Saturday, 17 December 2011


In a week when the Virgin Birth is celebrated it was chastening to hear a scientist extolling the sea urchin to which virgin births are commonplace. Many things can replace sperm in the love life of this aquatic Marilyn Munroe, even soap powder, biologists insist.

I am never brimming over with the illusory Spirit of Christmas but the realisation, as a retired stud, that I could have been replaced in a welcoming bed by a packet of Persil did little for my ego.

Then there was my continued transformation into 20th Century Fox as doctors intensified the Great Cancer Hunt. This week I was required to swallow a tiny camera which then ran amok in my small bowel, frantically taking 10,000 happy snaps. So far the combined safaris have not found their prey but a preview of the latest epic held a surprise. My small bowel is a dead ringer, even down to the fringes, of the God Particle, or the Higgs Boson as we hunters prefer to call it. One is quietly proud that not only am I A Camera: I am a fully portable Hadron Collider. Quite an achievement when you think the one in Switzerland is 18 miles long whilst my team of doctors only has one mile of intestines to go at. The next time someone is rude about my 58-inch waist I shall point out with becoming hauteur that the space is needed for the Big Bang which happened there. I am the parent of the Universe.

Long serving husbands will know that in order to get a wife to pursue a given action one has only to suggest she does the opposite. So when the Head Ferret borrowed a Sat Nav I looked forward to an interesting clash of wills. I was not disappointed. When she was switched on, the lady in the Sat Nav suggested we turn left at the end of our road: my wife turned right. With commendable restraint the lady in the Sat Nav said she would recalculate but when she suggested we go on for 1.2 of a mile to turn right at the T Junction my wife perversely turned left. Again, without a trace o impatience, the lady in the Sat Nav offered to recalculate. She repeated the offer five times in the fifty mile journey to the hospital, usually because the two of them had different views on which outlet from roundabouts the car should take.

“Well,” I said, “you won’t want to waste money on one of them!”

It had the desired effect. We are going out on Monday to buy a Sat Nav.

It being Christmas, this column is happy to extend its hospitality to my chum, the gifted writer Colin Dunne. Another chum John Julius Norwich publishes a “Christmas Cracker”, an annual collection of amusing apercus and cuttings in which I have managed to make two appearances over the years.

Colin sends me this gem which I have put up as a Cracker:


A factual account by Wilbur Smith

The plight of the Black Rhinoceros is due mostly to the value of
its horn and the ferocious poaching that this engenders. However, a
contributory factor to the declining rhino population is the animals’
disorganized mating habits. It seems that the female rhino only becomes receptive to the male's attentions every three years or so, a condition known quite appropriately as "Must".

In the early Sixties, I was invited, along with a host of journalists and other luminaries, to be present at an attempt by the Rhodesian Game and Tsetse Department to solve this problem of poor timing. The idea was to capture a male rhino and induce him to deliver up that which could be stored until that day in the distant future when his mate's fancy turned lightly to thoughts of love. We departed from the Zambezi Valley in an impressive convoy of trucks and Land Rovers, counting in our midst none other than the Director of the Game Department in person, together with his minions, a veterinary surgeon, an electrician and sundry other technicians. Game scouts had been sent out to scout the bush for the largest, most virile rhino. They led us to a beast at least the size of a small granite koppie with a horn on his nose considerably longer than my arm. The trick was to get this monster into a robust mobile pen.

With the Director of the Game Department shouting frantic orders from the safety of the largest truck, the pursuit was on. The tumult and the shouting were apocalyptic. Clouds of dust flew in all directions, trees and vegetation were destroyed, game scouts scattered like chaff, but finally the rhino had about a litre of narcotics shot into his rump and his mood became dreamy and benign. With forty black game guards heaving and shoving, and the Director still shouting orders from the truck, the rhino was wedged into his cage, and stood there with a happy grin on his face.

At this stage, the Director deemed it safe to emerge from the cab of his truck, resplendent in starched and immaculately ironed
bush jacket with a colourful silk scarf at this throat. With an imperial gesture, he ordered the portable electric generator to be brought forward and positioned behind the captured animal. This was a machine which was capable of lighting up a small city, equipped with two wheels.

The Director climbed up on the generator to explain that an
electrode inserted into the rhino's rear end would deliver a mild electric shock, enough to pull his trigger. The Director gave another order and the veterinary surgeon greased something like an acoustic torpedo attached to the generator with sturdy insulated wires. He then went up behind the somnolent beast and thrust it up him to a full arm’s length, at which the rhino opened his eyes very wide indeed. The veterinary and his two black assistants now moved into position with a large bucket. We, the audience, crowded closer. The Director, still mounted on the generator trailer, nodded to the electrician who threw the switch - and chaos reigned.

In the subsequent departmental enquiry the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of the electrician. It seems that in the heat of the moment, instead of connecting up his apparatus to deliver a gentle 5 volts, he had crossed his wires and the rhino received a full 500 volts up his rear end. Four tons of rhinoceros shot six feet straight up in the air. The cage, made of great timber baulks, exploded in pieces and the rhinoceros took off at a gallop.

We, the audience, took to the trees with alacrity. This was the only occasion on which I have ever been passed by two journalists half way up a Mopane tree. From the top branches we beheld an amazing sight, for the chariot was still connected to the rhinoceros’s rectum, and the Director of the Game Department was still mounted upon it, very much like Ben Hur, the charioteer. As they disappeared from view, the rhinoceros was snorting and blowing like a steam locomotive and the Director was clinging to the front rail of his chariot and howling like the north wind, which only encouraged the beast to greater speed.

The story has a happy ending, for the following day after the Director had returned hurriedly to his office in Salisbury, another male rhinoceros was captured and caged and this time the electrician got his wiring right.

A nice Christmas story for you from Mike Flynn:

An elderly wheelchair-bound woman and two female accomplices are being chased by police over the theft of a Christmas elf named 'Chippy' from a garden centre.

The two-foot-high, lucky mascot with an emerald green outfit and rosy-cheeked smile, was part of a 'Santa's grotto' display at Woodcote Green Garden Centre in Wallington, south London.

The 'elf-nappers', caught in the act on CCTV, left the garden centre's chiefs stunned that 'anyone would stoop so low'.

Meanwhile the good news is that young criminals are being given party bags of sweets on their first night behind bars. Ashfield Young Offenders’ Institution, in Gloucestershire, believes it helps them settle in to their new surroundings.

The bags contain fudge, Refreshers and Polos.