Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Idler, Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Slapping the Swedes

THESE Australian crocodiles are getting very uppity. One slapped a Swedish tourist in the face the other day.

Felix Andersson and Ulrik Bergsland were swimming in a river in a national park in the Northern Territory when the croc leaped off a rock on the riverbank and whacked Felix across the face with its tail.

I'm not really surprised. Swedish tourists can be very tiresome. A tour guide of my acquaintance tells me he often feels like slapping them.

He says he once had been pleading with a Swedish woman not to keep wandering off the footpath while on a tour in Mpumalanga, when she wandered off again and was bitten by a puff adder. He had to drop everything and rush her to hospital.

She survived, he says, but the puff adder didn't. His prejudices against Swedish tourists might well have embellished this account, but there you are.




DADDY wouldn't buy me a bow-wow … with President JZ waxing lyrical on the incompatibility of dogs, walkies and visits to the vet with African culture, Ann Waterson, of Amanzimtoti, is reminded of the man who wanted to take his dog with him for a stay in a small hotel.


He wrote: "I would like very much to bring my dog with me. He is well groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night?"


The hotel owner replied:" I have been operating this hotel for many years. In all this time I have never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware or pictures off the walls. I have never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for drunk and disorderliness, and I've never had a dog run out on a hotel bill. Yes indeed, your dog is welcome at my hotel and if your dog will vouch for you, you are welcome to stay too."


Suh! Suh!


Dogs and men


MEANWHILE, a formulation comes this way that is totally at variance with the views of JZ. Dogs and men are actually the same because:

·         Both take up too much space on the bed.

·         Both have irrational fears about vacuum cleaning.

·         Both mark their territory.

·         Neither tells you what's bothering them.

·         Neither does any dishes.

·         Neither of them notice when you get your hair cut.

·         Both like dominance games.

·         Both are suspicious of the postman.

·         Neither understands what you see in cats.

In fact, the lass who drew this up says, in some respects dogs are superior to men.

·         They don't have problems expressing affection in public.

·         They miss you when you're gone.

·         They feel guilty when they've done something wrong.

·         They admit when they're jealous.

·         They're very direct about wanting to go out.

·         They don't play games with you, except fetch (and then they never laugh at how you throw).

·         You can train a dog.

·         Dogs are easy to buy for.

·         Dogs understand what "no" means.

·         Dogs mean it when they kiss you.

Do you think she's getting at us, fellas?




The matter zests


SOME New Year wordplay by Gray Braatvedt: "They say that you can't put the flavour back in the rind of a lemon. I tried. I just couldn't rezest it."



Viewing fixation

THREE sharks died and 16 people were injured by glass when an aquarium in a Shanghai shopping centre suddenly shattered, engulfing spectators in a wave of water that contained the sharks. Dozens of turtles and small fish also died.

Yes, this fixation with 3-D viewing has gone far enough.



Strange nunus

THEY'VE been discovering all kinds of strange nunus in the Greater Mekong region of Vietnam. These include:

·         A devilish bat that they have called Beelzebub's Tube-Nosed Bat.

·         A frog that sings like a bird.

·         A ruby-eyed pit viper.

·         A walking catfish.

The Greater Mekong - just the place for a holiday, Gladys!



BLONDE on the riverbank: "Hallo-o-o-o! How do I get to the other side?"


Second blonde on opposite bank: "You're already there!"


Last word

What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.

Thomas Carlyle




Friday, December 28, 2012

The Idler, Monday, December 31, 2012

Ring in the new


Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o'a grace

As lang's my arm …

IT'S HOGMANAY! Tonight they'll be celebrating all the way across the world as 2013 is rung in with vodka/saki/champagne/Guinness/scotch – depending where you are – and fireworks will light up the sky. The celebrations will march across the globe with the time zones.

In Beijing there'll be lasers as well as fireworks. Pyongyang (North Korea) looks to be a bit of a bummer with no celebrations apparently planned – give that one a miss. But in Moscow, Vladivostok and St Petersburg the revellers will be out in spite of sub-zero temperatures. Trafalgar Square, in London, will be jam-packed, proceedings dominated by the giant Christmas tree presented every year by the King of Norway. In Times Square, New York, the crowds will be chanting the count-down to midnight in the oddly named Balldrop ceremony.

In Edinburgh they'll be first-footin' – visiting neighbours as soon as possible after the stroke of midnight, each carrying a bottle of the good stuff. In Glasgow they'll be fightin'. In a place called Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, they'll be marching up the high street swinging fireballs of sticks, rags and things, wrapped in wire netting, before throwing them in the harbour. (And oddly enough, that's very much what we will be doing tonight in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s. Cultural traditions leap the oceans.)

All over KwaZulu-Natal, rave-ups are planned – some in the Berg, some on the beach, some in the local hostelries. At time of going to press Nkandla had not yet issued its programme of celebrations, but you can be sure they'll have a giant stomp-up – 2012 was a very good year for Nkandla and 2013 will be even better. Who will be the tall, dark stranger who – in the Scots tradition of first-footin' - is especially welcome across the threshold on the stroke of midnight as a bringer of good luck? JZ doesn't quite cut it but Pallo Jordan is a shoo-in for the role.

