The Godfather: Peter Corris on the umbrellas of Newtown
Spring, more than winter, is umbrella time in Sydney. You might walk out on a sunny morning and get wet ten minutes later. You might take shelter, have a coffee and have to put your sunnies on as you start out and run for cover before you get home.
Happily, in Newtown, there’s plenty of shelter and some brave souls venture out with no brolly and rely on short sprints between awnings, but many more carry umbrellas. Come spring, many shops provide receptacles so as not to have the umbrellas leak all over their floor. A plastic bin rather than an elephant’s foot, but helpful.
I see an occasional tightly furled umbrella à la London in King Street, but not often. Most are of the collapsible variety and most are black, blue or some dark colour. It’s rare and welcome to see leopard or tiger print or lemon yellow. There’s something innately conservative about umbrellas.
Collapsible umbrellas are pesky things. If the strap that links velcro to velcro comes adrift you’re in trouble. If the handle refuses to retract and fold the thing up, ditto.
The enemy of umbrellas isn’t rain. Failing an absolute torrent they do their protective job well, providing it’s one person per brolly and the right angle is struck against the precipitation. The enemy is wind. Collapsible umbrellas can easily be turned inside out by a decent gust of wind, to the utter ruin of the spokes and the drenching of the wayfarer.
How many times have you seen a crippled umbrella lying in a gutter, abandoned in a rubbish bin or hanging from the branches of a trees, like (always quote Bob Dylan wherever possible) ‘some raven … with a broken wing’?
Are Jean and I unique in having this sort of exchange?
‘Is it going to rain?’
‘If it does I’ll buy a brolly in the Smart Dollar shop.’
I know we are not unique in leaving them, bought so cheaply, in cafés, pubs, buses, taxis and other people’s houses. It’s the throw-away society on steroids. No matter how many you may have around the house, the day will come when you’ll be down to one with its spokes bent.
Thinking back to my growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Melbourne, where it pisses down chillingly in winter for weeks on end (or did back then), I recall only one umbrella in the house, which my father used when he went to work. My mother stayed at home and when we kids went out we wore raincoats, galoshes and sou’-westers. A lost world.
Golf umbrellas are a different thing altogether. They come in only one size – big! They’re usually stoutly constructed but I’ve still seen them turned inside out by a wind howling down a fairway or across a green. I’ve also seen them cleverly pinioned to the handle of a golf buggy, allowing a crouched player to shelter while slogging along. But they are mostly to be seen in clusters, under trees, sheltering foursomes wiping their clubs, wondering whether to wait and hope for a few more holes if it eases off or to give it away and go in for a drink.