One thing I’m not very good at over here (apart from remembering to keep plastic shopping bags in my car) is having an umbrella on hand. While it doesn’t rain as much as in Brussels, (did you know that?), we do get the odd shower. Some times it’s one of those light and wispy showers that doesn’t do too much damage, and sometimes it’s torrential and soaks you to the skin. Yesterday was the latter, even if it only lasted 20 minutes.
And gosh darn it, I had had an umbrella in my bag – right up until the moment when I emptied the contents on to the kitchen table to find my car key – and then walked out of the house without it. I also had a larger brolly in my car – and promptly left said brolly in there when I went to get my hair cut. Just as the hairdresser was removing the protective cape and brushing me off, we noticed raindrops that my gran would have called “stair rods” coming down. I sat there for a couple of moments, wondering if this was a passing cloud, before realizing that not only had I forgotten my brolly, I wasn’t even wearing my coat with the hood. I mean, can I even call myself a Brit? How can one person be so unprepared? (Kind young woman at the reception desk lent me a rather forlorn looking umbrella which I promised to return the following day.)
And did you know there’s such a thing as umbrella etiquette? Oh yes, according to this article, which I must say, makes a lot of sense. Wet umbrellas are not pleasant and can be downright life-threatening in combination with a tiled or marble floor.
When you’re getting in or out of a car, and it’s lashing down, an umbrella can be about as much use as a chocolate teapot. You have to stick it out of the car door and somehow get it open and upright, without getting yourself soaked. It’s even worse on the way into the car, as you try to keep your head underneath the thing and then once you’re seated, you somehow have to get the umbrella back down and into the car. If you don’t get drenched doing that, your now dripping wet umbrella will take care of that as you pass it across your body for disposal on the passenger side floor. There is a solution though. I have a friend with one of those reverse folding umbrellas, and it was a marvel to behold when I first, well, beheld it. As she got into my car, she somehow maneuvered the umbrella, and the whole thing suddenly made itself skinny and pointed up to the sky. She was then able to shimmy into her seat and pull the umbrella in after her, with the door only open about four inches. I tell you if anyone needs to know what I want for my birthday – I’ll have what she has, thank you.
Not so sure I’ll go so far as this Umbrella jacket though. Not only does it look slightly weird – or “utterly bonkers” as this article says, but I’m wondering how much more effective it is than a jolly good raincoat with a hood? And I dread to think what the reaction would be if you attempted to board a crowded bus or train wearing it. Even the most stiff upper lip British commuter might be tempted to push the wearer off at the next stop.
Fun fact – are you familiar with the word “cagoule”? (Can also be “kagool,” “cagoul” or “kagoule” and is pronounced Kuh-Gool, with the emphasis on the second syllable.) I amazed a group of Americans only the other day with this word, which none of them had heard despite living in England for quite some time. It’s what Americans might call a slicker, and it’s simply a thin, lightweight, waterproof, hooded jacket. It’s usually thigh length, has a pouch-like front pocket and very often folds up into the pocket when not needed.
Anyway, regarding my forgetfulness on the umbrella front – I really shouldn’t be so hard on myself. When I first moved back, I owned only two umbrellas -one small and one torrential-proof. The small one was purchased in Chicago, where I noticed not many people willingly went out in the rain at all. In my experience, the small umbrellas there would usually collapse and snap after one downpour and a big gust of wind.
Now, like many in the UK, I have about four fold-up ones (mainly because I keep leaving them behind and having to buy a new one), and two very sturdy larger ones. Phase two of this repatriation will be considered a success when they can be put to good use and are not merely decorating the hall coat cupboard or the back seat of my car.