14 October 2020 – The Third World as seen from the Saddle.
In terms of cruel exposure, feeling like a tortoise without a shell, I now know that riding stationary bikes in front of a monitor screen in a busy carpark is right up there with Free Willy.
Let me explain. Because my eye doctor won’t let me get on my bike for another very long 4 weeks, Rob Wallace from Life Cycle in Groombridge was kind enough to invite me to come and suffer a training session on one of his stationary bikes on Tuesday.
For those not familiar with Free Willy moments, they usually involve gaggles of Japanese tourists complete with cameras, and a soon to be ex-friend. Here’s how they play out. You being the innocent party are oohing, ahing and just enjoying as you watch penguins at play in their enclosure at the Durban aquarium, along with the aforementioned gaggle of Japanese tourists. Your soon to be ex-friend, in this case one Bob Hamill, sneaks up behind and pulls your pants down to your ankles, while shouting Free Willy loudly. Expecting Orcas, the Japanese tourists commence snapping away excitedly with their cameras, while other women and children bystanders scream, or worse still laugh. Even worse still is when the Japanese start on their snide comments about the need to swop out wide angle lenses for telephoto lenses. And just when it can’t possibly get more torrid, it does. You remember too late that the underpants you have just yanked up hurriedly, are covered in bright red toy soldiers and are very holey.
But at least you are able to run away from Free Willy moments, after you’ve pulled your pants up. But when you are seated on one of Rob Wallace’s stationary bikes at Life Cycle, you can’t flee; mostly because the bikes are stationary, and because you are too knackered to even walk, let alone run. You find out that on a stationary bike, you can’t feign punctures like you can on the road or stop to admire non-existent views. And in a busy car park outside a school, the frequent wee breaks you normally fake, will get you locked up for sure.
So, it’s just you, on your stationary bike, with all your vitals flashing up on a monitor, for all to see. And like the Free Willy moment, it gets worse. You find out that your very aerodynamic short-back and -bugger all hair style counts for nothing on a stationary bike. And because you happen to have ridden to Cape Town, Kilimanjaro and around Zimbabwe, there is a general misconception out there that you are fit and can pedal effortlessly for hours, without sucking in air like you are wearing a plastic bag on your head. And they automatically think you know how to use the road bike’s paddle gear shift levers, even though they aren’t labelled clearly.
To deflect some of the impending embarrassment, I cunningly invited Adam Selby to join me, because he weighs 102 kgs. But that didn’t work too well for me. For starters, the brakes on Adam’s stationary bike weren’t binding, like mine. And so, he didn’t commence redlining in the warm-up lap, sweating beers that he hasn’t drank yet, allowing him to prattle on and on nonsensically about maybe one day riding to stupidly faraway places like Uganda. Because he is fit, Adam was able to remain in front of me throughout the session, even when I pedalled fast like Peter Sagan for at least five seconds. And insensitively, Adam wouldn’t let me draft him. But next week will be different. Next week, I’ll shave my legs, and I’ll ride on the speedy yellow and blue bike, while Adam suffers on the slow, black bike.
But all in all, I perversely enjoyed my 45-minutes of suffer at Life Cycle, even though it dragged on for hours. It was nice to see people getting on with their lives, enjoying, albeit sensibly, in busy coffee shops and gyms, albeit through a red haze. It makes a pleasant change from the Coronavirus doom and gloom available on CNN and BBC 24/7. To us in Zimbabwe, a big chunk of what we see seems to be verging on mindless panic.
In a hard to pronounce city in China for example, following 12 locally transmitted new infections, the Chinese government has announced it will test all 9 million residents in the next 5 days. All because 12 people woke up in the morning with a flu that they have a 97.12% chance of surviving. (If you’d offered me a 97.5% chance of passing O Level Economics, I would have grabbed it with both arms and would most probably now be working as an Economist for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.)
And more mindless panic in Botswana, the home of social distancing, where people have to get into their cars and drive for 20 minutes just to find someone to hug. Botswana have decided to keep their borders closed through to the end of the year and possibly beyond, because they have had 20 fatalities to date. Bummer about tourism which contributes 11% to the Botswanan GDP and employs 10% of Botswana’s workforce. Go figure.
In Zimbabwe, Coronavirus is no more than a flu, with low morbidity. We have a very long list of other way more serious things to worry, like typhoid, or cholera, or how to feed your family when you are unemployed. (With 95% unemployment, there is a 97.12% chance you will be.) And the UN estimates that 60% of the population i.e. 8 million people, face risk of malnutrition by December. The UN are blaming that in part on the Coronavirus, but that is bollocks. The UN should be calling a spade a spade. Our famine is man-made, twenty years in the making.
A lot of stuff coming out of the UN is currently bollocks, like them allowing China, Russia and Saudi Arabia on to their Human Rights Council. That should get Jamal Khashoggi rolling in his grave, ditto millions of Uyghurs, plus every Russian opposition member dead to Novichok.
But I digress. Back to the long list of things other than Coronavirus to worry about, like $36,000 fines for not wearing a mask in public. These are especially worrying if you are a government pensioner like Ralph. Ralph, not his real name, would have to save every cent of his monthly pension for 20 months to pay his no-mask fine. Before you start thinking Ralph is doing okay on an $1800 pension, we’re talking Zim Dollars. His take home pension that is supposed to cover rent, medical, food, etc, etc is currently worth US$ 18 per month, and this after 40 years of government service, ending in a senior position. And in a year, Ralph knows full well his pension will be worth less than half. Alas.
