Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Idler, Monday, October 27, 2014

The York and Lancasters

IN France last week 15 British solders were reburied at Bois-Grenier, 100 years after 

they died in World War I. Their bodies had been found buried in a nearby field five 

years ago, and astonishingly advanced DNA methods made it possible to positively 

identify 11 of them.

All were members of the York and Lancaster Regiment and some of their 

descendants were there to honour them at the poignant ceremony - a firing party, the 

Last Post, all the military honours.

The York and Lancasters had strong links with KwaZulu-Natal. They were the last 

British regiment to be stationed at Fort Napier, in Maritzburg. They left soon after 

Union in 1910, at which the new South Africa took responsibility for its own defence. 

That would have been not long before the Great War broke out in 1914.

The York and Lancasters had been very much part of the sports and social fabric of 

Natal in the colonial era. They played rugby against the local clubs and, just before 

leaving, presented the York and Lancaster Cup, for which the Maritzburg clubs still 


They also presented their tortoise mascot to the Victoria Club. The tortoise was 

named Orlando, after a man who won the marathon at the Olympics back in those 

days, details of the presentation inscribed on a silver plate screwed on to his shell.

The Victoria Club has moved from the Maritzburg CBD to Montrose, out of town, 

where it has attached itself to the Country Club, though it maintains its identity and 

still flies the Union Jack. Presumably Orlando is still boss.

It's surely quite possible that at least some of those York and Lancaster fellows who 

were reburied last week had been part of the Maritzburg sports and social scene just a 

couple of years before they fell. Fifteen men – a rugby team. Tantalising thought.

World War I – the war to end all wars – was a century ago. The commemorations 

are a melancholy reminder of that carnage; of what little progress has been made in 

eliminating conflict. Some of the issues in the Middle East today are directly traceable 

to World War I.

And the reminders of the human beings who were butchered for no good reason – like 

those York and Lancaster men who had played rugby and socialised in our part of the 

world – are just too sad to dwell upon.

Black Horse

THE York and Lancasters, and other regiments before them, used to patronise the 

Black Horse, a pub near Fort Napier that had become virtually a museum of military 

memorabilia from all corners of the British Empire – badges, medals, bits and pieces 

of weaponry,

The Black Horse was presided over in my time by one Barney Froomberg, a man with 

a taste for erotic humour. The walls were festooned with explicit artwork and ribald 

verse. The hat rack consisted of carved wooden phalluses (It was, of course, a men 

only place). The Black Horse was an institution.

Among the military memorabilia was a bayonet hanging on the wall near the bar. The 

bar counter had in it a deep groove into which the bayonet fitted perfectly.

The story went that one night a drunken sergeant ran an officer through with the 

bayonet, pinning him to the bar counter.

One never knows how true such stories are, but that's how it went. Then, next 

morning, the sergeant was court-martialled at the fort and executed by firing squad.

A heck of a way to cure a hangover .

Fort Napier is today a mental hospital. The Black Horse is no more – the building is a 

radio repair shop or something of the sort. But they still play rugby for the York and 

Lancaster Cup. Not quite everything has disappeared.


AN 82-year-old has his annual medical check-up. A few days later the doctor spots 

him walking down the street. He has on his arm a glamorous young woman.

A couple of days later, the doctor again encounters his patient, this time on his own.

"Hey, you're doing really well, aren't you?"

"Doin' just what you said, Doc. 'Get a hot momma, be carefree!'"

"I actually said: 'You've got a heart murmur. Be careful.'"

Last word

The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky. 

Solomon Short



The Idler, Thursday, October 27, 2014

Here is a fetcher

A DINOSAUR mystery that had baffled palaeontologists for 50 years has at last been solved. 

In the 1960s researchers unearthed two gigantic dinosaur arms. The forearm portion alone 

was 2.4m and tipped with three giant claws.

They named this strange creature Deinocheirus mirificus, which means "unusual, horrible 

hands" (the kind you find in any rugby club, often arm-wrestling at the bar).

And for decades scientists speculated as to what the rest of the beast looked like.

Now two complete skeletons have been discovered in Mongolia. And the scientists are 

gobsmacked. They variously describe it as "weird beyond imagination", "freaking weird", 

"bizarre" and "shocking".

Deinocheirus mirificus weighed six tons and had an elongated head with a duck-like beak 

and a large humped sail on its back. Its legs were short and stumpy. Its feet were very large 

which would have prevented it sinking into the boggy wetlands. The strong arms would have 

been to scoop up herbaceous material from the lagoons. It would have been slow-moving.

