Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Brolly Up!

“The rain it raineth on the just,

And also on the unjust fella.

But mainly on the just,

Because the unjust stole the just’s umbrella.”


It’s been raining here for a couple of days and it has been a welcome downpour unless, of course, you happened to be out in it at the time. The land certainly needed it for, in spite of Meteo
France predicting all sorts of wetness, very little has come our way recently. Now the grass is greener, the trees are looking fresher and umbrellas are sprouting up like mushrooms overnight.

The umbrella phenomenon has always puzzled me. I own quite a few. The other day I spotted a couple of those miniature ones that fold up and were clearly designed for Lilliputians, idling their time away in the back of the car. There’s another bright and gaudy one leaning in a corner of the kitchen that has the temerity to refer to itself as a “Golf Umbrella.” Why on earth it thinks that it can claim such a title I have no idea. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been near golf course and, if presented with a mashie or a niblick, I think would be hard pressed to tell the difference. “Tiddly Winks Umbrella” would be almost as appropriate.

The point is that my umbrellas have an aversion to getting wet. Whenever it rains, they make themselves scarce and hide away, out of reach. How other people manage, I have no idea. A shower of rain and miraculously the streets are alive with umbrella armed people. I can only assume that, during dry spells, they have them concealed about their persons for such an eventuality but mine are always far away. And where can you stow a full-sized one? Trouser legs spring to mind but must make for awkward walking.

Anyway, as devices for keeping you dry, I think they’re over-rated. In the middle ages, people wore capes which were far more effective and would keep the knees dry as well as being less likely to turn themselves inside out in a gust of wind.

The Chinese used them 1700 years ago to keep off the sun, hence the name parasol, but as raingear they had a slow start. By Victorian times, sales must have bucked up a bit since a vital piece of furniture was the umbrella stand in the hallway of every respectable residence. How they came to be called umbrella is not clear but presumably was from the Latin, Umbra for shade. Even less clear is how the name came to be colloquialised to “brolly.” Charles Dickens managed to get them often referred to as “Gamps” by equipping his character Sarah Gamp with a particularly dangerous and colourful one that seems to have been an ancestor of my Golf umbrella.

Some fifty per cent of the British population mis-pronounce the word, inserting an extra (and superfluous) “E” making it umberella, an error that was not helped by a couple of music hall comedians, Flanagan and Allen, singing it that way in one of their songs. No doubt by making it into a four syllable word it scanned better.

And the French, with a distinct lack of imagination, refer to them as parapluies.

But I am still faced with the problem of how to arrange to have one handy when it rains.

For the moment, the problem has solved itself. The rain has stopped and it looks like being a lovely day.

Now I might be needing a parasol.

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