Another of our pensioners, I’ll call her Rosie, is less fortunate. An ex-farmer, she earns zero pension. She has no family left in Zimbabwe, and her best friend is her budgie. Because of hearing loss, Rosie hasn’t been able to hear her best friend sing in years. Refurbished hearing aids are available in Zim but at a cost of US$ 60 each, and US$ 120 is way, way beyond Rosie’s means. I am happy to report that with the help of the Fisher family, Charter Seeds and Round Table 23, the Old Legs Tour was able to help Rosie and eight others with hearing aids this week. Rosie is happy like it is Christmas. But being able to hear when you are old should be a human right, not a Christmas present.
And on the subject of Christmas, the Old Legs Tour would like to help charities like Bulawayo Help Network and Pensioners Aid and Round Table 23 make sure that the pensioners have the best damn Christmas ever, one that they will remember forever. And we need your help. We’re asking you to please root around in the bottom of your cupboard for that old Kindle you don’t use anymore, or last year’s cell phone or tablet, or Granny’s old hearing aid and or reading glasses and audio books. We’re also looking for chocolates and coffee, soaps and smellies, anything that will make the 2020 a Christmas to remember. Your second-hand cash would also be hugely appreciated. Please follow the donate prompts on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw
In Australia, we have Mark and Suzie Johnson standing by to receive your other donations, ditto Pete and Cate Brodie in Perth, ditto Ralfreight in Bedford in the UK, ditto Sherryn Thompson in Johannesburg, and ditto Rob Wallace and Gideon Benade at Life Cycle opposite the Groombridge Spar, but beware of stationary bikes.
You’ll find contact details for all at the end of the blog. And please, we are looking for drop off and collection points in the U.S. and New Zealand, in Durban and Cape Town and wherever. If you want to get involved in our ‘Don’t Forget Them This Christmas’ initiative, please contact me.
And in other Coronavirus related news, there is gathering evidence that the phrase ‘They couldn’t organize a piss up in brewery’ was first coined in South Africa, or in Zimbabwe. Last week amid much fanfare, South Africa announced that after 6 months of lockdown, the Musina border post was now open, and people were free to travel to Zimbabwe. Thousands flocked across the bridge, but unfortunately had to flock back again, after discovering the Zimbabwean side of the border post was still closed. Oh dear. That is a rather basic error, like diving into a swimming pool without first checking water levels.
And whilst on the subject of border closures, don’t you just love how this blog flows, the South African Lockdown Tour received a setback when they were told that the border post at the top of the iconic Sani Pass is closed for business, again because of Coronavirus. Which means Bruce, Dave Dierdre, Ryan and C.J. will now have to ride around Lesotho, and not through it. Which means more kilometres, and more climbing. C.J. and co will now pedal 2582 kilometres climbing a massive 36017 metres to get to Lambert’s Bay in the Western Cape. Damn this Coronavirus. But more kilometres and more climbing also equals more epic, and we’ll get to follow their adventures for longer, instead of watching American elections, and people with flu on TV.
C.J. and team are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please cheer them on. And please support by following the donate prompts on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw
In closing, we celebrated Cailyn’s 7th birthday this last week. She presented us with her birthday present wish list the day after Christmas. Her list was just 2 things long: a yo-yo and an electric toothbrush. Fast forward 10 months, with her list long forgotten, Cailyn unwrapped her presents in a frenzy. She opened her electric toothbrush first. It is one of the toothbrushes where the brush part unclips and gets stored inside the handle. Cailyn unwrapped what looked to be a non-descript handle of sorts and literally danced for joy, air punching and screaming in delight “Yes, yes, yes!!”
I was impressed that she’d worked the ergonomics out, aged just 7. I am Allan Wilson educated and I couldn’t figure it out. But I was also a bit suspicious and asked, “What is it, Cailyn?”
“I dunno” she said, “but I’ve always wanted one.”
(P.S. We also gave her a dolly and other essentials)
Please be invited to the Tin Roof on November 4th for the world premiere of ‘The Zim Lockdown Tour- the Movie.’ You will be able to meet the Old Legs Team and share our adventures with us on the screen. Well not all our adventures. We had to censor out the too dreadful incident where the toilet tent blew away in the Sengwa River, while I was in the middle of a job.
Marc Pozzo will auction off some splendid Old Legs Trophies – Steph Charlton’s splendid Silver Bike Rider made out of recycled aluminium, plus Paul Hubbard’s version of a Cyclist and Passenger in iron and stone, the very last Coronavirus Beaded Bike Guy, plus the very last Lockdown Tour ride jersey every made. See you at 17.30 for 17.45 on the 4th November. N.B. The kitchen closes at 18.00 and everyone out by 19.45. Because of bloody Coronavirus. Alas.
Until my next blog, stay safe, enjoy and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken legs de Jong.
Pictures below- Our ‘Don’t Forget Them This Christmas’ appeal, Steph Charlton’s Silver Bike Rider, Paul Hubbard’s Cyclist and Passenger in iron and stone, plus the last Coronavirus Beaded Bike Guy ever made and a cover photo of Mark Wilson modeling for the trophies.