Friday, January 25, 2013

The Idler, Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Barmaid in a million

AN AMUSING incident happened the other evening at the Street Shelter for the Over-40s. A new barmaid was on duty. Proprietor Bob Humphreys, in relaxed and genial mode, ordered drinks for some of his regulars.

"That will be …" the barmaid named a figure.

"No, just put it on my account."

"Your account? You want to run a tab? You'll have to give me your credit card and car keys."

"But I'm Bob."


"I'm the owner."

"Yeah? And I'm Queen Victoria."

The barman on duty came to Bob's rescue and vouched for him. Maybe it could otherwise have gone further with her calling the security to have him flung out of the place, which would have made it an even better story.

But this is how it turned out. What a gem Bob has hired. A pity he couldn't make it to the interview.


DO MEN AND women think entirely differently? Consider the following:

A wife says to her husband: "While you're at the shops please get me a carton of milk and, if they have avocados, get six."
He comes back with six cartons of milk.
"Why did you buy six cartons of milk?"
"They had avocados."
I don't see what the problem is here, though women apparently see it differently. Let's drop the subject – I don't want to get pelted with avocados by the ladies in the supermarket.

Conspiracy theory


RECENTLY we discussed some unusual collective nouns, among them a "murder" of crows (or ravens or rooks).


Reader Paul Lewis says a book by Scottish food critic and raconteur AA Gill gives the correct collective noun for crows, ravens and rooks as "conspiracy" – though "murder" is also often used.


Murder, conspiracy … It seems the folk who devise these rather fanciful collective nouns don't think much of crows, ravens and rooks. What would they say about Indian mynahs?


Gill has also devised a collective noun for his fellow-countrymen – "a glum of Scots".


Indeed? Has the man no' been tae Glasgow of a Saturday nicht?




Tombstone humour

SOME graveyard humour comes in from that repository of jollity, the Hluhluwe Club. Tombstone inscriptions from various parts of the world:

·        Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York: Born 1903 - Died 1942. Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.

·        In a Thurmont, Maryland, cemetery:

Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.

·        On the grave of Ezekiel Aikle in East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia, Canada:

Here lies Ezekiel Aikle, Age 102. Only the good die young.

·        In a London cemetery:

Here lies Ann Mann, who lived an old maid but died an old Mann. Dec. 8, 1767

·        In Ribbesford, England:

Anna Wallace

The children of Israel wanted bread,

And the Lord sent them manna.

Clark Wallace wanted a wife,

And the Devil sent him Anna.

·        In Uniontown, Pennsylvania:

Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake,

Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

·        In Silver City, Nevada:

Here lays The Kid,

We planted him raw.

He was quick on the trigger,

But slow on the draw.

·        A lawyer's epitaph in England :

Sir John Strange. Here lies an honest lawyer, and that is Strange.

·        John Penny's epitaph in Wimborne, England:

Reader, if cash thou art in want of any,

Dig six feet deep and thou wilt find a Penny.

·        In Hartscombe, England:

On the 22nd of June, Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.


·        Anna Hopewell's epitaph in Enosburg Falls, Vermont:

Here lies the body of our Anna,

Done to death by a banana.

It wasn't the fruit that laid her low,

But the skin of the thing that made her go.

·        In Nantucket, Massachusetts:

Under the sod and under the trees,

Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.

He is not here, there's only the pod,

Pease shelled out and went to God.




Last word

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.

Mark Twain


The Idler, Monday, January 28, 2013

Windmills, windmills

IT'S A TIME to tilt at windmills. Some years ago reader Buck Rogers campaigned against use of the supposedly gender-sensitive word "chairperson" instead of "chairman" (Chairperson still has in it the gender-insensitive word "son", he maintains).

Now he's tilting at the windmill of "kilometres" – the pronunciation. TV newsreaders and weathermen pronounce it "kill-lometre", he says, while it should be kilo-metre, the same as kilo-gramme, which is usually correctly pronounced.

Happy tilting, and I wish Buck well. I myself avoid such confusion by using the word "miles" wherever I can. But then I came under the baleful influence of John Vigor, one of my predecessors as Idler (now living in America), who used to drive the metrication police in Pretoria distracted with his insistence on describing the kilometre as a "metric mile". Po-faced delegations of officials would regularly arrive at the office trying to persuade him to mend his irresponsible ways. It was most entertaining.

Metrication will surely one of these days run its course. People will come to their senses and we'll revert to pounds, shillings and pence, feet and inches and ounces and pounds – as nature intended. Or is this another windmill? No, I'll wager a guinea on it.

Metric tot

WHICH recalls the incident in a Free State bar at the time metrication was introduced. The omie ordered his usual brandewyn and was scandalised at the tiny measure which was poured into his glass.

"Oom, it's the new metric tot."

"Metric tot? I tell you, this tot didn't get JC!"



Saga rolls on


THE HORSEMEAT in the beefburgers saga rolls on in Britain:


What do you call a burnt Tesco burger? Black Beauty.


Another flurry

THE FLURRY of concern in Britain over Prince Harry's frontline service in a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan recalls a similar flurry during World War II.

On the eve of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Churchill informed King George VI that he intended observing them from the cruiser HMS Belfast, which would be bombarding German positions on the French coast.

The King said good idea, he was going along too. At which Churchill said the King could not be exposed to danger. He forbade it as prime minister. At which the King forbade Churchill going.

This was what they call a contretemps. The King was head of state. He was also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But did he have the constitutional right to overrule the prime minister? Who was really boss? (Eisenhower, the American commander-in-chief of the D-day invasion, was meanwhile appalled at the idea of either of them going).

In the end the conflict was resolved by Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who flatly refused to allow either the King or Churchill to board the Belfast. (Which was frightful cheek when you consider that they were both of them his bosses).

Churchill eventually got to visit the Normandy bridgehead a few days later, crossing the Channel in a destroyer and landing at Arromanches in an amphibious vehicle to meet up with General Montgomery.

Who accompanied him? None other than the South African Prime Minister, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, who was also a member of the British war cabinet. They were mobbed and cheered by the troops.

Another era, a snippet of history.


Free beer


THE University of KwaZulu-Natal rugby club is appealing to all former players to turn out in Maritzburg this evening for free beer and to support the varsity side in their first match of the season, against Fort Hare.


The students are still on vacation but the club want to attract a decent crowd. The match is at Pete Booysen Park at 4.30 pm. The free beer starts at 4 pm.


Varsity rugby players? Free beer? This has all the ingredients of mass disorder.



BIOLOGY students were asked in a test to name seven advantages of Mother's Milk.

One wrote: "It is perfect formula for the child; it provides immunity against several diseases; it is always the right temperature; it is inexpensive; it bonds the child to mother, and vice versa; it is always available as needed."

That was six. He couldn't think of a seventh advantage. Then he wrote: "It comes in two attractive containers and it's high enough off the ground so the cat can't get it."

He scored an A.


Last word

Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.

Joseph Conrad


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Idler, Friday, January 25, 2013

Snowballs at White Hart Lane

HOW REFRESHING it was the other night to sit in the heat of late summer Durban and watch Tottenham Hotspurs play Manchester United in a full-on blizzard.

The pitch at White Hart Lane obviously must have underground heating, because the snow did not settle on the playing surface, but the players were staggering about in the blizzard like 22 Abominable Snowmen.

And the fans got into the spirit of things, making snowballs and throwing them on the pitch.

Whee – such fun!

Noticeable though was that at the hostelry where I watched there were four TV screens available. All were showing Spurs-United, not one was tuned to Afcon. The kitchen staff were entranced by the game and in ecstasy when Spurs equalised. There's no doubting where their interests and sympathies lie.

It would seem our soccer administrators have truly lost the plot.


More snowballs

WE were on the bridge at midnight,

Throwing snowballs at the moon …

IT WOULD be unseemly to continue with this well-known rugby song, but it does capture the deep atavistic impulse that makes us throw snowballs whenever the opportunity presents itself. A snowball is a wonderful projectile. You squash it to the right weight and shape. You give it finger grips. And you can throw it a remarkable distance with remarkable accuracy.

My first snowball was in the town square in Matatiele, down in East Griqualand, where we were knee-deep in the stuff and the scene was like a Christmas card except the snow-covered trees were palms, not firs. Some kids had built a traditional snowman with eyes made from lumps of coal. Splat! My first snowball sailed across the road and hit the snowman in the eye. I was hooked.

Whee – such fun!

Drunken horse

SNOW is, of course, a serious matter in a farming community. The local farmers were out seeing to their livestock, many on tractors. And they congregated in the town to discuss this serious issue. So serious was it that the pubs stayed open all night.

It was that very evening when a certain local farmer made legal and insurance industry history. Driving home after much discussion, he took his bakkie into the railings of the bridge over the town stream.

When the police arrived to sort things out, he insisted they take down a statement: "A drunk horse fell out of a willow tree onto me."

Whee – such fun!


