Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Idler, Friday, March 29, 2013

Natural history in verse



The elephant is a dainty bird,

It flits from bough to bough.

It makes its nest in a rhubarb tree

And whistles like a cow.

I'D ALWAYS thought this was a bit of childhood nonsense. But now it turns out an elephant bird egg is up for auction at Christie's, in London, and is expected to fetch £30 000 (R420 000).

The egg is about 100 times larger than a chicken egg. The elephant bird was apparently a giant ostrich standing about 3m tall. It was found in Madagascar but was hunted to extinction by the end of the 17th century.

Its nesting habits and musical accomplishments are not recorded, apart from the above childhood jingle, so that's all we have to go on. It's probably correct.

Except that a bit of research unearths another version.

The elephant is a dainty bird,

It flits from twig to twig.

It makes its nest in a rhubarb tree

And whistles like a pig.

Why this discrepancy? Or do cows and pigs whistle at much the same pitch and intensity so it makes no difference? Ogden Nash is the sort of authority who might help.

The cow is of the bovine ilk,

One end is moo, the other milk.

He also notes:

The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham, and bacon.
Let others say his heart is big -
I call it stupid of the pig.

But Nash is silent on the whistling propensities of either species. He does however have something to say about the ostrich, diminutive version of the elephant bird.

The ostrich roams the great Sahara,

Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra,

It has such long and lofty legs

I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs.

So we can presume the elephant bird also sat to lay its eggs. How tantalising it is not to be able to know more.



His and hers


DURBAN is about to get its first drive-through ATM service. After intensive research, the bank concerned has come up with operating instructions. They come in two parts, one for men and the other for women customers.




·        Drive up to cash machine.

·        Put down car window.

·        Insert card into machine and enter PIN.

·        Enter amount of cash required and withdraw.

·        Retrieve card, cash and receipt.

·        Put window up.

·        Drive off.


·        Drive up to cash machine.

·        Reverse and back up required amount to align car window with machine.

·        Set handbrake, put window down.

·        Find handbag, tip contents on to passenger seat to locate card.

·        Tell person on cellphone you will call her back and hang up.

·        Attempt to insert card into machine.

·        Open car door to allow easier access to machine due to excessive distance from car.

·        Insert card.

·        Re-insert card the right way.

·        Dig through handbag to find diary with PIN written on inside back page.

·        Enter PIN.

·        Press cancel and re-enter correct PIN.

·        Enter amount of cash required.

·        Check make-up in rear view mirror.

·        Retrieve cash and receipt.

·        Empty handbag again to locate wallet and place cash inside.

·        Write debit amount in cheque register and place receipt in back of cheque book.

·        Re-check make-up.

·        Drive forward 1m.

·        Reverse back to cash machine.

·        Retrieve card.

·        Re-empty handbag, locate card holder, and place card in slot provided.

·        Give dirty look to irate male driver waiting behind.

·        Restart stalled engine, pull off.

·        Redial person on cellphone.

·        Drive two or three kilometres.

·        Release handbrake.



Traffic hold-up

A MASSIVE elephant seal weighing about half a ton waddled ashore from the Atlantic and took a wriggle down the main street of the Brazilian seaside city of Balneario Camborini.

He stopped the traffic for more than an hour as he explored Avenida Atlantica before returning from whence he came.

This was an elephant seal schooled in road safety. He was careful to use the zebra crossing.




Last word


Humour is just another defence against the universe.

Mel Brooks


The Idler, Thursday, March 28, 2013

The elephant sculptures

THE NORTHERN Cape to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi to Belgium - the story of Durban's elephant sculptures, commissioned by Ethekwini Council then unilaterally cancelled by Ethekwini Council (apparently on the personal whim of a party political boss) is longer and more complicated than many would have guessed.

The project by Durban sculptor Andries Botha was recently put on track again by the High Court.

It began with a commissioning to produce something for an international environmentalist campaign. It moved to a cave in the Northern Cape where, by the light of a hand-held, flickering Bic lighter, Andries observed a very rare San painting of an elephant.

It moved on to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, where Andries made close – and hair-raising –contact with a herd of elephant in the wild.

And from there to La Pane beach, in Belgium – once the personal domain of Leopold II – where he produced a herd of elephant sculptures similar to Durban's abandoned ones The Belgians went wild over them and they have since been shown at various localities.