With respect, these palaeontologists have led sheltered lives. They can't have played 

much rugby because these features very closely describe the forwards some of us have 

encountered during our careers.

It's so frustrating that these creatures have gone extinct. Unusual, horrible hands and 

forearms - Deinocheirus mirificus sounds just what Heyneke Meyer is looking for as a fetcher 

in the World Cup next year.

Quaint figure

THE Serjeant-at-arms is a quaint ceremonial figure of Westminster democracy who carries the mace 

into parliament as a symbol of the authority of the crown.

When called upon to do so by the Speaker, he will escort an MP from the chamber at the point of his 

sword, usually for ignoring the Speaker's order to leave.

This is so even in democracies such as our own, which are republics but retain the Westminster 


In Canada, Serjeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers is credited with shooting dead the gunman who was 

running amok in the parliament building in Ottawa, just outside a room where Prime Minister 

Stephen Harper was in a meeting. So the post is not quite as quaint and ceremonial as people had 


Serjeant-at-arms Vickers is a former officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Mountie gets 

his man.

New words

LINDA Nel sends in some new words resulting from a Washington Post competition in 

which readers were invited to take a word from the dictionary and add, subtract or change 

one letter to get a new meaning:

• Cashtration - The act of buying a house which renders the subject financially impotent 

for an indefinite period of time.

• Glibido - All talk and no action.

• Beelzebug - Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in 

the morning and cannot be cast out.

• Caterpallor - The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

• Decafalon - The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that 

are good for you.

• Intaxicaton - Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realise it was your 

money to start with.

• Osteopornosis - A degenerate disease.

• Inoculatte - To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

• Sarchasm - The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't 

get it.

• Giraffiti - Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Cartoon strips

WOULD anyone like a collection of cartoon strips clipped from the newspapers over many years and 


Sheila Swanepoel has been using them to make her own Christmas and birthday cards, but she no 

longer has the time.

The collection now runs into thousands of clippings – Garfield, Hagar, Peanuts, Tiger, Calvin & 

Hobbs, Andy Capp, The Far Side, Herman, The Wizard of Id and dozens more, all categorised to fit 

in with birthdays, Christmas, weight issues, Easter, holidays, school, relationships, camping, office, 

medical, food and so forth.

She would like to see the collection used somehow. She doesn't want to be paid but would 

appreciate a donation to Tafta or some such cause.



First woman on the Moon: "Houston, we have a problem.""What?""Never 

mind.""What's the problem?""Nothing.""Please tell us.""You KNOW what the 

problem is."

Last word

In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our 

Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.

Edward P Tryon

The Idler, Thursday, October 23, 2014

Long ago lighthouse keeper

CALLING all Murphys. Is anyone out there descended from John Joseph Murphy, former 

lighthouse keeper on the Bluff, then at Cape St Lucia? Does anyone know the family (who 

would by now have lost the surname Murphy because his only son returned to England and 

the other children were girls)?

His great-grandson, Michael Murphy, arrives on Sunday and is eager to contact any family 

connections. His message comes via Ursula Morrison, of Makakatana Lodge, on Lake St 

Lucia, who has been contacted by the travel agent.

"My great-grandfather emigrated to South Africa in the 1800s. He was a lighthouse keeper at 

the Bluff, Durban, for six years and Cape St Lucia for 30 years. His name was John Joseph 


"We have obtained his death notice. He had two wives in South Africa and five children - 

four girls and one boy.

"The boy, also called John Joseph Murphy, came back to live in England and was my 


"As your family has a long history in the area, do you or any of your family have any 

knowledge of my great-grandfather or can you think of any way we could find out more 

about him?"

It's a long time ago but can anyone out there shine a light (To stick with the idiom)?

Ode to rugby

AS THE Currie Cup final approaches, reader Eric Hodgson sends in an Ode to Rugby Union – the game 

as it was in yesteryear. Here it is (slightly bowdlerised):

The rugby balls in my day, lad, were made of bloody leather.

A bladder stitched, with laces in, to hold the bastard together.

The ones today have adverts on, in supersonic plastic;

They'll reach the sticks from miles away, toe-poked by any spastic.

The boots we wore were leather, too - with toecaps like a brick.

We dubbin'd them to last for years, the leather was that thick.

But now they buy them twice a year, at sixty quid a throw,

Like ballet-shoes, all soft and pink, with nothing on the toe.

And we invented tie-ups. Our socks were made of wool.

Hung around your ankles, they'd hold a gallon each, half-full.

