Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Idler, Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Closure – not by the cops


THE St Clement's spring season of soirees had a rousing closure this week with a display of hysteria by female fans, reminiscent of the pop concerts of yesteryear.


It began quietly enough with the launch of Encounters, by Andrew Verster and Pieter Scholtz, a little book (Horus Publications) that celebrates Durban's Botanical Gardens, which are in their centenary year (though in fact they've been around quite a bit longer if you count their early days as an agricultural research institute).


Encounters features photographs by Pieter, notably of the sinuously grotesque Banyan tree – the "walking fig" – that is found in the gardens; appropriate bits of verse selected by Pieter, some written by himself; and intricate sketches by Andrew of paper flowers.


'Tis most pleasing that one of the photographs is of the "widdling angels" who once stood at the intersection of West Street and Point Road, in fact pouring water from bottles but in a posture that made them look like Durban's version of the famous Mannikin Pis in Brussels.


The angels disappeared from that spot some years ago and are now placed in the Botanical Gardens, just above Currie's Fountain, which is appropriate because they celebrate HW Currie's role in rescuing Durban from a serious water shortage in 1878.


Then there was a talk by Martin Clement, curator of the Botanical Gardens, who got across just what a gem of a green lung the Gardens are for Durban, with their more than 200 species of birds.


And then that finale, in which Pieter selected a passage in Encounters, taken from TS Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes. No he didn't just read it, he sang it.


Under the bamboo

Bamboo bamboo

Under the bamboo tree

Two live as one

One live as two

Under the bam

Under the boo

Under the bamboo tree.


The gals were getting into a frenzy. Then:


Tell me in what part of the wood

Do you want to flirt with me?

Under the breadfruit, banyan, palmleaf

Or under the bamboo tree?


At which point they lost all restraint and the place became a blizzard of flying knickers. It's just as well we're closing until next February. Much more of this and we'd get busted by the fuzz.




ODDLY enough, the St Clement's spirit translated itself also to Kingsmead the other evening It was at a gathering of the Natal Cricket Society, an organisation that is seriously dedicated to the game and usually invites along as guest speakers players, past and current, and others who are able to shed light on cricket's intricacies and mysteries.


This particular evening we had as guest speaker one Spyker Koekemoer (aka Pat Smythe) who is well known at St Clement's for his stories told in the idiom of Herman Charles Bosman.


Members listened in astonishment as Spyker regaled them with a letter to Oom Schalk Lourens describing an early exercise in tenderpreneurship in the Transkei – it was the bantustan days – when the road to Sulenkama, which had just been tarred, was washed away by a summer storm at the official opening, the contractor (until then a tea room proprietor) unfazed because he already had in his pocket a ticket to retirement overseas.


It went down well. "How much did we have to pay this fellow?" a member was heard to ask afterwards.


He didn't get it. Spyker speaks anyway. You only have to pay him to shut up.


Kwambonambi snouts


WHOOPS – a challenge from Kwambonambi! George Hutchison says yesterday's piece headed "Seeded from space", about strange bugs being picked up by a balloon launched 27km into the stratosphere, has the facts all wrong.


"The description of the microbes from space with proboscis and elongated snouts, plus also flabby, is not based on magnified pictures of bugs. These are in fact photographs of the members of the Kwambonambi Club arriving on Thursday nights for Happy Hour."


I stand corrected.





"I can't think of what to do for dinner tonight. Any ideas?"

"You must have heaps of leftovers from that big dinner you threw last night."

"My husband doesn't eat leftovers. Fat glutton – he's never even heard of them."

Last word

Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.

Evan Esar


The Idler, Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Seeded from space

BRITISH scientists have produced photographs, magnified many times over, of tiny bugs they brought back from high in the Earth's atmosphere, on the fringes of outer space. The microbes were collected by a balloon sent up 27km last month during the Perseid meteor shower.

The scientists, from Sheffield University, say these bugs come from outer space. There is no way they could have got there from earth – short of a truly massive volcanic eruption, which there wasn't – and every precaution was taken against the balloon's becoming contaminated in any way as it took off.

This is exciting because it means we might have to rethink current theories of evolution. Discovery of the bugs makes it possible that life on earth was seeded from outer space. The theory has been floated before but this would appear to back it up.

To quote Professor Milton Wainwright, who led the team: "We can only conclude that the biological entities originated from space. Our conclusion then is that life is continually arriving on Earth from space. Life is not restricted to this planet and it almost certainly did not originate here."

"If life does continue to arrive from space then we have to completely change our view of biology and evolution. New textbooks will have to be written."

Wow! Is this for real? Examination of the photographs reveals that the bugs are rather disgusting in appearance. Two of them have a proboscis, or elongated snout. Another you can see at a glance is microscopically flabby.

One's instinctive initial feeling is that these tiny bugs must have been discovered in the comb of one of the denizens of the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties.

But as you stare at them, the penny drops. Elongated snouts. Flabbiness. Eureka! These are proto-politicians in search of the galactic feeding trough!

This is stupendous. Politicians are seeded from space. Theories of evolution, biology and politics can never be the same again.



Terrifying stuff

WING-WALKING – aircrew getting out there to fix whatever has gone wrong – is surely the ultimate in bravery.

A colleague, prompted by last week's account of Catalina pilot Bill Taylor who wing-walked to transfer oil from a defunct engine, has found another of an airman who got the Victoria Cross.

RAF Sergeant Norman Jackson was in a Lancaster on a bombing raid over Germany in 1944. He crawled along the wing with a fire extinguisher, to put out a fire in one of the engines.

His mates had opened his parachute inside the aircraft and they paid out the cords as he made his way along. He put out the flames, but next thing an enemy fighter was firing at him. Then he was gone in the slipstream, his parachute also on fire.

He dropped thousands of feet, falling too fast, but bushes broke his fall and he survived to be taken prisoner. The Lancaster crashed but some of the crew baled and also were taken POW. It was their account of events that had Jackson awarded the VC.

Astonishing, vertigo-inducing stuff.










Questions, not tulips

WHEN it's spring again, I'll bring again … questions from Amsterdam. Jon Eiselin, of the Netherlands, is anxious to find out the history and origins of the tidal pool at Brighton Beach.

He understands it was built during World War II by Italian POWs – but is not entirely sure. He wants to know who commissioned it, who built it, how long it took and anything else relevant.

I'm sure there must be dozens of people on the Bluff who could tell him.

Jon would also like to know about other tidal pools on the South African coast. There are quite a few along the South Coast of KZN and at least three on the North.

The tidal pool at Umdloti is a big, totally natural one. Further north at Chaka's Rock and Salt Rock they have magnificent man-enhanced tidal pools that are often full of green/white phosphorescence at night. When somebody dives in, he/she lights up like an electric bulb. It makes for spectacular skinnydipping.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of information Jon is wanting, but I volunteer it all the same..


Says the broom bride: "I think I'm going to have a whisk."

Broom groom: "That's impossible. We haven't even swept together."

Last word

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

John Kenneth Galbraith


The Idler, Monday, September 30, 2013

Legal eagles in queue


NO NAMES, no packdrill, but I'm told that a certain retired judge only just made it to a Law Society black tie dinner in Umhlanga the other evening, where he was guest speaker.


With him in the car were two other judges and the driver was his son, a practising advocate.


At the hotel entrance they joined what seemed to be a queue of cars to the parking area. But the queue moved painfully slowly. The retired judge began to fret a bit. Would he be late? Most embarrassing.


At last they inched their way to the front of the queue. They were in the drive-through facility of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet adjoining the hotel.


They made it to the dinner in time. Just as well, they'd have had to rejoin the queue for a KFC if they'd lost out.


Chicken Little


"THE SKY IS falling". Investment analyst Dr James Greener uses the well-known line from the story of Chicken Little as a headline, in his latest grumpy newsletter, to a most useful and informative piece on fiscal policy in the United States.

"Once again that strange architectural structure called the debt ceiling has appeared in the corridors of power in the US. Supposedly it sets an upper limit to how much money the government can borrow in order to cover the shortfall between its prodigious spending activity and the less than expected tax receipts.

"Inevitably of course there is scant political will to cut spending or raise taxes and so the debt increases and the ceiling gets closer and requires remodelling.

"This performance of 'raising of the debt ceiling' has taken on a near ritualistic nature. Opposing politicians debate and haggle and blame and skirmish right down to the last moments before they take the inevitable decision to borrow 'just a wee bit more to tide us over 'til pay day'.

"The nation heaves a sigh of relief and nothing changes. The ceiling is way up there out of sight. Until it isn't."

