A note about umbrellas

Today I was late for my committee meeting with Slow Food London for a rather silly reason: I was buying an umbrella, and I sort of got distracted by the options.

I wound up going into Selfridges, which only marks my second trip ever into the department store. The first time was to play mini-golf on their roof.

The reason I went into Selfridges was because I meant to go into MUJI, where I have previously acquired my small fold-up umbrellas, but went the wrong way when I emerged from Oxford Street after travelling along the Central Line. I went left instead of right, due to a dropped pin on my iPhone’s map that was indicating where Oxford Street was, rather than where the MUJI on Oxford Street was.

I didn’t realise this until I was well past the point of turning around, so I continued on into Selfridges. Who, funny enough, had a mini-MUJI within, from whom I bought my new fold-up umbrella.

Oddly, I’m particular about umbrellas, and this is actually my third fold-up umbrella from MUJI. We all get into our odd habits: going to the same pub or set of pubs, ordering the same drink at the bar, going to the same shops to buy clothes. I, apparently, am of the habit of purchasing my umbrellas from a Japanese-owned chain store. I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if they particularly last any longer than small, compact umbrellas purchased elsewhere. It’s just a habit I’ve gotten into.

Umbrellas are a funny thing. I bought this umbrella after the compact one I found at the pub I used to work at began to break. Unlike many of London’s citizenry who walk around with umbrellas that are visibly partially broken, I have no patience for any brolly that may be askance, leaking, bent or missing anything. I just won’t have it–I’d rather walk stubbornly in the rain than struggle with an umbrella with a severely bent bit.

I appreciate a well-made umbrella. In fact, I covet them, which is probably among the more boring of material goods to desire, along with good food storage containers that don’t leak and proper notebooks. One of my biggest goals in my London life is to have enough splash to buy a wonderful full-sized umbrella from that shop on New Oxford Street in Bloomsbury, James Smith & Sons. I remember first coming to London and walking past it as I was in search for a place to buy a mobile phone. It’s a beautiful shop I really should get a photograph of, and how wonderful it would be to have a proper umbrella from such a place.

Umbrellas are rather remarkable, really. They are these things, when compact, we have shoved in our bags until we need them, and then they come out, like heroes saving the day, unless the umbrella has been like some of the ones I’ve recently had–bent, broken or leaking. In which case, they may be unwilling partners we begrudge to have as we bustle along in the rain. When we leave them at home, at work or elsewhere, their absence is sorely missed when the clouds start to erupt in a shower.

Umbrellas can make interesting connections as well. The umbrella is actually a symbol of love (really), in Japan. But on a less romantic level, an umbrella can be a conversation starter.

A while ago, when a rain had started in Hackney Central, I brought out my compact blue umbrella (a MUJI one that has now been replaced) and saw a man nearby, and asked if he would like to come under the umbrella while we waited for the rain. I always feel like there’s always room for two people under an umbrella, so the man came under the blue nylon of the brolly, and he chatted to me about how he was up visiting his kids who lived in London. We talked about the weather, which is ever the subject in this country, and chatted about the upcoming Olympics for a bit. When the train came, he thanked me and wished me a good day, and I wished him the same.

Not sure a middle-aged man would’ve come under my brolly had it looked like this:

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