Springbok genes

I am the black sheep of the maternal side of my family.  This bastion of South Africanness is tanned and lithe and sporty.  They braai with élan.  They know the difference between a ruck and a maul.  And they gather, like migratory birds, with reverence, at any sign of a sports game.

At the epicentre of my clan’s mythology sits my grandfather.  Sports savant. Double springbok.  Cricket and rugby. Turned down Wimbledon when it was still an invitational.  Liked a bit of soccer on the side.  You know.  And a gentleman’s player.  The last of the good sportsmen who played purely for the love of the game.

The family, understandably, now looks for the “springbok gene” in each successive generation.  The cousin who’s promising career was curtailed by an injury.  The gymnastics colours still praised by aunts around the dinner table.  The gleeful report that it looks like little Ricky might be bloody good at cricket (fingers crossed guys!).

And then there is me.  Bookish.  Using words like élan.  Horrible confused by googlies and half nelsons.  Completely unable to throw anything, let alone catch it.  Slightly alarmed at all those men putting their heads under each other’s bums. Who ARE these people?

I think my mum fervently hoped I’d find something I liked.  Hockey, maybe.  Netball?  Tennis set?  Some nice team sport where I could learn all kinds of valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork and making sure you weren’t caught when you smashed Betty from Form B’s shins with your stokkie.

But no.  I was partial to swimming, if it wasn’t too cold.  Or I didn’t have to compete.  Or I could pretend to be a dolphin.  And horse riding.  But my German instructor was waaaaaaay too shouty.  And the fancy dressage lessons too complicated.  Actually, I just preferred to read.  And read, and read, and read.

I had made an uneasy peace with being this odd creature just left of my family’s centre.  I am sought out as a key member of any Trivial Pursuit game.  There is a common refrain of “ask Kate” if anyone needs some arcane quote referenced or a limerick written for a birthday speech. I’m now mostly off the hook for not being able to name the starting line-up of any upcoming fixture.  And I genuinely thought that was it. I’d escaped muddy fields and dawn warm ups for a nice passing knowledge that the chaps in white play cricket, while the odd shaped ball belongs to those rugby ones.

But, again, no.  The universe, with its infinite sense of humour, has seen fit to send me what appears to be a dextrous child.  Offspring with actual, proper hand eye coordination.  And the aunties are already circling, eyeing him up.  Speculating on his chubby, toddler thighs and whether they signal hooker or prop. And I wail…nooooo, away harpies.  I will none of it.  But the visions of early morning practice and endless mounds of smelly sports kit rise up and mock me with a chorus of “springbok genes, springbok genes”. And I wonder if anyone will notice if I bring my book to the pitch.

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