So we tied 'em up. Or taped 'em up. Either way, no fuss.

Bryan Habana in woolly socks? He couldn't catch a bus.

We didn't have post-protectors, like cushions in a pram.

What rugby-post can do you harm? An advertising scam.

And kicking tees. Kicking tees! With some so high, at that,

You could HEAD the ball between the posts, and that's any stupid prat.

And if the ref should send you off, he didn't need a card.

We didn't remonstrate at all - we'd make him drink a yard.

But now you get a yellow card - Ooh! Naughty boy! Smacked wrist!

Ten minutes off? Within the game? I'd come back on half-squished.

And nowadays, if you should burst a pimple on your head,

You can have a blood-replacement - your mate comes on instead.

And half-a-Guinness later, or a few more, if you shout

Your mate comes off; you go on; what the heck's that all about?

Gum shields. Body armour. Like that American football farce.

And passive scrums. Passive scrums? You can shove 'em up your a***!

What we want is what we played - that's eighty minutes' worth

Of rugby, Rugby Union - the greatest game on Earth.

At that, my son, I'll take "time out" (another innovation)

And summon up my aches and pains to find some inspiration.

We weren't allowed a substitute: we turned out fifteen men.

A buggered shoulder; a broken nose; blood everywhere, we went back on again.

And every time the cold wind blows, and crippled with arthritis,

We curse the wounds of long ago that come back now to bite us.

We made a try; we saved a try: we played on, through the pain

And crippled, cursing, bleeding - we loved the bloody game.


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "My dog has an ingrown tail. I have to X-ray 

him to find out if he's happy."


"ARE you a boob man or a butt man?"

"That's really sexist."

"Sorry, let me rephrase it. Are you a boob person or a butt person?"

Last word

A lie told often enough becomes the truth.


The Idler, Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A different planet

ARE we all living on the same planet? Our government is signing procurement protocols left 

right and centre to get the best deal possible spending $50 billion or so on a future nuclear 

energy programme.

It's talking about spending gazillions on an oil and gas offshore drilling programme, though 

no credible experts seem to have suggested there actually is any viable oil or gas offshore.

In the meantime we'll make do with good old-fashioned electricity from coal generation, 

though this time on a truly massive scale.

Greenhouse gases and other pollution seem built into whatever is decided. Not to mention 

crayfish that glow in the dark.

Yet here we have a suggestion that by 2018, as reported by the BBC, solar energy could 

be imported from Tunisia to the United Kingdom, powering as many as 2.5 million British 


A private company has already spent €10 million (R140m) on a plant in Tunisia where a 

giant panel focuses the sun's rays on a central tower. Tunisian sunshine becomes British 

electricity, by cable.

Do we have sunshine here in South Africa? Why, yes. Not so much in places like Durban, 

it's true, but in places like the Karoo and the Northern Cape I bet it's just as sunny as 


An outlay of €10m compares with $50 billion – R140m against R550 bn.

No, we can't be on the same planet.

Folk tales

MERRIMENT again broke out on the Berea this week as the arts soiree at St Clement's briefly 

interrupted its closed season to launch a new book by compere Pieter Scholtz.

Myths, masks & Miracles (published by Horus) draws on folk tales from across Africa – Egypt, Ghana, 

Nigeria, Uganda, Somalia and South Africa itself, a favourite theme of Pieter's in the 27 plays he has 

published for young people, along with his other stories and poems in the Japanese haiku format.

This is quite a weighty publication with some wonderful artwork by Lindy Pelzl – ancient Egyptian 

stuff, African pottery and patterns and a beautiful reproduction of a bushman painting.

At the soiree Pieter and a few of the audience read one of the stories. It was about a blacksmith 

commanded by the king, on pain of death, to create a living man of iron.

At first I thought this was an allegory on the Nkandla myth. The sharp-tongued vizier reminded me 

much of Mac Maharaj. But it seems I was wrong, it's a Ugandan folk tale.

Skimming through, I'm glad to see that the South African stories include the one about Van Hunks 

out-smoking the Devil with his potent pipe tobacco on the slopes of Table Mountain – hence Devil's 


The folk tales are what make Africa. I look forward to getting into this book properly.

Scenic trip

NARROW gauge rides again ... outings along a section of lower south coast narrow gauge railway 

track are to start next month, running from Paddock to Plains station, near Port Shepstone.

The narrow gauge Hamba Weheli Express - with an open carriage - will be drawn by a small diesel 

locomotive and will start from the Gorgez View restaurant for a one-hour return trip through 

spectacular hill and gorge scenery.

