This guest post is written by Justin Nurse of Laugh It Off, who made a name for himself selling t-shirts and litigating corporates.
It’s a well-kept secret (until now) that the Proteas train at Transfit Gym in Claremont. That’s where you’ll also find Southern Suburbs illuminati such as Richard Neville and Phil Venter working out to the gee-up shouts of Transfit founders Simon Schoon and Jonno Meintjies.
I see them all come and go as I swim in the pool below. Swimming is my form of meditation, along with test cricket. Which is why I care when I see Graeme Smith or Dale Steyn on the treadmill – it’s good to know that they’re getting battle-ready. As am I. I work very hard to pay the bond, pay the school fees, pay the man. Two hours a week I get to swim at six in the morning and forget about that all, and I similarly tune out when the Proteas are playing the five-day game.
When test cricket is on, I’m in a war of attrition with myself: if we’re playing in Australia, I have to adjust my body clock, and if we’re playing at Newlands I have to adjust my work schedule to accommodate time spent at the ground. I face bouncers from the missus who hurtles missives at me from less than the required 22 yards such as, “What are you doing up so late?” and “Don’t you have to go to work?” and “This game’s been on for five days!” As any Test Cricket fan knows, there’s no sense in explaining.
And so it is that I found myself there yesterday (day three of the Newlands Test Match), chatting with Andy Skinstad about how I’ve got a hunch that Graeme Smith might be about to call time on his career. How I’d asked Mark Boucher at soccer at Bob’s house last week if I might be onto something and how he’d replied, “Ja maybe, because most of the senior players have now left and it’s a younger changing room…”
It was a great day spent watching cricket in the sun, applying lots of the free Sunfoil sunscreen they were throwing out into the crowd (the opposite of cooking oil so not much of a branding exercise, but anyways) – so much sunscreen that the opposition wouldn’t have spotted my tan and known that I’d had too much of my meditative fun. Cricket-wise though, the Aussies were all over this and the war was starting to take its toll on my optimism.
Now it’s the next day and I’m at Café Nood, next to Transfit, after my hour in the pool, and I’m doing the math on how any ways you cut it, we’ll have to bat for at least four and a half sessions and chase down 450-plus. I’m tucking into breakfast, mentally and physically readying myself for the task at hand. An SMS comes in from Andy: “You called it.”
Damn, he can only be talking about one thing. I swipe on over to Cricinfo to confirm the news that, indeed, Biff has retired. Then I look up (and this is the part of the story that you could’ve skipped to straight away), and there’s Graeme Smith. The man himself, also having breakfast. He’s deep in conversation with his wife, and he’s clutching at the Protea emblem on his track top.
Spotted! Biff orders a coffee and announces his retirement.
“This is what’s it’s all been about love, playing for this badge, playing for the Proteas.” That’s more or less what I lip-read as I try not to stare in awe like a star struck teen. I surreptitiously snap a pic of him ordering another coffee and figure I’ll leave it be. I’ve been caught in the public enough times myself to know that it’s boggy to be boggy-ed when (in his case) you’re just trying to wolf down a breakfast, score a double century to save the series, and face up to the rest of your life with that weight off of your shoulders.
I can’t help myself though. I choose the moment when he finishes a phone call to go on over there and thank the man. I’m searching for an in – not “I’m the T-shirt guy.” I mutter something about how I play soccer with Bouch at Bob’s place (interpret: I’m not a crazy fan – yes I am), and how I just want to thank him for all that he’s done for South African cricket.
And then I just break down. I start bawling my eyes out, right there in front of him and his wife. I can’t help myself, and it is pathetic to see. Blind one, as we used to say back in the 90s. I’m trying to tell him how I was with him when he came out to bat with a broken hand, how I also followed those angling sliders from Zaheer Kahn that got him time and again, how those double hundreds in England gave me a six-pack and a renewed sense of self-belief, putting me aloft on a pedestal above our colonial oppressors, the irksome English.
I’m trying to tell him how, as whack as it is, my patritiotism – distilled as it is into, and only into, the longest, purest form of the game – has come to define me. How that is a part of me of which I am most proud. And how since he’s been at the helm, it’s felt f-ing awesome to win so often as well, and to become number one.
These are thoughts and sentences that I’m feebly constructing in my mind, while my lips are merely mumbling trite, pithy crap that he’s surely all heard before as tears are streaming down my face and I’m choking up. “Really, just thank you for everything,” and “I wish you well in the future”, when what I’m trying to convey is that feeling of escape, that meditative place of transcendence, that watching him and his team has allowed me to get to. A place where I can forget about my day-to-day problems, where life is about sharing the highs and lows of score updates and what’s happening in a crucial session with a few close friends. A world where I Am Biff.
“Don’t worry bud, I’ve also spent the last 24 hours crying. I know how it feels.” Biff is consoling me. Truly, if he hadn’t been sitting down I’d have asked for a hug. I needed one. I return to my table only to realize that his folks are sitting opposite me, looking after his new-born baby girl. “Thank you,” I say to them. “Thank you for giving birth to such an awesome son.”
Does my gushing know no low? Have I no shame? People are staring at what’s going down and my bill can’t come soon enough. As he leaves Biff comes over to me and hands me his Proteas jumper, the one with the badge that he was so fervently clutching. “Here, I want you to have this bud. You deserve it. Thank you for what you said to me.”
I’m left speechless, and some bald-headed guy interjects with “I heard about your decision Graeme, and I can’t say that I agree.” Graeme is polite, trying to chat to his folks. “Are you going to be okay, son?”, his mum asks. “I don’t know Ma, probably not.”
He leaves, heading off down the road to Newlands and his last two days at the helm of the Proteas’ destiny. He returns though and ambles up to me, shell-shocked as I still am. “Sorry bud, I hope you don’t mind, but I left my daughter’s dummy in the pocket. Mind if I grab it? I’m sure you don’t need that in your life.”
Crybaby that I am, I probably do. Biff will be just fine though, just fine.
Hipster wooden sunnies hiding the tears
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