Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Idler, Wednesday, August 15

Believe It Or Not

DECEMBER will see the centenary of Ripley's Believe It Or Not - that collection of oddities and freakiness worldwide that made its debut as a newspaper cartoon but has since featured in books, TV shows and "odditoriums" in various places.

To mark the centenary another book, A Century of Strange, is to be launched next week, featuring freaky photos and bizarre facts about the strangest people, animals and other oddities.


Huffington Post has been given a glimpse of the book's contents. They include:


·         Ashley Glawe, of Portland, Oregon, had a decorative hole gouged in her earlobe. This attracted the attention of her pet snake, Bart, who tried to slither through but got stuck halfway. Doctors had to numb her ear and stretch it to allow Bart to wiggle free.


·         Steven Warden, a hair salon owner in Cambridge, Ohio, has been gluing hair from clients into a giant ball. The ball has hit 44kg and keeps growing.


·         The head of a serial killer preserved in a jar. In 1841 Portugal executed its very first serial killer, Diogo Alves, who killed about 70 people in a three-year period. After Alves' execution, his head was preserved in a jar. It's currently on display at the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Medicine.


·         A dish of fruit bat stew. Bats are considered a delicacy in various Asian and Pacific Rim countries, but gourmets in Palau, Micronesia, prefer to serve them whole in a steaming bowl of broth.


·         An ET Honey Bun. Danielle York, of Manchester, New Hampshire, had a sweet encounter with internet fame when she bought a Walmart honey bun that looked eerily like ET, the extraterrestial.


·         The Spaghetti Doughnut. A Brooklyn restaurant serves savoury doughnuts made from spaghetti.  Based on a traditional Neapolitan recipe called frittata di spaghetti, or spaghetti pie, you can get them in flavours ranging from red sauce to carbonara, zucchini and Bolognese.

·         3-D Graffiti. Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith paints optical illusions on different surfaces, including 90-degree corners.





·         A two-headed shark foetus.  This was discovered off the Florida Keys and later sold for $10 600 (R150 000) in an e-Bay auction.

o    A face-hugging Bat Fly. This was discovered by researchers in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park. The fly feeds on the blood of bats.


·         A Sun Artist. Colorado artist Michael Papadakis uses mirrors and magnifying glasses as paintbrushes to burn drawings onto wooden canvases. This art form is called heliography, and the images he creates range from romantic scenes on fence posts to landscapes of city skylines.

·         A mutant dancer. Los Angeles-based dancer Solto Esengulov morphs his body in ways that seem impossible. Some of his moves include flipping onto the top of his head, bulging his shoulder blades out of his back, and displacing his abdomen while seemingly moving his rib cage up and down.

That last entry- the mutant dancer – seems very much like the late-night party trick performed on the bar counter by one of the damsels of the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties, here in Durban. Except it's not her shoulder blades that bulge. The rib cage moving up and down is nothing short of sensational.

The pickled head of the serial killer is certainly unusual. But otherwise, you might be saying, it's a bit tame. Fruit bat stew? A honey bun that looks like ET?

But this was just a taster. The shocking, scary stuff is still to come. I have it on good authority that agents for Ripley's Believe It Or Not have been very active in these parts over the past year or so, recording details of the Gupta saga, Ethekwini Council, the prosecution rate for corruption and all the rest.

My sources tell me A Century of Strange will be a sensation that leap-frogs us over the White House and Downing Street for top place in Believe It Or Not. We're on our way back!



An Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, a priest, a nun, a rabbi, a Pole and Van der Merwe walk into a bar.

Barman: "What's this? Some kind of joke?"

Last word

I LOVE such mirth as does not make friends ashamed to look on one another next morning. – Izaak Walton


Monday, August 13, 2018

The Idler, Tuesday, August 14

Refuse collection solution

STAND by for an urgent visit by a fact-finding team from eThekweni Council to Puy de Fou historical theme park in Vendee, France. It's to do with the endless ructions in Durban over refuse collecton.

