The Average Life-Expectancy of the Modern Umbrella
Cruising around a roundabout I saw it as we passed by in the car. I thought it might just have been an old coat or some other unimportant clothing.
Perhaps a black bag discarded as useless and surplus to requirements. But the stark reality was far, far worse. It was a poor, abandoned umbrella.
Such a sad ending it seemed as it lay there desolate and broken and never to rise again. Disregarded or even unnoticed by the many motorists who passed by unconcerned at the fate of a once indispensible friend.
It's a short, sharp life for your average umbrella. It seems many don't make it into old age as life takes its intractable toll.
Ask yourself how many times you've seen an 'Umbrella Repair Shop' in your local High Street? Where is the second-hand market for old-timers lying on a stall waiting for a new lease of life. Type the keywords into eBay and see how many used umbrellas are seeking a new home.
Few and far between I would guess.
No! The modern umbrella must be one of the most dispensable rainwear accessories in our consumer society. Perhaps one of the most discarded products ever in these wasteful times. Once they are damaged or simply worn out they seem beyond help. Shoot the racehorse because the Vet can't help. There are no second chances.
A well-tended umbrella can have a life expectancy of years in the right hands but many never see out the month or even the week.
Awfulness in the underworld
It's hardly surprising considering the tough lives that they have to lead. When the weather is fine, calm and warm they are locked away in gloomy cupboards while outside is flooded with sunlight. Even in those dark dungeons they are not safe as they lie vulnerable to the predatory moth.
But if not bundled away in the domestic recesses they may still lie out of sight and out of mind. That fake Chinese vase standing imperiously in the corner of the hall is the perfect shape and size in which to ram them into.
And there they remain uncomfortably perched upside down and partially obscured by the equally unwanted mackintosh which hangs from the coat-stand.
A fraught existence indeed and they are only called forth when those grey skies appear. The weather forecaster on TV is full of apologies in between the isobars and low-pressure ambience of the coming storm. Only then is the household umbrella plucked from indoors and thrust into action. The hazards are many and dangerous.
Even tearing down the road on a scooter.
In their element
Incessant raindrops of varying weight, intensity and duration batter down upon the taught membrane of your overhead protector. From the initial pitter-patter of an easygoing drizzle to the bombardment of the biblical deluge no respite is available.
The umbrella must take the full brunt of the aerial assault. That's its job, its raison d'etre as they say in Sweden and it remains a victim of its own single-use. In other words to keep you and your precious threads safe and dry.
Do we give our appreciation? Are we grateful? It appears not. As soon as the rain stops descending or when we reach a permament cover the reward is brutal.
An ultra-vigorous and brutal shaking follows that would rattle an elephant cage. Or a throttling push and pull of the runners and stretchers that tests the limits of this fragile equipment.
I blame Gene Kelly.
Left at the door
And for what? All just to remove those last little drops of cloud-water before we go inside. We wouldn't want to get the office carpet wet or leave a trail on the marble entrance to reception. Some callous owners won't even allow their foul-weather friends inside to the warmth and comfort.
Instead they throw them into another receptacle. Perhaps another fake Chinese vase or just a plain old box, basket or bucket. Whatever may be at the front door where they await the return of their owners.
Now sharing the same fate of strangers suffering the same abandonment among the chocoate wrappers and cigarette douts. Abduction by drenched kidnappers is a constant peril. On a rainy day the chances of this are higher but at least it's nice to be wanted.
Even if not snatched in broad daylight the hapless umbrella is still at risk. How many are left behind by absent-minded owners on buses, taxis or in cinemas, cafes and restaurants?
Pubs are usually stocked full of lost umbrellas as the drunks stagger home wondering why their hands seem empty and hair matted on their face.
The great re-cycling
At least it opens up some sort of trade in the second-hand market. If the weather is wet then the bar staff may hand out a spare one on request. If not then just bluff your way into petty crime and tell them you left one behind the other day.
Yes! Just say "the other day" as it is best to be vague about the time when it happened. But if they ask you to describe your lost item then be specific. Tell them it's black. There's sure to be one as they're the easiest to leave behind in dimly-lit pubs and night-clubs.
Assuredly these forlorn specimens may have the greatest longevity simply for being stored safely under the counter or in a cupboard.
But some will find a new owner who will treat them with equal lack of respect and responsibility and perhaps with the same casual punishment. But they are certainly luckier than our late friend at the roundabout and luckier than many others.
The day after a storm look around you, especially when there has been severe winds. You're sure to see the aftermath of many torn and twisted specimens, dead from the shred on the streets of your neighbourhood.
Here's one left in a cemetery without even the dignity of a decent burial.
The mighty unfolding
But normally they'll stick out from bus stop bins or lay sprawled on hedgerows. They'll lie lonely and isolated on the pavement or in the gutter or be strewn across grassy banks and urban wastelands.
All thrown away as unsalvageable and irretrievably lost for purpose. At these times you may also see the classic golf umbrella. Normally stalwart and strong, able to withstand the pounding rain.
It prevails on the greens and fairways of the land among the plus-four, Pringle-wearing, gin and tonic set.
Unless blown up by lightning.
But even the mighty can be reduced to wreckage by the sheer force of a tempestuous gale. Turned inside out and the over-sized canopy ripped from its metallic sinews. If you've ever been out with a large umbrella in a howling wind you may feel less than sympathetic.
That comforting, though unwieldy, friend can instantly become your mortal enemy. Grasping to be free, or to drag you with it in the trying, it will take you wherever the wind may blow on a Poppin-esque flight of adventure.
The life expectancy of even a new umbrella in these conditions could be as low as 10 minutes. Your own existence could also be in doubt if you're mad enough to try.
Definitely not recommended.
We have a strange and capricious relationship with our rain guardians. Comprised of both of necessity and insouciance, love and hate, wet and dry.