Yes, nursery stories and rhymes have a lot in common with fiscal management.


Do your bit

OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "I got e-mailed an invoice for R250. They said they were doing this to save paper and do their bit to protect the environment. So I scanned two R100 notes and one R50 note in colour to my computer and e-mailed them back. We must all do our bit for the environment. I'm expecting an e-mail of congratulations."


Mutt and Jeff

READER Granny Joan, who likes to keep in touch, has - sad to relate – had to part with her friendly mynahs, Mutt and Jeff, who used to hop regularly into her ground floor flat and feed from the dog bowl of Harley the Maltese poodle.


Joan, aged 80 but still working, has moved to a third-floor flat near Mitchell Park. But she's still in touch with the wildlife.


Hardly had she moved in when the biggest vervet monkey she's ever seen was in her flat, along with a group of smaller friends. He scarpered with a loaf of wholewheat bread she'd just bought, and scattered the crusts all over the garden.


On the whole, she preferred Mutt and Jeff.


Stowaway snakes

SNAKES keep stowing away on Aussie aircraft. A few months ago a three-metre python was spotted curled around the wing of a Qantas flight from Cairns to Papua New Guinea. It was still there after landing but had died.

Now passengers have had to spend all night in a Sydney hotel while aircrew searched for a 20cm, mildly venomous Mandarin rat snake that had been spotted on board another Qantas flight due to leave for Tokyo.

Hmmm. Mandarin rat snake. Would this have anything to do with the recently conducted election in Australia? A bit of constituency work perhaps?


SHE GOT A bit sarky when I kept putting off getting the lawnmower fixed. I came home to find her snipping the front lawn with nail scissors. I went inside and came out with a toothbrush: "When you're through with the lawn, you can brush the path."

The doctors say I will walk again, but never without a pronounced limp.



Last word

Silence propagates itself, and the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find anything to say.

Samuel Johnson


The Idler, Friday, September 27, 2013

Practical philosophy


THERE was this seminar on stress. A young lady confidently walked around the room with a raised glass of water. Everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question: Half empty or half full?


But she foxed them all. "How heavy is this glass of water?" A range of answers came.


She replied: "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes. That's the way it is with stress."


Then weighed in with some practical philosophy:


·        Accept that some days you're the pigeon, some days you're the statue.

·        Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

·        Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

·        Drive carefully ... It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.

·        If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

·        If you lend someone R200 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

·        It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

·        Never buy a car you can't push.

·        Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

·        Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

·        Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

·        The second mouse gets the cheese.

·        When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

·        Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

·        Some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.

·        We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colours, but they all have to live in the same box.

·        A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

·        Have an awesome day and know that someone has thought about you today.

·        Save the earth … it's the only planet with chocolate.*


I like her philosophy.




That gig


WHOOPS, a snafu! The benefit gig for Childline is not tomorrow, as stated in Wednesday's column, but in a month's time on Saturday, October 26, at LIVE, in Stamford Hill Road.


Muchas apologias! Tomorrow did seem like cutting it a little fine. No matter, that gives Durban a month to get its act together to raise funds for Childline, which is in dire straits.


The musos are pooling their talent for free. The city's businesses will no doubt come to the party with prizes for the raffles they hope to intersperse with the music. All we need is for the folk to pitch and have fun.


Come on, Durban – asha mazambana! (As they say in the classics). I will keep you informed.



Mary Methodist


AN ELDERLY Maritzburg lady known as "Mary Methodist" – real name Swanepoel – got the name because she played the organ for 25 years in the Methodist Church in Harrismith, in the Free State.


The other day she and hubby went off to watch rugby at a neighbour's in Hayfields. Next day Mary couldn't find her handbag anywhere. Eventually the penny dropped and she went back to the neighbour's. There the handbag was, where she had placed it beside the gate as they fumbled in the dark to let themselves out.


It was a busy road and nobody had touched the handbag. You get your reward for playing the organ in the Methodist Church for 25 years.



HOW  do you know it's an Irishman at the cockfight?

He enters a duck.

How do you know it's a Pole at the cockfight?

He bets on the duck.

How do you know it's an Italian at the cockfight?

The duck wins.

Last word

Both the cockroach and the bird would get along very well without us, although the cockroach would miss us most.

Joseph Wood Krutch