The Hamba Weheli replaces the very popular Banana Express which used to run as a tourist 

attraction on the narrow gauge line, but had to close after financial disputes with Transnet.

Hamba Weheli is a joint venture between steam train enthusiast Derrick Classen, of Paddock, and 

Paton Country Railway, managed by Julian Perreira, a narrow gauge steam train from Ixopo into the 

hills immortalised by Alan Paton in Cry, The Beloved Country. This train replicates Paton's "toy train" 

which features in the novel.

The Paton Country Railway also operates the eShayamoya Express, a steam train that operates on 

the broad gauge Cape-Natal line from Creighton to Underberg and beauty spots elsewhere. Both are 

very popular with overseas visitors.

All three railways are aimed at tourism promotion in the southern districts of KZN.

The Hamba Weheli starts next month. Tickets are R100 (children R50). Pizzas R25. Bookings: 039- 

6791345/072-2386865 or


"I JUST bought a new hearing aid. It cost R12 000 but it's state of the art. It's 


"Really. What kind is it?"


Last word

A psychiatrist is a fellow who asks you a lot of expensive questions your wife asks 

for nothing.

Joey Adams
He looks familiar

DO YOU ever get that start of recognition when you visit an aquarium? The giant wrasses and bream that come 

gliding past the viewing window look so much like human beings you've encountered. Usually stern, disagreeable 

human beings – schoolmasters, bank managers – not strippers or go-go dancers.

So it is with the species posted on the internet by an organisation calling itself the Ugly Animal Preservation 

Society, which seeks to protect the less glamorous creatures. When you look at the Proboscis Monkey – who has 

an enormous nose – he's instantly recognisable. You feel you've had dealings with him somewhere. Maybe down 

at the tax offices; maybe playing the trumpet at a gig. Somewhere.

The Society posts eight creatures. Besides the Proboscis Monkey there's: the Aye-aye (nothing to do with the 

navy, he's a Madagascan lemur with staring green eyes); the Visayan Warty Pig; the Naked Mole Rat; the 

Humphead Wrasse; the Giant Titicaca Lake Frog; the Pacific Hagfish; and the Purple Pignose Frog.

Again, that eerie sense of recognition. And then you realise – this could be the bar counter at the Street Shelter 

for the Over-Forties.

'Own try'

AN ASTONISHING rugby refereeing decision Down Under this was.

In rugby there's no equivalent to football's "own goal". If you dot the ball down behind your own line it's either a 

22m drop-out or, if your side carried it over, a 5m scrum to the opposition.

Yet in this match in Australia between Sydney Stars and North Harbour Rays, a Rays forward stole the ball in a 

maul near his own tryline then placed it back – over the line.

Presumably he was laying it back for his scrumhalf, not realising the line was that close. The referee was 

unsighted and appealed to the TMO, who went on to award a try.

Holy mackerel! Rugby's first-ever "own try". How do they put that one down in the records? Very embarrassing.

Mind you, referees do improvise. In days of yore, a flyhalf from the Free State came to play for us at Maritzburg 

Collegians and he told the story of a club match up there where an opposing lock forward was quite spoiling the 

scrums with bouts of flatulence. The referee warned him: "Once more and it'll be a penalty!"

Again the scrum broke up in disorder and recrimination. The ref blew hard and indicated the penalty. Our flyhalf 

friend started placing the ball for a shot at goal.

"No, no!" said the ref. "No poles for a poep!"

He had to kick it into touch. Own tries ... illegal flatulence ... a game of infinite subtleties and possibilities is 

rugby. The Sharks needed a bit of that last Saturday. Nothing else seemed to help.


WHICH recalls an incident in one of the lower leagues in Durban some years ago. Referees were given stamped 

and addressed envelopes which they used to post in details to the rugby sub-union of the club games they'd 


This ref gave the result of a third division match as 2-0. When the sub-union contacted him to point out that 

a score of two is impossible in rugby, he explained: "I awarded this try. It was a bit scrappy. Driving home 

afterwards, I had second thoughts. But there was nothing wrong with the conversion."


NEWS FROM Canada. THE Department of Employment in Newfoundland, 

was investigating a boat owner/operator. It sent an agent to interview him.

Agent: "I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them".

Boat owner: "Well, there's Clarence, my hired hand. I pay him $200 a week 

plus free board. Then there's the mentally challenged guy. He works about 

18 hours a day and does about 90 percent of the work.

