Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Monday, August 22, 2016
Voles in the news
"Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole ..." So begins Evelyn Waugh's hilarious satirical novel, Scoop.
William Boot, the shy, unworldly part-time Country Life correspondent of a Fleet Street newspaper is mistakenly sent in the 1930s to cover a war in the Horn of Africa, where he finds himself writing, with great naivety, about rather more than questing voles.
Through professional incompetence and being in absolutely the wrong place for a foreign correspondent, he ends up with the newspaper "scoop" of the title and returns to great fanfare before going back to the countryside and the drama of the life of voles and other creatures.
Scoop has always been a favourite among newspaper people and I'm sure our Splashy Fen music festival at Underberg is based on Waugh's "plashy fen". Splashy Fen was started by Peter Ferrar, once a senior man on the Star, in Johannesburg. Somehow an "S" seems to have attached itself to the name – though the meaning is exactly the same.
Back to voles. It seems these small rodents have been in serious decline in parts of Britain. But now 100 000 have been reintroduced by the National Trust to the Yorkshire Dales, in the vicinity of Malham Tarn, England's highest freshwater lake.
They will no doubt prosper. And featherfooted through the plashy fen …
THE war that Boot was sent to cover was in the fictional country of Ishmaelia. The book was actually based on a real war in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), which Waugh covered for the London Daily Mail as it was invaded by Mussolini.
He was later to write a factual account of the campaign, titled Waugh in Abbysinia. In this he records sending a despatch by telegraph which, to avoid interception and possible censorship by the authorities, he wrote in Latin. It's the kind of thing that could happen in those days.
All very well, except nobody on the Daily Mail understood Latin. The message was still waiting there, unused, on his return. The popular end of Fleet Street doesn't have too many public schoolboys with Latin.
This kind of thing can be most frustrating for foreign correspondents. I once sent a press telegram from a place called Vila Luso, in the far south-east of Angola, telling the world that Jonas Savimbi, leader of the country's most effective guerilla group by far, had called a cease-fire with the Portuguese to enable general peace talks. I suppose you could call it a scoop.
I watched, after handing in my carefully composed piece, as a Portuguese telegraphist who spoke not a word of English tapped it out on a morse key, for relaying via Lisbon.
Alas, this too was waiting unused on my return a month or so later. It had a Portuguese address, a few mangled English words and the rest was gibberish.
OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "I'm confused. I went out to dinner in a Chinese restaurant last night and my fortune cookie contradicts my horoscope."
AMERICANS in New York and four other cities awoke the other morning to naked statues of Donald Trump standing in public places, causing great mirth – and a rush for selfies - before they were carted away by city officials.
The other cities were San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Seattle.
Apparently made from material similar to tailors' models, the statues were the work of an activist organisation called Indecline, the sculptor being a Cleveland man known as "Ginger".
They have Donald Trump with hands clasped across a plump tummy. Sky News decorously does not take its camera lens any lower.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation issued a statement: "NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks."
READER Dave Peters, of Kloof, takes up the question of five-day Test cricket. He quotes Lord Mancroft.
"Cricket is a game invented by the English, not being a spiritual people, to give them some sort of conception of eternity."
A SCOTSMAN is visiting relatives in Canada. They take him fishing. He sees a large creature in the middle distance.
"A moose? I'd hate tae see yer rats!"
I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
That's showbiz folks
A GREAT winning try that was by Warren Whitely. But when, from the kick-off, the full-time hooter sounded and he happened to gather the ball; and he then made to hoof it out of play; then found he'd kicked an up-and-under instead, going nowhere near touch; and he then gathered his own kick and dived the ball into touch – it was an unusual and unexpected play.
Entertaining rugby is all very well, but in a Test match slapstick is going too far.
Boy, what a nailbiter the Nelspruit affair turned out to be. Argentina are tough hombres. Their backline play is exceedingly clever, given the slightest chance. The Boks play them again next weekend, this time in Buenos Aires.
