[Third of a trilogy – from March 28, 2013]

In 1964 I was in my first year of college. Two afternoons a week, I worked as a lifeguard at a local YMCA (thanks to Lifesaving Merit Badge). One day after work, I noticed that a new movie was playing at the theater across the street.  I had time. I had interest. So I went in.  Alone. To watch “Zulu.”  WOW! 

The movie “Zulu” debuted in 1964 and it was Michael Caine’s first starring role. He played Lt. Gonville Bromhead – one of two commanding officers (with Stanley Baker as Lt. John Chard) of the small garrison that defended Rorke’s Drift.   None other than Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former Prime Minister of Zululand and noted South African politician, played King Cetshwayo — the leader of the Zulu nation in 1879.  The scene opens with Zulus walking through the battlefield of Isandlwana.  And then the scene shifts to Rorke’s Drift. 

Names and characters are based on actual participants in the battle.  While the movie is historically accurate, there are some Hollywoodizations — limited pretty much to personalities and not events.  There was no “singing” and some of the characters are incorrectly portrayed (like “Hook” who was actually a model soldier).    Nonetheless, “Zulu” is one of the most captivating action movies I have ever seen.   In 2008, while in South Africa, I couldn’t resist.  I chartered a 4-seater and flew to Isandlwana and walked the battlefield.   The place was barren, remote and silent — except for lonely white stone cairns scattered over the landscape which served as markers for the 1,500 that lay buried beneath them.  I then went to Rorke’s Drift.  The interesting thing?  There was hardly a soul at either place.  A Zulu guide spoke eloquently of the British defense at Rorke’s Drift.  But he spoke more eloquently of the Zulu courage — and military savvy — that nearly drove the British from South Africa.      

Rorke’s Drift

[Second of a repeat trilogy – from March 25, 2013]

Following the dreadful defeat of British troops at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, a small British outpost/hospital called “Rorke’s Drift” – a bare dozen miles from the site of the massacre – quickly mobilized.  They hastily built walls and fortifications with mealie bags between a series of buildings and a cattle kraal.   The 150 defenders settled down to wait.   They didn’t wait long.  By late afternoon, about 4,000 Zulus fresh from The Washing of the Spears (from the title of the magnificent book by Donald R. Morris on the history of the Zulu campaign) descended on the small outpost.  And attacked.  

As at the Battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus configured their attack like the head of a water buffalo — the horns surrounding the enemy and the head and chest crushing forward.  The battle raged through the night and into the morning.  The defenders fell back into smaller and smaller redoubts.  The 150 defenders poured a withering fire at the Zulus who surged a bare foot or two beneath the mealie bag walls. 

 By morning, the small garrison still held – suffering a few score of casualties.  Zulu casualties ran into the hundreds.  And the Zulus fell back as reinforcements were detected in the distance.  The defenders – the 24th Foot Regiment – succeeded in winning more Victoria Crosses (11) than any other regiment in British military history.  And 85 years later, a Hollywood offering captured with historic accuracy this pivotal battle of Rorke’s Drift.  The movie was “Zulu” . . . . .       


[A repeat from March 21, 2013]

January 22, 1879, was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British and the Zulu kingdom in South Africa. The battle took place in a remote area of the Natal province called “Isandlwana.” Isandlwana is remembered as the worst single defeat in British military history in terms of percentage. Surrounded and attacked by nearly 20,000 Zulu warriors, nearly all of the 1,800 British defenders were massacred. Armed mainly with assegais (the Zulu short stabbing spear), the Zulus literally overwhelmed the Britsh. The reasons for defeat? The British – led by the inept Lord Chelmsford – upon arrival at Isandlwana with about 10,000 troops – refused to “laager” (circle the wagons) or entrench (as was normally required). Why? Chelmsford severely underestimated Zulu capabilities.

Shortly after arrival at Isandlwana, Chelmsford marched off with nearly all of his troop “looking for Zulus.” Meanwhile, the entire Zulu nation was just over a hill. Waiting. Watching. Chelmsford left the similarly inept Col Anthony Durnford in charge of the remaining soliders. Durnford – with a bare 1,800 men – set a sparsley-defended perimeter nearly a mile out from the camp. And when the 20,000 Zulus attacked, they quickly knifed through the perimeter and set upon the camp. Durnford never gave the order to “strike the tents” (in other words, pull down the center pole of the hundreds of tents so that clear vision of the terrain could be had). Thus the battle raged around canvas tents. And there is rumor that an idiot quartermaster refused to pass out ammunition (“I have no orders to give out ammunition“) even though the Zulus were pouring through the lines and the encampment.

It is clear that the British underestimated the Zulu capabilities. And this gave rise to the major military disaster where only a hundred or so British soldiers barely escaped with their lives. The few who escaped raced in all directions. Many raced in the direction of Rorke’s Drift. . . .

Polish Jokes

[A repeat from February 28, 2013]

What happens if you eat yeast and shoe polish for dinner? In the morning you will rise and shine!  🙂  🙂

This is my only polish joke.  If you know any good polish jokes, I’d like to hear.  Wait a minute.  You thought I was going to tell a . . . . oh noooo.   Not me.  I was telling a polish joke.   “Polish” is one of those words that has two different pronunciations and yet a single spelling.  It is a “heteronym.”   Other examples of heteronyms are:

Abuse – I don’t abuse my body with substance abuse

Contest – I will contest the results of the contest

Excuse – I will excuse you if you have a good excuse

Tear – I would shed a tear if I tear my pay check

There are many such examples:  Lead, alternate, close, permit, duplicate, insult, august, produce, bow, graduate, bass, invalid, sow,  resume, dove, moderate, wound, minute, record, rebel, transplant, object, use, desert and so many others. 

