Sorry Jani, I don't fall off horses and my underpants ain't got no holes
SOME claim imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Even so, I think I can do without it in this particular case.
Last week I received an E-mail from an observant reader drawing my attention to excerpts from Jani Allan's column on the MWeb Internet site.
Jani Allan, as some of you may recall, used to be the star columnist on this newspaper until she went to interview Eugene Terre'Blanche and found herself smitten by "the blue flames of his blowtorch eyes" (copyright Jani Allan).
Unfortunately bombs soon started going off in her proximity as is often the case when you hang around with loonies.
Things eventually got a bit hot for Ms Allan and she was spirited away to the UK where it was felt she would be safer. There she amused us all and took some media pressure off the royal family by unsuccessfully suing Channel 4 television for defamation.
Finding little demand for her talents, Jani eventually returned to South Africa to a uninterested public who had clearly completely forgotten her.
She subsequently discovered God and the experience was evidently so meaningful that she felt compelled to share it with the rest of us in an interview. Whether God was quite so enthusiastic at finding Jani was never recorded.
Now she is back in the media swing with a radio show on Cape Talk and a regular column and chat forum on MWeb.
On April 14th Ms Allan published her column for MWeb's Lifestyle page on the Internet. One of the topical stories she quite naturally chose was the Georg Meiring case.
However, it was the content that my reader found interesting as did many of my colleagues at the Sunday Times when we called the page up on the Internet.
In her piece Ms Allan mentions, among others, Frederick Forsythe (sic), the QE2, troops loyal to the government rounding up the usual suspects and impaling heads on spiked railings, and she winds the piece up by asking why she feels as though she is trapped in a Gary Larson cartoon.
All these references appeared in my column which was published two days earlier on April 12th.
It is hard to imagine that such an eclectic set of ideas and phrases would have been used by two unconnected writers within such a short space of time. The coincidence is simply too great.
As any columnist knows, knocking off several hundred words to meet the weekly deadline is not always easy. Sometimes one feels inspired and dashes the thing off in forty minutes, leaving the rest of the day free for frivolity.
On other occasions it takes days. I have literally cried with frustration staring at a blank computer screen for hours while trying to think of a topic. Eventually an idea forms itself into words and another week's anguish is over.
But even in the most extreme case of writer's block it is unforgivable to crib somebody else's work and present it as your own. In journalism it is known as plagiarism and ranks as an even greater sin than deliberately misreporting an event. Plagiarism is theft of intellectual property and when the plagiarist is remunerated for somebody else's work then the sin is compounded.
If you are intending to filch somebody else's material it is normal to allow a decent period to elapse - say three hundred years. To borrow liberally from an article that is a mere two days old and still warm seems the height of folly.
Clearly Ms Allan believes that so few people read the Out to Lunch column that she would be likely to get away with it.
I am told by my colleagues at the Sunday Times that I should not feel particularly singled out for attention. Ms Allan has apparently been caught out for plagiarism before. It seems a great pity that a fellow scribe should be so short of original thought that she is reduced to reproducing other people's work (sometimes without even bothering to change the word order) as her own and then dishonestly adding the words "copyright Jani Allan".
An interesting theory from a psychiatrist suggests Jani may be infatuated with me and this is simply an awkward way of attracting my attention and opening a dialogue. In other words, the plagiarism was so obvious that she intended it to be noticed, tipped off a friend to alert me to it and is waiting for me to react.
Sorry to do this, Jani, but I have to tell you that I am probably not your type. My eyes are dark brown, I don't fall off horses but, more importantly, my underpants are all in good repair.