16 June 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle

All about lava lamps, Boris headaches, bad songs and even worse boyfriends.

Four weeks to go until we ride to Uganda, and I’ve been busy sorting out my Spotify playlists. Mountain bike purists frown upon me, but music playing loud in my head helps me get up hills. It also helps me drown out Adam when he starts singing his ridiculous song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, cat, dog, sheep, cow, horse, etcetera. But I digress, back to my Spotify playlists.

Cailyn, aged 7, offered to help with music selection. My taste in music has grown younger so I was happy to take her advice on board. She told me I needed to download ‘Your boyfriend is an arsehole.’ Jenny was driving at the time and almost drove into the ditch. An interrogation later and I’m happy to tell you that the song is older sister Jocelyn’s choice, not Cailyn. And I’m also happy to report that Cailyn has no idea what an arsehole is. She thinks it’s a job, like being a plumber, or a policeman. I listened to the song, and I now worry that Jocelyn’s taste in music is worse than the subject of the song’s taste in boyfriends. I am also glad that I’m not bringing up children in this internet age.

I have time to ponce about with Spotify playlists only because I had an eye op last week to remove the oil from inside my left eye following a retina re-attachment. I came away from the operation with one of those lava lamps sloshing about inside my eye. And before the lava lamp, I had a black and white test pattern, like the ones we’d watch on the TV as kids, while waiting for Captain Pugwash or Batman to come on.

Eye ops are horrible. This was my fourth one. Even though I’m now experienced, I still felt vulnerable, mostly because they make you wear those ridiculous back-to-front operating gowns where your bum hangs out the back for all to see. I think they make you wear the gowns to stop you from running away after they demand that you sign the disclaimer form that specifically says it is not eye surgeon’s fault if you end up blind, should the procedure not go according to plan. Sort of like Ryanair demanding a signed disclaimer on take-off absolving the airline of any blame should you end up being tortured in a Belarus prison on a flight from Greece to Lithuania.

The operation itself wasn’t too bad and I slept through the whole thing. But the great reveal the next day sucked. It was a complete waste of a drum roll. Because I am a glass-half-full person, I was fully expecting my sight back in technicolour, but when the bandages came off, I got nothing, just an eye full of black and white TV test pattern. And worse, because your vision is binocular, the test pattern intruded into my good eye. I could see bugger all. I panicked and told the surgeon there was something wrong. Instead of telling me it wasn’t his fault, he explained that the op had gone well. What I was seeing was the gas they’d filled my eyeball with after removing the oil, to stop it from collapsing. The gas would dissipate over the next few days, and hopefully I’ll be able to see again. He told me I had to come back for a check-up in a week. Can I ride my bike, I asked? He told me no exertion. What about my stationary bike? Not even on my stationary bike. Not for a week at least.

Rather than mope around at home, bumping into furniture and spilling stuff, Jenny, Cailyn and I went to Juliasdale to bump into and spill stuff there, and to enjoy fresh air, frost bite and forever views, although I was excused from the forever views.

I rather fear I was crappy company all weekend. The test pattern remained in place all day Friday, all day Saturday, but then started dropping on Sunday, ever so slowly. It was so weird. Above the black line which intruded into my good eye, I could see the tops of trees, hills, etcetera, but below the line, nothing, just the test pattern. But it was all good. Even just the topmost smidgeon of the Juliasdale views are spectacular. And the line dropped steadily throughout Sunday morning. By the time we were back in Harare, my test pattern was at half-mast. And when I woke up on Monday, the test pattern was gone, replaced by a black bubble at the bottom of the eye, like one of those very cool, very retro lava lamps, that slosh about and erupt bubbles, especially when you shake your head a bit. It is quite therapeutic to look at, like a fish tank. But if you shake your head a lot, like when you try ride your bike around the farm say, the lava lamp eruptions in the eye become violent, verging on cataclysmic, making steering your bicycle difficult.

Because my eyeballs bulge slightly when I exert myself, I have followed advice and have avoided all forms of exercise religiously, all week, lest my eyeball burst. My fear of burst eyeballs is very real and tracks back to having to dissect some unfortunate sheep’s eyeball in class. That sheep’s eyeball was pivotal to me not pursuing a career as a surgeon, plus an inability to get to grips with O Level Biology.

As I type this on Thursday morning, my lava lamp has been reduced to golf ball size, and is very fluid, more wobbly than jelly, prone to breaking up into lots of little bubbles whenever I shake my head. But every day, the lava lamp gets smaller, and I look forward to having peripheral vision again. Compared to 20 20 vision, peripheral vision sucks. You get to see shape and movement but zero detail. But it is two hundred percent better than staring out at a black and white television test pattern all day.

I am seeing the eye doctor at lunchtime today, and hope he gives me the thumbs up to start training again, even if only on my stationary bike. I’ve been off the bike for two weeks and have suffered from extreme F.O.M.O. while Adam, Marco, Jaimie and the others have been racking up big mileage.

