A reveller takes part in the annual block party known as the Banda de Ipanema, during pre-carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. Rios world-famous carnival, the highlight of which is the Samba parade, starts on Friday, February 8, and ends on Fat Tuesday, February 12. Picture: Reuters

IT’S A time to tilt at windmills. Some years ago reader Buck Rogers campaigned against use of the supposedly gender-sensitive word “chairperson” instead of “chairman” (chairperson still has in it the gender-insensitive word “son”, he maintains).

Now he’s tilting at the windmill of “kilometres” – the pronunciation. TV newsreaders and weathermen pronounce it “kill-lometre”, he says, while it should be kilo-metre, the same as kilo-gram, which is usually correctly pronounced.

Happy tilting, and I wish Buck well. I myself avoid such confusion by using the word “miles” wherever I can. But then I came under the baleful influence of John Vigor, one of my predecessors as Idler (now living in America), who used to drive the metrication police in Pretoria distracted with his insistence on describing the kilometre as a “metric mile”. Po-faced delegations of officials would regularly arrive at the office trying to persuade him to mend his irresponsible ways. It was most entertaining.

Metrication will surely one of these days run its course. People will come to their senses and we’ll revert to pounds, shillings and pence, feet and inches and ounces and pounds – as nature intended. Or is this another windmill? No, I’ll wager a guinea on it.

Metric tot

WHICH recalls the incident in a Free State bar at the time metrication was introduced. The oomie ordered his usual brandewyn and was scandalised at the tiny measure which was poured into his glass.

“Oom, it’s the new metric tot.”

“Metric tot? I tell you, this tot didn’t get JC!”

Saga rolls on

THE horsemeat in the beefburgers saga rolls on in Britain:

What do you call a burnt Tesco burger? Black Beauty.

Another flurry

THE flurry of concern in Britain over Prince Harry’s front-line service in a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan recalls a similar flurry during World War II.

On the eve of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Churchill informed King George VI that he intended observing them from the cruiser HMS Belfast, which would be bombarding German positions on the French coast.

The king said good idea, he was going along too. At which Churchill said the king could not be exposed to danger. He forbade it as prime minister. At which the king forbade Churchill going.

This was what they call a contretemps. The king was head of state. He was also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But did he have the constitutional right to overrule the prime minister? Who was really boss? (Eisenhower, the American commander-in-chief of the D-day invasion, was meanwhile appalled at the idea of either of them going.)

In the end the conflict was resolved by Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who flatly refused to allow either the king or Churchill to board the Belfast. (Which was frightful cheek when you consider that they were both of them his bosses.)

Churchill eventually got to visit the Normandy bridgehead a few days later, crossing the Channel in a destroyer and landing at Arromanches in an amphibious vehicle to meet up with General Montgomery.

Who accompanied him? None other than the South African Prime Minister, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, who was also a member of the British war cabinet. They were mobbed and cheered by the troops.

Another era, a snippet of history.

Free beer

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal rugby club is appealing to all former players to turn out in Maritzburg this evening for free beer and to support the varsity side in their first match of the season, against Fort Hare.

The students are still on vholiday, but the club want to attract a decent crowd to the match, which is at Pete Booysen Park at 4.30pm. The free beer starts at 4pm.

Varsity rugby players? Free beer? This has all the ingredients of mass disorder.


BIOLOGY students were asked in a test to name seven advantages of Mother’s Milk.

One wrote: “It is perfect formula for the child; it provides immunity against several diseases; it is always the right temperature; it is inexpensive; it bonds the child to mother, and vice versa; it is always available as needed.”

That was six. He couldn’t think of a seventh advantage. Then he wrote: “It comes in two attractive containers and it’s high enough off the ground so the cat can’t get it.”

He scored an A.

Last word

Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.Joseph Conrad