We showed huge improvement. Yet one has a sense of foreboding. Not so much for Buenos Aires – we have the measure of them – but for the impending encounter with the All Blacks.
I was in the Kingsmead Mynahs suite on Saturday where, due to drizzle and poor light, cricket was abandoned, and instead we watched on TV the slaughter of the Van Diemenslanders.
'Twas a horrid sight. A lot of work lies ahead if we are to match these All Blacks.
IT'S difficult to predict what effect lost playing time will have on the outcome of the current cricket Test between the Black Caps and the Proteas. All we can say with some certainty that midday today will provide a turning point.
It will then be high tide, just coming off spring tides.
The first sign will be small mullet leaping at long-on, the dorsal fins of sharks patrolling the boundary and fiddler crabs nipping painfully at crouching slip fielders. The wicket will start doing peculiar things.
At Kingsmead it's good to have local knowledge.
Fans not there
WHATEVER has happened to South African sports fans? At Kingsmead on Friday there was an enthralling day's play, a Test between South Africa and New Zealand. There was a time when people would have queued for hours to see this kind of thing.
They would have come to watch as much as they could over five days – many grandmothers would die.
Yet it attracted all of 2 000 people. It's astonishing.
This is because Test cricket is stodgy and old-fashioned? Five days is too long for any game?
Why then are rugby attendances at Kings Park and other centres similarly pathetic for an 80-minute game? Kings Park used be regularly packed with crowds of 30 000-plus.
Why are rugby stadiums in the Home Unions, France, Australia and New Zealand packed? Cricket grounds in the same countries, plus India? They all have the same sort of competing TV coverage we do. It's a puzzle.
Razzamatazz and blaring music is not the answer. We surely need to fill those stands with schoolkids, let in for free. Bus them in from places like Umlazi and KwaMashu. Get some crowd atmosphere. Attract fans of the future. Don't just languish.
INVESTMENT analyst Dr James Greener says in his latest grumpy newsletter that it seems the world markets have entered a holding pattern until the Olympics and the US presidential elections are over.
"In respect of this latter event it is utterly amazing that such a big country can offer its electorate such a poor choice of candidates.
"Is there no chance of an unexpected gale of change such as we have experienced down here on the southern tip?
"Once again the perils of foretelling the future are laid bare. Did any pundit come anywhere near to the outcome for our local governments? Democracy given its head can produce some amazing results. Once again, as in 1994, one is proud to be a South African."
IN A TRAIN from London to Manchester, an American is berating the Englishman sitting across from him in the compartment.
"The trouble with you English is that you are too stuffy. You set yourselves apart too much. You think your stiff upper lip makes you above the rest of us.
"Look at me. I'm me. I have a little Italian in me, a bit of Greek, a little Irish and some Spanish blood. What do you say to that?"
The Englishman lowers his newspaper and looks over his glasses: "Jolly sporting of your mother."
Boys will be boys, and so will a lot of middle-aged men.
A WEEKEND of rugby. This afternoon Boland, down in Welllington, which the Sharks will no doubt find more welcoming than Wellington New Zealand a few weeks ago, where the goalposts were dancing in the shrieking gale and the freezing rain was slashing down.
That was the Land of the Long White Underpants. This is the Kaap van die Kortbroek. Our kickers will stand a chance this time.
Boland. When did we last play them? We look forward to a lively game as a wind-up to the Big 'Un next week against the Bulls. Robert du Preez seems to have given the lads a talking-to about that nasty habit of picking their nose, er pointless downfield kicking.
Then Nelspruit. It's a remote part of the country to choose for retribution for last season's Bok humiliation at Kings Park. The Jaguares didn't do famously in Super Rugby but los Pumas could be rather different. May the Boks put down some meaningful markers for what lies ahead.
The gals of the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties are already snapping at their knicker elastic in anticipation of the traditional feu de joie, in which the street lights are shot out in celebration, using catapults fashioned from their underwear.
That's for both matches. What a season!