On target

AMERICAN comedian Bill Cosby gets to the heart of the Lance Armstrong soapie: "I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught."


More horseburgers

THE ROW IN Britain over the discovery of horsemeat in supermarket burgers is prompting as much hilarity as dismay.

"What do you want on your burger?"

"A fiver each way."


Now chickenburgers

MEANWHILE, reader Brian Kennedy tells of the fellow in rural Ireland who was making and selling chickenburgers.

He mixed horsemeat with the chicken, but eventually his conscience got the better and he went to confession.

Priest: "How much horsemeat were you mixing with the chicken?"

Burger man: "Oh 50-50, Father. One chicken, one horse."



CRISIS? Send in the clowns! Clowns Without Borders (a comic equivalent of Medicins San Frontieres) is holding a Comic Jamboree at the Corner Café in Glenwood at 5.30 this evening.

This follows auditioning and training in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. CWB believes it has now put together a really funny show.

CWB specialises in sending volunteer entertainers into communities that have been stressed by HIV/Aids, poverty or violence, to give them boosts in morale. Sponsored by the National Arts Council and the private sector, it has so far reached an estimated 250 000 children at about 500 performances.

The Corner Café is at the intersection of Brand and Cromwell Roads. Minimum entrance is R50.





A BLONDE, a brunette and a redhead were in a breaststroke race across the English Channel. The brunette came in first, followed by the redhead. The blonde came in a very distant third.

"I don't want to sound unsporting," she said. "But those other two girls were using their arms."

Last word

A sense of humour is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.

Dwight D Eisenhower

The Idler, Wednesday, January 23, 2013

We've still got jazz


ANGLO-AMERICAN are closing down the mine shafts. Eskom are taking us back to the era of candles and hurricane lanterns. Who knows what mischief Pravin Gordhan might have in store for us in the Budget next month?


But down at the Merseyside, in Umbilo, they're Beginning To See The Light. Watching and listening to the five-man jazz ensemble in their first outing of 2013, led by trumpeter/trombonist Barry Varty, one appreciated the deeper role of music. It rises above such difficulties. It took us through the Great Depression, a world war and subsequent ructions. It will no doubt see us through what is going on now in so many confusing ways, whether on Wall Street or in Nkandla..


Chatanooga Choo-Choo, Blueberry Hill and all the other old numbers. The rain lashed at the windowpanes from time to time, but who really noticed? The punters were watching the aplomb with which Barry finishes a trumpet solo, puts the trumpet into his music case, takes out a bottle of beer, takes a swig, then takes up the trombone for the next solo. Wonderful, rousing stuff! What stamina! What a start to 2013!


The Rockies may crumble,

Gibraltar may tumble,

They're only made of clay.

But our love is here to stay …


Likewise our jazz!


Eskimo Nell


SO ENTHUSED were the folk at the Merseyside that, when the jazz was over, one punter began reciting Eskimo Nell, the famous ballad concerning Dead Eye Dick and Mexican Pete on a jaunt to the Rio Grande.


But it was a long time since his army days and his memory began to fade round about verse 38. Most instructive, nevertheless.




I RAN INTO a Kiwi friend the other day – in some trepidation because I thought he might have taken umbrage at the suggestion that they're developing a new dance in New Zealand – known as the Humble Haka – to commemorate their rugby Test defeat by England and their cricket Test defeats by South Africa.


But he tells me it's absolutely true. It's based on the slow waltz, though much more sedate. Richie McCaw is the dance master.


Heh, heh!

Zululand pensees

SOME ruminations on the ageing process come from the Hluhluwe Club:

I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it; my wild oats have turned into prunes and all-bran; I finally got my head together and now my body is falling apart; funny, I don't remember being absent-minded; funny, I don't remember being absent-minded; if all is not lost, where is it?

It's easier to get older than it is to get wiser; some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant; I wish the buck stopped here - I sure could use a few.

It's hard to make a comeback when you haven't been anywhere; the only time the world beats a path to your door is when you're in the bathroom; if God wanted me to touch my toes, He'd have put them on my knees.

When I'm finally holding all the cards, why does everyone want to play chess? Its not hard to meet expenses ... they're everywhere.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter. I go somewhere to get something and then wonder what I'm hereafter.


Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.

It's odd, all this stuff. Last time I was at the Hluhluwe Club it was all strobe lights, disco and pumping music. Or was that the Kwambonambi Club?  I forget now.


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: " If walking is good for your health, the postman would be immortal; a whale swims all day, eats only fish, drinks water and is fat; a rabbit runs and hops and  lives only 15 years. A tortoise doesn't run and does nothing yet it lives for 450 years. And you tell me to exercise? I don't think so."


