The Ice Age Commeth

In 2011 global warming caused an iceberg the size of Switzerland
to break off the Antarctic Ice Shelf and begin drifting into the
open sea. I decided to raise funds to land on it and declare it a
sovereign state.
After all, nobody owned it. And, given time, its climate will
change for the better as it drifts north into the warmer
latitudes. Continue reading

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The Christmas exodus

Psychologist Dr Niki Swart, speaking some time back at a civil defence conference said that in a disaster situation seventy percent of people become confused and panicky while 10 percent scream and cry and the rest become distanced.
I have personal experience of this. It happens every time we go on holiday which is when the entire tribe migrates down to the kwaZulu/Natal North Coast.
It is not that we want to avoid dishing out Christmas boxes back in Johannesburg to those 300 or so dustbin men who arrive in impis shouting “happeeeeee!” and armed with authentic-looking letters claiming they are indeed our municipal dustbin men.
Although, to be honest, that is partly the reason.
It is really to avoid hearing “Jingle bells, jingle bells” every time I go the shops.
But I have long realised how right Dr Swart was. My family, when setting out on a long journey, manifests the first two syndromes – confusion/panic and screaming/crying.
I tend to be like the 20 percent and become “distanced”.
We usually go down to the sea in convoy taking hours because there are so many females and females have bladders the size of eyedrop bulbs and this necessitates stopping every 20 minutes.
And then the younger ones want crisps and soft drinks so that they can mash the chips into the back seat and set the cans, once almost emptied, rolling under the front seats going downhill and rolling back going uphill.
Nowadays we rendezvous at dawn at the house of either one of my daughters where we reverse over suitcases and where we burst plastic bags.
The women tend to bring enormous quantities of food as if the North Coast is served only by a single trading store that sells candles, salt and paraffin.
“How can you have bought all this stuff?”
“It just looks a lot,” I am told. “In any event you should just see how much we left behind on the supermarket shelves.”
The scene is reminiscent of a dockside as an ocean liner prepares for the Far East.
“Who are all these people?” I cry.
But really, I know, because I recognise many of their faces.
Meanwhile every burglar south of Harare can see he has two clear weeks to clean out the house. My son-in-law says, “I just hope they’ll have time to clean out my garage too”.
On one occasion when my granddaughter was small, she spied a packed taxi pulling up and called to the people getting out: “You see this house? Well, Jesus is looking after it because we’re going on holiday.”
The drive is filled with people shouting helpful things like: “Aren’t you folks ready yet for Pete’s sake?”
“Oh no, whose are all these bags?”
“They’re yours,” I am told.
“Wadyou mean?”
“Well, there’s the dog basket and a duvet in one…”
“Dog basket? I thought he was going to the kennels!”
Silly of me.
The scene changes to become reminiscent of the Grand Staircase on the Titanic. I slide into the phase Niki Swart describes as “helplessly withdrawn”.
Inevitably, irrepressibly, the convoy moves out, forsaking the agreeable highveld climate and the peace that engulfs the suburbs at Christmas and heads southeast towards the rains and the tropical humidity that lies ahead.

Loosening up the Brits

A Springbok rugby player has been quoted as saying the English are a “stuffy people”.  Britain’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, agrees. He once appealed to young Britons to show their emotions more and wear ties less…

Sir Rodney Ffeines Featherstone-Hough – nephew of Lord Westland, chairman of the Mad Cow Control Board and the Blood Sports Preservation Society – sits at his customary end of the long dinner table uttering the occasional hurumph. He is a portly man in his late 60s.

A hurumph – a kind of cough – is a peculiarly English expression indicating irritation. It is not done to ask a fellow why he his hurumphing but Lady Jane, Rodney’s wife, has never been one for convention. She is seated at the other end of the table but still within hailing distance.

“Wodney! Wot on arth is the mattah?”

“It’s this fellow, Blair.”

“Blaar?”

