I like umbrellas. No scratch that. I like the concept of the umbrella. I never owned one until two days ago.
I always find them impractical – they are suitable for light rain – but for rains with winds and stormy weather, they are practically useless. Then you have to stand near the doors of buildings, trying to push them through sticky transparent plastic in an effort not to drip – but you have already dripped all over the place.If Health & Safety goes more mad, all umbrella-touting people should wear a fluorescent vest that says “Person Carrying Wet and Dripping Umbrella, Pass with Caution.”
I came from a sea-side city in the country of the monsoon. We didn’t get drizzles and rains. We had downpours, low pressure in the bay and dark and stormy nights where it bucketed the skies for hours on end. I grew up with storms where fishermen were warned not to leave for fishing or reports of fishermen missing came through the wires. So the umbrella was just a concept.
But for me as a little girl, mind a girl who had never seen Mary Poppins in any form or shape until she was 30 years old, thought an umbrella was a magical concept. It could help you fly.
I was very thin growing up. People called me the grass-girl or pencil-girl or sometimes wire-frame girl. Or if they are funny (they thought they were), they called me the strong girl who would be tripped by a grass – it is easier to say this in Tamil, trust me. For a thin girl like me, flying away holding on to an umbrella was magical. Didn’t know it had already been perfected by Mary Poppins and I could borrow her magic and her manual.
I imagined flying over Chennai, over the oceans, over the islands and far away. I always wanted to meet interesting people, see things I had never seen before and just be off. Didn’t matter where I went – I just wanted to be off.
The only thing was my Dad’s umbrella was black. My mum’s was black. I wanted a colourful one – with intricate design of things I liked. With lots of colours. I had always imagined my umbrella to be a big one with buttons that would open them up and display the cloud of colours, colours that could change as I flew over different places. Designs that could reflect the places I’d been too.
And then I came to live here in Britain. The first thing I fell in love with – the brolly. What a fantastic word for the umbrella. The brolly. That works even in plural better than the plural for umbrella – is it umbrellas or umbrellae ? Brollies – I have scribbled down a thousand ideas for brollies and adventures.
Every time I step out into the rain without one and see people carrying brollies, I check the colours, the size, the patterns, the new designs. I always wonder why brollies are so expensive – rain has been perpectual on this earth (let’s hope it stays that way). So why hasn’t he invented something better than a brolly for the windy days? Why do we always struggle with the brolly in the street as it folds upwards? Why do we find abandoned brollies (that’s a crime), by bins because their spines were broken? Why are the brollies so expensive?
Then I realized because brollies are magical. You need to activate their magic, believe in them. An umbrella is a magical thing. You can’t uninvent it. It won’t go away quietly in the annals of inventions like the cassette tape. People like carrying an umbrella than wearing plastic ponchos. (Although that gives me an idea about a plastic ponchos for my next story).
So anyway, I knuckled down and bought an expensive umbrella from Boots over the weekend. It set me back by 18 pounds. But it is colourful, playful and has a button to open and shut it. The last two days I’ve been using it, I have been flying over the Thames, knocking on windows at the Shard at the top where only elves live, and visiting the pigeons on top of St. Paul’s.
My joy for the umbrella is only matched by my joy for the balloon – the ones with a basket that would take you over fields. The Phileas Fogg adventure – I have it on my bedroom wall. That’s still one of my achievable dreams – however I am holding back paying the 99 quid for it to go up in one, lest it should shatter my dreams and fantasies and just be like a tram ride.
Although tram rides are brilliant – aren’t they? Not the ones that take you to Ikea – I mean the ones you can get on to go into Santa’s workshop or when you get on one in Switzerland and see the cuckoo clocks?