20 May 2021 -The Third World as Seen From the Saddle

This last weekend got me to thinking about switching sporting codes, from riding bikes back to golf.

The Old Legs hosted their first golf day fundraiser, hugely well organized by Ken Fisher and Aoife Connolly. Old Legs team members weren’t allowed to play because we were all given jobs to do by Aoife. I volunteered manfully to run the gin tent, but that was forbidden, more by Jenny than Aoife. Instead, Adam and I were ambassadors on bikes for the day, and rode around the field interacting with the punters, while they had fun playing golf. Which is different to how I remember the game.

A lifetime ago I worked for a chain of hotels as marketing manager. My boss at the time suggested I take up golf. The poor man said it should be good for business. Being career oriented, I invested heavily in a set of $50 second-hand clubs and threw myself into the deep end of my first competition: The Air Zimbabwe Open, one of the country’s premier amateur events at the time. I arrived at the Police Golf Club wearing purpose-bought long- socks and brand-new Tommy tackies, that white they hurt your eyes, only to find the rest of the field assembled in long pants and shoes with spikes. Maybe they all had chicken legs that needed hiding.

My golf career almost never got off the ground when my four-ball partner failed to arrive, no doubt because of traumatic premonitions, but was saved when the Club Captain, a Retired Assistant-Commissioner complete with double-barrel name, stepped in with just minutes to spare with an offer to partner me.

Alas. Even though we were both ex-policemen, practically blood-brother comrades I told him, our relationship got off to a rocky start, especially after it took me four shots to get back to the first tee box, after my tee shot ended up in the car park behind us, after a cruel deflection off a Massey Ferguson tractor passing on a neighbouring fairway. By the time I made it onto the first fairway for just five, he’d gone all purple in the face. He stayed purple for the next eighteen holes.

The other members of our four-ball abandoned us after five holes, and pushed on ahead, because they said they didn’t want to drive home in the dark. We were further delayed on the seventh, when my caddy had to send a runner to the clubhouse to fetch another bag of balls, after I’d run out. Clock-watching, the Assistant Commissioner lent me one of his splendid and very expensive brand-new balls, but we had to wait anyway, because I lost that one promptly as well.

By the time we eventually reached the back-nine, the Assistant Commissioner swore at me openly for the first time after missing his dead cert putt for par on the eleventh, just after I waved the four-ball stuck behind us through, secure in the knowledge that there was no way anyone could hit golf balls that far, or that straight, especially in fading light. Standing on the green, dodging balls thudding down around his head, the Assistant Commissioner sounded like he’d hit his thumb repeatedly with a hammer.

We were last men out in the field and got in after dark. I thought my caddie was going to hit me after I tipped him a coke, but luckily, he was too exhausted, after visiting rough he never knew existed. I added up the Assistant Commissioner’s scorecard, he added up mine. Not surprisingly I was able to finish my sums first. I checked the Leader Board. According to my reckoning, my playing partner had won by two strokes. I congratulated him on his victory. First prize was two First Class tickets to Athens, Greece. This was back when Air Zimbabwe had planes that could fly further than Bulawayo. You have never seen a man transform from purple to happy so quickly. For a while I worried that he would kiss me. He told me to order celebratory drinks at the bar on him, while he phoned his wife to tell her to pack their bags, because he was taking her to the Greek Islands, and they were flying first-class. Alas, while he was on the phone, and before they could uncork the champagne, they disqualified the Assistant Commissioner for cheating. Alas for him, my arithmetic is worse than my golf. I’d added his scorecard up wrong. And he’d signed it. He went back to being purple in the face with veins throbbing, and I went back into the rough to hide.

Unfortunately, my game went downhill from there, and less than a year later, I hung up what remained of my clubs. I’d lost my three-wood in a water hazard because not all wood floats and threw others away in temper tantrums.

But fast-forward thirty years, and it turns out golf is way more fun than I remember, and I might come out of retirement.

The equipment has evolved hugely. When I played, the business end of my one wood driver was miniscule, that tiny there was no way you were going to hit the ball with it, no matter how hard you squinted. But one woods these days have got these massive bulbous clubs on the end, the size of your lounge suite, all sweet spot and nothing else, and there is no way you’re going to miss the ball, unless your name is Tim Major.

