Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
If I ran into your house in the middle of winter shouting, “It’s snowing outside, it’s snowing outside,” you’d probably respond in two ways. Firstly, you’d wonder who the manic man babbling about snow in your lounge was, and secondly you’d wonder what was so special about a bit of snow. After all, it always snows in winter, doesn’t it?
But not here. Not in my hometown of Pretoria, South Africa. I was born in this city in the summer of ’69, a year after the city’s last snow experience. As a child I remember hearing anecdotes from my father of snow so heavy on the ground that they could have snow fights, but the stories seemed more like folklore than fact. Winter temperatures seldom drop low enough to allow for snow and, in fact, this year I’ve hardly worn more than a light jacket over my short-sleeved shirt when leaving home. Yes, now and then there’s a smattering 60km down the road in Johannesburg. Yes there have been rumours, like that time back in 2007 … but it’s never really snowed.
Until today, that is. All morning I’d heard my tele-sales colleague reporting about snow-falls around the country. “I just spoke to so-and-so in such-and-such and she says it’s snowing really hard there,” she would tell us incredulously. From here, there and everywhere in the country’s inland provinces she was getting sightings – as if the abominable snowman had unexpectedly appeared in the bottom tip of Africa. But not in Pretoria; that would be too ridiculous to contemplate!
And then at lunchtime I got a call from a friend that finally allowed me to get my mind off all this talk of the cold and of snow, “Let’s go for sushi for lunch,” she said, more cheerily than I felt. I could think of more appropriate meals to warm the cockles of my heart, but sushi and good company it was. There we were, quietly enjoying our raw fish when we noticed a great commotion outside – people spilling out onto the sidewalk, camera phones in hand … There was a buzz, laughter, excitement and hysteria I’d last seen during the FIFA World Cup in 2010: it was snowing!
And not just a sprinkling either – the large flakes were swirling in, plopping on people’s coats like dandruff on steroids … This in a city that is anything but prepared for cold snaps and (gasp) snow; where the closest many come to double glazing is two sheets of cardboard under which to sleep.
We, and all around us, delighted like little children at the short, 15-minute flurry. People turned their tongues to the sky, others hugged, and some even twirled around gleefully. After lunch I drove past a local school (where school uniforms are anything but designed for snow days) to find all the children out of their classes drinking in the experience. I’m sure I saw the students’ naked knees knocking together because of the cold. But no-one cared because when they’re 83 and sitting cosily with their grandchildren gathered at their feet they will get to say, “We lived through the great snows of 2012!”