Oom Piet, in Prince Albert
It takes a lot of effort and organisation to go out for dinner during the cricket season, let alone for three days, so when the cricket season extends to the vast majority of the 12 months we have in every year, the challenge is even greater. Many professional players don’t manage it at all, which is why so many fail to maintain a meaningful relationship, or even establish one.
It is vital to ‘switch off’ as often as possible in today’s game and a recent conversation with Dale Steyn in Delhi was all the reminder one could ever need of the difference between the ‘real’ people and the ‘other’ people in cricket.
I was finally dragged away from my daily routine of deadlines and laptop checks a couple of days ago in order to explore a small corner of South Africa which had been on the radar for 20 years. All talk, bugger-all action. Prince Albert. Now was the time.
So there I was, just a couple of days ago, driving into Prince Albert with my wife and two children. Eventually. It was Easter Sunday and everything was closed. Being an expert at being partly organised, rather that fully organised, I arrived with braai meat for 20 people but not a potato in sight – let alone salad. Every shop in the town was closed. Except Oom Piet’s corner.
“Do you have any potatoes?” I asked. “Or anything that a woman and children might consider to be a meal, apart from meat?”
“I have some pasta – macaroni. Errm, you’re not, perhaps, related to Neil Manthorp, are you?” he asked.
Having gathered a couple more emergencies (baked beans), it was time to check out. Oom Piet asked what I had. It was only then that I realised he was completely blind. He was running the only ‘most hours’ shop in Prince Albert, in the Karoo desert, and he couldn’t see. But he could hear. And he had been listening to cricket commentary since the day I started. Many years ago. Trust is a commodity best appreciated outside the big cities.
“I am not related to Neil Manthorp, I am him…” I said as I grabbed his hand and put it in mine.
“I never imagined that you would walk into my shop one day,” he said. “That was the last thing I ever thought would happen. But it’s great to have you here.” If only he could have seen the look on his own face. “I’ve been listening to you for many years,” he said.
How different to the current cricket climate of the IPL. Is it possible to imagine a greater extreme? Four hours from the nearest major town, cut off from even the simplest of the world’s technology, Oom Piet’s sanctity was, partly at least, maintained by listening to radio commentary. The glitz and glam, the shebang and hurrah, the relentless pursuit of cash at any cost… A meeting with Oom Piet might change perspectives. But probably not.