“The Prime Minister chap.”

“I think he’s wather cute, actually.”

“Cute like a fox, m’dear. He says the English must throw away their ties and express their emotions. What else can one expect from a Prime Minister who calls himself Tony? Imagine Anthony Eden calling himself Tony! Hurumph!”

“I agwee it’s widiculous! Imagine, deah boy, you walking into the club sans tie!”

She laughs at the thought.

“I don’t even bath without a tie,” says Sir Rodney. “As for showing emotion – does Blair want to have men running around kissing each other like those garlic-eating Frogs across the Channel?”

“But I thought your Conservative Party palls kiss each other all the time,” says Jane.

Rodney, chasing a pea round his plate, does not seem to hear.

“Anyway, you cannot change a country like that,” says Sir Rodney. “Imagine trying to change Italy from being a bottom-pinching, carousing, noisy, nation-without-ties into something, well, civilised, like England!”

Sir Rodney stabs the pea rather viciously.

Lady Jane leans forward: “Wodders?”

Rodney “What is it my dear?”

“Take awff your tie!”

“What? At dinner!”

“Take it awff! Go on!”

“Don’t be absurd.”

At this moment the butler walks in and Rodney says: “Ah, Roehampton. A little more wine … and did you happen to read The Times this morning?”

“You mean, Sir, Mr Blair’s appeal to the English to loosen up a bit?’

“Quite.”

“Frankly, Sir, the gentleman’s statement shocked me.”

Suddenly Lady Jane says: “Roehampton! Take awff your tie!”

“I beg your poddon moddom?”

It is like asking Roehampton to remove his teeth. He is acutely embarrassed, but after several more entreaties he reluctantly removes it and is even persuaded to undo his collar revealing a breastbone reminiscent of an uncooked chicken.

As the confused butler withdraws from the room Lady Jane succeeds in badgering her husband into removing his tie. She even gets him to undo two shirt buttons. She then persuades him to remove his jacket.

Roehampton re-enters – his grey tie neatly restored. He sees Sir Rodney with his trouser braces exposed and drops the tray in astonishment.

Lady Jane shrieks with laughter.

Not far away, across the square and down The Mall, Elizabeth, Queen of England, leans forward and says: “Philip … remove your tie.” He mutters something  nautical.

After more persuasion and with an uncomplimentary remark about Blair, he removes his Royal Navy Reserve tie.

Another tray clatters to the floor.

All over England trays are clattering to the floor. The informalisation of Britain has begun, slowly and painfully.

Meanwhile, across town, Tony Blair eats his dinner – wearing his old school tie.

 

Getting stung is more than a wee problem

An acquaintance recently told me his dog likes nothing better than to be taken round the block to “read his wee-mail”.

It reminded me of a time when, by happenstance, my wife and I unwillingly acquired a small Maltese terrier. He followed me like a shadow wherever I went, yapping for me to take him for a walk.

I never took him on a lead because it is a sure sign that a man has reached the evening of his life when he finds himself walking around the block with a little white dog on a lead.

On these walks it puzzled me how such a small dog, no larger and no shapelier than the head of a mop, could pee so many times against so many things in such a short period.

The capacity of his bladder was nothing short of amazing. He could void twice his weight in urine per kilometre.

Seeing I have started off writing about urine I might as well carry on and tell you of an article I read recently. It confirmed something I wrote about many years ago after an incident on the late David Rattray’s farm.

A guest of David’s was spat in the eye by a black-necked spitting cobra. He immediately asked his friends to tie his hands behind his back to stop him from rubbing his eyes – an act that would probably result in blindness.

He was led back to the house where water was used to flush out the venom. He suffered extremely soreness for days afterwards.

If only his friends had known it they could have alleviated a great deal of his suffering by immediately placing him on his back and (if you’ll forgive me) peeing in his eyes. Urine is especially useful for precisely this sort of occasion.