Yes, Hogmanay. In many parts of the world there's a distinctly Scottish flavour to the New Year celebrations, partly from uisquebach – "the water of life" –which fuels the jollifications, partly from the poetry of Robbie Burns, whose Address To The Haggis (quoted above) and Auld Lang Syne have become a central part of things. So have the bagpipes.

Why do we celebrate? The world economy is still in deep dwang. Parts of the world like the Middle East and the Korean peninsula are on a hare trigger. Syria is a tragic mess. Are we celebrating or wishing for better times, hoping for renewal? And why this particular night of the year?


As the American writer Hamilton Wright Mabie noted a long time ago: "New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted."

Yet, as he also notes: "No man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights."

Quite so. Retrospection, resolution, hope, a fresh start. Good intentions. Enduring friendship. Love.

As the immortal Robbie Burns put it:

So here's my hand, my trusty frier
And gie's the hand o' thine
We'll drink a right guid wulliewaught
For the sake of auld lang syne.

Have fun, stay safe – dinna drive after the guid wulliewaught. And I wish all readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

Wine tip

A NEW Year's Eve tip on getting the best out of good wine.

Open the bottle to allow it to breath. Watch carefully. If there's no sign of breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth.

Keeping it close

OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "Yes, or course I've got a New Year's resolution. But I keep it to myself. I don't want her to be forewarned."


A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.

Last word

The proper behaviour all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to. ~PJ O'Rourke


The Idler, Friday, December 28, 2012

Man of the year

IT'S A TIME of retrospectives. Who made good in 2012, who clunked? It comes as a slight surprise to learn from America that unsuccessful presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been named Man of the Year.

Then, when you look a bit closer, it's "Man of the Year, 1912". The award is by satirist Andy Borowitz, who says: "Even though his quest for the presidency was unsuccessful, Mr. Romney's ideas about foreign policy, taxation, wealth inequality, and women's rights typified the year 1912 as no one else has."

He says Romney beat such other candidates as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic.

"It was very close between Romney and the Titanic guy, but we gave it to Romney because it took him slightly longer to sink."

Mr Romney was not available for comment, Borowitz says, as he was on a world tour, visiting his money.

Things might look shaky about the world, but at least we've got satire.


IT WAS SLIGHTLY unnerving to observe, the other day, a car guard with a rifle slung across his back. It was almost certainly an imitation, a toy.


But was it to deter the baddies or perhaps an inducement to bigger and better tips? Truly, it's a jungle out there.


Q & A


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "Alcohol is not the answer. But it does make you forget the question."




READER Peter Krumm, who supplied the recent poem, Brush Up Your English – a classic of the intricacies and illogicalities of the language – says it recalls for him the agony he had to endure when, at school in Germany, he encountered English for the first time.


He finds the Tailpiece of that same issue on why cricket is not played in Germany – "Becuz vhen zey put on ze helmet zey vant to march" – intriguing but thinks it's probably not the whole story.


"There is no rugby played in Germany either although our neighbours, the French, do play it with remarkable success."


Peter also notes that there is very little crime in Germany. He says it's because it is against the law.


Jawohl! Most Teutonic.


Little humans


MARY Ann Grafetsberger, doughty defender of the rights and interests of suburban monkeys – she describes them as "little humans dressed in fur" – is in fact better known as the Cat Lady.


She tells me she has been involved for about 12 years in caring for colonies of feral cats at the city councillors' car park, Medwood Gardens (two colonies) and the old Addington Children's Hospital.


She feeds more than 40 cats a day and sees to their getting sterilised. She also monitors them daily for illness and injury.


I've heard of a dog and pony show – here we have a cat and monkey show. There must be great possibilities here.


Generation Y

PEOPLE born before 1946 are known as The Greatest Generation. Those born between 1946 and 1964 are the Baby Boomers. Those between 1965 and 1979 are Generation X.  And those between 1980 and 2010 are Generation Y.

Y should I get a job? Y should I leave home and find my own place? Y should I get a car when I can borrow yours? Y should I clean my room? Y should I wash and iron my own clothes? Y should I buy any food?


ROB NICOLAI, Howick's resident astrophysicist/quantum mechanic and towering intellelect turns his skills to political analysis.

He says it's absolutely untrue that Kgalema Motlanthe was treated with disrespect at Mangaung. He stayed for breakfast and his taxi ride home was paid the next day.

Whatever is he on about?



More Mangaung


IAN GIBSON, poet laureate of Hillcrest, takes a fairly optimistic line on events at Mangaung.


Is it true that half the nation's in tears,

Because Zuma's got another five years?

But now Cyril's in favour,

Giving government some flavour,

Perhaps he can allay some of our fears.



A WOMAN wins big at the casino. Really big. She phones her husband.

"Honey, pack your bags! I just won over five million bucks at the casino!"

"That's wonderful. What should I pack for ... Europe, the Carribean?"

"I don't care. Just be gone when I get home!"


Last word

Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.

