It has rained. Last weekend the skies were grey and overcast and I awoke to the nostalgic splash of vehicles ploughing through puddles outside. This is a desert after all; rain is a truly newsworthy event. We have between just two and five rainy days a year here: a rough average of 110 millimetres of rain a year (though it is as little as 20 mm in some years) compared with somewhere around 1100 mm for the UK. This week the sand has been damp and firm underfoot and there are dark, shimmering puddles at every dip and corner. As it’s much cooler at the moment (heaven be praised, it hasn’t gone above a balmy 25 degrees today), the rain is taking ages to evaporate. Standing water is a serious problem here after rainfall. Because precipitation is so rare, most roads have no real drainage – it just isn’t worth the expense – so when it does chuck it down, the city floods and everything grinds to a halt.
The paralysing effect of the rain last weekend was staggering. There were announcements from friends about parties being postponed and events being ‘rained off’. One friend had his son’s swimming lesson cancelled as it was “too wet”… One wonders what sort of swimming lessons they could possibly be that didn’t usually involve a passing chance of wetness. The glorious Global Village (see post from a few weeks ago) closed its gates for the afternoon. And, let’s be clear, we hadn’t had a monsoon or anything – just a few hours of nonchalant drizzle. It’s the equivalent of Alton Towers closing due to adverse weather conditions on a perfectly average British summer’s day.
The reaction to rain over here is a bit like when it snows in the UK. In fact, it’s a lot like when it snows in the UK. People rush to the window or run outside as soon as it starts; transportation systems panic and freeze (my husband’s flight to the UK was grounded for several hours due to “poor weather”); and people drive badly (I mean even more badly than usual)… The mainland Europeans and Canadians openly mock the British for our inept and panicky dealings with snow. Every year when it snows in the UK, you’d think it had never happened before. Has anyone investigated the phenomenon that is precipitatory amnesia? I imagine a characterful old duffer in Whitehall gazing, perplexed, out of the window, tutting and shaking his head as he watches cars skidding off the roads in the blizzard. He addresses a colleague (let’s call him Perkins and imagine that he is seated comfortably in a leather armchair, puffing on a pipe), muttering with an air of utter bewilderment, “’Snow,’ you say, Perkins? S-nowww. Hmm. Do you know, when it ‘snows’ like this, we really should find some sort of stuff to put on the roads to make them less… slippy. Some sort of grit or something… Better close all the motorways and airports while we sort that one out. And tell the train companies they should probably just stop all the trains exactly where they are right now, just to be on the safe side; we cannot possibly have any idea how this so-called ‘snow’ will affect the brakes…” Perkins nods sagely and then his face lights up as he has a marvellous brainwave. He removes his pipe from his mouth: “I say, old man – we should commission some science chappy to design a vehicle to push large amounts of this ‘snow’ out of the way – it would be a bit like a sort of plough, but for ‘snow’…What d’you think, eh?”
Nevertheless, as the UK battens down the hatches for a freezing winter, I must say I feel a little envious. How lovely it would be to feel that brisk, biting air on my face, the snow crunching beneath my boots. I know, I know it’s no fun after you’ve been waiting for the bus for half an hour, your feet have gone numb and your ears are ringing with cold, but – oh – just for a little while, just for one crisp, clean breath of it! You see, it’s very difficult to feel cosy when there isn’t much of a contrast between the inside and outside temperature. And I can’t stress enough just how important cosiness is to me. It’s hard to feel justified staying in your pyjamas all morning, snuggled up on the sofa watching an old black and white TCM film, with a nice cup of tea and a mince pie, when it’s a gorgeously sunny day outside. You feel constantly guilty if you want to stay indoors here – like you should always be out there, making the most of it. I suppose it’s the British upbringing: warm sunshine outside means we must make PLANS! Have a barbecue! A picnic! Get in the garden! Play some cricket! Get the washing out! Get the harvest in! Get tickets for Wimbledon! Head to the beach! Mow the lawn! Reroof the house! Stage an impromptu performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream! For God’s sake just soak up a bit of Vitamin D! QUICKLY!!
So the rain here in the desert was a blessing in more ways than one. I could stay in my pyjamas all morning, totally guilt-free. It was also of course a cleansing, freshening, blessed relief after the merciless heat of the summer. Friends of mine spent the whole day dozing with all the windows open, just listening to the rain. Utter bliss. And, although the rain has gone today, the streets still smell wet – that musty, dusty Londony sort of wet – and the air is lighter, cleaner and cooler than it usually is here. It all feels different, somehow, but it’s hard to put your finger on why exactly… Ah, that’s it – it feels normal.