Dignity Sticks


The Umbrella Chronicles (Part One)

“I don’t do umbrellas,” I used to say with pride. 

Why rob yourself, I once asked, of the strange self-deprecating joy of being caught off-guard by Mother Nature? Of being drenched to the point that it no longer matters? Of exclaiming “Oh, What A Shame” through a clenched, poorly suppressed grin and an implied wink toward the heavens? Of knowing the steaming shower and hot chocolate on getting home will feel like the best you’ve ever had? 

Why deny the chance to cast yourself as an eccentric in your own overly-idealised life story? Of embracing the downpour, blissfully oblivious to the unflattering LOL-WACKY faux-hippie image that projects to the outside world? Of catching your reflection in a passing car and realising that, with that jacket and dishevelled wet hair, you kind of rock the Christopher-Eccleston’s-Doctor-Who-newly-regenerated-into-David-Tennant look? 

No daddy-o, that will just not fly.

I now see this for the self-delusion it is. No. Deep down, the Old Me knew this day would come; he was holding on for dear life.

Hue, Vietnam. 2013. Typhoon Wutip was lurking off the coast, blowing its wind and rain and weird hip-hop cred every which way. Hotel staff insisted we step outside prepared. My wife’s hand quickly grasped mine, preventing its reflexive gesture of decline. She knew me too well.

These were not the tiny, cheap, soggy, wind-inverted, eyeball-poking bundles of failed utilitarianism we had lived and travelled with of late. We’re talking Serious Business Golf Umbrellas here. Proper, sturdy Dignity Sticks. These, if I may be so bold as to abbreviate, were quality ‘brellas.

One by one, the forgotten little thrills drew me back in. The tactile pleasure as it opened with the satisfying pull of a parachute. The overwhelming urge to twirl it as it sat on the shoulder. The sudden clarity of a long-gnawing truth: it was never truly about the rain.

A walking stick. A pointing aid. A leaning tool. To place an umbrella in the grip of an anxious 

fidgeter is to calm idle hands; to empower them with a sense of purpose; of certainty; of warmth and worth. 

But it goes far beyond that still. It resonates on a full-body level, bringing not just a skip to the step, but also a certain jazzy swagger. You know where you stand. You know who you are. You are complete.

“I’m really on to something here!” I said to my wife. “Look at me striding all confident-like! I’m leading the way and I don’t even know where we’re going!”  Her smile was that of a patient, sympathetic loved one, kindly humouring an addict already too far gone.

On returning our umbrellas to the doorman, my grip held out in a moment of futile rebellion. Greater plans and questions were already in motion. How far would I be willing to go to bring this fading feeling back? Join a golf club? Research importing options? Navigate the hazardous world of online umbrella forum snobbery, heated debates over declining industry standards and phrases such as “pre-buyout” and “YQ/inc-certified”? Risk the mantle of “Umbrella Guy” and just carry it with me 24/7? Give in to instinct and just grab the damn thing and run?

Whatever this experience has awakened, it is winning. I don’t know who I am anymore or how much longer I can hold on or oh who am I kidding?  I’m so sorry, Umbrellas. Let us never fight again.