grounds about 1890 for one of his sons. This would almost certainly have been named Linwood Villa because that was the practice of the time. Houses had to be named because there was no street numbering.

That house - in the far corner of the Cato property – was demolished about 1959 and became a parking lot.

However, there's another possibility. Adjoining the D'Urban was an annexe to the hotel, where Andy himself stayed in the 1960s. Could Kim's Dad have also stayed in that annexe?

Andy says it did have a two-word name in plaster on the front (which he no longer remembers), that had been painted over. But it seems unlikely it would have been "Linwood Villa". The annexe was built in the late 1930s, long after the "villa" practice had died out.

That former annexe still exists, though it is no longer part of the hotel, it's in commercial use.

Can anyone shed more light?


Tarzan movie

HERE'S a game grandpappy. American Stephen Gustafson was trimming oak tree branches at his waterfront home in Lake County, Florida, when he heard an agonised yelp from Bounce, his West Highland terrier.

She had been taken by an alligator, which was swimming away with her.

Without hesitation, the 66-year-old grandfather sprinted down his lawn and took a flying leap onto the alligator's back. He managed to pull the dog from its jaws and fended it off as it snapped at him.

Then he pinned its jaws shut, at which the 'gator lost interest in the affair, shook itself free and swam off.

Wow! This is like Johnny Weismuller in a Tarzan movie.


THE CIA are looking for an assassin. They're down to a shortlist of three - two men and a woman.

At the final interview one of the men is taken to a large metal door and handed a gun.

"Inside this room you will find your wife sitting in a chair. Kill her!"

"You can't be serious. I could never shoot my wife."

"Then you're not the right man for this job. Take your wife and go home."

The second man is given the same instructions. He takes the gun but comes out again with tears in his eyes. "I can't kill my wife."

"You don't have what it takes. Take your wife and go home."

Then it's the woman's turn. It's her husband who's behind the door.

She takes the gun and goes into the room. Shots ring out, one after the other. There are screams, crashings, bangings. Then quiet.

The door opens. There is the woman. "This gun's loaded with blanks. I had to beat him to death with the chair."

Moral: Never put a woman to the test.


Last word

The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.

Paul Valery


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Idler, Wednesday, September 25, 2012

Tiger by the tail

A NEW YORK man jumped into the tiger enclosure at the Bronx Zoo because he wanted "to become one with the tiger" – a male Siberian named Bashuta, who weighs 180kg. He jumped from a small monorail that takes visitors around the different enclosures.

Now David Villalobos is in hospital for bites to his arms, legs, shoulders and back, as well as a broken arm, leg and pelvis and a collapsed lung. He also faces charges of trespassing.

In his objective of "becoming one with the tiger" – stated to police who believe this was not a suicide attempt - he did not succeed quite as well as the famous young lady of Riga.

There was a young lady of Riga

Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;

They returned from the ride

With the lady inside

And the smile on the face of the tiger.


Naked plunge

MORE than 200 skinnydippers plunged into the sea at Druridge Bay, on the Northumberland coast of England, hoping to break a world mass skinnydip record established in Wales last year.

But they didn't quite make the numbers. Many attribute this to a water temperature of 12 degrees Celsius and an air temperature of 5.5 Celsius.

Organiser Jacqueline Higginson nevertheless describes the charity event as "a lot of fun".

"Today loads of us ran naked into the sea to raise money and to celebrate ourselves and our bodies."

Keep trying, Jacqueline, keep celebrating! South Beach, Durban, is just waiting for you and your friends. Warmer too.

Shelf life?

SCIENTISTS at Trinity College, Dublin, have developed a technology to greatly extend the shelf life of bottled beer. But they really should have consulted the marketing experts before going to all that trouble.

In Dublin there's no need for a shelf life for beer – the demand is instant and insatiable.


A READER in deepest Suffolk, England, sends in some riddles (presumably he reads The Mercury online – either that or our Circulation Department is surpassing itself with home deliveries).

·         A murderer is condemned to death. He has to choose between three rooms. The first is full of raging fires, the second is full of assassins with loaded guns and the third is full of lions that haven't eaten in three years. Which room is safest for him?

(The third. Lions that haven't eaten for three years are dead lions.)