DO WE LIVE in a crazy world? Not too long ago, the Brits voted on whether or not to remain in the EU. The clownish Boris Johnson toured Britain in a red bus with a huge lie signwritten on its side, in support of Brexit.
Brexit won. But now it turns out the Brits don't have the foggiest idea – least of all Boris and the Brexiteers – how to actually disengage with Europe. It could take years to work out.
Now something weirder, the other side of the Atlantic. Michael Moore, maker of anti-establishment documentary films, maintains that Donald Trump entered the presidential race only as a publicity gimmick; that he wasn't meant to win any primaries, let alone become a presidential candidate.
This is interesting because not too long ago Moore was warning on his website of the real danger of Trump winning the presidency. But now he has different information.
It seems Trump was trying to get more money out of NBC for his popular reality TV show, The Apprentice. He was speaking in private to a rival network. To ramp up his celebrity status for the deal, he announced his candidacy. He was supposed to drop out soon after.
Then he made his speech about building a wall around Mexico, calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists. NBC cancelled his reality show. Also Miss USA and Miss Universe, which Trump owned.
But he had to keep it up, impress the other networks with his celebrity status. And Trump, to his own surprise, ignited the country.
Now he has a twin nightmare: either winning (who wants to live in the Washington ghetto?) or – more likely – losing to Hillary Clinton and having the scarlet "L for loser" branded on his forehead on November 8. This for a man like Trump, is unthinkable.
Hence the increasingly bizarre and insulting utterances. Trump wants to drop out of the race, Moore maintains. He wants his party to force him out.
Truly weird. If there's any truth in this, Moore has another great movie to shoot.
And statecraft has certainly changed both sides of the Atlantic.
A LITTLE over a month ago, underwater photographer Kevin McIlwee lost his camera in the sea at St Brelade, Jersey, in the Channel Islands, when a clip securing it came undone. The camera sank to the seabed and he was unable to find it.
Now scallop diver Josh Dearing has found it and returned it to McIlwee. The £8 000 (R140 000) camera was covered in cuttlefish eggs, according to the BBC, but is working fine now it's been cleaned up.
Haven't they missed a trick here? Cuttlefish eggs? They should have left it in a saltwater fish tank for a while to let the eggs hatch.
Don't they like calamari?
HE doesn't drink anything stronger than pop. Mind you, Pop will drink anything.
At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.
Concentrating the mind
COALITION is the in-word. Will the political parties be able to fashion coalitions – power-sharing – in the hung municipalities where no party has an absolute majority?
It surely ought to be possible. There's nothing ideological about water, sewerage, electricity and the rest of it. Who knows, co-operation at local level might teach the politicos that it can be done at provincial and national levels as well – back to the Government of National Unity of the Mandela era.
The government says that if municipalities are unable to fashion functioning local governments, it will have to intervene. Presumably that would mean those municipalities being run by provincial government, the way it already happens if they become dysfunctional.
In that case, are councillors entitled to be paid for their non-services? What it amounts to is that they decline to govern. We surely need to get this made clear. In fashioning coalitions it could wonderfully concentrate the mind.
THE opinions polls are not being kind to Donald Trump. His bizarre utterances appear to be now compounded by a refusal to release details of his tax affairs.
But, according to satirist Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker, Trump has hit back against the poll figures by denouncing the numerical system itself.
He called the numerical system "rigged", says Borowitz, and unleashed a torrent of abuse on numbers themselves, calling them "disgusting" and "the lowest form of life."
"'It's why I won't release my taxes,' he said. 'They're full of goddam numbers."
GOP insiders fret that Trump is veering wildly off message, says Borowitz. "He should be talking about Hillary Clinton, and instead he's going off on integers." one said.
That's satire. But what's actually going on? Is Trump trying to throw the election?
It's meat and drink for the conspiracy theorists, who abound on the internet. A site called Anti-Media maintains that Trump is a Trojan Horse who set out to destroy the Republican Party and get Hillary Clinton into the presidency.