(First Aid hint: always keep a full bladder when walking in snake country with friends – or, for that matter, even with people you don’t like. Perhaps more so with the latter.)

Not long after this, a scientist, Jane Giffould who had worked in Papua New Guinea for some years, wrote in New Scientist that the Papuans have “a very effective and easily obtainable acidic fluid” which they use for relieving the pain of stings – urine.

It is particularly effective, apparently, against the stings of blue-bottles (Portuguese man-o’-war) and its action is quick. Of course, there are several other handy fluids for stings – vinegar, Coca Cola and wine will relieve pain from stings. But such remedies are not half as interesting.

And what if you forgot to take the vinegar down to the beach? Or you’ve drunk all the Coke – or the victim isn’t worthy of a whole bottle of Bloemendal Cabernet Sauvignon 1988?

Correct! You pee on him.

But the mind boggles. Imagine you are on holiday and walking along the beach and you come across a whole group who’ve been stung. It would be difficult enough explaining to them what you are about to do, let alone deciding who will be first.

Even the logistics of administering the cure to more than just a couple of people will present difficulties. But at least the experience will give them all something to talk about in the car on the way home.

A doctor friend who collaborated with me on a bush survival manual said that in the case of snake venom in the eyes urine is effective “only if administered straight away. The victim should lie down, open his eyes and close his mouth. It would be pointless if he did not open his eyes.”

Well, off you go then. Happy hunting.

Densa’s Extraordinary Annual Meeting

 I called the meeting to order.

It was not a very big turn-out – especially for a club with so many potential members and, after all, this was an Extraordinary Annual Meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of Densa.

Densa is the society for those whose IQs are within that exceedingly wide band between that of a cos lettuce and the average politician. Members’ IQs must be well below those of Mensa, the international society for those whose IQ’s fall within the top 2 percent of humanity’s.

I asked Threnody, who had kindly agreed to take the minutes of the meeting (providing, she said, everybody spoke very slowly) to once again count the attendance. She said it was still four – Neil Summink, Liz Simpson, Ray Henderson and Nolan Hasbean. At least we had a quorum if we counted the caretaker at the back of the hall and the fact that Liz had brought her little cross-eyed dog, Fluffy.

I adjusted my sash of office which is of a fetching purple material although, I noticed too late, it did need pressing. A dab of tetrachloride here and there would have helped too. It has “PRESIDANT” proudly emblazoned in it.

I then declared the meeting open. Everybody clapped and the little dog yapped.

I recounted our humble beginnings in an office at The Star on March 5 1993 and told how, eventually, Densa became far more powerful than Mensa. After all, we have a DAILY newsletter (called The Star) which is a cut above Mensa’s monthly newsletter that uses old jokes to fill up spaces.

I warned Densans of our growing responsibilities. Lots of high-IQ people have left South Africa because of crime and the way government people run off with our money, and the soccer. This brain drain throws an extra burden on us Densans because very soon there’ll be only us left (not forgetting Fluffy who could end up as Minister of something).

At this point I made a little aside to myself. THINKS: Secretly I welcome the brain drain because I have always found intelligent people difficult to understand. I recall driving on the M1 in the rush hour when a female member of Mensa was explaining something on the radio. I had to concentrate so hard that my car juddered to a halt in the middle lane.

But Mensans – the very name sounds as if their members come from somewhere far out in the firmament, like Pretoria, are very vulnerable.

For example, I recall a Mensa newsletter in which a mensan said that a meeting of the Academy for Future Science “nearly blew my mind”. Mensans are very susceptible to this kind of injury. They can read A Short History of Time while chewing gum but ask them something simple like, “What is the square root of the Shri Lankan XI?” and it can blow their minds as surely as one can blow an egg – phoop!

I drifted further into reverie and wondered what happened to a mensan whose mind had blown? I suppose a little ceremony is held and they get the Pointy Cap with the Big D on the front and are guided towards the door.

