Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Idler, Thursday, October 11, 2018

The common comorant or shag

Lays its eggs in a paper bag.

The reason, as you'll have no doubt,

Is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds

Have never noticed is that herds

Of wandering bears might come with buns

And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.


I ENCOUNTERED this piece of doggerel many years ago in Joel Mervis's The Passing Show column in the Sunday Times, which ran for something like 50 years – a delightful compendium of satire and humour.

Since then I hadn't given much thought to the shag – not in that context anyway. But now, according to Sky News, the king shag – a sea comorant - is in line to become New Zealand's "bird of the year".

But there's controversy. People vote by email for their favourite bird. It was neck and neck until suddenly a torrent of votes for the king shag flowed in, all from the same address in Australia. The organisers – an outfit called Forest and Bird – suspect that some Aussie cobber is taking the mickey.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has given her vote to the black petrel, which she describes as "the bogan of the birds".

Bogan? It means a person of loutish appearance and manner. Synonyms are "larrikin" and "ocker". Most colourful and enriching, these antipodean dialects.


WHO remembers Mervis's The Passing Show? The courtroom scenes: Mr Justice Fogbound presiding; Mr KC Tarradiddle QC, opposed by Mr Waterval Boven assisted by Mr Waterval  Onder.

Oscar Wildebeest and his witty remarks. Dr Ebenezer Boneash MAHFGR*, headmaster of Skollypot. (*May All His Finesses Go Right). Sitting in Prymzl waiting for a war to break out. Gives Ossip Broz Skopl Topl a klep in noz.

And a non-stop lampooning, over 50 years, of the Nat political establishment.

Wonderful stuff. Somebody should dig it all out and write a history of the era. I'm sure a PhD lurks there.


READER Richard Isemonger, of Hillcrest, pens some topical lines (with apologies to Lewis Carroll.


The time has come, old Cyril said, to talk of many things,

Like theft and fraud and crooked rings;

And why the state is plagued with ailing boards

Or whether dishonest men are armed with swords.


The sage looked Cyril in the eye

And saw he was about to cry;

But it was a bitter tear

And not occasioned by his fear.


Then Cyril asked about falls on swords

And the armour held by boards.

'Ah!' said the sage, 'the swords are blunt,

And this precludes performance of such a stunt.'


Find stone and sharpener with skill

And he will help you gain a kill.

Cyril winked and produced a wily smile;

'You may see what happens in a while.'


A whiff of prison is what we need

And this must come at greatest speed.

Rolling eyes to sky

The sage let out a stifled cry.


'We have heard this all before

And it's become an awful bore.

Grab the bull by horns

(or by whatever you think is best)

And throw him at the thorns.'



THE captain of the Titanic calls an emergency meeting of his officers.

"I've got good news and bad news. Which should I give first?"

"Give us the good news."

"We'll get 11 Oscars."


Last word

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time.

EB White

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