And as for the water points, bike ride organizers could learn a thing or two from their golfing counterparts about putting the fun back into rehydrating. On a 50-km bike ride, we’ll be lucky to get one water point, offering up water or Coke if it is a big budget event, or Pepsi, if it isn’t. Different story on the golf course. On the second tee box sponsored by Suzuki Marine, very kind and helpful ladies offered golfers and cyclists a choice between Jagermeisters, an herbal health tonic with a kick, or Amarulas, also an herbal health tonic and also with a kick. Jagermeisters also served to settle nerves, and allowed players to enjoy the hole, even guzzlers, like Tim Major. I partook of health tonics, even though I wasn’t playing golf, because I’m on a health kick ahead of the Uganda Tour.

And then just when the feel-good from hole two was wearing off, lo and behold, there was a gin tent on the fifth, manned by the Old Legs team, apart from me. Apparently after four long holes of golf apparently there is nothing quite as refreshing as a cold Gin and Tonic, served up with all the accoutrements (a.k.a. the frills, for those who attended Prince Edward) although the second and third Gin and Tonics were also quite refreshing.

And so it went, for eighteen holes, I think. I have to use the words I think, because the other area where the two sports, golf and bike riding, are closely aligned is in terms of one’s ability to get lost. In a round of eighteen holes, somehow, I was able to end up at the second tee four times, and the fifth three times. I am prepared to blame my Garmin.

Unbeknownst to many, the eighteenth fairway at the Brooke is actually a vicious uphill. I huffed and puffed up it loudly, leaving people wondering how the hell I am going to make it all the way to Uganda in just 8 weeks. Fortunately, I am able to blame my lack of breath on my grandchildren. To celebrate receiving my second COVID vaccination, they gave me their flu. Google reliably informs me that my body contains 10 litres blood, 40 litres of water and in my case 67 litres of snot, making me bigger on the inside than I am on the outside. God bless grandchildren, apart from when their faces get snot-encrusted, allowing them to get stuck to you for long enough to infect, even though you have a big bike ride coming up.

On the subject of my second and final Covid vaccination, hats off to the Zim government for rolling the vaccination program out seemingly seamlessly to all ages, apart from the multitude of anti-vaxxers out there who don’t want, and who clearly haven’t watched the horrors playing out in India. That Delhi, a capital city of 20 million people, has had to chop down all the trees in all the city parks to fuel the temporary funeral pyres is scary stuff, straight out of a medieval plague. I’m properly relieved to have had both vaccinations. I hope they are the first step back to some semblance of normalcy, a normalcy that doesn’t include drinking down a weekly dose of cattle worm muti.

Moving on slightly, I’m looking for a buyer for 472 millilitres of an almost brand-new, only-used-on -Sunday bottle of Ivermectin 1% I/V, good for worms in your cattle, apparently also good for worms in horses, donkeys, goats, sheep and possibly guinea pigs as well but don’t quote me. Alternatively, I could be in the market to buy worm infested cattle, horses, donkeys, sheep and goats, suitably discounted because of their worms of course, but not guineapigs, because guineapigs are born pregnant.

Covid vaccinations are part of the mad-rush, last-minute preparations for the Old Legs Silverback Tour which starts July 15, now just 8 weeks away. One of the rules of the Tour is that everyone in the team has to be fully vaccinated, hopefully making our passage up through Africa less problematic. But because we will still have to produce negative PCR tests less than 72-hours old at each border, we’re having to research the availability of Covid testing facilities in the back of beyond in Zambia and Tanzania, based on an average speed of 20 k.p.h. Scary logistics, especially for me still trying to work out how I am going to ride 30 days with 7 pairs of padded riding shorts and just 3 rest days without having to resort to doing laundry. Laurie heard of my dilemma, most because I was whingeing loudly, and he has stepped in to save me. Laurie is welding 4 cages on to the back of our water trailer, each of which will hold a plastic bucket with a screw lid. Too easy. At the start of each, we stick our dirty kit in the bucket, complete with a teaspoon of detergent, plus a teaspoon of disinfectant per pair of ride shorts, fill the bucket with water, and a day later spent bumping on the roads less travelled, our kit will be spotless clean, smelling like lemons. Best invention ever.

To get our heads ready for 27 days of riding 111 kilometres with hills daily, Fiona organized a Zoom meeting for us last night with adventurer David Grier. For those who don’t know him, David wrote the book on mental toughness. He remains the only man to have run the 4200 km Great Wall of China, not once, but twice, averaging 60 km per day, apart from his rest days where he only runs 20 km. David paddled from Africa to Madagascar in a canoe, 500 km in 12 days, and then to burn off excess energy, he ran 2700 km from top to bottom in 67 days. He has run South Africa’s 3300 km coastline, 4008 km across India, 1800 km across Cuba. The man is exhausting. And he still hasn’t tumbled to the fact that bicycles were invented by a man on foot in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B.

I could have listened to David talk about his adventures all night. He made two stand-out comments that I have filed away for future reference on the road to Uganda. David doesn’t run his marathons on his feet, he runs them in his head. If he develops aches and twinges somewhere, incredibly, he is able to cordon that part of his body off in his mind, sort of like putting on a mental bandage. That’s not to say he ignores the pains. He was quick to tell us that he listens carefully to his body. He is a big fan of icepacks and anti-inflammatories, but if the pains persist or worsen, he’ll either rest up, or ease off.

But the thing that gets him out of bed and running in the morning, the thing that pushes him step after step after step, for 4800 kilometres, is the fact that he is running to help others less fortunate. David runs to raise money and awareness for Operation Smile, through the Cipla Miles for Smiles initiative, which is all about facilitating corrective surgery for children born with cleft lip palates. David has raised millions and helped thousands. That he has been able to also enjoy the best ever adventures along the way is a bonus.

Which isn’t too far off from our Old Legs mantra of Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic. David also inspired me to add Katie Melau’s Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing to my Spotify playlist before going to bed.

In closing, I’d like to thank and acknowledge everyone involved in the Old Legs Golf Day. All monies raised will go to the Old Legs Medical Emergency Fund, to help people like Herman, who had his left leg amputated in my last blog. Instead of worrying about the pain, or worrying about getting around with just one leg, Herman was too busy stressing about how he was going to pay for his US$ 420 surgery. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, unless you’re a Zim pensioner on a non-existent monthly pension worth just $12. I am happy to be able to report back that Herman’s operation has been paid for. And on the subject of my last blog, don’t you just love how these things flow, I’m also happy to report that the old guy who has spent the last year with his upper arm broken in two places has an appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon on May 28th. And also huge thanks to Brian Wilson and the team at Steel Warehouse for fixing Thelma, the dog lady’s roof. God bless.

But I digress. Back to thanking those who made our Golf Day possible – all the players who supported the event, and all the hole sponsors including SKF Bearing, Autoworld, the Surrey Group, Suzuki Marine, the Fisher family, KW Blasting, Pete van Deventer from DSTV, Pin Point Tracking, Shades Ahead, the Wilcox family at Food Lovers Greendale, Robbie Eastwood at Creadlyne, Tanganda, and others too numerous mention.

Thank you to Mark Pozzo for helping put the day together, and for conducting the charity auction that raised a bunch of money. Thank you to Patrick Mavros for donating the luxury silver handcrafted jewellery for the auction, thank you to Adam and Linda for donating a week on the luxury Somabhula, the best houseboat on Kariba, thank you to Pete and Vicky Bowen for donating a holiday cottage in Nyanga, ditto Al Watermeyer. And finally, a thank you to Tim Major from Suzuki Marine for not winning the Suzuki 250 hp motor hole-in-one prize on the second.

Until my next blog, enjoy, stay safe and help others if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below- Eric and Adam looking for the tee box on the 2nd, enjoying health tonics on the 2nd, Linda manning the gin tent on the 5th, Jaime and Aoife plus assorted golfers, the Silverback Tour Start Finish banner, Thelma’s finished roof, Jenny’s vaccination certificate.

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