At Puy de Fou they've solved the problem. According to Sky News, they're training six crows to pick up cigarette butts and other bits of rubbish. These they drop into a bin and, in return, for each butt or piece of rubbish the crow is rewarded with a titbit.

It's a case of using nature itself to care for the environment, says Nicolas de Villiers, head honcho at the park. Six "particularly intelligent" crows have been selected for the task.

Voila! This is the way to go. We've got plenty of crows in Durban. And if a crow can do a thing, so can an Indian mynah. And we've got more than plenty of Indian mynahs. In no time, Durban will be a gleaming, spotless city.

And why stop at crows and Indian mynahs? The hadedahs have been loafing about for years waiting for something useful to do. Why not train them to drive solid waste trucks. They're not unionised, it's dead simple, it'll go like clockwork.

Just watch those Ethekwini Council agendas. Things are about to change.


Giants of the past


WHERE in this world of turmoil are the weighty and reassuring leaders of yesteryear? Reader Beau Lintner gives the example of Churchill, whose vocabulary and command of the English language were unparalleled.


'How I wish we had representatives, politicians and statesmen of his
calibre around today."

Beau quotes Churchill stating his position on whisky.


"If you mean whisky, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fibre of my being.

"However, if by whisky you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean good cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life's great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of pounds each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation... then my friend I am absolutely, unequivocally in favour of it!

"This is my position and, as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle."


A man you could follow. They don't make 'em like that any more.



No answer


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-Forties: "Alcohol isn't the answer. But it helps you to forget the question."










US goes ugly

THINGS are turning ugly in America. Donald Trump's former campaign manager is in court charged with huge shenanigans connected to his dealings with the Ukraine.

There's a buzz of lawyers contradicting one another as special counsel Robert Mueller edges toward interviewing the president for his investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election campaign.

Meanwhile, the mid-term elections to Congress are bearing down and the pollsters and pundits are trying to project what could happen there in this febrile atmosphere.

And now satirist Andy Borowitz conflates the whole lot. He predicts in the New Yorker that the Republicans could pick up as many as 70 seats in prison.

Yes, it's getting really ugly.




"DOCTOR, you've got to help me. I keep thinking I'm a dog."

"Okay, lie down on the couch and tell me all about it."

"I can't, I'm not allowed on the furniture."

Last word

My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world. – George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Idler, Monday, August 13, 2018



Snow goose again


THAT snow goose just keeps on circling. Last week we discussed a reading at the St Clement's arts soiree of Paul Gallico's moving novella, The Snow Goose. To recap: this concerns a reclusive hunchback artist named Rhayader who lives in an old lighthouse on the Essex marshes, in England, and a girl named Frith.


Together they nurse back to health a Canadian snow goose that has been wounded by hunters. A strong three-way bond develops over the years. The snow goose announces its return from migration by flying three times round the lighthouse.


Frith grows into a woman. World War II breaks out. British troops in France are trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. The famous flotilla of "little ships" sets out to rescue them from across the English Channel. Rhayader joins them in his small sailing boat.


Frith watches as he sails down the Thames estuary, the snow goose flying circles round his mast.


Then soldiers describe how they were rescued from the shot and shell of Dunkirk, where they were sitting ducks, by a strange little hunchback who seemed to be guided by a goose flying about his boat. He took them to a larger vessel offshore, then went back to the beach again and again.


Frith is standing on the sea wall when she sees the snow goose return alone. She realises Rhayader hasn't made it. The goose flies three times round the lighthouse then sets off. Frith suddenly realises her relationship with Rhayader was love. The snow goose represents his departing soul.


It's a most affecting story. As I said last week, barely a dry eye in the house at St Clement's.


Now reader Val de Beer takes over. Val taught English for 15 years at Durban Girls' College. After she retired she was approached by another school – boys as well as girls – and asked to help out.


"One afternoon I read them The Snow Goose and they were captivated.


"Some of those young people had undergone very difficult experiences in their young lives so when I was given a poem, which one of the boys wrote for me, I was very moved by it.


"Later, I wrote this poem after I had been thinking about him and the other pupils. I thought that you may like it.



