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Too many sleepless nights

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The past few winters have been incredibly mild and I have to throw off a blanket in the early hours of the morning

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For the past two weeks or so I have not been sleeping too well, and this is strange because sleeping is the one art form that I had already perfected at a very young age.

In fact, not many people know this, but in 1985 I was almost awarded my Springbok colours for sleeping. However, 1985 also happened to be the year that I had a crush on a young lady and I would lie awake at night – with my heart pounding and my mind racing – thinking about her, and that spoiled my chances of competing in the 1986 Sleep Olympics. Sadly, I never had the honour of pulling on my green and gold pyjamas.

Now, years later, with chances of Olympic gold a distant memory, I have found myself again waking up at between 3am and 4.30am; and might I add that I wake up without a romantic thought in my head.

What’s been waking me is the fact that it’s just too warm to sleep.

Now, allow me to admit that I am privileged to be living in a secure home where I can take a warm shower before bedtime, I have a comfortable bed, and there are enough blankets and extra covers in the hall cupboard if it gets too cold.

But the past few winters have been incredibly mild and I have to throw off a blanket in the early hours of the morning.

Growing up, winters were different. I remember waking up some mornings – occasionally in early June – to find that the glass of water next to my bed had a layer of ice on it. Sometimes we had no water in our taps because the pipes outside had frozen. The family car would be blanketed in a layer of frost and poor Dad had his work cut out clearing the ice off the windscreen – pour on hot water and you’d run the risk of the glass cracking, pour on lukewarm or cool water and it would add an extra layer of ice on the glass.

I remember days on end with grey skies and icy winds. A sliver of sunlight to warm yourself was a precious asset during the day, and at night it was important to be tucked in. The nights were brutal.

My brother would get into bed and holler: “Mummy you must remember to come and tuck me in!”

I, of course, didn’t have to remind Mom because brother-dear made sure that she didn’t forget to come into the room on those freezing winter nights to tuck us up so that not a puff of the icy air could get in.

Dad had a wicked sense of humour and, on the odd occasion that Mom couldn’t make it, he would tuck us in so securely that we couldn’t move. It felt as if we were vacuum-sealed into bed – so in the position that we were tucked in by Dad, that’s how we woke up in the morning, with my brother calling Mom to come and free us.

Winters were brutal. We found the cold a menace, but alarmingly less-fortunate people died of exposure; so I am not romanticising the extreme cold. However, the extreme cold was caused by regular and generous snowfalls on our mountains, and generous snowfalls meant that there were reserves of water on the mountains which, when it started to warm up, would trickle down and replenish our rivers, dams and natural underground reservoirs.

And for those who argue that a mild winter is OK as long as we get good rains in summer, there are some disturbing facts to consider.

For example, there is something called “snow drought,” caused by warmer winters.

This occurs where precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, and when rain falls on mountains water tops up reservoirs earlier than anticipated and can result in excess water that does not get stored and simply flows away to the sea.

You see, since rain flows more quickly than trickling, melting snow, there can also be significantly less groundwater replenishment.

So though it may cause misery and suffering and a longing to be tucked in by Mom, maybe we should start praying that there can be some good snowfalls on our mountains before the warmer days of Spring arrive ahead of what could be a brutal, dry summer that will leave us panting through far too many sweltering nights.