But what do you think it was that nearly blew this mensan’s mind? It was a scientist who said, “aliens are stealing humans to experiment on them. Some are returned. Some are not.”

This came as no surprise to me. For years I’ve suspected that aliens come in the night and steal people’s brains while they sleep. These are then pan-fried in Martian restaurants. When the victims wake up they are – naturally – none the wiser but, for some reason, become seized by a desire to enter politics.

Thus have aliens come to rule the world.

Now where was I? Hey, Threnody! Where’s our quorum gone? Threnody? Thren… Fluffy?

No such thing as a free lunch

It was Bosses’ Day on Friday. I’d never heard of it until I sensed Threnody, head secretary of the Stoep Talk Organisation, hovering near my desk. 

“What is it, Threnody?” I asked rather testily which, on a Friday morning a boss is entitled to be. “Can’t you see I’m busy?” 

She looked at my screen for a second and said, “(Cough. Cough.) If you move the four of clubs over to there it will release the five of hearts which can then go up there and then that one…” 

“I was about to do that,” I said. 

Those who have played solitaire on their computer, and get it to work out, will know the glow of satisfaction, the burst of pride, the ecstasy, that overpowering feeling of having mentally triumphed over mankind’s most complicated and daunting piece of machinery.

 “(Cough. Cough) Do you know what day it is?” Threnody asked a little hesitantly. 

“I suggest you consult the nearest calendar,” I said dryly.

 “(Cough. Cough.) “It’s Bosses’ Day!”

“So?” 

“Well, in September, on Secretaries’ Day, you took me to lunch so my mother said I (Cough. Cough) should take you to lunch!” 

I swivelled my boss’s chair around and tilted it in an executive-like way so that I could see her more clearly. I noticed, for the first time, that she was wearing quite a snazzy dress and had had her hair done. I was, to tell the truth, quite taken aback.

  “YOU? Take ME to lunch?” I said. Then, a little suspiciously I asked, “Where?” 

“Well, not that hamburger place that you took me for Secretaries’ Day. When I told my mom I was thinking of taking you there she nearly had a fit. She said I should take you to La Maison Cuisine.” 

“But that’s very expensive!” I said. 

“My mother gave me some money.”

“Well then, have you booked? I mean, what are you waiting for? They could be full!” 

And so it was that I found myself walking into La Maison Cuisine and ordering extra large huitres and roti carnard a l’orange with une bouteille de vin rouge and waving la fourchette as I told Threnody my life story.

I told her how I had started out in adult life with just a bicycle (albeit a three speed one with drop handlebars and a loud bell) and how, over the years, I became an intrepid reporter until one day I was able to buy myself a 12-speed bicycle…

“What year was that?” she asked.

“You tell me,” I suggested.

“1916?” she said. 

“What!” I said. “My gosh! How old do you think I am?”  (I was barely 50 at the time.) She thought for a long time and said at last: “Sixty?” 

“What!? What!”

“Sorry, Sir, am I a bit out?” 

“A bit? You’re 10 years out!” 

“You mean you’re 70!” 

This greatly curbed the appetite which, up to that point, had been shouting up from below that it wanted crème broulet.

Although Threnody only sipped her wine and was still on her first glass, the bottle, miraculously, was empty. I ordered another and solemnly toasted her dear old mum. 

Threnody ate with surprising energy while I traced my writing career from primary school. I had barely reached my prize-winning composition (well, it was a consolation prize actually) in fifth grade, when the bill came.

Threnody, without looking at it, folded a R50 note inside it and placed it back in the folder. 

“That won’t be sufficient,” I said, thoroughly alarmed. 

“That’s all my mother gave me! My mother said ‘R50 should be enough for that old skinfli… for your dear old boss’.”

I had to pay the R425.45 balance AND part with a 20c tip. 

Back at the office I looked in vain in the dictionary for the word “skinfli”. It was quite some time before my colour returned. Threnody, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically chipper and hummed a little tune.