'You were our snow goose'

He wrote in a poem to me that I'll never forget.

I'd read them the book –

How the snow goose came

When there was trouble.

Rhayader saved the men in the boats at Dunkirk

And the goose

Whirled around above them.

When there was a landmine near the boat

The goose warned the men away.

After Rhayader's death

When the men were safe,

Frith saw the snow goose

Encircle the lighthouse

Three times

And finally leave.

'You were our snow goose,

You came when we needed you

And showed us what to do'

He said.



Rage, loss and pain.

All part of their everyday lives.

'But you were our snow goose.'

All I could do was try my best

To show them another world,

Another way to cope,

Something to strive towards.

Then finally

I had to leave.

That's absolutely beautiful, Val, fully in keeping with Gallico's story. Most affecting.


Great move

PAUL Gallico was an American who began his career as a sportswriter in the 1920s – and a highly successful one who set himself up in a sparring bout with the great Jack Dempsey. He whacked Dempsey a bit hard and was later able to describe to his readers what it was like to be knocked out by the heavyweight champion.

In the late 1930s, he abandoned sports writing for fiction, first writing an essay about this decision entitled "Farewell to Sport". Most prolific he was too.

The Snow Goose was published in 1941 and won him the O Henry Award for short stories. (O Henry – there was another master of the craft). As I say, prolific. Short stories, film scripts. His 1969 book, The Poseidon Adventure, made a great movie.

Most would agree that Gallico's shift from sportswriting was a good move.



WHAT'S Irish and hangs out in the back yard?

Patty O'Furniture.

Last word

MORE people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice. – RS Surtees

The Idler, Friday, August 10, 2018

Desecration at least reversed


EARLIER this week we discussed the Essex marshes, on the Thames estuary in England, in the context of Paul Gallico's novella, The Snow Goose, and my own experience of interviewing a hermit on the marshes.


Reader Andy Leyton also knows the marshes. He worked at an oil refinery bordering on the marshes and Canvey Island in the late seventies and early eighties, which was some years after I was there.


But he says in those days they'd started using the marshes as a rubbish tip for London. How disgraceful!


But here's the good news. They saw the error of their ways, stopped the dumping and have rehabilitated the marshes to being the haven for wildlife they had always been.


It shows, it can be done.



Estuary emergency


CANVEY Island, the Isle of Dogs … while we're with the Thames Estuary, another thrilling account.


A pal of mine was a junior officer in the merchant navy/ He was with a small line that had rather ancient steamers plying to ports in various parts of the world.

This particular ship had a speaking tube from the bridge to the engine room. To attract the attention of the engineer on watch you would blow a whistle into the tube. The engineer would then put his ear to the tube at his end to await instructions.


In the dark watches of the night, to relieve the tedium my pal would blow the whistle into the speaking tube. Then he would roll a marble down it. The engineer would put his ear to his end of the tube – to be hit in the lug by a marble. Hilarious!


He did it again a few days out from London – but this time the marble stuck in the speaking tube. The joke fell flat.


Next they were steaming slowly up the Thames estuary in full daylight. The Old Man (which is what they call the ship's captain in the merchant service) was on the bridge. My pal was operating the very ancient bridge telegraph, which sends messages to the engine room.


Now this Old Man had a quirk. He disliked pleasure boats and other small craft being in the vicinity and a damned nuisance. If he spotted any he would order "full ahead" to set up a bow wave and a wake to set the small boats bobbing about. Teach 'em a lesson. Then he would order "full astern" to slow down again.


Small boats came in view. "Full ahead!" My pal gave the signal to the engine room. The steamer surged ahead, a bow wave built up, the small boats were getting a rough time.


"Full astern!"

At which the bridge telegraph signalling thingummy-jig came off in his hand. And he suddenly recalled there was a marble blocking the speaking tube. Here was a steamer thundering up the Thames estuary at gathering speed.


My pal still had the bridge telegraph apparatus in his hand as he made it into the engine room in record time.


Yes, the Thames estuary. Drama all the way.




WHERE in the world these days is there not a wildfire raging? This is a product of global warming and dessication, the scientists say. We're headed for a global hothouse if we don't get our act together and halt the carbons we're pumping into the atmosphere.

And over in California – possibly the hottest spot – the fires are having a political boomerang effect, according to the New Yorker. Californians are blaming Donald Trump for not blaming Hillary Clinton.

"Californians were baffled by a series of tweets by Donald J. Trump in which he utterly failed to blame the state's current wildfires on Hillary Clinton."

Yes, this is satirist Andy Borowitz again. He doesn't miss a trick.



A FELLOW goes into a bar with a golden retriever. He says to the barman: "If I can get my dog to talk, will you give me a drink?"

The barman sighs. "Go ahead, buddy."

The fellow says to the dog. "What's on top of your doghouse?"


"That's not talkin', that's barkin!"

"What's sandpaper like?"


"That's still barkin'!"

"Who was the world's best baseballer ever?"


"That's also barkin'! Look I'm gettin' sick of you two, get outta here!"

Outside, the dog says: "D'ya think I shoulda said Di Maggio?"

Last word

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Leonardo da Vinci


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Idler, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Barely a dry eye

THERE was barely a dry eye in the house at the St Clement's arts soiree the other evening, where we had a reading of Paul Gallico's novella, The Snow Goose. This is a most affecting and emotional piece of work, the reading coming after a lovely bit of Vivaldi.

The blonde gal who was seated beside me is a tough cookie. She regularly smacks me about the ears for various misdemeanours, not least lapses from today's norms of correctness. But even she had the weepers gushing.

The Snow Goose is of course the story, set on the Essex marshes of England, of how a reclusive hunchback artist and a young girl from a nearby fishing hamlet rescue and nurse back to health a Canadian snow goose that has been wounded by hunters.

A three-way bond develops over the years. The goose migrates along with the other geese of the marsh, but regularly returns. The girl grows into a woman, and that's when things get a bit complicated.

Then comes World War II and the crisis of the British troops stranded at Dunkirk; the rescue mission by the "little ships" from across the English Channel. The hunchback artist sets off in his own small sailing boat and, as the girl anxiously waves him goodbye as he heads down the Thames estuary, she sees the snow goose flying circles around his mast.

Then it cuts to soldiers describing in their rough way how they were picked up off the beach at Dunkirk, in the midst of shot and shell, by an odd hunchback fellow in a small sailing boat with "a bloomin' goose" flying about the mast as if to guide him. He took them to a larger vessel standing offshore and went back again and again, picking up more soldiers.

The hunchback artist does not return. The girl is standing by the old lighthouse where the hunchback artist lived when she sees the snow goose return. She realises what must have happened. The snow goose flies three times round the lighthouse then sets off. She suddenly realises this was love; that she's saying farewell to the hunchback artist's soul …

As I say, barely a dry eye in the house – a tribute to the reading by retired drama prof Pieter Scholtz, Philippa Savage and Rodger Knowles. Gallico's story is exquisitely written. They put it across superbly.

Marsh hermit


THE Essex marshes are just as Gallico described: vast, salty, running into the Thames estuary; clumps of grass, clumps of reeds; between soggy underfoot and being actual quicksand, depending on the tide and the weather. They teem with birdlife but not with humankind. Go on the marshes and you feel you could be the only person on earth.

I know this because, in days of yore, I worked for a newspaper group called the South Essex Recorders (read in every quarter of the globe). One morning my news editor beckoned to me.

"They say there's a hermit living in a car out on the marshes. I'd like you to find him and interview him."

"Find a hermit on the marshes? How many weeks are you giving me?"

"'Til three o'clock this afternoon."

One learns how to cut corners. I went to a pub on the sea wall called the Ship and Shovel, to inquire about the marsh hermit.

"Oh, old Bob," said the barman. "Why d'you want ta see 'im? Mad as a fiddler's bitch, 'e is."

It turned out just about everyone on the fringes of the marsh knew Old Bob the hermit. They used to give him grub, see that he was OK. They gave me directions.