·        A woman shoots her husband. Then she holds him underwater for over five minutes. Finally, she hangs him. But five minutes later they go out together and have a wonderful dinner. How can this be?

(She's a photographer. She shot a picture of her husband, developed it (underwater) and hung it up to dry.)

·        What is black when you buy it, red when you use it and grey when you throw it away?


·        What are three consecutive days without using the words Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday?

(Yesterday, today and tomorrow.)

·        This is an unusual paragraph. I'm curious as to just how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so ordinary and plain that you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it. It is highly unusual though. Study it and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work at it a bit, you might find out. Try to do so without any coaching.

(The letter "e", which is the most common in the English language, doesn't appear even once.)

They're dead crafty, those Suffolk people. Never play five-card brag with them!


A CENSUS is being conducted in rural Tennessee. The census taker knocks on a farmhouse door and asks the woman who answers how many children she has and their ages.

"Les' see now, there's the twins, Kathy and Katy, they're 18. And the twins, Seth and Beth, they're 16. And the twins, Penny and Jenny, they're 14."

"Hold on. Did you get twins every time?"

"Heck no, there were a whole bunch of times we didn't get nothin'."


Last word


No animal should ever jump up on the dining-room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation.

Fran Lebowitz


The Idler, Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chocolate biccy economics

IT'S TIME we took a serious look at economics. What of the decision to keep the bank interest rates unchanged? Why? Fortunately we have available the grumpy newsletter of investment analyst Dr James Greener.

"The worthies attending the Monetary Policy Committee meeting in Pretoria were apparently about to consider reducing the price of money by 50 basis points (that is, cutting the repo rate by half a percent) when the tea lady appeared with an extra packet of chocolate digestives.

"In a flash, while someone was tearing off cellophane, it was agreed to leave the rate unchanged, downgrade the estimate of GDP growth for this year and next and send Governor Marcus out to tell the press. She returned to an empty committee room and crumbs."

There you have it. Meanwhile, Dr Greener also looks at the President's adjusted salary.

"It was announced that the President's basic salary will now be R218 546 per month. Not only is this a rather odd number but after tax it must be a real struggle to keep the uxorial entourage in dresses and lipsticks.

"No wonder we are unable to attract any real managerial skills into applying for the job and it looks as if the Bloemfontein conference will have no choice but to grant JZ a second term. After all, one of the possible alternative candidates was spotted paying around R18 million for a buffalo recently – that's not going to be easy on a presidential salary. Unless of course he can work something out with the so-called 'spousal support unit'."




WHEN Ian Gibson, poet laureate of Hillcrest, sends in prose, you can be sure it's serious. And sure enough it's serious.


Last week's suggestion from the South Coast that crowned eagles should be used to control vervet monkeys has caused a frisson up in Hillcrest, he says.


"Here a young female crowned eagle has taken to attacking small dogs, one being devoured in front of its owner. Now an attempt is being made to capture the eagle.


"KZN Wildlife and the Natal Falconry Club have arranged permits for this purpose. When or if captured, the bird will be trained to hunt monkeys on a mealie farm."(Do you think Ian is having us on here?)


He says the young bird's dog-hunting habits are caused by having been fed by a local resident - something he should not have done. The bird's blameless parents live in the Hillcrest Nature Reserve.


Well, there we have it - Hillcrest poised to embark on falconry. Ian will no doubt keep us up to date, future information conveyed in iambic pentameters.




MEANWHILE, I am accosted at the Street Shelter for the Over-40s by an habitué who insists that crowned eagles are no real answer to the problem of vervet monkeys. The only answer, he says, is leopard dung, preferably with monkey bones in it.

Monkeys have regular approach routes to gardens, he says, and this is where the leopard dung should be placed. (He comes from Mooi River, where they know about such things.)

Monkeys are frightened of crowned eagles, he concedes, but they are absolutely terrified of leopards. Place the leopard dung on the approach routes and the monkey problem disappears instantly.

That's all very well. But the monkey approach routes to my garden consist of a flatcrown, a fever tree, a lokwat tree, a guava tree, two mulberry trees, an avocado pear tree and a mango tree. How do I entice a leopard or two into each of them (let alone to perform their toiletries there). My Street Shelter habitué does not tell me.

