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Keith the Pipe Man honours tradition, like Lord's

Keith the Pipe Man has marked attendance at Lord's for more than four decades. Life-threatening illnesses may have forced him to quit smoking, but the 'Pipe' still remains his celebrated companion

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Keith the Pipe Man hasn't missed a Lord's Test since 1973  •  Sidharth Monga/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Keith the Pipe Man hasn't missed a Lord's Test since 1973  •  Sidharth Monga/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

There are many sights that are quintessentially Lord's. Old pavilion, spaceship press box, Old Father Time. However, not until you see Keith van Anderson does it feel like a proper Lord's experience. Keith the Pipe Man. You have seen him on TV. Look at the picture to your right, you know this man. You have seen him during Lord's Tests or many West Indies Tests outside England - India, Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand to be precise.
Keith is not as colourful as the other famous West Indies fans: Gravy with his outrageous dressing (not always male); DJ Chickie providing the soundtrack to Gravy's dance performances; Mayfield running onto the field and cutting up pieces of vinyl to signify Brian Lara the "record-breaker". Pipe Man is more subdued, bearded, wearing glasses that say Red or Dead, walking stick by his side, a pipe pursed between his lips, a bag full of food, two kinds of cancers in his body, cricket still in his heart.
Pipe Man likes to come to Lord's two days before the Test. Everyone knows him here. Alastair Cook knows him, and so do the groundstaff and India's fielding coach Trevor Penney. He sits at the edge of the Nursery Ground, saying hello to everyone, sledging everyone in a friendly manner. You sit with him and tell him names of the members of the Indian team he hasn't seen before, even coaches and managers. "I love it now more than during the Test," he says. "The preparation time."
Pipe Man wasn't here two days before the Sri Lanka Test earlier this summer. He wasn't here for the first three days of the Test either. He was in the hospital, fighting oesophagus cancer. The doctors told him he would have to miss the Test. "Somehow I got out of the hospital on the third day, otherwise I would have missed my first Lord's Test in 41 years," Pipe Man says. Pipe Man looks fit, but when you slap his arm laughing at one of his jokes you realise how frail he is. He is here, though, carrying all his home-cooked food in a Tesco bag at a Waitrose-sponsored event, but nobody is going to stop him.
Inside the bag is almost a world: food - snack, lunch, biscuits, tea in thermos, soft drinks, lots of medication - "Sometimes I get confused which is which"; an injection to thin his blood, another pipe - "the special one", and a bible. He cooks and neatly packs all the food himself - "the wife looks after the family, I look after myself".
He takes the injection himself. He has been taking that injection for more than 10 years, since when he was 53. He remembers exactly, in January 2004, when chemotherapy wasn't working well on his stomach cancer. He also had blood clotting in his lungs. Doctors told him he had two options: either go through further chemotherapy and put his body through all the trouble or live relatively peacefully for another 12 months with his family. "I took the risk with chemo, and the rest is history," Pipe Man says.
"Are you still allowed to smoke?"
"Of course not. I haven't smoked or had alcohol since then. I used to drink a lot when I was young. The amount I drank, I always thought I'd die in my 50s."
"The pipe?"
"It's empty. But Pipe Man has to carry the pipe, hasn't he?"
Of course he has to. He doesn't miss smoking, but sometimes feels like a drink.
Pipe Man's accent sounds a bit like Michael Holding. You ask him if he is from Jamaica. He came from Guyana, as a 13-year-old, on October 30, 1964, at 4.25pm. He remembers all dates and times. Ask him his age, and he will tell you down to weeks. He is 63. "I remember walking out of the airport," he says, "and smoke coming out of my mouth when I breathed. That was the first time I saw it. I loved it. I kept breathing hard and watching that smoke."
In 1973 Pipe Man attended his first Test at Lord's, watching fellow Guyanese Rohan Kanhai lead West Indies to a win by an innings and 226 runs. He says he has never missed a Test here since. Ask him to let you watch a day's cricket sitting next to him, and he says they won't let you. He is an MCC member after all. "You can't come in there with me," he says.
"I have friends who are members," he says when asked how he - an immigrant who escaped poverty in Guyana and didn't have a high-paying job - managed the membership of the most exclusive cricket club in the world. "I waited 18 years." Now he flashes that red membership card everywhere. "More important than a passport," he says. "I once used it at a Guyana bank." He also holds memberships of Surrey and Middlesex. His photo on every card features the pipe in his mouth. Wonder if the pipe is present in his passport photo, too.
The friends in question are West Indies players who love him. Holding respects him as one of the most loyal West Indies fans. Clive Lloyd is a proper friend. And Pipe Man says he has only about five or six friends. Only five or six outsiders have only ever been to his house. Lloyd is one of them. "I am a very private person. I come out of my house, for cricket, or wherever. Earlier it used to be pubs - and I have all the fun," he says. "But once I reach that door, I am a family man.
"I had a friend living just up the road from my house. One day he turned up and rang the bell. I came out, we chatted happily for 10 minutes, but I didn't let him in."
You tell him he should write a book on his travels and his experiences of watching cricket in so many countries. "I don't have the time for that kind of thing," he says. "And I don't want a ghost [writer]."
Pipe Man has finished eating his hummus and crackers. He will now go to the office to collect his ticket, come back and watch England practice while having lunch. "I need to keep eating at short intervals," he says. He will come back early day after tomorrow to queue up outside Lord's to get his favourite seat in the pavilion. That cane and that pipe will be there. Not sure for how many more years. "Every day is a blessing now," he says.
It reminds you of a Chinese proverb that says every person's days are numbered, except that those spent fishing are not counted. Australian singer, songwriter and cricket fan Paul Kelly improvised it into his song Behind The Bowler's Arm, saying days watching cricket are not counted.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo