The Art of Holding an Umbrella in English Weather
It’s been two years since I moved to the northeast and the streets of Sunderland know the tempo of my gait as I walk along the riverside, but the sky has no mercy on my gloomy days. It rains and it rains…
Last Monday I bought a new umbrella on my visit to Edinburgh. Not that it was raining in Scotland; actually, it happened to be a fair day, but given the reputation of the Scottish weather and the resilience of all things Scottish, I thought that I’d give the Scot umbrella a try. Hopefully, it was going to hold up against the wind and rain in Sunderland.
My previous umbrellas had not stuck around long enough. First, there was this ordinary black umbrella I bought from a sports shop, which aged rather badly and was casually, if not intentionally, left behind in a coffee shop one day. Then I came to inherit a red walking-length umbrella which belonged to a friend of a friend of mine who had left the country for good. The thing leaned outside a closet in my room for as long as I remember until one day I simply noticed that it was not there anymore.
Well, I have owned a couple of good umbrellas in my lifetime and lost almost every one of them, but the memory of this particular umbrella has lingered on longer than all those good ones together. It’s the memory of not using it, to be precise, and the contemplations that follow thereafter which have transformed the thing into a reminder of another time, another place, and another state of mind — a relic of sorts.
Every time I considered carrying it with me on what looked like a rainy day, I went cold-hearted and wore a hoodie instead. I would have probably used it had I been reassured of the certainty and severity of the rain. Sometimes a housemate borrowed it for an evening and brought it back the next day. Presumably, it was a sturdy one, but I was not convinced. It was not the color, nor the make, and not even the fact that it did not originally belong to me that led to such dismissal of a perfectly fine object; rather, it was the stature that was very much to my dislike.
Now, I do not have a problem with trees, buildings, ladders, people or things which might be taller than I am, but I tend to feel quite uneasy every time I carry a specially large umbrella with me. “I’d rather hold it above my head where it belongs; it looks rather majestic with its metal rod on top”, I thought back then. Churches have spiky tops, even the old parish church in Ashbrooke which has turned into a Sikh temple has a tall and mighty pinnacle. But then I cannot bear the thought of walking down the street carrying an umbrella taller than myself when the sun suddenly urges to shine against all odds. It feels as uncomfortably embarrassing as carrying a large guitar case on the way to the conservatoire with Albéniz’s Asturias strumming in the background of your thoughts while the people sitting across from you on the metro assume you are going to play a top-of-the-UK-chart song you have not even listened to except through someone’s earphones at the library. That’s perhaps why I quit playing the guitar. As you see, my public image is something I was not ready to compromise, not back then, not today, not even on rainy days with the possibility of sunshine in between. As for my distaste for R&B, let’s pretend what I said is simply true.
Therefore, I am convinced that it was the very embarrassment of carrying rather than holding on top of my head a spiky object of a significant size on the streets of Sunderland that surprise you with hidden ditches and rough edges where you could lose a toe, which led to the discriminated umbrella been continuously left somewhere behind until it was finally lost by Inmaculada, my beloved housemate. She apologized and promised to replace it. I begged her not to.
There were a couple of other umbrellas along the way which did not fare any better and my unusual distaste for most umbrellas would carry onto the future when I’d be living in Tokyo where it rains cats and dogs in the summer, but that’s a whole new story and I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to Sunderland, where I am now or at least a part of me lingers with memories of lost umbrellas.
It is raining again this morning and I am idling away by the river, holding my new tartan print umbrella from Scotland which has a tendency to flip inside out each time someone passes by. “Quite embarrassing,” I mumble and curse the thing, “I should’ve bought a large one.” “You mean like the one you were just talking about?” “Of course not! I am not getting another tall umbrella.” Actually, I do happen to be in possession of yet another walking-length umbrella back home and I just remembered how equally useless it has remained behind my closet for years. Its oriental print made it softer on the eyes, but being larger than the length of my suitcase relocating it overseas was not a step I was ready to take and do not even get me started on the idea of having a large oriental umbrella on a long haul flight to the west. It’s as redundant as holding an umbrella in bad English weather. I’m digressing again, it seems.
Back by the riverside and slowly but surely I make my way towards the city center to buy another umbrella because this one, half-folded, wet, and broken looks as miserable as my dampened spirit and is about to be dumped in the next trash bin I see. My Scottish umbrella, made in China.
Then I remember the blue umbrella with its ornamented marble handle my mom used to carry when I was a little girl; it was her pride and joy for over thirty years until I somehow managed to lose the very handle that made it a thing of beauty. The damaged article must be somewhere in a closet back at mom’s place, stored away with her old clothes and bittersweet memories. You might now be convinced that I have an unhealthy relationship with umbrellas, but I reassure you that these have not been premeditated incidents and the issue I have with this particular object — which by the way is not to be taken as a metaphor — is of a different nature. Of what precisely? I do not have a clue!
I dip my foot in a muddy puddle of water and watch the big ripples merge with little ones and walk away from the bridge buried in my thoughts. You do not appreciate the rain unless you come from somewhere it does not rain as much. Rain means romance where I come from. Rain means walking-together-talking-about-love moments which are rare and beautiful. Rain is a double blessing when your dusty, greasy white tabby comes home looking miserable but determined to lick the dirt off his damp dirty fur.
In the city center, I buy myself a medium-sized umbrella in polka-dots. I think of how I may navigate through the wind as I open my umbrella against a sea of troubles. I keep wondering about umbrellas and bad weather until I reach the library where I might find a book with useful instructions on the art of holding an umbrella. If not, I may have to deal with writing a whole essay about my unhealthy relationship with umbrellas. It looks like I got ahead of myself after all.