Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Idler, Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Legbreaks in the bar

IT'S ASTONISHING where you can learn new facts. I was at the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties the other evening, toying idly with a glass, when the barmaid showed me something extraordinary – a ball made entirely of tightly wrapped elastic bands.

It started with one elastic band rolled into a ball. Others were added, tightly wrapped round and round, making the ball gradually bigger. Today it's grown to the size of a cricket ball and the elastic bands are now pretty well stretched to fit on.

The elastic bands are from the label on the bottle of a popular brand of red wine that has been selling briskly in the cold weather. The bar staff have been building up the ball for the past few weeks.

It now looks like the inside of a golf ball if you cut it open – strands of rubber stretched to a point where they simply want to explode. Except, of course, that this is on a different scale, the size of a cricket ball. It bounces beautifully.

As a former legbreak bowler of note, this was not to be resisted. I put down a couple of deliveries – right there in the Street Shelter – which turned so beautifully, Shane Warne himself would have been green with envy. The habitu├ęs applauded.

If this cold weather continues, that cricket ball will be the size of a football in no time. When I mentioned this, the barmaid told me a curious story. Somewhere overseas, she said, they kept adding elastic bands until the ball had a diameter the height of a man.

They were curious to know how it would bounce if dropped from a height, so they chartered an aeroplane to test it. Several thousand feet up, they opened the aircraft door and rolled out the giant elastic band ball.

"And d'you know what happened?"

"It bounced back and hit the aeroplane?"

"No, it just exploded and left a huge hole in the ground."

And that, children, is how the Grand Canyon formed.

Taxi briefings

AS ANY SEASONED foreign correspondent knows, the briefing you get from the taxi driver who picks you up at the airport is often the most valuable one of the assignment. He will express the vox populi – what people really think is going on. He will tell you who is on the make, who is a shyster and who is not. He will tell you the scandal, sexual and otherwise. The taxi driver is loquacious as any barber. And usually very well informed.

But in Norway the prime minister seems to have bucked the system. Prime Minister Jeus Stoltenberg recently put on a taxi driver's uniform and took a cab out on the streets for a day, just to find out what people of thinking and saying.

As he puts it: "It's important for me to hear what people really think. If there's one place where people say what they think, it's in the taxi."

We're not told what kind of information he collected as elections loom next month - in which he faces an uphill battle - though a hidden camera and recorder picked up: "From this angle he looks like the prime minister."

But if Mr Stoltenberg really wants to know what's likely to happen in September, he needs to reverse roles. He needs to put on a false beard and ride around in taxis, asking the professional drivers what they think of the prime minister and his chances in the election.

It might turn out unwelcome but that's the way to find out.


NORTH Korea is reported to be manufacturing its own smartphone. The state's official KCNA news agency has put out a video showing leader Kim Jong-Un ("The Young 'Un") touring the factory and inspecting the phone.

Brand name: Arirang. It's said to come from a famous North Korean folk song.

Are they sure it's not from a famous British TV series, Eastenders?

"Any messages, luv?"

"'Arry rang."




SHE: "There's trouble with the car. It's got water in the carburettor."

He: "Water in the carburettor? That's ridiculous."

She: "I'm telling you."

He: "You don't even know what a carburettor is. I'll check. Where's the car?"

She: "In the pool."


Last word

There is no reciprocity. Men love women, women love children, children love hamsters.

Alice Thomas Ellis


The Idler, Monday, August 19, 2013

Little green men

HERE'S another cover-up. The CIA has at last declassified documents relating to "Area 51", that secret site in the Nevada desert where, as everyone knows, UFOs have crashed, the bodies of little green men from outer space have been found and all kinds of other things have happened that are denied by the American government.

Books have been written about this, magazine articles; there are posts on the internet. Area 51 is fenced off, photography is forbidden. It is Top Secret. What are the Yanks hiding from us?

But at last the truth is out. The top secret parcel of land, which never before appeared on any government map, was used in the 1950s for … er, the development of the U2 spy plane that was used during the Cold War for surveillance of the Soviet Union from an altitude on the fringes of outer space.

Eh? No little green men? No androids from Venus? No flying saucers? This is ridiculous! Clearly it's just THEM trying again to put us on the wrong trail. Recently the Brits said they were abandoning their UFO investigation service because no evidence had come up in 50 years that there actually were extra-terrestrial beings buzzing our planet.

The Americans – Obama in person – have said much the same.

This is preposterous, don't be fooled! THEY are trying to fool us, it's a huge conspiracy.

Who are THEY?Well, that's part of the conspiracy. It could be the CIA. It could be the G-8. It could be the international bankers. It could be the girl guides. It could be dinosaur-like reptiles from outer space. These could all turn out to be one and the same.

Lay off our conspiracies!



HELP! I'm being stalked by two songbirds. Wherever I go these days – Wilson's Wharf, two places in Morningside and now, the other evening, the Berea – I find myself being serenaded by two gorgeous girls who call themselves Leather and Lace.


How do they track my movements in this way? It's most uncanny. Unless it's a trick done with mirrors and they're playing simultaneously in every nightspot in Durban.


Their harmonising is absolutely beautiful, it's like a feminine rerunning of Simon and Garfunkel, something very fresh and different. Leather and Lace – Megan Prior and Carmen Keating. When these gals make the big time, remember where you read it first!


Tourism opportunity


COSATU functions by the principle of "democratic centralism", according to supporters of the embattled general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. This expression hasn't been much in vogue since the heyday of the Soviet Union and Mao-tse-tung's China.


Could this sort of thing not become a tourist attraction? Visit South Africa and relive revolution and the Cold War. Immerse yourself in retro-rhetoric: dialectical materialism … conscientisation of the masses … capitalist-imperialist oppressors … dictatorship of the proletariat … lickspittle compradorists … capitalist lackeys … Yankee-imperialist running dogs … bean soup tigers … Bring back the good old days!


Satour really need to get onto this.



Scary stats


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "Do you know, 25% of the women in this country are on medication for mental illness? That's scary. Seventy-five percent must be running around untreated."


CHIMPANZEES and orang-utans prefer doing the breaststroke to dogpaddle when they take to the water, according to research in America. They adopt a style of swimming that is very close to when humans do breaststroke.

The research is based on close study of a chimpanzee named Cooper, who lives in Missouri, and an orang-utan named Suryia, who is in South Carolina. Both have conquered the fear apes have of deep water and regularly take a dip.

What of our vervet monkeys? I seem to recall a reader from Yellowwood Park sending in photographs of vervets doing the Australian crawl and butterfly in her pool at home.

All this research needs to be pulled together. We need to properly harness our swimming resources. Vervets could lend vital extra support to Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh in the medleys in international competition.


A FELLOW with two left feet walks into a shoe shop.

"Have you got any flip-flips?"

Last word

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important.

Eugene McCarthy



The Idler, Friday, August 16, 2013

Whistle her up

WOULD you remember the girl you took to your school dance, say 20 years ago, if you were to meet her at a reunion and she wasn't wearing a name tag? A dolphin would, according to researchers at St Andrew's University, in Scotland.

I wasn't aware that dolphins had school dances, but these scientists must know what they're talking about when they make the comparison. They say dolphins would remember their heart-throb of 20 years ago. They apparently communicate by whistling at one another and never forget a whistle.

When they hear a familiar whistle they respond, rushing eagerly toward each other. The University of Chicago has joined the research and confirms these findings.

Does this mean you should whistle at every girl you see, in case you took her to your school dance? It could, I suppose, yield spectacular results. But in this day and age, many girls don't appreciate being whistled at – they see it as sexist and demeaning – and you could end up getting a klap.

Sigh! I guess we have to leave the whistling to the dolphins.

Free and fair

ROBERT Mugabe and his family decide on an overseas holiday to celebrate the stunning election victory. His wife, Grace, his son, John, and his daughter, Sarah, want to go to the Bahamas. But Mugabe wants to go to Dubai.

They vote on it. The outcome: Bahamas – 3. Dubai – 68.


Bomber overhead


RECENT mention of Durban during World War II reminds Patrick Coyne of a story he came across while writing the history of Gordon Road Girls' School


"One of the old girls, Mavis Grimwade (80, nee Goyns) who now lives in England, told me that in August 1941 she arrived in Durban as a nine year-old evacuee, and was enrolled at Gordon Road.

"She wrote: 'We had been through heavy bombing in England and our ship had been chased by submarines in the Atlantic during our voyage to South Africa. So in Durban we thought we had come to heaven. But one day in class the peacefulness was shattered by the throb of the engines of a German bomber. I automatically dived under my desk and shut my eyes, waiting for the bombs to drop. I was suddenly aware that all the class were staring at me and giggling, and my teacher asked me what I was doing under the desk.'

"Mavis pointed upwards and said: 'It's a German bomber.' Her teacher said: 'It's only an aeroplane. How can you tell it's a German bomber?' Mavis answered: 'Oh, you can tell,' and scrambled back to her seat 'feeling utterly foolish'.

"Later that week, they read in the newspapers that an enemy bomber had been captured in North Africa and brought down to Durban for examination and testing, with flights over Durban. After much research, I discovered that in 1941 no German bomber made it to Durban, but an Italian Caproni 133 bomber did. It was a popular exhibit at the Air Commando show at Stamford Hill aerodrome. Experts have told me that the three engines of the Caproni often got out of synch and could easily have sounded like the German bombers whose engines also made that distinctive throbbing sound."


Redheads unite!

GINGER Pride is stirring. Hundreds of redheads marched through the streets of Edinburgh the other day to affirm pride in their coloration and to protest against "gingerism" – the mocking and bullying of those who happen to have red hair.

Slogans included "Ginger and proud!"; "For the love of ginger!", and "All hail! The red, orange and pale!"

They were led by Canadian redhead comedian Shawn Hitchins, who said he was glad to be in Scotland with so many fellow-gingers. Back in Canada there were not that many.

It seems the Scots carry a recessive ginger gene that gives them one fifth of the world's population of redheads.

I myself have never been prejudiced against redheads, especially if they are Size 38 and sporty by disposition.



Blonde: "Can I have a burger and fries?"

Librarian: "This is a library."

Blonde (in a whisper): "Can I have a burger and fries?"

Last word

I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.

Mae West


The Idler, Thursday, August 15, 2013

Skinnydipping off Sweden

IT'S UNNERVING, this report about the hazards of skinnydipping off Sweden. Men have been warned against swimming nude in the Oresund Sound, between Sweden and Denmark, following the discovery there of the pacu, a fish related to the piranha of South America and possessed of a voracious appetite for the genitalia of the human male.

That is bad enough. And who knows how far the pacu might not have spread through the oceans of the world? But truly alarming is the photograph with the report, which shows a fish with baleful eye and a terrifying snaggle of gnashers.

This fish so closely resembles a woman I encountered only the other evening in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties that it's absolutely startling. To encounter her at the beach would be terrifying. They move among us. It's not so much a jungle out there as a marine hunting ground. We must beware.



MEANWHILE, another Scandinavian connection. In the English county of Lincolnshire, they're promoting the traditional local dialect, which is Swedish-Danish based, resulting from the settlement of Vikings there more than a thousand years ago – also in East Yorkshire, the other side of the Humber estuary.

A lady called Loretta Rivett is holding sessions in the Grimsby library to promote the Lincolnshire dialect, using words and phrases like "bods" (birds); "bubs" (baby birds); "faverils" (onions); "glimmergowk" (owl); "goodies" (sweets); "mizzling" (fine rain); "haar" (even finer rain); "It's ower 'ot bi aife";  (it's been very hot); "mardy" (sulky); "mouldywarp" (mole); "Swaarmin oop trees" (climbing up trees); and "What a load of kilter and rammel" (What a load of rubbish).

She says her father used to have a "thotty stabber stee", which means a thirty-step ladder. The Swedish word for ladder? "Stege".

According to the experts a strong Lincolnshire dialect speaker could go to Scandinavia and carry out a conversation of sorts.

They really need to circulate those skinnydip warnings from Sweden around Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire as well, where they would be understood. Imagine the consequences if those pacu fish have also entered the Humber estuary.

Content analysis

ANALYSIS of words used in more than 1.5 million American and British books published between 1800 and 2000 has revealed how cultural values have changed in that time, according to researchers at the Los Angeles campus of the University of California.

They found an increase in the use of words like "choose" and "get" in the past two centuries while words like "obliged" and "give" decreased.

There was also an indication that people in modern society are more in touch with their emotions than they once were – the use of "feel" increased while "act" decreased.

The psychologists behind the study claim the shifts in language indicate how US and British society has grown more selfish as it has grown wealthier and more urban.

Professor Patricia Greenfield, who conducted the study, says: "This research shows that there has been a two century long historical shift toward individualistic psychological functioning."

But could the research not also show that computerised number-crunching is so far removed from discovering true literary meaning as to be, as they say in Lincolnshire, "a load of kilter and rammel".




A WOMAN and a man have a bad collision in their cars. Both vehicles are write-offs but neither of them is hurt. They crawl from the wreckage.

Woman:  "So, you're a man. That's interesting. I'm a woman. Wow, just look at our cars! There's  nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from  God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace for  the rest of our days."
Man:  "I agree with you completely.
This must be a sign from God."

Woman:  "And here's another miracle. My car  is completely wrecked, but this bottle of wine didn't break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune." She hands him the bottle. He  opens it, drinks half and hands it back to her. She puts the cap back on
"Aren't you having any?"
Woman: "Nah, I think I'll just wait for the police."
Adam ate the apple too. Will men never learn?


Last word


It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art.

Oscar Wilde


The Idler, Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dogs, ducks, rabbits …

DETAILS come this way of an e-mail exchange in Australia between a cobber named David Thorne and a sheila named Helen Bailey who works for the company managing the block of flats where he lives.

"Dear Helen,

"Thank you for your letter concerning pets in my apartment. I am currently soundproofing my apartment with egg cartons as I realise my dogs can cause quite a bit of noise. Especially during feeding time when I release live rabbits.

"Regards, David."

"Hello David,

"I have received your e-mail and wish to remind you that the Strata agreement states that no animals are allowed in the building regardless of if your apartment is soundproof. How many dogs do you have at the premises?


"Dear Helen,

"Currently I only have eight dogs but one is expecting puppies and I am very excited by this. I am hoping for a litter of at least 10 as this is the number required to participate in dog sled racing.

"I have read every Jack London novel in preparation and have constructed my own sled from timber I borrowed from the construction site across the road during the night. I have devised a plan which I feel will ensure me taking first place in the next national dog sled championships.

"For the first year of the puppies' life I intend to say the word "mush" then chase them violently around the apartment while yelling and hitting saucepan lids together. I have estimated that the soundproofing of my apartment should block out at least 60 percent of the noise and the dogs will learn to associate the word "mush" with great fear so when I yell it on race day, the panic and released adrenaline will spur them on to being winners.

"I am so confident of this being a foolproof plan that I intend to sell all my furniture the day before the race and bet the proceeds on coming in first.

"Regards, David."

"David, I am unsure what to make of your e-mail. Do you have pets in the apartment or not?


"Dear Helen,

"No. I have a goldfish but due to the air conditioner in my apartment being stuck on a constant two degrees celsius, the water in its bowl is iced over and he has not moved for a while so I do not think he is capable of disturbing the neighbours.

"The ducks in the bathroom are not mine. The noise which my neighbours possibly mistook for a dog in the apartment is just the looping tape I have of dogs barking which I play at high volume while I am at work to deter potential burglars from breaking in and stealing my tupperware. I need it to keep food fresh.

"Once I ate left-over Chinese that had been kept in an unsealed container and I experienced chest pains and diarrhoea.

"Regards, David."

"Hello David ,

"You cannot play sounds of dogs or any noise at a volume that disturbs others. I am sure you can appreciate that these rules are for the benefit of all residents of the building. Fish are fine. You cannot have ducks in the apartment though. If it was small birds that would be OK.


"Dear Helen,

"They are very small ducks.

"Regards, David."

"David, under Section 4 of the Strata Residency Agreement it states that you cannot have pets. You agreed to these rules when you signed the forms.

"These rules are set out to benefit everyone in the building including yourself. Do you have a telephone number I can call you on to discuss?


"Dear Helen,

"The ducks will no doubt be flying south for the winter soon so it will not be an issue. It is probably for the best as they are not getting along very well with my 17 cats anyway."

"Regards, David."

"David, I am just going to write on the forms that we have investigated and you do not have any pets.


The penny drops. Attagirl! What a wonderful vehicle for humour e-mail can be.



"DOCTOR, doctor, I'm feeling terrible."

"What are the symptoms?"

"They're a cartoon show with yellow people."

Last word


In case you're worried about what's going to become of the younger generation, it's going to grow up and start worrying about the younger generation.

Roger Allen



The Idler, uesday, August 13, 2013

Triumph over adversity

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless …

THE WORDS of John Milton on his blindness come to mind as, tomorrow evening, a feisty Durban 79-year-old launches her first novel, embarked on only after she too had been overtaken by blindness.

Frances Hilton trained as a touch typist and worked as a legal secretary. It was in the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison that, to her dismay, she discovered she was losing her sight in a degenerative process that could not be reversed. (Today she has only peripheral vision).

She was desperate and wondering whether she should not just throw herself off the pier. But then a friend introduced her to Tape Aids for the Blind, the organisation that has volunteers reading books into tape cassettes which are distributed to the blind.

It opened for her a whole new world. Tape Aids was her lifeline. She had a new purpose. And the love she'd had ever since schooldays for English literature took hold. She set about writing her own novel, hammering it out on her faithful old Adler typewriter. As a trained touch typist she had no need to see the keyboard.

The result is The Oliver Tryst (Reach Publishers), a 515-page novel set in Durban and the Midlands – a remarkable triumph over adversity. And the only way she'll "read" her own book is if Tape Aids records it for her.

Frances uses the pen-name Will Robinson for much the same reason the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, at first used male pen-names (Curter Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell) – because women writers were not taken seriously. So did Mary Ann Evans (published as George Eliot). It seems a little unusual in this day and age but there you are.

The launch is tomorrow evening at 5.30 at the Tape Aids for the Blind offices, 14 Mitchell Crescent, Morningside.


A FATHER and son have been found living in the jungle more than 40 years after they fled American bombing during the Vietnam War. Ho Van Thanh left his home village with his baby son Ho Van Lang in 1971 after a mine blast killed the rest of his family.

The pair apparently survived by foraging for fruit, lived in a treehouse and wore loincloths of tree bark.

People searching for firewood spotted them deep in the forest. Ho Van Thanh is now 82 and his son 41. They grew their own food and even cultivated tobacco.

It's a sad little tale, which recalls the Japanese "holdouts" who lived in the jungle for years, eating coconuts and bananas, not aware that World War II had ended.

The last two holdouts to surrender were on the Philippine island of Lubang, 29 years after the war had ended, and on Morotai Island, Indonesia, the same year.

What of this country? In the Marico district of North-West Province there still appear to be pockets of population who believe the Boer War has not yet ended, though these could be Herman Charles Bosman appreciation societies being addressed by the likes of local raconteur Spyker Koekemoer (aka Pat Smythe) who keeps up the good fight.

Loan shark?

NEW York commuters were astonished to find a 1.5m shark lying dead under a row of seats in their train.

Passengers were asked to leave the train at Queens so that a conductor could remove the carcass. But not before some pictures were taken of the shark and posted on the internet, including one of the shark with a cigarette in his mouth, a ticket stub and a can of energy drink.

Those New Yorkers have no respect at all for deceased payday loan operators.

Mind games

OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "I've been mentally undressing you all night. It's time to see if I'm right."


HE COMES home from rugby. There's a note on the fridge: "It's not working, I can't take it anymore!! Gone to stay with a friend."

He opens the fridge. The light comes on, the beer is cold.

He wonders: "What the heck's she on about?"

Last word

When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife. ~ Prince Philip