Well, he might well have done just that. But on purpose? Anti-Media maintains also that a group called the Deep State controls the whole world in secret. Does that make the Democratic Party a part of Deep State? The mind, senor, she boggles.
Andy Oshry, of Huffington Post, takes a more conventional view. Trump has blown it, he says. His campaign is in chaos as he continually counter-punches against perceived slights. He's already lost.
Yes, but they said pretty much the same about Brexit, didn't they?
REFERRING to yesterday's column about the great Curry Cook-Off, former Durban councillor Laurie Kaplan says he and his wife were driving along Sparks Road when they spotted a sign in a shop window.
It was in huge capitals and read: "HOT! HOT! BURN YOUR BUM CURRY!"
EIGHTY-eight-year-old Maureen Page-Green (I hope I've read her signature right) sends in a petrol cash sales slip from the Cowiesway Service Station, Cowie's Hill, dated July 27, 1988.
She found it on July 27, 2016 – 28 years later, to the day - in a bag of tapestry wool which had been donated to the Cheshire Home charity shop in Mosely, where she's a volunteer.
According to the cash slip a car – ND 410863 – drove into the service station and bought 12.66 litres of 98-octane petrol for R10.
"A strange coincidence or just a reminder of the good times in which we lived."
A coincidence indeed, Maureen. Also a reminder.
But by July 27, 1988, things had already begun to slide, I'm afraid. It began when we decimalised our coinage from pounds, shillings and pence. It got worse when we adopted metric weights and measures.
At the time we decimalised the coinage, you could buy a gallon of petrol for three shillings and sixpence.
Three shillings and sixpence is the equivalent of 35 cents. A gallon is the equivalent of 4.54609 litres. A litre of petrol in those days therefore cost the equivalent of 7.6998923690468073 cents. Let's call it 8 cents.
Petrol at the equivalent of 8 cents a litre! Decimal coinage and metrication have brought ruination on us.
I rest my case.
WHAT does Wayde van Niekerk do when he misses his bus?
He gets on at the next stop.
People who throw kisses are hopelessly lazy.
AS MENTIONED in yesterday's paper, a Cuban cigar-maker has rolled a 90m cigar in honour of the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro.
Tobacconist Jose Catelar and a team of assistants took 10 days to roll the monster cigar – the thickness of an ordinary one – working 12 hours a day.
Now here's a thought. Would Senor Catelar perhaps be prepared to roll a 92m cigar in honour of President Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, who also celebrated his birthday recently?
What a magnificent finale it would make to the Rio Olympics – Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe smoking (and finishing) their birthday cigars at the closing ceremony. And what a fitting tribute to these elder statesmen.
A POEM comes this way from Barbados, in the West Indies, written by one Jenny Joseph..
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens,
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!
Yeah, you can't reach a serene old age 'til you can spit on the ceiling. Start practising now!
Catch a nap
THE great frigatebirds that wheel their way about the oceans of the southern hemisphere, skimming the waves, catching the air currents and seeming hardly ever to move their wings, are one of nature's wonders.
They can stay in flight for two months at a time. They can't rest on the water surface the way an albatross does because they don't have waterproofed feathers. They'll come down to catch fish that have been driven to the surface by predators but then they're off again off again on their swooping, soaring flight.
Scientists have been puzzled as to how they go so long without apparently sleeping. But now scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany think they've found out, according to the publication, New Scientist..
They fitted great frigatebirds with small brain activity monitors and movement trackers. It seems that when on their two-month patrols, they do fall asleep in 12-second snatches. But when they get back to their nests on the small islands and cliffs they inhabit, they sleep 12 hours a day plus.
This sounds most human. Who doesn't doze off momentarily in the workplace or when the barroom bore is droning – but still gets in a good eight hours when he gets home?
Yes, nature is wonderful.
THE Jefferson Memorial, in Washington, has its once-gleaming dome covered in a black microbial film that seems to return after it has been scrubbed away.