"He makes about $10 a week, pays his own board and I buy him a bottle 

of rum every Saturday night so he can cope. He also gets to sleep with my 

wife occasionally".

Agent: "That's the guy I want to talk to - the mentally challenged one."

Boat owner: "That'll be me. What do you want to know?"


A LITTLE old man shuffles slowly into an ice cream parlour and pulls 

himself slowly, painfully up on to a stool.

After catching his breath, he orders a banana split.

The waitress (kindly): "Crushed nuts?"

He replies: "No, arthritis."

Last word

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.

B F Skinner
Durban legal hopscotch

THE spring rains – a month late as they are – have quickened the tempo of a 

spectacle that promises to become Durban's latest tourist attraction.

This is Legal Hopscotch, a phenomenon to be observed as the advocates of the city 

dance and skip their way along the Esplanade every morning in their gowns and 

bibs, clutching their briefs and holding their noses, as they make their way from their 

chambers to the high court. It can be most comical.

M'learned friends tell me the legal intricacies of the courtroom are nothing when 

compared with the intricacies of dodging the sewage and other filth that issues from 

the manholes and gratings of the Esplanade these days, and making it to court in a 

presentable state.

Gasmasks are likely soon to add an exotic touch. It sure beats the Old Bailey.


TOM Dennen says we live in an age of lesslessness: Phones – wireless; cooking – fireless; 

cars – keyless; food – fatless; tyres –tubeless; dress – sleeveless; youth – jobless; leaders – 

shameless; relationships – meaningless; attitudes – careless; babies – fatherless; feelings – 

heartless; education – valueless; children – mannerless; country – Godless; 

"We are speechless. Parliament is clueless. Our president is worthless. And I'm scared 



A HOUSEWIFE spotted a crocodile in her back garden in Plymouth, England. It was a young 

croc – about 1m in length – and she called the police.

The Devon and Cornwall police and wildlife experts from Dartmoor Zoo approached 

cautiously. The croc remained motionless. A constable threw a bucket of water over it. Still it 

didn't move. And only then did they realise it was a very realistic inflatable toy.

The woman who called them is now "absolutely mortified and embarrassed".

But it's a mistake anyone can make. The other night at the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties 

I attempted conversation for about 20 minutes with an absolute smasher of a girl sitting in the 

corner, only to discover she was a blow-up doll and the property of the barman.

Locked in

AN AMERICAN tourist spent two hours locked in a bookshop in London. David Willis 

had been upstairs using the internet at Waterstones, in Trafalgar Square. When he went 

downstairs to leave, all the lights were out and the doors were locked.

He posted messages about his plight on Twitter, and they went viral. He was hashtagged 

"The Waterstones One". Eventually the police and a Waterstones employee arrived and he 

was let out.

Such experiences can be upsetting. Two of my colleagues were once locked into a London 

pub by mistake. It was in the days that English pubs closed at 2pm sharp, then re-opened at 


By the time the landlord unlocked again at 5pm, these two were so distraught they could 

barely stand.

Another Zorba

DEVLYN Fraser, of Umkomaas, sends in another Zorba: "I used to be schizophrenic, 

but now we are not."


READER Naomi Wakefield wonders where we got that picture we featured last week of 

herself flying on a broomstick across the face of the moon, practising for Halloween.

She also informs me that Tafta (The Association For The Aged) are about to bring out a 

calendar that has a group of belly-dancer gals, who call themselves The Revellers, peeping 

out from behind a banner proclaiming "The Full Monty".

Hey, Tafta is where it's at!


AN IRISH pirate walks into a bar.

The barman greets him: "Hey, I haven't seen you in here for a while. 

What happened? You look badly beat up."

"What do yez mean? Oi'm fine."  

"What about the wooden leg? You didn't have that before."  

"Well, we wuz in a battle and I got hit wit a cannon ball, but I'm foine now."  

"Well what about that hook? What happened to your hand?"

"It wuz anudder battle. Oi boarded a ship and got in a cutlass foight. My 

hand was cut off. I got fitted wit a hook." 

"What about that eye patch?"  

"Well dat was when one day a flock of birds flew over. I looked up and one 

of dem pooped in me eye." 

"You're kidding! How could you lose an eye that way?"

"It wuz me first day wit de hook."

Last word

The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.

Isaac Asimov

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Idler, Friday, October 17, 2014

Day of destiny


IT'S a big 'un tomorrow and if the gods of rugby are onside, it's a giant step to the final. A day of destiny. And if the Bulls should manage to pull it off down at Newlands, it could be a King's Park final. Bring it on, bring it on!