It's all captured in a film made by Rick Andrew and his wife, Gill, screened this week at St Clement's – the weekly soiree - in which they interview Andries at length. The film gives a fascinating insight to the creative process, how Andries indentified with that unknown San artist; how he built up an empathy with the elephants, how inter-woven with his own existence the whole project became. Insight also to the intuitive, involuntary nature of that creative process.

And then, of course, came the farcical intervention of the party boss and Ethekwini Council. It's remarkable how Andries managed to retain his calm and self-control. This was not just a job of work, it was something that had imbedded in his soul.

The film was made before the High Court ruled in Andries's favour. It it he displays an icy resolveto take the issue to the Constitutional Court if necessary because the council action trampled on every principle of self-expression. Impressive stuff – and for once a happy ending. Durban is allowed to join the rest of the world.

Mussels and chips

MEANWHILE, a slightly discordant note. Andries visited and stayed at La Pane beach during winter and was not terribly impressed. It reminded him of a Russian holiday camp, he said.

This pained Belgian national Jean-Marie Spithaels – a St Clement's stalwart - who insisted La Pane is in fact a delightful place where they serve the best mouelles et frites (musssels and chips) in the world.

In the interests of evenhandedness and objectivity, this is recorded.



THE KIWIS have survived Marmageddon. That's what they call the ordeal since the earthquake that devastated Christchurch in 2011 also halted production at the Marmite factory.

The country limped on for a few months until stockpiles ran out. They could not import from Britain because Kiwi Marmite is distinctively different in taste from British. Kiwis resorted to things like anchovies and caviar on toast for more than two years.

But now Marmite is back  in production with a sales target of 640 tons a year. We'll have to watch the New Zealand teams in the Super Rugby.



POLICE in Michigan, in the US, had a suspicious-looking car under observation. As it parked in Kalamazoo they set the cameras to capture on video any developments.

Suddenly the boot popped open and a deer jumped out and ran off into the woods.

It turned out the driver had knocked down the deer on the road and put it in the boot of the car, thinking it was dead, and was taking it home for venison. But it turned out only to have been stunned.

No crime – but at least some unusual footage.



THE EMERGENCY number 911 gets a call in Memphis, Tennessee.

Caller: "I'm having trouble breathing. I'm all out of breath. Darn ... I think I'm going to pass out."
Despatcher: Sir, where are you calling from?"
Caller: "I'm at a payphone. North and Foster."
Despatcher: "Sir, an ambulance is on the way. Are you an asthmatic?"
Caller: "No."
Dispatcher: "What were you doing before you started having trouble breathing?"
Caller: "Running from the police."


Last word


Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it. - Salvador Dali


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Idler, Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blame Punxsutawney Phil!

THEY'RE taking a pasting from the weather in the northern hemisphere - blizzards, ice, gales and sub-zero temperatures in the early days of spring. In America there are signs of unrest. People are taking it out on a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. (A groundhog is a creature something like our cane rat. It's no more a hog than ours is a rat).

In the state of Pennsylvania, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil goes through an obscure ceremony every year with the townsfolk of a place called Gobbler's Knob, to determine whether spring will come early or late.

If he is unable to see his shadow cast when he emerges from his hole in the ground on February 1, there will be an early spring. This year Punxsutawney Phil cast no shadow, thereby predicting that early spring.

Spring officially arrived in America last Wednesday, with the above-mentioned blizzards, ice, gales and sub-zero temperatures. The disgust of those who rely on Punxsutawney Phil's predictions has spread beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.

A prosecutor in the state of Ohio has now issued summons against him for the felony of misrepresentation with prior purpose and design. He says he might even demand the death penalty.

These are ominous developments. It's not clear how a prosecutor in Ohio can act against a groundhog in Pennsylvania. We trust this is not the prelude to a rerunning of the American Civil War.


Why a Test?


ENGLAND fought a magnificent rearguard action in Auckland to draw the Third Test (and the series) against New Zealand. As they went into that final day, England batting coach Graham Gooch remarked on TV that it would be tough "but that's why we call it a Test."


Is he right about that? I've always understood that the term "Test match" comes from the first-ever match played between an all-England and an all-Australian side, early in the 19th century. The Aussies were students in England and the thing was considered a novelty.


The match was played on the Test ground in Hampshire, so named because the River Test flows past it. When they got around to selecting proper national sides, the expression "Test match" carried through from that early experiment.


Then people also started calling rugby internationals "Tests". In this country it jumped languages as well and we had the rugby "Toets".


