Zen & the Highly Perfectable Art of Falling Off a Unicycle…


Unicycling. Interesting concept. A year ago, my experience of unicycles – like most of you, I suspect – was limited to watching Tickey the Clown, all whitefaced with big, fat, red lips and atop a little contraption with just the one wheel, whir his little legs through the sawdust at Boswell Wilkie Circus.

So, this little fandango will be kicking off in November. Yes. Three nutters. One wheel. Well, make that one wheel each. Two thousand five hundred kilometres. Umhlanga Lighthouse to Mouille Point Lighthouse. Er, that pretty much means Durban to Cape Town. Again. Except, this time, the ride is going off-road. All the way. Yes, that’s OFF-ROAD. Correctomundo, as I seem to recall Henry Winkler saying in Happy Days.

Another small difference is that, this time, I will know how to ride a unicycle. So that, when a bunch of kids appear out of the bush and say “Hey, uncle, please show us how you ride that bike that’s lost a wheel” (or the equivalent in Zulu, Sotho, Afrikaans and Xhosa), I’ll be suitably trained to reduce them to tears of laughter and disbelief.

That there little scratch, I am told by seasoned unicyclists, is called “pedal bite”. It’s what happens when you fall off and a pedal gnashes into your calf. I’ve fallen off more than a few times. But, and best you steady yourself for this, I’m getting the bloody hang of this lark.

Just this morning, in just my fourth half-hour training session, I managed to pedal no fewer than three full wheel revolutions without grabbing hold of the wall – or a gate or a tree or a passing pedestrian or a small mountain range.

Nice. I’m loving it. I started out adopting a totally, like, y’know, fully organic and holistic Zen-like approach. “Lower your full weight on to the saddle,” I’d whisper to myself. “Stabilise.” “Balance.” “Feel as one with the unicycle.” “Become as one with it.” “You are as one with it.” “This thing is now part of my body.” “Good lord, it is my body.” “OK.” “Cool.” “Now lean forward a bit, my son.” “Nice.” “Now, just one revolution…” “OK.” “Push off… here we go…” Kerrrrash! Eina.

That was then, this is now. Now I’d love to know what the neighbours here in leafy Claremont are saying over their infused-with-a-droplet-of-salamander-tears Chai tea of an elevenses.

Merde!” “Vafancule!” “Come on, you bastardo!” “Get up, idiota!” “You can do this!” “Try again!” “Bring it on!” “Come effing on!” “Let’s nail this baby!” “Go on, my son!” “Yes, yes, yesssss! Aaarrr, yeah!”

Not pretty. Rather unedifying. Positively neanderthal. But it’s working. It’s happening. I’ll show those kids in the villages of our South African hinterland how to ride a “wielie-one”.

Tickey the Clown is back in town.

Fred Hatman
Fred Hatman (AKA Howard Donaldson) knew he wanted to be newspaper journalist at age 13. He has worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the Daily News and Cape Times, both based in South Africa and Wimbledon News, Today, London Daily News, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, all based in London .
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