The white neo-classical structure celebrates America's third president, Thomas Jefferson.
The scientists are baffled. What could be causing these microbes? What contamination of a hitherto pure and pristine atmosphere?
Er, Donald Trump perhaps?
A HANDYMAN is looking for work.
"How much will you charge to paint my porch."
The householder shows him the paint and brushes in the garage, then goes inside.
Then there's a knock at the door.
"Already? That was quick."
"I gave it two coats. By the way, it's not a Porsche, it's a Ferrari."
I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down.
Makes ya noivous
THE American election campaign is getting a little alarming. Donald Trump kicked off saying he's going to build a high wall along the Mexican border to keep out rapists and drug dealers. Now he says President Obama and Hillary Clinton co-founded the terrorist movement Islamic State.
He also suggests, very pointedly, that supporters of the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – might have to take up arms if Hillary wins.
The only debate is over whether he meant Hillary should be assassinated – as earlier presidents have been – or whether there should be a general insurrection.
This is utterly inane. Is this the Republican Party or the Mad Hatter's tea party?
I know the polls show Trump losing support, but Trump appeals to something beyond where the polls reach in America. Also, the US presidential election is not a straight head-count. There's an electoral college where the rust belt states – de-industrialised and discontented - could be decisive.
Makes ya noivous.
Meanwhile, satirist Andy Borowitz says Trump has lashed out at the media for reporting what he says.
Writing in the New Yorker, he quotes Trump saying it's unfair and unethical.
"At a rally in Florida, the candidate lashed out at a TV cameraman whom he caught in the act of recording his words for broadcasting purposes.
"'Look at him over there, picking up everything I'm saying, folks,' Trump shouted. 'Get him out of here!'"
Interesting times – as in the old Chinese curse.
THE Second Amendment was passed in 1791. America was a frontier society then and the arms they allowed citizens to carry were flintlock muskets and powder and ball pistols – not the deadly automatic weapons that spray bullets and have been used in the seemingly regular atrocities that so tragically mar life in America.
SOME entertaining rugby last Friday. The Griquas overcame their initial discomfort and bewilderment at playing on green grass and made a game of it with a great flair on counter-attack.
The match ended on a rousing note in the dying seconds as two Griquas and one Shark chased a rolling, bouncing ball behind the Griquas' goal-line, and all three failed to dot down.
Well, that's the nature of a rugby ball, fellers.
The Sharks are looking sharp. Great hands, great tackling – the defensive line is like a wire noose – and the forwards full of get up and go and driving.
But the backs do need to eliminate that kicking away of possession. It's a bad habit like biting your nails.
A great Currie Cup season beckons. If only somebody could persuade the Nazi Torturer to lay off with the blaring music. Who goes to rugby for this stuff?
The handlebar moustache of an army colonel I was chatting to positively quivered from the decibels. "Something must be done about this!" he declared.
Maybe fixed bayonets.
THE Sevens guys got bronze at the Olympics. They could so easily have got silver. But then they'd have had to play Fiji.
I know we've beaten Fiji before at Sevens, but these fellows seem to have stepped up their game a few notches. They're so big and fast, and with Sevens they have the whole field in which to move,
If it takes two or three tacklers to bring the man down, and he offloads, you haven't got too many personnel left to deal with the rest.
INVESTMENT analyst Dr James Greener reflects in his latest grumpy newsletter on the loud clicking sound that is to be heard as moral compasses are realigned and principles are adjusted.
"The word of the moment is 'coalition'. The annual yearling sales will be trivial compared to the horse trading that must be going on behind closed doors everywhere.
"The naïve yet necessary question to ask is why at the local level does it matter very much which party governs? All that we require is that competent and dedicated people are on hand to install and maintain boring but vital infrastructure.
"The sad answer is of course that in addition to some very fancy salary packages now paid to council officials it's the patronage opportunities for friends and relatives that are attractive."
WHAT do you call a cat that catches outlaws?
A posse cat.
Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing.