This Side of the Pond – June 13

By Sarah Pridgeon

I am delighted to observe that the clouds have found another town to badger, because I have eyed the constant rain over the last few weeks with a relish that quickly turned to narrow-eyed mutterings. Drizzle being the default state of my homeland, I was excited to greet a refreshing spring shower. Then I remembered how much I dislike rain.
This is the first properly rainy spring since I moved to Wyoming, so you can forgive me for assuming that snow and sunshine were the only two weather options available. Winter and summer don’t seem to like bothering the other two seasons so, if I can’t see any snow, I have learned to expect my scalp to start sizzling.
This column is a tribute to my umbrella, as well as a potential farewell. For the first year that I lived here, I carried it with me everywhere. Thirty years of experience taught me that a light shower may hit at any moment and it is best to be prepared for the inevitable.
So important is the umbrella to my kind that you can actually buy one from a vending machine in England’s capital, instead of a candy bar or a can of soda. If you happen to emerge from an underground train journey to discover that the blue sky has fled, all you need is a handful of change to release a weapon for the downpour.
Nevertheless, an Englishwoman never leaves the house without her brolly. Her purse will always contain a wallet, a lipstick, a snack for long commutes and an umbrella. Just because I hadn’t seen a drop of rain in at least six months didn’t mean it wasn’t on its way.
Eventually, I succumbed to common sense and swapped my umbrella for a pair of socks, because I could no longer ignore the fact that a light shower in Sundance usually involves snowflakes. I placed my brolly in a safe place for the next time I might need it. Naturally, this means I have absolutely no idea where it has disappeared to.
I’m fairly sure that I hung it on the coat rack, just in case, but it seems to have wandered off between the sad event of its retirement and the day that the rain clouds arrived. It ought to be easy to spot – I picked it in the first place because it’s a swirly sort of yellow and orange and stands out from the rainwear crowd – but I can’t for the life of me find it.
So I was forced to face my first stormy season without my umbrella, which was both distressing and humiliating. I can easily explain being ill-prepared for a blizzard or a heat wave because these were mythical events during my childhood, but to not be able to cope with a rainy day is unforgivable. I hang my head in shame.
I am mourning the loss of this particular brolly because it proved itself a brave little soldier, back in its heyday. A cheerful umbrella in England is a dangerous possession; it aggravates the common commuter to unexpected levels of violence and seldom survives for very long.
There is a perfectly simple explanation for the snarls: travel in London is a mixture of train riding and trotting. Virtually no destination is reachable without sprinting to the nearest bus or train stop and then swapping between stations along the way.
During the outdoor portions of the journey, one’s personal water levels increase over time thanks to splashes from puddles, bits poking out from under the edges of umbrellas and the dreaded sideways rain. The indoor bits give you time to dry off, but also involve being pressed tightly against everybody else’s moist overcoats.
The inevitable result is that all office workers begin a rainy day feeling damp and unhappy. Occasionally, one of them will get very cross indeed if given the impression that someone nearby is not sharing their pain.
Though no less miserable than my fellow commuters, I do have a tendency to buy brightly colored umbrellas. I call them my “jolly brollies”. I started doing so simply to differentiate my own rain armor from everyone else’s, but soon discovered it made a bad situation just that little bit better.
Not everybody thought so. One heathen, who was heading for the financial district wearing an expensive suit that had been all but ruined by drizzle, happened to spot my pink striped umbrella sitting next to me on the floor of the train. Glaring furiously, he went out of his way to stamp on it, snapping the handle in half with a triumphant glare as he kicked the carcass through the doors before they slid shut.
I never saw that poor umbrella again. I like to think it has a new life, somewhere below the train tracks, sheltering a family of mice from the elements while they gather at a thimble for their evening cheese.
In its honor, I defiantly bought my current cheerful replacement, refusing to be cowed by the intimidation tactics of a soggy banker. I guarded it diligently through two full winters (and an English summer that was not much different to the winters).
Somewhere in my marital home, that umbrella continues to defy both the clouds above us and the tempers of all who question them. It has proven so effective in protecting me from the rain that I suspect it was to blame for last summer’s drought. In fact, it would probably be best that I continue the search because, until I locate it, there will be nothing to keep those clouds from coming back.