I had better wind up this post before I run out of wind. . . . .


Do you think you know how to pronounce words of the English language?  Okay.  Pronounce this — Ghoti. 

No, it’s not “Goh-tee.”  Nor is it “Gah-tee.”  Or even “Gah-hoe-tee.”  It is pronounced. . . . are you ready. . . “FISH.” 

The term “Ghoti” is a contrived word which was crafted to point out the idiosyncracies in the spelling of English words.  Often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, the term actually has an early published reference (1874) citing an 1855 letter of one William Ollier.   Now – are you ready to learn why “Ghoti” is pronounced “Fish”? 

GH – as in “enough”

O – as in “women”

TI – as in “nation”

Ta dahhhhhh. . . .  FISH.   James Joyce subtly references the word in his book Finnegan’s Wake (“Gee each owe tea eye smells fish“).  And in the Klingon language of Star Trek, “Ghoti” means “fish.”   Sooooo, if you’re ever captured by Klingons, you know how to ask for food.  I wonder how they say “I prefer salmon. . . . “

The Peril of Pockets

Every morning, I stuff the same things in the four pockets of my slacks and in the vest pocket of my shirt. Every evening, when I get home from work, I unload these things – putting them in the same spot – on the desk of my home office. Next morning, the stuff is there — pocket-ready.  Over the years of shoving a wallet in my back left pocket, the fabric on some of my pants has become worn.  And faded.  In fact, on a few of my pants, the faint outline of the words “Prince Gardner” can be seen.  My back right pocket bears the faded outline of a scrambled set of keys.  

Last week, I tossed some dirty clothes down the laundry chute to the basement.  The chute is in a closet that also serves as a repository for clothes destined for donation to a local church.  As I tossed the clothes down the chute, I noticed – there on top of some old t-shirts was my favorite pair of dark blue Bonobo slacks with the white outline of a wallet on the back pocket.  I picked them up, shook them off, and decided to put them on.  I asked Donna why my Bonobos were in the closet.  “I put them there.  You can’t wear those.  Look at them.”  I looked.  They appeared brand new to me.  The outline of a wallet and scrambled keys added character.   

Later, I went down to the kitchen and told Donna that there were a couple of her outfits that appeared worn so I’d placed in the closet for donation to the church.  I got the “look.”  “That is very different” she said.  The emphatic “very” signaled that I was on very thin ice.  I think I know now what happened to my black jeans, my ripped chinos, my “I’m the Boss” sweatshirt and my green bib overalls. . . .  

A Priest, a Lawyer and an Engineer. . . .

During the French Revolution, 3 noblemen – a priest, a lawyer and an engineer – were condemned to die on the guillotine.   As noblemen, they were afforded one final courtesy of rank.  That of choosing whether to die face up – or face down – on the guillotine. 

The priest was led up the steps where the black-hooded executioner stood.   “How do you wish to die, face up or face down,” said the executioner.  The priest thought, looked up and said “I wish to die face up – so I may see the heavens one last time and meet my maker face to face.”  With that the priest was placed into the guillotine and the executioner pulled the rope.  The heavy blade fell swiftly – but an inch above the priest’s throat, the blade screeched to a stop.  It was jammed.  Under French law, if someone was spared death on the guillotine, he was a free man.  So the blade was raised and the priest walked away — free.  

Then the lawyer was led up the wooden steps.  “How do you wish to die – face up or face down?”   The lawyer quickly looked up and said “Ohhhh I too want to die face up to see the heavens one last time and meet my maker face to face.”  The lawyer was put into the guillotine and the executioner pulled the cord.   Whoosh!  The thick blade sped downward — but just over the lawyer’s throat, the blade came to a halt.  And of course under French law, being spared death on the guillotine meant the lawyer was a free man.  He hopped up and walked away. 

Then the engineer was led up and the executioner asked — “How do you wish to die, face up or face down.”  The engineer looked up and said “I too. . . want. . . to die . . . .face up to . . .”  He stopped and pointed. HEEEY!  I think I see your problem up there!” 

Joe Miller’s Joke Book

I always wanted to be a stand up comedian — but I don’t have the legs for it.  Comedians actually run in my family.  They have to if they want to survive. . . . .

I like jokes.  Humor.  Comedy.  The Three Stooges (“are you kidding Petersen?”).  The HoneymoonersSeinfeld.  I like to laugh.   A favorite funny movie?  “Planes Trains and Automobiles.”  Or maybe it’s “Airplane.”  Or “Young Frankenstein.”  Or “The Pink Panther.”  Humor is a great medicine (see post of July 28, 2011).  One of the best.   

The person I’d like most to have dinner with?  Aristophanes (see post of August 28, 2011).  Aristophanes was the first stand up comedian in about 400 B.C.  He got in big trouble with the Emperor – Cleon – for pretending on stage that he was Cleon.  Smeared with wine.  And drunk . . . .

The first book of jokes wasn’t published until 1739.  It was Joe Miller’s Joke Book, then known as Joe Miller’s Jests or The Wit’s Vade-Mecum.  Joe Miller (1684-1738) was an English actor who played a large number of humorous/comedic parts.  When Miller died, a chap named John M0tley (1692-1750) published Joe Miller’s “jests” in 1739.  It was a collection of contemporary and ancient witticisms.  The first edition had 247 numbered jokes. 

A famous teacher of Arithmetick who had long been married without being able to get his Wife with Child.  One said to her ‘Madam, your Husband is an excellent Arithmetician.’  ‘Yes, replies she, only he can’t multiply.'”   (That’s number 234) 

Joe Miller was referred to by Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) (“Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending [the turkey] to Bob’s. . . .”). 

After I croak, perhaps someone will write “The Renaissance Hombre’s Joke Book.”  I have a card file full of them . . . .