Obviously the vin rouge.  

Flying and the Art of Staying Up

I have always enjoyed history.

If you think history lacks humour then you haven’t heard of “feel-good history”. Feel-good history is a branch of history where the authors set out to make people feel good about their past. I was taught it at school in Britain during and after World War 2.

We were told that the dense smogs that settled over Britain and brought its traffic to a standstill for days on end were a sign of Britain’s industrial might and how this had enabled us to buy up whole countries in Africa, freehold, for vast sums of beads. Sometimes beads were not enough and so gunboats were used. But as kids we felt good about it.

Every community has its own version of history, some dafter than others.But in the United States , “African-American Baseline Essays” published by the Portland Public Schools Board, was recently censured for going too far. Their history book said black people in Africa invented the aeroplane.

Where the Portland essays were accused of going  overboard was in giving the impression that, first, all Ancient Egyptians were black and, second, that they invented the aeroplane. The essay claimed a 14 cm model glider was, at some stage, unearthed somewhere in Egypt and quotes an obscure British authority saying “the ancient Egyptians used their early planes for travel expeditions and recreation …”

Personally I was surprised that there should be any controversy. It is common knowledge in the circles in which I move – mainly tight circles – that the Ancient Egyptians had aeroplanes and flew them all over the place.

These planes were originally called Pharaoh-planes in honour of the 18th dynasty of Pharaohs who financed their research and development. After the Pharaohs died out the “ph” was dropped and the machines were simply called “araoh-planes” and, later, “aeroplanes” (Annals of Heavier than Air Machines, Tablets III-IV. 3/7/1999BC.).

A pharaohdrome was recently unearthed near Cairo (op cit).

The first Pharaoh-plane was developed at Luxor by none other than Damocles Caliph III and was named the DC3 in his honour. It was known as a heavier-than-air machine on account of it being made from the same type of stone as the Pyramid of Khufu (cit op).

It was not terribly successful as aircraft go (el cid). Few Egyptologists have been prepared to admit that the pyramids were designed not as tombs but as launch pads for the Mark 1 pharaoh-plane. Slaves would drag the machine to the top, pour honey down the sides for lubrication, and release the aircraft down the slope.

There were lots of accidents. How do you think the Sphinx lost its nose? The first planes simply speared into the sand but Thutmose IV ordered a lighter and more porous stone from Thebes and this led to the first reported flight by Mentuhotep II (none other) in 1286 BC at Kittihorus (Ibid., op cit. sit op.).

Many who witnessed its flight over the First Cataract thought it was a swan and cried out “A swan! A swan!” From this incident Aswan, just below the cataract, derives its name.

Did YOU know that?

Eurocentric history books do not record that Nefertiti began her career as an airhostess with Ancient Egyptian Airlines (Annals of Ramses II 1174 BC, Tablets IV – VII). The general manager was the up-and-coming Tutankhamen.

It is also not widely known that another great Egyptian queen began her career as an airline hostess (Op cit., El Al) – Cleopatra herself. Cleopatra eventually founded Cleo’s Air Operations, abbreviated as C-AIR-O. The name was eventually adopted by Egypt’s capital.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, after defeating the Egyptians by verily smiting them with large catapulted rocks, took over the airline and unwisely started a price war with the Bedouin caravans whose camels were in fact faster than even the later Bronze Age aeroplanes, weight still being quite a problem.

The last Ancient Egyptian Airlines plane to fly had none other than the Roman, Pontius Pilot, at the controls. The plane crashed in the desert near A-syut in the Lower Nile Valley. According to legend the name, A-syut, is derived from Pontius Pilot’s last words before he hit the ground.

Aircraft made a brief comeback in the Early Iron Age but again the material was unsuitable. It was left for Wilbur and Orville Wright to re-invent the plane in the 20th century.(Email: jcl@onwe.co.za)