I’ve finally cleared the backlog of travel entries, so I can return to alternating blog with Other Things. On that note, this is an oddity, like one of those bits of rock you find behind museum glass. You can’t quite work out what value it has, but you presume it must have some, because it’s been placed on a little plinth.
To Kill My Umbrella, in which the umbrella is a very thinly-veiled metaphor (written 2014)
Picture this: a man stands under a bright blue umbrella and stares at the carpet under his feet. The man is me, and I own both the umbrella and the carpet, so there is nothing wrong with this picture at all, except that no-one ever stands on a carpet with an umbrella over their head.
My friend asked me about this. His name is Jack, and my name is Jack, so to prevent confusion, I’ll call him Jake. Jake came round to my house while I was standing in my lounge, surveying my floor.
He said: “Jack, why are you standing in your lounge with an umbrella over your head?”
I said: “Because it’s raining outside.”
He said: “But you’re not outside.”
I said: “That’s because my umbrella has holes in it.”
And it does. Rain is very unforgiving of an umbrella with holes, so it’s really safer to stay inside.
It wasn’t always like this. In the early days, my umbrella was a paragon of not having holes. It had a burly frame, long, sinewy spokes and tight, perfectly-fitting fabric that enveloped the world above my head. My umbrella was the god of dryness, the patron saint of getting home without having to wring out hair and change socks. It scoffed at the rain, and I scoffed along with it from under that bright blue canvas.
If storms were assassins, then my umbrella was my bodyguard. It put its life on the line, time after time, and it looked good doing so. Oh, its brightness! My umbrella was the colour it could never see, the vibrant blue the sky would never be. A patch of tropical paradise above my head, even as water cascaded from the heavens and formed rivers through the streets.
“I think it’s time to get rid of your umbrella,” Jake said.
“I need an umbrella for the rain,” I replied.
Jake shrugged. “Get another one.”
I laughed derisively.
We had good times, my umbrella and me. Sometimes I remembered the important moments: that dash through Paris as lightning flashed across the Seine, or how it saved my life when my car broke down in that dark, drenched forest.
Yet more often than not, I remembered the quiet and the routine – what the ignorant would call mundane. The way it drifted in the breeze of every spring shower, or how it stoically dripped in the hallway after every walk. Its occasional clumsiness in bus stop queues, as it tried ever so hard not to poke old ladies in the eye. The exuberant snap with which it sprung to life, and the damp sigh as it returned to hibernation. The way it never judged me, even when I walked to McDonalds at three in the morning.
Whenever I opened that umbrella and stood beneath it, it was just us two against the world.
“Seriously,” Jake said, “look at yourself.”
I did just that. I thought I looked rather fetching in my dressing gown and slippers, with my umbrella over my head. However I had been standing in my lounge for over three hours, so I sort of took his point.
The next day, I decided to get a new umbrella, but it was raining again.
“Just wait till the rain stops,” said Jake, who was for some reason still in my house.
“Yeah, that would make sense,” I replied.
But I didn’t do that. Instead, I walked to the umbrella market in the pouring rain. On the way, I threw my blue umbrella away. It was the hardest thing I ever did. It was like I killed it.
As I trudged over storm-swept pavements, water surrounded me from above and below. It bathed my clothes and pooled in my shoes. It flooded down my back and matted my hair to my face. I was so wet that I could taste the rain. Still I strode defiantly on.
It took me a long time to choose a new umbrella. It felt like a betrayal. It felt as if somehow none of the times my old umbrella had kept me dry would count any more, and all along I had just been postponing the rain, which was now drowning me all at once.
I thought about continuing to walk around in the storm like a senile old man, but I was starting to shiver as my clothes stuck to my skin.
Eventually I bought a new umbrella. It wasn’t blue.