Ah, summer. The season in which the BBC enthusiastically predicts various heat waves and it rains, and the rest of Great Britain predicts rain, and it rains. The season in which the quintessential weather-speak of this magnificently sodden land is not simply relegated to the beginnings of a casual chat, but fuels entire dinner-table conversations on its own strength – for it is summer! Children should frolic, flowers should nod in the sunshine, and we should all be stepping out in pastel and florals having laid to rest our atrocious winter Sausage Coats.
This idyllic vision is what we hope for, but it is not what we actually expect. We are not so foolish.
For it is summer. That the sunshine is pathetic, that the skies are dismally grey and that we are apparently experiencing the wettest year on record since 1766 are statements pronounced repeatedly in tones both shocked and secretly satisfied by every resident of Great Britain at some point in the day. Those unfamiliar with the bizarre subtleties of the English would think that rain in August was a shocking event. They might suspect that said rain was an unexpected personal affront to us.
This is not the case. It is a curious fact that if it didn’t rain at any and every point in the year we would feel strangely offended. If, every year, we didn’t break rainfall/wind/sub-zero temperature records, we’d feel downright disappointed in our country. And yet when it does rain we call it ‘unseasonal’, assume an air of gloomy triumph, and look upon the wet and squawking tourists with condescending superiority for not having expected the best while predicting the worst.
For it is summer, which reinforces one of the strictest rules of living in Great Britain: summer clothes thou mayest wear, but an umbrella thou shalt always have with thee. And thus we find ourselves under the necessity of actually owning an umbrella, of which there are generally three types.
Type 1: The Cupcake
This is the most common umbrella among the laydees. The Cupcake is pretty, small, and totally useless for any sort of rain heavier than light drizzle.
Due to its unfortunate tendency to turn inside out the first breath of wind, inexplicably break, or join the 12,000 other lost umbrellas hanging around in lost property offices, the average Londoner will get through about 5 Cupcake umbrellas in a year. Its only merit is the fact that it probably compliments your equally useless ballet pumps. They cover such a small amount of space that however you angle it you will always get wet; for, as we all know, in England the rain never does anything as simple as pour straight down from the sky. It comes at you from an angle. Always an angle.
(There is also a manly version of the Cupcake – the Mancake? – but apart from being slightly less pretty and slightly more plain and manly it is still, to all intents and purposes, useless).
Type 2: The Ferris Wheel
The staple of every family establishment, country home, and males in this rainy city who scorn having anything as feminine as a Cupcake Umbrella.
While it will not blow inside out at the first sneeze like its cousin, the Cupcake, it is somehow the most awkward accessory known to mankind. It is unwieldy when open, and unwieldy when closed. Wherever you turn, you will hook someone like an expert fisherman through their belt buckle, button hole, elbow or pocket. Hold it by its handle and you will start swinging it like an idiot; hold it upright and you will feel you are about to pitch a tent; hold it horizontally and you will spear someone behind or in front, or do both in a manoeuvre similar to the Hokey Cokey in which you jab the person behind by accident, and while turning around to apologise you promptly spear the person in front.
Type 3: The Bubble
Once upon a time, a valiant human being took stock of the abysmal umbrella situation, decided that a solution was needed, and came up with one of the most confusing contraptions known to man.
Do you walk in it? Does it come with windscreen wipers? Don’t you feel like an idiot? If the wind blows hard do you just fly away like Mary Poppins? So many questions.
Nonetheless, whichever umbrella you own, it is sadly necessary to own one; and useless though Cupcake umbrellas may be, they at least provide a spot of colour in the grey-pavement-grey-sky-grey-building vista of London. It is here that I, with a guilty heart, must raise my hand and own to possessing not one but two Cupcake umbrellas, one in nautical stripes (to enliven office wear) and one in a light blue and pale pink pattern (to broadcast my innate frivolousness to the world at large).
That said, one must also learn the rules of umbrella negotiation on busy pavements. The rules are simple: tall people lift, small people duck (and anyone not in possession of an umbrella must simply drip in abject misery). Otherwise you end up participating in some sort of weird umbrella-based bumper-car game in which the wielder of the bounciest umbrella wins.
There is, of course, always the option of going for the full tourist ensemble: to wit., donning The Cape.
I mean, wow.
In terms of practicality this is genius. It doesn’t blow away, it’s lightweight, it keeps you dry. In fact if someone decided to turn a hose on you you’d still remain delightfully un-soaked (unlike the “waterproof” or rather “water resistant” raincoats you can get which, let’s face it, are about as waterproof as a hanky). However, for the true-blue Londoner, this is suicide. Not even a plastic cape with pretty polkadots all over it is going to save you. The Cape screams old person. It screams foreigner. Or even old person foreigner.
There are very, very few instances in which a Londoner will think it reasonable to don The Cape, and these will generally be in the near vicinity of a waterfall, or possibly at Glastonbury Festival (which, on really rainy days, is basically the same thing).
Basically, if this long and rambly blog post could be summed up in 3 points, it would be these:
- In London, it rains;
- Get yourself an umbrella; and
- Take the perennial advice of Edna Mode: no capes.