But being stuck off the bike, has also been good. I’ve been reminded of exactly how much I love riding my bike. The timings of that reminder couldn’t be better, seeing as I am about to sit on the bloody thing for 3000 kilometres over the next 30 days, thinking only about the hills ahead, stressing about the state of my bottom, instead of Covid pandemics and the possible resumption of Cold Wars.

This Covid thing continues to hurt my head, ditto the state of the world. Covid is wreaking havoc with our Tour preparations. Zambia had South Africa and Germany on their red lists, meaning residents of those countries would have to quarantine on entry, which meant both Ryan and CarolJoy have had to pull out, leaving us short one rider and one support team member.

Straight away, I reached out to Russel Dawson, son of best friends Eric and Fiona. Russel is three years into an epic Around the World Tour and is currently in Macedonia, just above Greece with a population of 2.077 million. I asked Russ if he wanted to join us. He asked if he could think about it for all of thirty seconds, before replying, Hell yes! Russel arrives June 29th.

Zambia have since removed Germany updated their red list and fingers crossed, CarolJoy is able to reconsider her withdrawal. I love riding with CarolJoy. Even after 2 Blue Crosses and the Kilimanjaro Tour, she still laughs at my jokes.

Covid continues to also give other people headaches, especially Boris Johnson, but not as much as Domonic Cummins.

Following on from the clarity of his ‘on again, off again’ position on Portugal as a holiday destination, Boris’s latest review on UK lockdown restrictions are as clear as the lava lamp inside my head. Apparently, from June 21, the 30-person cap on weddings will be scrapped, but wedding guests will be told to sit on tables of six persons max, but restrictions on singing, and a ban on dancing, except for the first dance, remain. I’m thinking maybe Boris wants to avoid listening to ‘Your boyfriend is an arsehole’ at all costs. Or maybe he has a friend who sings badly like Adam. But apparently people attending deathbed ceremonies in the UK are less prone to infection, and up to thirty people can attend, plus the dead guy.

To add to the Covid confusion and to avoid discriminating against Indians and Kentish men, i.e. men who come from Kent, the WHO has declared that the India variant is now the Delta variant, and the Kent variant is now the Alpha variant, while Beta and Gamma are being held in reserve, just in case other variants pop up.

And in geopolitical news, ‘Zimbabwe on the Road Less Travelled’, possibly the best ever coffee table book soon to be published, although I could be biased, was almost derailed this week by over-sensitive government censors in China, where the book was going to be printed, who took exception to my inadvertent references in the manuscript as to the origins of Covid 19, to Chinese pangolin poaching, to cheap shit ‘Made in China’ Christmas presents guaranteed to not make it the New Year, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. True story. And you thought it was just a coffee table book about old guys pedalling their bikes through elephants and tsetse flies.

But rather than bow to Chinese censors, we have found another printer in another country, and the book remains on schedule for distribution in September. And just when Xi thought it couldn’t get worse, bummer dude, going forward, I’m also boycotting Chinese restaurants, in favour of Thai.
You can also stand up for free speech by ordering your copy now.

Continuing on with geopolitics, it was High Noon in Geneva when Joe Biden faced off against Vladimir Putin. Joe looked nervous, even with his aviator sunglasses on, whereas Putin looked bored, like the guy who couldn’t give a shit. With Putin around, the world badly needs a hero. Bummer that Joe is 78.

On the subject of heroes, don’t you love how this thing flows, I’ve managed to get my head around watching Chris Froome ride the Tour de France as a domestique, and not as Team Leader. Alas. But thankfully I have other heroes to fall back on.
Meet Dave Scott and Tucker Green.

Dave Scott aged 81 is about to tackle the Zambezi River, from Kazangula, to Chinde, Mozambique in an 18-foot aluminium boat with a 60 hp motor. Dave says he’s leaving the upper reaches of the Zambezi for his next adventure. Dave is embarking on his adventure which he has named the Zambezi Endeavour to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners, but also to prove that age is just a number, not a closing door. Please follow and support Dave on Facebook @ Zambezi Endeavour.

My other hero is Tucker Green, aged just seven. Riding under the Old Legs Downunder banner, Tucker is raising money and awareness for Zim pensioners by pedalling 1000 kilometres before his 8th birthday in August. Despite an early puncture, Tucker smashed his personal best last weekend with a monster 103 kilometres around Queensland’s beautiful Wyreema, Cambooya, Greenmount and Mai Mai Creek. Please support Tucker on https://gofund.me/c048b176.

In closing, our hugest congratulations go out to Lynda Crafter who has just been awarded an O.B.E. in recognition for her and her team’s exceptional and sustained contribution to supporting pensioners in need in Zimbabwe. The Old Legs Tour is very proud of Lynda and her team, and of the contributions that we have been able to make to the work that they do. I have promised Lynda that with immediate effect, I will extend my pinky prominently when drinking tea with her.

In closing, please raise a glass to my best shamwari for more than 40 years, Ben Mundangefufu. R.I.P. my friend.

Until my next blog, stay safe, enoy and eat lots of carrots – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below- a happy camper before the great unveil, Cailyn surviving frost bite and bad song choices, Tucker Green celebrating after smashing his first 100-kilometre ride, and a photo from the coffee table book the Chinese censors tried to stop you from enjoying.

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