That's how I've always understood it. Yet Google has nothing on it. There is a ground in Hampshire where they play Tests, but that's the Rose Bowl at Southampton. The River Test does flow past it in a sense but by that stage it's merged with other rivers, it's gone tidal and it's called Southampton Water.


Have I been deluded all these years? I think not. The term "Test match" is a little odd when you think of it. I can recall as a child wondering why the adults were getting so wound up about these "Test matches". When would they start playing the real matches?


Can anyone out there shed some light?


SA origins


ONE DOESN'T want to be churlish but Matt Prior, who held the fort for England, also has South African origins. He was born in Johannesburg and moved to England with his parents when he was 11.


I suppose you could say his cricket really developed in England. They're getting there, the Poms are, they're getting there.


Car guards?


ROB NICOLAI, Howick's astrophysicist, quantum mechanic and towering intellect, now describes himself also as the Nkandla Automobile Protection Consultant.


He questions what our forces were doing in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the first place.


"Does our commander-in-chief, JZ, think our army has better potential as CARguard forces?"


Sound familiar?


READER Tim Dodson, of Glenashley, quotes from the London Observer: "Although Iraq may now have the appearance of democracy - elections and political parties - it lacks the functional realities. It is beset by corruption, nepotism and an often scant regard for the rule of law."


"Shouldn't we all emigrate there?" he asks. "We'd feel right at home, wouldn't we?"




Paddy and Mick are tickling trout. Mick holds Paddy by the ankles from a bridge.

"Pull me up, Mick, quick!"

"You got a trout?"

"No, dere's a train comin'!"


Last word


The cat could very well be man's best friend but would never stoop to admitting it.

Doug Larson


The Idler, Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fatties to the rescue

AIRLINES should make heavier passengers pay more for their tickets and lighter ones less, it has been suggested by a Norwegian university professor. Dr Bharat P Bhatta, of Sogn og Fjordane University College, suggests a weigh-in before take-off so that fares are charged according to the weight of the individual plus his/her belongings.

Could this be the answer to the financial woes of SAA?

Who are the frequent fliers on SAA? Why, cabinet ministers, MPs and their vast entourages?

Who are the fattest fliers on SAA? Why (to generalise, admittedly), cabinet ministers, MPs and their vast entourages. Their beam-ends tend to be considerably more vast than the average; they squeeze with great difficulty into the seating provided.

Dr Bhatta's proposal seems both fair and reasonable. If I choose to travel with my collection of cannon balls in my hand luggage, I have to pay. If a fellow has been steadily building up blubber reserves in the members' dining room at parliament, why should he not have to pay as well?

Avoirdupois – let that be the new pricing criterion! The bean-counters at SAA must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Not in trim

THE ABOVE generalisation as to political beam-ends is based on personal experience. We were flying to Ndumu in one of those smallish twin-engine jobs. We stopped at Richards Bay to pick up two provincial MPs.

As they waddled toward the plane like a pair of rhino in Saville Row suits, the pilot invited me to join him in the spare seat at the controls "to correct the trim".

Sure enough, the aircraft lurched backward as the two climbed aboard. Being seated beside him, I listened to the pilot as he reported to the control tower by radio as he prepared for take-off: " … 14 on board, 16 if you count the two fat bastards I've just picked up …".



DURBAN people continue to take pride in Nick Compton, the former DHS boy who is now rattling up the runs for England. Reader Valerie Johnson adds her congratulations and recalls taking a photograph of his grandfather, the great Denis, while he was playing for England against South Africa at Kingsmead.


"As a teenager I always accompanied my parents to Kingsmead to watch cricket. What a wonderful venue that was- the grassy banks, the original Castle Corner and the camaraderie .


"All had their picnic baskets and blankets or folding chairs. We normally had tasty home-made Cornish pasties, made by my Gran, and chocolate cake. Dad had his beer - Castle quarts. In those days you were allowed to bring your own.


"All the young girls had a crush on Denis Compton and his team-mate, Bill Edrich. England were fielding and Denis Compton was on the boundary nearest to us. I was quickly down at the picket fence with my Brownie box camera. He was aware of me hovering behind and he would turn and smile then turn back to the action. I just could not click in time.

"Eventually my Dad came to help. Denis turned and smiled: 'Not much of a photographer is she - but she's very pretty.' He said it – not me."


Swoon! Those Comptons have always been great charmers.



OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: "Sex isn't the answer. Sex is the question. Yes is the answer."


Daisy, Daisy

AN ENGLISH girl who stumbled across the fossil of a completely new species of flying dinosaur when she was just five is to have it named after her.

Daisy Morris - now nine - found the fossil at Atherfield beach on the Isle of Wight in 2009 and took it to a local dinosaur expert. It turned out to be a new species of pterosaur, about the size of a crow, from about 115 million years ago. It will be called Vectidraco daisymorrisae.

Vertidraco means "dragon from the Isle of Wight". About the size of a crow? Maybe that's a dragonette.


TWO MUSICIANS are walking down the street.

"Who was the piccolo I saw you with last night?"

"That was no piccolo, that was my fife."

Last word

Never judge a book by its movie.

J W Eagan


The Idler, Monday, March 25, 2013

Keeping anarchy at bay


AN 80-YEAR-OLD pensioner from Waterfall, who calls herself "Hopping Mad", says she was given a R200 traffic ticket when she parked in St Margaret's Road the other day.

"My crime? My licence disc was stuck on the left-hand side of my windscreen (easily readable) about half-way up. According to the police, it should have been positioned on the bottom of the windscreen.

"We have noticed Metro officers waving a friendly greeting to the minibus drivers who drive the wrong way down the one-way street. Nothing is done about that. Where is the justice?"

One sympathises. The instinctive reaction is to advise a confrontation with a senior Metro officer, to be concluded with a bringing down of a venerable umbrella on the cranium of such officer.

But in these turbulent times we have to temper our thoughts and actions. Which is the more desirable? Good relations with the taxi drivers or confrontation and possibly a shoot-out? Hence the friendly waves.

And – good heavens! – what anarchy might not be unleashed if people were allowed to put their licence discs half-way up the windscreen? What Pandora's Box might not be opened? It might lead to such things as police having to drag suspects behind police vans; open fire on strikers.

We need order. It starts with licence discs. You have to see the big picture.




IS THAT dance called the Hokey-Cokey or the Hokey-Pokey? Some uncertainty has arisen since this column's description recently of its being regularly performed in the boardrooms of the SABC and South African Airways.

A bit of research reveals that in Britain it's the Hokey-Cokey. In America, Canada, Ireland and Australia it's the Hokey-Pokey. In New Zealand it's the Hokey-Tokey. And in various other parts of the world it's the Okey-Cokey or the Cokey-Cokey.

That's what it's all about!

Meanwhile, Zoltan de Rosner, of Pennington, sends in a poignant little postscript.

"With all the trauma and sadness going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person which went almost unnoticed recently. Larry La Prise, the man who wrote The Hokey Pokey, died
peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in ... and then the trouble started."

Rugby reward


THE FAITHFUL were rewarded at King's Park at the weekend by a display of purposeful rucking and mauling, running, handling and tackling that made the previous week's miserable showing all the more puzzling. But that's the way the cookie crumbles in rugby. Sometimes the fellows get into the mode of a bird staring at a snake.


Especially pleasing was speed to the point of breakdown and the rucking that followed. The try count was simply phenomenal. When would Keegan Daniel; declare? Not a bit of it, they kept on running the ball, even after the final hooter had sounded, when most winning sides would just boot it into the grandstand.


'Twas tolerable, 'twas tolerable.


Double billing


MEANWHILE, there's nothing so silent as an empty stadium. The curtain-raiser was also a humdinger, where a Sharks XV – understudies of the main side – beat Free State 34-33 in a Vodacom Cup match where the lead kept switching, right into the final minutes. An absolute cliffhanger of a game, great rugby.


Yet the stadium was practically empty. The punters pour in just before the main match. It seems a great pity. The rugby administrators are putting on some good stuff. The curtain-raisers are surely the opportunity to rejuvenate club rugby, boost schools rugby.


But how do you persuade the punters to get in early and provide the atmosphere? That's the hard one.



PEOPLE in Tel Aviv were astonished to see a long, sleek, black limousine with heavily tinted windows being transported through the city on a flatbed lorry. It turned out to be a heavily armoured VIP vehicle shipped into Israel in advance of President Obama's visit, part of a fleet for his party's use.

An embarrassing mechanical breakdown? No, it seems somebody put dieseline in the tank instead of petrol.





He: "How about some slap and tickle?"

She: "Your place or mine?"

He: "Look, forget it if you're going to argue!"



Last word


Never give a party if you will be the most interesting person there.

Mickey Friedman