For almost as long as I can remember, street processions have been in my blood. When I see a long line of people marching through the streets – the longer the line, the better I like it – something primordial gets stirred inside me and I am overtaken by the urge to fall in also, and take my place somewhere near the end of the procession. And it’s been like that with me all my life. There is something about the sight and the thought of a long line of people marching through the streets of a city that fills me with an awe I can’t easily define. It has got to be through a city; a procession through a village or over the veld wouldn’t be the same thing.
The ideal conditions for a procession are grey skies and wet streets. And there should be a drizzle. My tastes don’t run to the extremes of a blizzard or a tropical downpour. Thunder and lightening effects are out of place. All you want is a steady drip-drip of fine rain that makes everything look bleak and dismal, without the comfortable abandonment of utter desolation. Then through these drab streets there must come trailing a long line of humanity, walking three or four abreast, their boots muddy and their clothes (by preference) shabby and shapeless in the rain, and their faces a grey pallor. They can sing a little, too, if they like, to try and cheer themselves up – without ever succeeding, of course. And in this sombre trudging of thousands of booted feet on cobbles or tarred road, there goes my heart, also. I get gripped with an intense feeling of being one with stupid, struggling, rotten, heroic humanity, and in this grey march there is a heavy symbolism whose elements I don’t try to interpret for fear that the parts should together be less than the whole; and I find myself, contrary to all the promptings of good sense and reason, yielding to the urge to try and find a place for myself somewhere near the tail-end of the procession.
Oh, and of course, there is another thing, something I had almost forgotten, and that is the cause operating as the dynamism for getting a procession of this description organised and under way. Frankly, I don’t think the cause matters very much. I have a natural predilection for an unpopular cause and, above all, for a forlorn cause – a lost hope, and whether this peculiar idiosyncrasy of mine springs from ordinary perversity, or from a nobility of soul, is something I have not been able to ascertain. And so, while I always feel that it is very nice, and all that, if the march is undertaken by the participants in a spirit of lofty idealism, because a very important principle is at stake, I am equally satisfied – provided that the muddy boots and the grey skies are present – if the spiritual factors behind the demonstration are not so very high or altruistic.
The last time I marched in a procession was as recently as last Saturday afternoon. I was on my way home when, from the top of the Malvern tram, I spotted in front of Jeppe Station a street procession in the course of formation. I could see straight away that the conditions were just right. It was drizzling. The streets were wet and grey and muddy. The sky was bleak and cheerless. I prepared to alight. Unfortunately, however, the tram was very crowded, with the result that I wasn’t able to get off before the Berg Street stop. From there I took another tram back to Jeppe Station, arriving there just as the procession was moving off. I took my place somewhere near the rear. We marched in a northerly direction and swung into Commissioner Street. Trudge. Trudge. Drizzle. Mud. Wet boots and shapeless clothes. I didn’t ask what the procession was about. I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance and chance getting sneered at. I’d been sneered at by a procession before, and I don’t like it.