Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Idler, Friday, November 23

Monkey business

A 22-YEAR-OLD man in the American state of Idaho is in big trouble. He got drunk, got into a zoo in the town of Boise, got into the monkey cage and stole a patas monkey, wrapping it in his jacket.

But then things started going downhill. The monkey bit Michael Watkins on the arm. Watkins plucked a branch from a tree and whacked it. But he whacked it on the head, and so hard that it died.

Now he faces charges of felony burglary and grand theft. He could face a total of 24 years in prison. Idaho law is very stern about people stealing and harming livestock. But his dad says he was not really trying to steal the monkey, it was just a drunken prank. He wanted a picture taken of himself with the monkey.

This surely is a case for leniency. Our consular officials in Idaho need to strike some kind of deal with the prosecutors – get Watkins shipped to Durban, where he will be able to commune with monkeys to his heart's content; get fired up on cane spirit, chase them about the place and wrap them in his jacket (though without whacking them).

He could become a useful part of the campaign to discourage monkeys from our suburbs.

Vibrant art


NO MAN IS a prophet in his own land. Nor any woman a prophetic sculptor. Not in her lifetime anyway.


The folk at St Clement's listened enthralled this week as sculptor Andries Botha spoke of the life and work of Mary Stainbank, an artist of world class who hardly anyone had heard of.

Andries himself had never heard of her as an art student. He encountered her work only later, and used to visit her in an old age home.


Mary Stainbank trained in London but her work drew heavily on African culture. Slides of her sculptures, produced in the 1930s, reveal art that was decades ahead of its time and possessed of a vigour and eloquence that is startling.


How she could have remained in such obscurity is a mystery. But that is about to change.


Her old studio in her parents' home, Coedmore Castle, in the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve, south of Durban, is being refurbished to become a gallery of her work.


Coedmore is also headquarters of the Wilderness Leadership School, which has taken on the project. An environmentalist organisation involved in art? It might sound strange but the WLS has a strong Jungian ethos. And the followers of CG Jung have a strong belief in what they call "synchronicity".


Gems of art in a green lung in an industrial landscape – that's synchronicity for you.



Thirty years on


THE STRAND Strikers – a club within a club at Umkomaas Golf Club – tee off early tomorrow to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The Strand Strikers, have been playing together every Saturday since 1982. They take their name from the old Strand Hotel at Warner Beach, which they used to frequent.


Striker Richard Andersson pens a few lines to mark the occasion.



Thirty years and still we play,

How much longer, I hear them say.

Numbers sure, they have diminished,

But rest assured we're far from finished.

Some bodies tired, legs are weak,

Ride on carts, can hardly speak.

Big drives that used to go a mile,

Remembered now with just a smile.

Long putts that used to find the hole,

Now we need a soccer goal.

Thursday nights we drank 'til late,

Now we're fast asleep at eight.

Would go big on Saturdays too,

Now it's just the same old few.

One Pres we've had through thick and thin,

Taken plenty on the chin.

For twenty-four, the bell has tolled,

The rest of us just getting old.

As they look down and watch us play,

We spare a thought for them today.

Up there together I'm sure they'll say,

'Thirty years, hip, hip, hooray!'




A TOUGH old cowboy counselled his grand-daughter that if she wanted to live to a ripe old age she should sprinkle a pinch of gunpowder on her oatmeal every morning.

She did this all her life until she died at the age of 103. She left behind 14 children, 30 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren and a massive hole where the crematorium used to be.

Last word

Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.

W Somerset Maugham



The Idler, Thursday, November 22

If you're going to San Francisco …

THEY'RE going all puritanical in San Francisco. The local authority has passed a law banning public nudity. All it requires is the signature of the mayor, and he's already said he supports the measure.

Apparently complaints had come from the traditionally free any easy Castro district, where certain folk had taken to going around starkers.

The law bans anyone older than five years from appearing naked in public, with fines starting at $100 (R800) for a first offence and rising to $500 (R4 000) and a year in prison for a third.

Several women in a group of protesters outside the San Francisco city hall stripped as the measure was voted on and carried.

The city official who piloted the measure has the unusual name of Scott Wiener. "Free expression in the abstract is really nice," he says. "Until it comes to your neighbourhood."

Yes, I'm absolutely sick and tired of these vervet monkeys that keep prancing naked about the rooftops in my neighbourhood here in Durban.


Event boundaries

DO YOU EVER walk into a room with some purpose in mind, only to completely forget what that purpose was?

Is this the ageing process? Nope. Psychologists at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, in the US, have discovered that doors are responsible for this memory lapse.


Passing through a doorway triggers what's known as an event boundary in the mind, separating one set of thoughts and memories from the next. Your brain files away the thoughts you had in the previous room and prepares a blank slate for the new locale.


That's a big relief. I'd thought I was becoming what the Zulus call "kukile".


There's something incredibly interesting that I want to share with you, but unfortunately I thought about it in the room next door and I've crossed the event boundary. Keep buying the paper – it'll come back to me, I'm sure.





AN ORGANISATION called Clowns without Borders is staging a big bash in Durban tomorrow night. No, this is not some sort of internationalisation of the Nkandla Show – there really is such an organisation, modelled on Medicins Sans Frontiers, the doctors who fly into trouble spots.


I confess that when a pamphlet was pressed on me the other evening at St Clements, I thought I was having my leg pulled. Do they really parachute in the clowns when there's trouble? But it seems Clowns Without Borders does indeed specialise in bringing entertainment and relief from the appalling realities of existence to all kinds of communities that are under stress or in crisis.


The local chapter's clowns, jugglers, storytellers and comedians have operated in Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Israel/Palestine, the Lebanon, Southern Sudan and Ethiopia. An intervention is planned for Kenya.


Clowns Without Borders also operates in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, the US and Canada.


Tomorrow's fundraising bash (tickets R50 minimum) will be at 5.30 pm in the Corner Café (Brand/Cromwell intersection) in Glenwood. On the bill are Ewok (who has brought the house down on occasion at St Clement's); storyteller Gcina Mhlope (who is an absolute hoot); Nje; Nomusa Xaba; South Jersey Pom-Poms; Thulile Zama; and Tumelo Khoza.


It should be a rollicking show.




Tattooed ladies


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "Do you realise that in about 30 to 40 years we'll have thousands of old ladies running around with weird tattoos? And rap music will be the golden oldies? That's scarey."




Sparkling poetry

IAN GIBSON, poet laureate of Hillcrest, pens a few lines on the challenges facing contemporary political analysts.


This is a difficult time for political analysts,

Not to mention scribes and panellists;

Strikes all over the place,

Cops trying not to lose face,

Shucks! I'd rather be a deipnosophist.


A deipnosophist is – as I'm sure most of us knew already – a specialist in sparkling dinner table conversation.




TWO BLONDES are in conversation.

"For a married man, Barrie dresses very smartly."

 "Yeah. And fast too."


(The above supplied by a reader who calls himself Barrie with an "ie").



Last word

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

Mark Twain


The Idler, Wednesday, November 21

Oompah, oompah, oompah-pah!


Fal, lal lal, ist mein Viola,

Zoom, zoom, zoom, das ist mein Cymbal,

Bom, bom, bom, das ist mein Trombone,

Tic, knock knock das ist Triangle,

Pilly, willy wink, das ist mein Fifie,

Rub a dub a dub das ist mein Drummel,

Mein pilly willy wink,

Mein tic knock knock,

Mein bom bom bom,

Mein zoom zoom zoom,

Mein fal lal lal,

Mein Whackahackahack, das ist mein ToodleSach …


WELL, only the bagpipes (ToodleSach/doedelsak) were missing from the stirring German oompah band that has just about raised the roof in Durban in recent days at the travelling Bierfest, that has also been in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Das wast gut. A more or less continuous blast of traditional German brass, merging into some really great Dixie and some folk numbers. Lots of crazy dancing. Things like eisbein mit kantoffel on the menu. Gorgeous frauleins running hither and thither bearing foaming 1-litre tankards of a range of beers. Does it get better than this?

What a party! You'd think you were in Munich. It was difficult to believe five hours went by so fast. Das musiek … Das frauleins … Mein pilly willy wink …

Ein Prosit der Gemutlickeit!

Bizarre colours

THE COLOURS worn by national rugby sides in the current northern hemisphere fixtures are becoming increasingly bizarre. Last weekend England took the field against Australia wearing Episcopalian purple.

Are they being sponsored by the Church of England? In that case the terminology might also have changed slightly - drop-outs now from the 22-mitre line, while the sin bin has become the penance pit.

I didn't notice. Maybe the ref was wearing a clerical collar.



Nkandla mortgage?


INVESTMENT analyst Dr James Greener says in his latest grumpy newsletter that there must be some concern in banking circles at the news that President Zuma has a mortgage over his home at Nkandla.

"There must have been a worried call from head office to a bank in Zululand after President JZ claimed that his rather splendid home of many features was financed with a mortgage bond. This, he said, happened after a family decision to rebuild the place after it had twice been burned down.

"The suits in Joburg will be asking the mortgage department at the branch some tricky questions. Like: 'Have you seen and are you holding title deeds? Did you take into account the fact that the mortgagor is in a temporary post which he might possibly even lose in Bloemfontein next month. Further, do you know how many wives and children he has to support on his income before servicing the loan? And does he have adequate fire insurance?'

"The main revelation here is that the Pres has somehow obtained title for his piece of Africa despite the fact that large tracts of government-owned land in these so-called tribal areas are mostly unregistered. Many citizens occupy their homes at the whim of a 'traditional leader' or chief and it has long been a concern that without title those residents cannot use the land they have lived on for generations to raise capital. JZ's mortgage might just be a glimmer of some really good news for the many dispossessed."

Dust devils

NASA'S Curiosity rover has been encountering dust devils on the surface of Mars.

"A dust-devil looks essentially like a tiny tornado that is lifting dust," says Nasa scientist Manuel de la Torre Juarez . "Understanding these phenomena is very important because the Martian climate is driven largely by its dust cycle."

Quite so. But are they sure there hasn't been a navigational error? What they describe sounds very much like the Griquas rugby field in Kimberley.



A PHYSICIAN, an engineer, and an attorney are discussing whose profession is the oldest.

Physician: "On the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and fashioned Eve, making him the first surgeon. Medicine is the oldest profession."

Engineer: "But before that God created heaven and earth from chaos and confusion. He was the first engineer. Engineering is an older profession."

Attorney: "Who do you think created all the chaos and confusion in the first place?"


Last word


Works of art, in my opinion, are the only objects in the material universe to possess internal order, and that is why, though I don't believe that only art matters, I do believe in Art for Art's sake.

EM Forster


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Idler, Tuesday, November 20

Origin of (alien) species

ECUADOR is preparing to massacre more than 180 million rats as it seeks to eradicate them from the Galapagos Islands.

A helicopter will drop 22 tons of poisonous bait on Pinzon Island, an uninhabited isle in the archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and on the nearby Plaza Sur islet.

It is the second stage in an offensive that aims to kill by 2020 all non-native rodents across the 19 islands that helped inspire Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Norway rats and black rats were introduced by whalers and buccaneers when they reached the islands in the 17th century and now feed on the eggs and young of many of the native species, including giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. The rats have also depleted the plants on which many native species feed.

One can see the need to reverse the environmental damage caused by the introduction of alien rats. But is poisoning really the answer? As with whaling and buccaneering, a seemingly harmless intervention can have unpredictable results.

It might be simpler and cheaper just to hire a Pied Piper.

Monkey Man

A JAPANESE has been named by Guinness World Records as the world's fastest man on four limbs. Kenichi Ito, 30 – affectionately known as "Monkey Man" – ran 100m in 17.47 seconds, on all fours.

He has been training for nine years and bases his technique on primates' movements, specifically the African Patas monkey. He hopes eventually to be faster than Usain Bolt.

"One day, I am certain, all sprinters will be running on all fours. That is my dream," he says.

In the shorter term meanwhile here is a man with a future in Durban - chasing and harassing the vervet monkeys.

Great answers


SOME questions and answers from GCSE examinations in Britain, sat by 16-year-olds.


·          Name the four seasons. - Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

·         Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink. - Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

·         How is dew formed? - The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

·         What causes the tides in the oceans? - The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon because there is no water on the moon and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight.

·         What guarantees may a mortgage company insist on? - If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed.

·         What are steroids? - Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs.

·         What happens to your body as you age? - When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

·         What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty? He says goodbye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.

·         What is the fibula? - A small lie.

·         What does "varicose" mean? – Nearby.

·         Give the meaning of the term "Caesarean section". - The Caesarean section is a district in Rome.

·         What is a seizure? - A Roman emperor.

·         What is a terminal illness? - When you are sick at the airport.



Wolf goes down

GRANDMAMA, what big, strong wrists you have! Aishat Maksudova, of Novo Biryuzyak village in the Dagestan region of Russia, was herding cows and sheep when a wolf attacked a calf.

The 56-year-old grandmother rushed at the wolf with an axe to scare it off, but instead of running it turned on her. It bit at her hand and legs until she hit it on the head with the axe, killing it stone dead.

Little Red Riding Hood was not available for comment.

Our man Mac


AS THE MANGAUNG showdown approaches, Ian Gibson, Bard of Hillcrest, pens some lines on the efforts of Mac Maharaj to carry his boss through.


That feisty spin-doctor called Maharaj,

(Remember all those Mercs in his ga-haraj?);

Is protecting old Zuma

From insidious rumour,

And "comrades" bent on stopping his charge.



WHAT happens when you cross a Pekingese with a Lhasa Apso? You get a Peekasso - an abstract dog.

Last word

If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Dorothy Parker

The Idler, Monday, November 19, 2012

Political dead-heat (1)

ROBERT "Bobby" McDonald fought a hard election campaign for a seat on Walton City Council, Kentucky, in the US. When his wife Katie phoned 10 minutes before the polls closed to say she'd dozed off and had not yet managed to get to the polling booths, he told her not to bother – he had it in the bag.

In fact he'd tied with his nearest opponent Olivia Ballou. Now they have to spin a coin to decide the outcome.

So that's what democracy comes down to – the spin of a coin. When you think of the multi-millions spent by Obama and Romney on their presidential contest, a great deal of time. money and effort could have been saved.

This is not to suggest that the US presidency should be decided on the spin of a coin. Pure chance is not a sound ingredient for democracy. But something like arm-wrestling, a game of matches or even a spitting contest would be a lot less trouble and much more fun.

Political dead-heat (2)


THE INCIDENT recalls an election I once covered in the small Free State town of Fauresmith. It was the bad old days when the Nats were being strongly challenged by the breakaway Conservatives.


Fauresmith was a divided community. Nobody discussed politics in the bar because fighting would immediately break out. My prime informant was the hotel proprietor, an old Bloedsap (relic of the Smuts era) who was totally impartial, having no time for the Nats or the CP.


Judging from the bar fights, he said, the contest was on a knife-edge, evenly poised. I filed a report to this effect. But unfortunately my last sentence was lost in transmission – the one where I actually predicted a dead-heat.


Thus was I robbed of the distinction of predicting in print an exact tie in an election, which is what happened in Fauresmith. (Some people accuse me of embroidering this account, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it).


No, I don't think there'll be a dead-heat in Mangaung.


Spooky stuff


LAST Monday at St Clement's saw the launch of Pieter Scholtz's latest book, Tales From The Graveyard (Horus), which consists of ghost stories with a difference.


Set in a cemetery near the small French village of Loupiac, where Pieter has a second home, the tales include a ghostly boxing match and the attempts by the deceased madame of the local bordello to induce in her former clients – also resident in the cemetery – the fleshly lusts that had once made things zing.


Introducing the book, communications specialist Chris Voysey described Pieter as the only person he knows who can get humour into a ghost story. Yes, it's unusual and the readings were a lot of fun.


Tonight sculptor Andries Botha tells us about the work in an earlier era of Mary Stainbank. Cheryl Curry, of the Wilderness Leadership School, will speak about plans to establish a gallery of Mary Stainbank's sculpture at Coedmore Castle, the school's HQ in the Stainbank Nature Reserve.






A COUPLE are having a terrible row. She throws a bottle at him but misses. It sails over the garden wall and there is a resounding crash from next door. They rush round to apologise.


Next door a handsome fellow is reclining in the shade of a tree. "I'm a genie," he says. "I'd been trapped in that bottle for 35 years. Now you've released me, I will grant you three wishes. But then you must grant me one wish. Do you agree?"


They nod.


"What's your first wish, Sir?"


"I'd like a hundred million bucks in my bank account."


"Done! And yours, Ma'am?"


"I'd like a bank vault crammed with jewellery."


"Done! And your final wish, Sir?"


"I'd like to own a big house in every country in the world."


"Done! And now for my wish. I haven't slept with a woman for 35 years. I'd like to sleep with your wife tonight."


This throws them rather. But a deal is a deal. Look at what he's given them. And a genie is not really human anyway. No harm surely.


A steamy night ensues. Next morning the genie says: "What ages are your husband and yourself?"


"He's 38, I'm 32."


"Thirty-eight and 32. And you still believe in genies?"



Last word


The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

Joseph Conrad