A feast of rugby lies ahead. We can say this with confidence because this Currie Cup season has already sparked a risorgimento in South African rugby. From the stodginess and lack of imagination of the Super Rugby competition we have moved into the handling and running into space of the Currie Cup. It's a joy to watch.


Not only that, the penny has dropped for the Boks as well. They no longer treat the ball as something to be kicked away before it bites them, they too are running into space and handling. The pay-off has been immediate – the scalps of the Aussies and the All Blacks. The World Cup beckons.


'Erewego, 'erewego, 'erewego!


Go bananas


A EUROPEAN Cup qualifier football match between Serbia and Albania ended in Belgrade the other night in fisticuffs, with thunderflashes thrown on the field and a violent spectator invasion. The English referee blew full time, not a goal scored.


The reason: Albanian supporters were not allowed into Serbia (let alone the stadium) because of continuing tensions over the Kosovo war. Then, as the game progressed, a drone appeared over the pitch. It was dragging a flag which showed a map of an ancient Albania that included Kosovo. This is highly provocative in Serbia.


The drone was flying pretty low and the flag was on halyards that were reachable. The Serb players reeled it in. At which the Albanians attacked with fury. Next thing the crowd joined the melee. The police were unable to do a thing.


What happens if tomorrow somebody runs onto the field at Ellis Park with a banana tree? What ancient Balkan-style animosities would not be aroused? Natal versus Transvaal. Remember the Alamo!





A READER who calls himself "Burnie from Newcastle" sends in his favourite "Zorba" to go with others listed here earlier in the week: "I used to be conceited but now I'm perfect."


Any more?





EARLIER this week we discussed a Scots ceilidh (pronounced "Kayley") that was held here in Durban. Naomi Wakefield says she last encountered that word in the Australian novel, The Thorn Birds.


"I remember that Meggie, the heroine of the story, did not enjoy it very much, if at all, as the ladies weren't allowed to dance."


Times have changed, Naomi. At the ceilidh I went to, the ladies had to be restrained from dancing in the nude.


Peter Ferraz


IT'S sad to learn of the death of Peter Ferraz, founder of the Splashy Fen music festival in the southern Drakensberg.


Peter was a fellow who crammed a lot into his 76 years. After qualifying as an advocate and being admitted to the bar, he went into newspapers where he became news editor of The Star, in Johannesburg, which is where I first met him.


Then he did the giant leap to running a trout hatchery in the southern Berg, where he also set up the annual music festival that has become a national landmark.


Was it coincidence that the name of his farm – Splashy Fen – so closely resembles that line in Evelyn Waugh's classic novel, Scoop: "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole …"?


The story is of a "countryside notes" correspondent who is sent by mistake by a Fleet Street newspaper to cover a civil war in Africa. Absolutely hilarious.


I wonder if it was that similarity that attracted Peter to the farm in the first place.


The Splashy Fen festival will be an enduring monument to this multi-talented and highly entertaining character.




A LITTLE old lady's Maltese poodle falls off the pier into the sea. As she shrieks in distress, a German tourist dives off the pier to go after it. He reaches the dog and swims it back to the pier. He climbs back again and hands it to her after checking that it's not injured.


"Oh, thank you, thank you!"


"Don't vorry. Your dog iss fine."


"Are you a vet?"


"Vet? I'm bloomin' soaked!"


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, Tghursday, October 16, 2014

High-tech desert patrol

BILL Gates meets Lawrence of Arabia … high technology from the back of a camel.

Google has launched Desert View – equivalent of Street View – with panoramic shots, captured by Street View cameras mounted on a camel, of the desert around Liwa Oasis, in Abu Dhabi.

The shots were digitally stitched together and users can now traverse the sand dunes at the click of a mouse. I can confirm from personal experience that the sand dunes of Abu Dhabi are very sandy.

The local Bedouin have so far not complained about this unwarranted invasion of their privacy.

Great prose

A SHETLAND pony has been captured on CCTV walking into a police station in England. A verbatim report from Sky News follows:

"It is not known why he went into the headquarters in Winsford, Cheshire - maybe he was there to grass-up a friend or dobbin someone.

"But he was going to tell the hoof, the whole hoof and nothing but the hoof.

"However, he didn't re-mane there furlong in the incident, which was caught on camera.

"The footage shows a man trying to turn the animal around and point him off the premises. But the horse seemed determined to head to the desk.

"Moments later, an officer is seen guiding the pony back out of the automatic doors and it is understood he was returned to his nearby paddock safely.

