The Umbrella. L’ombrello. La parapluie. I have had a love-hate relationship with the umbrella for many a year now, but it’s only since I bought myself a Parka-style coat, with a hood, that I have come to realise exactly how inconsiderate many umbrella users are.
I have always tried to be very considerate of other road users, with or without an umbrella, but today, when I was marching up to Oxford Street from Charing Cross (yes, I was marching. I have no desire to be out in the rain longer than necessary, with or without my hood) I nearly lost an eye on more than one occasion.
Are people always this bad?One chap, who crossed the road towards me when the lights were still green in favour of oncoming traffic said, to his girlfriend, as he nearly blinded me with his umbrella,
“You just have to be brave sometimes.”
Brave yes, inconsiderate, no. Don’t just barge into me and expect me to move. I do, of course, but it’s just plain rude.
Another woman had no idea that people were coming towards her in the opposite direction. She just wasn’t paying attention. I swerved to avoid the spoke of her umbrella, managing to do so without stepping in front of a taxi and without hitting any other poor, unsuspecting individuals.
Many people carrying umbrellas (yes, of course, I am generalising) are totally oblivious of any world going on around them. I suspect many of them are like this all the time though. Particularly when they are trying to text and walk. That’s the best thing about umbrellas, the people holding them don’t have a free hand so they have to put their mobile ‘phones in the bags or pockets. It’s the first time in ages that I haven’t had to manoeuvre around texters.
History of the umbrella
The true details of the beginning of the umbrella aren’t known. According to Fox’s Umbrellas, it probably evolved from some shelter of leaves long before there were formal civilisations.
In China, the history of the umbrella goes back to about 2000 years BC. In China, Japan and India, umbrellas became a symbol of rank. In these countries, they were frequently used as a sort of sunshade.
It seems the umbrellas made their way to Europe via Turkey, and to England with the Normans. Although umbrellas are mentioned in magazines in England as far back as 1709, the first man credited with carrying an umbrella regularly was Jonas Hanway in around 1750. In those days there were three main forms of transport:
Shank’s pony for the poor (ie walking)
Sedan chairs (for the well to do)
Private coaches (also for the well to do)
Hanway was pelted with rotten fruit and so on by the coachmen and chairmen – they believed that if the umbrella caught on, they’d be out of business. (Hanway was famous for other things, not the least being that he founded the Marine Society in 1756.)
Do they always turn inside out?
My biggest problems with my own umbrellas are (a) leaving them on trains etc, and (b) they turn inside out at the first sign of wind. I’ve tried loads of different ones, expensive, cheap, in between prices. One year I was going through an umbrella a week!
There is an umbrella out there that has been designed to withstand winds of force 10 (70 mph) without turning inside out, on sale in the UK as the Senz umbrella. If they are as good as they claim to be, they are remarkably inexpensive and I may just give it a try. Another that is supposed to be excellent is the Davek, but that’s considerably more expensive (to the extent that I’d cry if I left that on a train!)
And finally, National umbrella day is held on 10 February every year.
© Susan Shirley 2016