James Clarke Masthead
July 30 2012 at 10:09

The other day I casually mentioned how, as children, we would see how many objects we could stuff into a matchbox. This led to a reader, Hillary in Kempton Park, saying she was sure that in a Girl Guide competition “years and years ago” she managed to stuff 100 “visible items into a matchbox – we couldn’t count molecules or atoms! – but my husband says it’s impossible. I recall including such things as a fly’s wing, a fly’s leg, a postage stamp, a piece of cotton and so on.

“I’m sure it’s possible to make 100.”

Jan Thorpe said he recalls such a competition and that whenever he goes away for a longish period and has to pack a suitcase he finds it a very similar exercise.

He’s right, as anybody will attest who has gone out of the country carrying presents for friends or relatives. What gifts can one buy in quantity that are small and light enough not to violate some baggage size or weight limit?

I recall on a visit to Britain hitting on the idea of taking beadwork. Beads take up little space – beaded bracelets, necklaces, paper knives, teaspoons, suspenders for spectacles...

And there was a delicious irony about arriving from Africa and distributing beads among the milk-white natives there.

“Here,” I said to my sister, “I bring greetings from the land of the Great Black Chief to the land of the Great White Queen. Please accept these beads in exchange for all the land south of Piddlington.”


Talking of going to the UK, on one occasion I visited a Staffordshire village where, as a child, I did a lot of damage.

There I met old acquaintances who, to my acquired South African ear, spoke like comedians from a BBC sitcom.

Even those who spoke “proper like” sounded funny. “I dropped a berk on my fert” (I dropped a book on my foot).

In London I heard a youngster say, “Shaddab, oim finkin.” (“Shut up, I’m thinking.”)

English dialects can lead to misunderstandings even among the English. In a London newspaper a house-for-sale advertisement stated “No Asians”.

Scandal! A reporter arrived at the man’s door. Did he really mean what he said?

“Absolutely!” he said.

Asked why, he said, “Because they are greedy, and not to be trusted.”

“Because they’re black?” the reporter suggested.

“I don’t give a damn what colour they are,” he said, “it’s just that I hate dealing with agents, that’s all. They’re all so bloody dishonest.”

Ah! Agents! (The tele-ad girl had obviously misheard him.) The sound of forehead slapping filled the air.


Talking of the UK, I received this the other day: “I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit.

“In order to earn that pay cheque, I work on an oil rig for a drilling contractor.

“I am required to pass a random urine test for drugs and alcohol, with which I have no problem.

“What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don’t have to pass a urine test.

“Shouldn’t one have to pass a urine test to get a benefit cheque because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

“Please understand that I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet.

“But I do have a problem with helping people who sit on their backsides drinking beer and smoking dope.”

Imagine how much money the government would save if people had to pass a urine test to get unemployment benefits?

Contact Stoep Talk: Fax: 011-465-4564

Write to: Box 876 Lonehill, 2062

e-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za


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