Soon enough I was at Old Bob's clapped-out old Vauxhall, its tyres flat as pancakes. He was indeed completely bonkers but friendly enough. He made me tea and expounded on his views on life and why he lived on the marsh.

'Twas weird stuff. It's on the Essex marshes that you get a proper balance. I was back at the office by two o'clock.



A SCOTSMAN is on a fishing trip in the wilderness of Canada with relatives.

"Wha's that yonder?" he suddenly asks.

"That's a moose."

"A moose? I'd hate tae see yer cats!"

Last word

We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.

Bill Vaughan

The Idler, Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Triangles of mystery

HAVE they solved the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle – also known as the Devil's Triangle - that area of the North Atlantic between Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda itself, where ships and aircraft are said to have mysteriously disappeared over the years.

Various writers have attributed this to supernatural forces, extra-terrestials, even sea monsters.

Others have debunked the whole thing, saying there's no mystery at all. The Triangle covers some of the world's busiest shipping lanes and losses are proportionately no higher than anywhere else. The mystery writers are accused of embellishment, exaggeration and often being factually wrong.

Now scientists who've been investigating the Bermuda Tringle say there certainly are monsters – rogue waves that can reach 30m as storms to north and south, and sometimes from Florida in the west as well, converge, according to British TV 's Channel 5.

That's interesting. But it does nothing to increase the sense of menace and mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. Interest tends to evaporate if anything.

Attention switches elsewhere. What about the Westminster Triangle? Here an island that had enjoyed unprecedented prosperity for more than 40 years has begun tearing at its entrails and screeching "Brexit! Brexit!" at its partners in the European Union as it prepares for a lemming rush off the White Cliffs of Dover, with consequences that could be as catastrophic in material terms as World War II. A madness seems to have taken hold.

What could be behind this? Malign supernatural forces? Extra-terrestials (possibly operating from Moscow)? Sea monsters? (Boris Johnson might well qualify). Is this in fact the Devil's Triangle? There's nothing scientific or rational to explain it.

It started out dead simple. Its supporters said a Brexit deal would be a piece of cake. It's now obviously impossible and always was. Nobody did their homework.

The Westminster Triangle. Thirty-metre waves? The Bermuda Triangle seems a millpond by comparison.




Potent zeroes

THIS week we noted some discrepancy between the American and the British understanding of a billion. To the Yanks it's a thousand million. To many Brits it's still a million million.


"Yes, you're quite right,' says reader Alan Campbell. "According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, in the UK, a billion is deemed to be a million million.

"Putting that in some sort of context; a million seconds is just over eleven and a half days. I think Idler's Column readers will be surprised to read that a billion seconds (a million million seconds) is just over 30 000 years).


Wow! Those zeroes kick in!


It's a gift


AND, still in the context of time, local poet Sarita Mathur sends in some lines.



Borrowed time
That's all of us
Living in the present
That's why it's called,
'The Present'
It's a gift.
Let's love and laugh
Gratitude is the key
It all becomes very simple
When we realise
From sunset to sunrise
That we're living on 'Borrowed Time'
In health
And that is wealth
Let's in gratitude be,
Let not misfortune fall on us
For us to see
That we're living on 'Borrowed Time'.

Road show

A STATE troopers' stunt show? Motorists in Texas were startled the other day to see a police car on the highway put on the kind of act you normally see only at the state fair.

A man climbed out of the window of the moving vehicle and got onto the roof, at which the police car speeded up.

What next? Would the roof passenger transfer to another vehicle?

What had happened, according to Sky News, was that a prisoner was being transferred to another jail. Sitting on the back seat he slipped his handcuffs, smashed the rear window and climbed out.

The driver radioed for assistance and stepped on the gas so the roof passenger would have no chance of jumping off.

As other police cars arrived, he slowed down and the prisoner did jump off but ran straight into the arms of other policemen.

Huge risk, huge effort and only a few minutes' freedom. But other road users did get a show to remember.






HOW many Scotsmen does it take to change a light bulb?

Och, it's no that dark.

Last word

Dreams will get you nowhere, a good kick in the pants will take you a long way. - Baltasar Gracian