"A force spokesman said: 'We like to ensure a warm welcome to all our guests at HQ and at neigh point did the horse pose a risk to security.'"

A-a-a-r-r-r-gh! This is so bad you have to marvel!


COFFEE bar dialogue:

"Hi! I'm 32, I'm a politician and I'm honest."

"Hi! I'm 29, I'm a prostitute and I'm a virgin."

Amazing luck

HERE'S a World War II story I'd never heard before. An American aircrew were taking their B-17 Flying Fortress on a bombing run over Kassel, Germany, when they flew into heavy flak and took a direct hit in a fuel tank.

But instead of the tank exploding as it should have, nothing happened. They made it safely back to base.

Next day the pilot asked the ground crew if he could have the shell as a keepsake of this barely believable good luck. He was told there had been not one but 11 unexploded shells in the tank.

This was truly astounding. Then he was told that the armourers, who had been given the task of defusing the shells, found they contained no explosive at all, not one of them. The shells were absolutely harmless.

But one had in it a tightly rolled up piece of paper with a message scrawled in Czech. Somebody was found to translate.

It read: "This is all we can do for you now ... Using Jewish slave labour is never a good idea."

The incident is recalled in a book, The Fall of Fortresses, by Elmer Bendinger, who was navigator in that B-17 aircrew. What a story.


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "I used to be a historian, but there was no future in it."


A GROUP of fellows, all aged 40, discussed where they should meet for a reunion lunch. It was agreed they would make it The Gourmet because the waitresses were well stacked and wore mini-skirts.


Ten years later, at age 50, the friends once again discussed
where they should meet for lunch. It was agreed they would make it The Gourmet because the food and service were good and the beer selection was excellent.

Another 10 years later, at age 60, the friends again discussed where they should meet for lunch. They agreed they would make it The Gourmet because there was plenty of parking, they could lunch in peace and quiet and it was good value for money.

Ten years later again, at age 70, they discussed where they
should meet for lunch. It was agreed they would make it The Gourmet because the restaurant was wheelchair accessible and had a toilet for the disabled.

Yet another 10 years later, at age 80, the friends discussed where they should meet for lunch. It was agreed they would make it The Gourmet because they'd never been there before.

Last word

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

Arthur Schopenhauer

The Idler, Wednesday, October 18, 2014

Wife-carrying handicap

IT'S quite a wheeze this wife-carrying thing. At a place called Newry in Maine, in the US, last weekend a fellow named Jesse Wall carried his lady love Christina Arsenault (she's not yet his wife) over a 250m obstacle course that included log hurdles, sand traps and a water hazard, as reported in yesterday's paper. Jesse and Christina beat 50 other couples to the finishing tape.

Then the organisers placed Christina on a seesaw and stacked cases of beer on the other end until there was equilibrium. Jesse walked off with the winnings in beer.

Then they weighed Christina and paid Jesse out in cash for five times her weight. As he got $482.50 (R5 300) and the Americans work in pounds avoirdupois, we can deduce from this that Christina weighs 96lb 8oz, or about 44kg.

So she's a fairly slight girl. And it shows that wife-carrying is as complicated in its way as racecourse handicapping. Marry a slip of a girl and you've got a good chance of winning. But the returns in beer and cash are less than if you marry a more buxom wench.

Yes, in that case you stand to win barrels of beer and buckets of cash but you also have to carry her over those hurdles and things and win the race. It's a conundrum.

But is all this in the spirit of the times? One feels there are people – gender commissioners and the like - who would look askance at women being placed on seesaws to have their weight expressed in volumes of beer. For that reason it seems unlikely that our local custom of polygamous marriage will be harnessed to wife-carrying to set up the splendid relay races that would otherwise be possible.

A pity. Durban could have become the wife-carrying Monte Carlo of Africa.

Cat names


READER Sally Stretch and her cat Chloe join the debate over the naming of cats, citing the poet TS Eliot.


Sally points out that Eliot said a cat should have not one but three names.


There's the name that the family use daily – Oliver, Reginald, Bobby, Muffin or whatever. "All of them sensible everyday names."


Then, "A cat needs a name that's particular … such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat … names that never belong to more than one cat".


Finally, there is "the name that the cat himself knows and will never confess."


When you notice a cat in profound meditation,

The reason, I tell you, is always the same:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable


Deep and inscrutable singular Name.


How about Pusspuss?


Dog name


NAMES, names … there was the Pom who arrived here on a visit and wrote home: "Every dog in South Africa is called Voetsek, and when you call him he runs away."




HERE are a few more Zorbas, those expressions with a twist in the tail. Er, sorry, not Zorbas. They're paraprosdokians. (I knew it was a word of Greek origin):

·         I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paycheques.

·         I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

·         Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they're sexy.

·         A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

·         I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.

·         You're never too old to learn something stupid.

·         Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

·         Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.


Not just sex

OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "It's not true that men think of nothing but sex. They're also fixated on power, world domination, money, football and beer."


AN UNEMPLOYED Irish panty-stitcher complains at the dole office that he's being paid half what his workmate is getting.

"But your workmate is down as a diesel fitter. That's a skilled occupation."

"No, no, you don't understand. I stitch de panties. Dat's skill. Den me mate, if he can pull dem over his fat backside, he says: 'Diesel fitter'."

Last word

What's another word for Thesaurus? – Steven Wright

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Idler, Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Knees-up highland style

Cauld winter was howling o'er moorland and mountain
And wild was the surge on the dark rolling sea
When just about daybreak I spied a wee lassie
Who asked me the road and the miles to Dundee.


I'VE been a couple of times to the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Fringe Festival; to John O'Groats, northernmost tip of mainland Scotland; to Hawick, Queen of a' the Borders; to Loch Ness; to Glasgow. I've hoisted a pint or two in all these places. But never before had I been to a ceilidh – until the other night, that is.


A ceilidh (pronounced kayley) is the Scots version of a knees-up. All kinds of things happen. Pipes and drums – even though it's indoors. Scots ballads. Scots folk songs. Scots chamber music. Scots dancing by the most lissome lassies. Long recitations off by heart of humorous verse; bawdy jokes – everyone has a chance to take the stage. And shove the shillin' – a contest in which you slide coins across the floor (a bit like curling) to win a bottle of whisky. And, of course, quite a lot of whisky, whether you won or not.


This particular ceilidh marked the start in Durban of the congress of the Caledonian Federation of South Africa. Laddies and lassies from all over the country (not all of them in the first flush of youth) were there in their tartan. (Maybe I was invited because of my origins in Dundee – KwaZulu-Natal, not Scotland.) I was one of the few chaps in troosers but they made me feel at home.


It started with the pipes and drums of the Durban Regiment and the Natal Mounted Rifles. These fellows always produce a decibel or two. In the confined space of the Pool Deck of the Blue Waters – which has a ceiling and is completely walled in – they made themselves heard.


Then, as the evening progressed over dinner, traditional dancing by the lovely Wood twins, Samantha and Melissa, in all kinds of costume. Then Scots chamber music by Friends of Note; the ballads and the folk songs.


Then it was open to the floor. There seemed to be at least one saucy rugby song (if not a rugby song, it should be) that everyone seemed to know because they joined in. Zany verse and jokes, (one of which I have purloined for today's Tailpiece). Things got better and better.


And then some lovely solo ballads by Ian Lamb. What did he wind up with but The Road To Dundee, as quoted above?


Then closure and a piper playing Auld Lang Syne as the whole scrum linked with crossed arms and surged about the way they do.


Now you know what a ceilidh is. A lot of fun.


WHERE is Kim Jong-un (The Young 'Un), the North Korean leader? He hasn't been seen in public since September 3 and then he was limping badly. Recently he missed the annual pilgrimage to a mausoleum where the bodies of his father and grandfather are embalmed (they're big on that kind of thing in North Korea).

Speculation is rife. Has there been a coup? Has Kim been chopped up and fed to the dogs the way his uncle was recently?

Western diplomats seem to think not. But otherwise they are guessing.

Does he have an attack of gout? Or has he gone incognito to Nkandla to discuss nuclear matters?

Nobody would wish gout on the Dear Leader, but most of us would probably prefer the former.





A FISHERMAN on Durban's North Pier hooks a big one. He fights it for hour after hour and a crowd gathers. Eventually he manages to reel his catch in close. A submarine pops to the surface, so encrusted with barnacles it's almost lost its shape; also draped in seaweed.


The hatch on the conning tower pops open. The submarine commander is there with a pistol. He has a very long beard.


"Hande hoch, Englanders! You iss prisoners uff der German navy!"


"That's crazy. The war ended years ago."


"Vot you say? Der var ofer? Who von?"


"We did."


"Der Englanders?"


"Wi' a bit o' help from us Scots."


"Himmel!" He calls down the conning tower. "Hans, der var iss ofer. Ve lost. Take down der picture uff de Kaiser!"



Last word


The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself.

James Thurber