People leave a sauna during the European Sauna Marathon in Otep��, southern Estonia, on Sunday. More than 600 participants visited 20 saunas over a total distance of more than 100km. Picture: REUTERS

DID Shakespeare do a hatchet job on Richard III, last of the Plantaganet kings of England? Here’s how he has him describe himself:

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them –

But was Richard the hideous hunchback Shakespeare describes, so misshapen that the dogs barked at him as he limped by? The discovery near Leicester of a skeleton that is almost certainly that of Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, casts doubt on it.

There’s little doubt about the identity of the skeleton. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have matched the DNA with that of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian who is a direct descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. The skeleton was discovered under a parking lot, believed to be the site of the Greyfriars church where Richard was said to have been buried after the battle.

It has head wounds, consistent with death in battle. It also has a curvature of the spine. But, the experts say, that curvature could produce nothing like the deformity described by Shakespeare.

Other scholars point out that the hideous crimes Shakespeare attributes to Richard so concertina history that he must have started his killing spree at the age of three. The suggestion is that Shakespeare was doing a bit of an imbongi for the Tudors, who took over after the battle of Bosworth Field.

Yet who suggests Shakespeare was a historian – or ever claimed to be? He was a dramatist, an entertainer. Consider his description of Richard’s desperate final moments as he is unhorsed and his enemies close in on him: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse…”

Beat that for drama!


MEANWHILE, Richard III’s remains are to be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, the nearest consecrated ground. Except that the city of York has objected. The York folk say the last Yorkist king should be buried in York Minster.

Just so long as they don’t come to blows over it. Let’s not have another Bosworth field battle.


TALLY-HO! A family of foxes caused disruption at Edinburgh Airport the other day when they gathered on the runway, forcing a British Airways flight to circle for 15 minutes while they were chased away.

Just as long as the chasers didn’t use hounds. They’re getting very strict about that kind of thing in Scotland as well as England.

Pennsylvania spring

THEY’VE been celebrating Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania, in the US. And groundhog Punxsutawney Phil – a kind of rodent similar to our cane rat – has predicted an early spring.

Thousands of people – the men in top hats and tuxedos – gathered on the strangely named promontory, Gobbler’s Knob, to watch the furry creature emerge from his lair.

According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, winter will last six more weeks. If he does not, spring will come early.

An early spring it is. Here in Durban we long for an early autumn.

Before and after

AS NOTED the other day, Iran recently launched a monkey into space and back, except there is now controversy because before and after photographs suggest two different monkeys.

Now Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he wants to be his country’s first astronaut. He is quoted saying: “I’m ready to be the first Iranian to be sacrificed by the scientists of my country and go into space.”

So far there hasn’t been a storm of discouragement. But this time they need to get the before and after photographs right.


OVERHEARD in the Street Shelter for the Over-40s: “First you forget names, then you forget faces. Then you forget to pull up your zip… it’s worse though when you forget to pull it down.”


VAN DER Merwe is having lunch with Prince Charles at Clarence House.

“Jiss, you know, Prince, you’ve got such a moerse house and you know, Prince, your clothes are so bakgat and you know, Prince, your grub is so lekker!”

“Pssst!” an aide from South Africa House hisses in his ear. “He’s not addressed as ‘Prince’, he’s ‘Your Highness’.”

Van doesn’t miss a beat. “And you know, my brother’s also called Johannes.”

Last word

When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of algebra. – Will Rogers