A GOLFER slices into a deep, wooded ravine. Searching for his ball, he spots something shiny. It's a seven-iron, still gripped by a skeleton.

He calls to his partner: "Hey, Joe – throw me my eight-iron. You can't get out of here with a seven."

Last word

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. - Henry David Thoreau

The Idler, Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Headlines as an art form


NEWSPAPER headlines become an art form when double entendre creeps in. Sometimes it's deliberate and fiendishly clever. More often it's unintentional and naïve. But hilarious nevertheless.


Irish colleen Carmel McNair, originally from Dublin and now at Mount Edgecombe, sends in some classics from around the world, originally collected in one of the Dublin papers:


·        "Actor sent to jail for not finishing sentence" – El Paso Times.

·        "Artificial limb centre has new head" – Indian Express.

·        "Smith breaks leg in third leg" – The Guardian.

·        "Cannabis smuggling by troops: investigation by joint chiefs" – Morning Star.

·        "Equity blacks Othello" – Daily Telegraph.

·        "Bus on fire – passengers alight" – West Wales Guardian.

·        "Nudists may get coastal strip" – Sussex News.

·        "Body in garden was a plant" – Morning Post.

·        "Ex-boxer battered outside chipshop" – Cheltenham Echo.

·        "Unprecedented event: undergraduates scratch balls" – Oxford Mail.

·        "Police found safe under blanket" – Gloucester Echo.

·        "Condom faults may lead to dating policy" – Bridgwater Courier.

·        "999 men deliver baby" – Kentish Express.

·        "New windows – dramatic breakthrough" – Bromley Advertiser.

·        "Rare Swansea pottery to go under hammer" – South Wales Evening Post.

·        "Man shot dead by police station" - Evening Standard.

·        Yorkshire man takes Supreme Pig title" – Harrogate Advertiser.

·        "Woman is sheep dog champion" – Guardian.

·        "Dead cats protest" – Daily Telegraph.

·        "British bird men held by Turkey" – Daily Telegraph.

·        "Rest of year may not follow January" – Wall Street Journal.

·        "New York ban on boxing after death" – New York Times.

·        "Mark scratches after 'mystery' rash" – The Times.

·        "Several Vikings hit with intestinal infection: more colour photos, page 14c" – Minneapolis Star.


Then there is also the absolutely clear and direct headline with not a trace of double meaning, that nevertheless is also an art form. My favourite of this genre was in large capital letters spread across two pages of the erstwhile News of the World: "NUDIST CAMP MANAGER FINDS MODEL WIFE NAKED IN BED WITH CHINESE HYPNOTIST FROM CO-OP BACON FACTORY".


You want the facts? We've got 'em! You can't fault that.


More horseburgers

BARBARA Martin, of Durban North, sends in more on the horsemeat in the hamburgers saga in Britain:

·        Some people don't like the Tesco horsemeat burgers and some do. It's equestrian of taste really.

·        Tesco has clearly taken the phrase "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" a little too seriously.

·        Two Tesco burgers please. Hold the dressage!

·        I checked the sell-by date of my Tesco burgers ... AND THEY'RE OFF!

·        Until late last night the supermarket shelves were stacked high with burgers - about 13 hands high.

·        I had some burgers before I went for a four-mile run last night. I did it in six minutes and jumped 19 fences.

·        I tried a Tesco "beef" burger and thought the going was a bit soft – it's been nagging me ever since.


Robber dog

A BUSINESSMAN in Bihar state, India, has lodged a criminal complaint after he was robbed of 400 000 rupees (about R60 000). Accused is a stray dog – name unknown, breed indeterminate.

It happened at a place called Gopalganj, where the businessman says he had the money in a bag on his bed. He stepped outside to wash at a water pump, at which the dog ran in, snatched the bag from the bed and ran off with it.

About 140 000 rupees were found in a street near the house but the rest is still missing.

The police say you can't lay a charge against a dog – let alone an unknown one. But the complainant insists otherwise.


Perhaps it would help if there were a human accomplice. It does seem suspicious. Was that dog a trained retriever?


What time of day did it happen? As Noel Coward tells us: Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun … There's a lead for the Bihar CID.



Tennis ball


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "I went to my friend's funeral today. He was killed by a tennis ball. It was an amazing service."


GRANDMA started walking 10km a day when she was 60. She's 97 now and we don't know where the heck she is.


Last word

Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are. - Bertolt Brecht