George Burns

The Idler, Thursday, December 27

Debt of gratitude

LOOKING further at some of the top entries in the Bulwer-Lytton Contest for the most prolix, cliché-ridden and absurd opening sentence to a bad novel, one comes to realise what a debt of gratitude the literary world owes the English Department of San Jose State University, California.

Some of it is so bloodcurdlingly awful, it lifts into a class all its own, rather like the clunking poetry of William McGonagall, the Victorian aspirant poet laureate who was so bad his work now has its own website.

Some more examples from Bulwer-Lytton (also known as the Dark and Stormy Night Awards, after the opening sentence of a 19th century novel by Bulwer-Lytton).

·         The shallow cave behind the mighty river's thundering waterfall seemed more like a damp, cold, misty, poorly lit hallway leading from the shower room in some cheap-dive gym under the Elevated train where mugs who couldn't crack the glass jaw of some washed-up palooka on their best sober day still deluded themselves that they could be somebody; and yet, Bill thought, "at least it's got runnin' water."

·         Inspector Murphy stood up when he saw me, then looked down at the lifeless body, crumpled like a forlorn Snicker's candy wrapper, and after a knowing glance at Detective Wilson pointed to the darkening crimson pool spreading from the stiff's shattered noggin, and said, "You settle it, Gibson; does that puddle look more like a duck or a cow?"

  • The blood seeped out of the body like bad peach juice from a peach that had been left on one side so long the bottom became rotten while it still looked fine on the top but had started to attract fruit flies, and this had the same effect, but with regular flies, that is not say there weren't some fruit flies around because, after all, this was Miami.
  • The smooth hand I was caressing felt as if it belonged to a Persian monk that had been rubbing moisturising body oils on his fellow monks all day (but not in a gay way, come on, he's a monk for God's sake), when in all actuality the hand belonged to a body that I had just pulled out of the Potomac for forensic investigation.
  • Primum non nocere, from the Latin for "first, do no harm," one of the principal tenets of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians, was far from David's mind (as he strode, sling in hand, to face Goliath) in part because Hippocrates was born about 100 years after David, in part because David wasn't even a physician, but mainly because David wanted to kill the sucker.
  • The drugged parrots pelted the village like a hellish rain of feathered fanny packs stuffed with claws and porridge, rendering Claudia's makeshift rabbit-skin umbrella more symbolic than anything else.

·         They still talk about that fateful afternoon in Abilene, when Dancing Dan DuPre moonwalked through the doors of Fat Suzy's saloon, made a passable reverse-turn, pirouetted twice followed by a double box-step, somersaulted onto the bar, drew his twin silver-plated Colt-45s and put twelve bullets through the eyes of the McLuskey sextuplets, on account of them varmints burning down his ranch and lynching his prize steer.

There it all is – exquisitely horrible.


AND HERE'S an example of the work of the above-mentioned William McGonagall, the Scottish bard who spent his time trying without success to soft-soap Queen Victoria into appointing him poet laureate.

Beautiful silvery Tay,
With your landscapes, so lovely and gay,
Along each side of your waters, to Perth all the way;
No other river in the world has got scenery more fine,
Only I am told the beautiful Rhine,
Near to Wormit Bay, it seems very fine,
Where the Railway Bridge is towering above its waters sublime,
And the beautiful ship Mars,
With her Juvenile Tars,
Both lively and gay,
Does carelessly lie

By night and by day,
In the beautiful Bay
Of the silvery Tay.

McGonagall today has a vast following on the internet. Let those Dark And Stormy Night authors not be discouraged.




HOW MANY surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to hold the giraffe and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly coloured machine tools.




Last word


The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it. - PB Medawar


The Idler, Monday, December 24, 2012

Of course there's a Santa

CHRISTMAS works its special magic. Does Santa, or does he not, come down the chimney tonight to leave presents for the kids?

The question was answered with great precision and clarity as long ago as 1897 when a little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun.


"Dear Editor,

"I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says: 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"

The New York Sun's response:

"Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence ...

"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies ... Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see ...

"Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10 000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

Great stuff! Presumably written after the New York Sun Christmas party. Nothing like a wetstone (as we in the newspaper trade call the Christmas party) to unleash the creative juices.


Christmas writings

DICKENS has more or less cornered the market in writing about Christmas, what with his jolly bustle and good food and drink in the cheery firelight – not to mention the rescue of Scrooge from misanthropy.

But how about Hemingway: "Paris with the snow falling. Paris with the big charcoal braziers outside the cafes, glowing red. At the cafe tables, men huddled, their coat collars turned up, while they finger glasses of grog Americain … It is wonderful in Paris to stand on a bridge across the Seine looking up through the softly curtaining snow … It is very beautiful in Paris and very lonely at Christmas time."

Yep, he's got it.

And then O Henry with The Gift Of The Magi, his story of the down and out young couple in a New York tenement. He sells his prized pocket watch to buy tortoiseshell combs for her lovely long hair. She's had her cut off and sold, to buy him a watch chain.

"The Magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones … And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi."

Yep, O Henry has also got it. May I wish a happy and blessed Christmas to one and all.


KNOCK, knock!

Who's there?


Hannah who?

Hannah partridge in a pear tree …

Last word

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that? - Bob Hope