And does one really want 16 or so leopards in one's suburban garden? Is this not a problem worse than the monkeys?

I think I prefer the Hillcrest falconry approach – a crowned eagle on the leather-gloved arm. The wenches and varlets of the Street Shelter will be mightily impressed.



TWO COCKROACHES are munching rubbish in an alley.

First cockroach: "I was in that new restaurant across the street. It's so clean. The kitchen is spotless, everything's gleaming white. It's so sanitary, the whole place shines."

Second cockroach: "Please! Not while I'm eating!"

Last word

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'

Isaac Asimov


The Idler, Monday, September 24, 2012

To compile a mugshot

WHAT next with DNA technology? Scientists say they are working on being able to produce police mugshots from DNA found at the scene of a crime.

A Professor Manfred Keyser, of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, says it seems only five genes determine what kind of face a person has.

The Dutch research team has used magnetic resonance imaging scans and portrait photographs to map facial features. These were then matched against DNA variants in almost 10 000 individuals.

Prof Keyser says: "These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology. Perhaps some time it will be possible to draw a phantom portrait of a person solely from his or her DNA left behind, which provides interesting applications such as in forensics."

Yes, quite. But is this not a little far-fetched? Conducting independent research the other evening, it seemed impossible that the range of squinty eyes, beaked noses, blubber lips, low foreheads, chinlessness and general vacuity of expression could be attributed to only five genes?


Yes, it was at the Street Shelter for the Over-40s (and I was looking only at the men!) Perhaps I need to cast my net wider.


Phone fury


WHO IS HEYNEKE Meyer talking to when he yells furiously into a mobile phone during the course of a rugby Test? Former Ireland international Sam Hutton thinks it must be his wife.


Sam, who played front rank for Ireland in days of yore and probably taught Willie-John McBride how to scrum, now lives in Kloof and ended his rugby career coaching Hillcrest Villagers 3rd XV.


"I've never had the distinction of being an international rugby coach, so I can only imagine the pressures they are exposed to," he says. "Watching Heyneke Meyer communicate with 'whoever' during a game - I'm assuming it's his Missus - the pressures must be considerable.


"However, I did have the distinction of being player/coach for Hillcrest Villagers 3rds in the 1990s and I often meet some of my old team-mates at Tina's Hotel in Kloof, where we watch the Boks on a Saturday.


"We watch with dismay and disbelief at the tactics. Yet the Springboks have the potential to be magnificent.


"In the 1990s the Villagers were not so well funded as now, and the Thirds had only one new ball for the season. We were encouraged not to kick it too much as it wore it out quickly. Amazingly, we often won games because the backs ran the ball. Little did the spectators know that we had no choice. I loved that team."


Sam captures here the essence of rugby, whether at international or lower league club level. He says that if Villagers were to advertise today for a head coach for their 3rd XV, he hopes he would stand a chance in competition with Heyneke Meyer.


"Think of the money they would save on cellphone calls to my Missus during the game."



MEANWHILE, an e-mail is doing the rounds. A shot of a bottle of detergent is labelled: "Excellent stain remover". A shot of Heyneke Meyer is labelled: "Terrible Steyn remover".

Currency bust

TWO MEN HAVE been arrested in Colombia for trying to smuggle in about $40 000 in foreign currency. They had swallowed the banknotes, which were picked up by an X-ray scanner at Medellin airport as they went through customs.

The police say they were involved in a money laundering scheme. The cash has been recovered but the police have released no details of how this was achieved.

Yes, spare us that!

Sudden company

A COUPLE were fast asleep in their upstairs bedroom in Epsom, Surrey, in England, when all of a sudden they had company. A car had gone out of control on a bend outside, mounted another parked car then flown 80 feet through the air and crashed through the outside wall into their bedroom.

The couple were not hurt. The three occupants of the car were treated in hospital for minor injuries.

As the old Scots prayer has it: Things that go bump in the night.



"I'm really not that kind of girl."

"I believe ya."

"You're the very first."

"The first to sleep with ya?"

"No, the first to believe me."

Last word

Her virtue was that she said what she thought, her vice that what she thought didn't amount to much.

Peter Ustinov