Beware: Umbrellas at Large

Has someone out there been doing a rain dance? The sun is a distant memory, the brollies are out in force, and it’s pretty clear it’s not all Mary Poppins and Singin’ in the Rain.

I know, beach parasols aren’t entirely innocent. A sudden gust can give your sunshade wings, and propel it at speed into the chest or brain

But rain umbrellas are in another class of spikiness altogether, with sharp edges and points just where you least want them. It’s hard to protect yourself on crowded pavements in the rain when’s everyone’s scurrying about brandishing their weapons as they dodge the puddles.

In Cambridge’s narrow streets, there’s the added danger of tourists stopping without warning to take selfies, and tour leaders waving extra umbrellas around to show their group where they are.

From their origins centuries ago (nobody seems sure how many) as protection for the privileged, umbrellas are now as common as muck. Hundreds of millions of brollies are sold every year, and often break just as quickly, making them even more hazardous.

My husband negotiated the last downpour uninjured, but his thumb took a hit when closing his brolly. After all, everyone knows it’s bad luck to leave it open inside the house, right?

I escaped unscathed that rainy afternoon, possibly because I kept reminding the OH not to stab me in the eye. Nearly a fifth of umbrella-related accidents affect the eye, many of these being conjunctival tears. Spokes are the main cause, but even the rubber end of a rainshade can lead to eye injuries, according to a review from Monash University in Australia.

Their review concludes that umbrellas shouldn’t be used as toys. Sound advice, especially if you’ve read about the 11-year old who impaled his little brother with a piece of wire ribbing poked through the keyhole. The 5-year old was taken to the doctor but lost his eye, shortly followed by his life. 

Swans shun brollies. Unfurl yours and you may find yourself at the wrong end of a powerful beak.

The most high profile umbrella-linked death was that of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer and dissident murdered in September 1978 by a ricin pellet concealed in the tip of his assassin’s umbrella. Forty years on, the suspect is still at large. I’m told the case has links to the KGB. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Please let me know your best umbrella stories. I’m really hoping one of you has an uplifting tale to share in this rainy season. If not, I’ll just have to stay in and listen to the Hollies’ Bus Stop one more time.

Three Things I Learned This Week

I’m not a fast learner. It took me ages to memorise the 12 cranial nerves, and I only achieved it thanks to a dirty little mnemonic, much loved by medical students.   Maybe that’s why it took me a while to learn these three lessons.

1 Windscreen wipers work fine until it starts raining. windscreen wipers

Then you discover that they smear, they’re harbouring mouldy cherry blossom, they’re stuck in one position, or else they fall off without notice.  They only pull this last trick when you’re belting along a dual carriageway in torrential rain.  At night, when there’s no hope of finding them again. 

At least this time the inside of the windscreen was in good shape. In my VW Beetle, the interior misted up all the time.  Some advised me to rub the inside of the windscreen with a cut raw potato.  Lesson learned long ago: potato stops the glass misting up, but you still can’t see out.

2 If you look hard enough, there’s usually chocolate somewhere in the house.

Are you familiar with chocolate hunger?  You’ve consumed a 4000 Calorie meal, but there’s a little recess of your stomach that’s screaming for cocoa-based confectionery, and the noise gets louder until you appease it. 

You’re dreaming of Lindt 70% cocoa, or maybe Green & Black’s.

Green and Blacks


But the shops are shut.

Start searching and you’ll probably unearth some chocolate flakes in the back of the kitchen cupboard, or if you’re really lucky a milk chocolate Hob Nob.  What about raiding your child’s lunchbox?  You can stop off at the petrol station tomorrow on the way to school and replenish it.  Or there might be booty in the depths of the sofa (usually the caramel one from the Cadbury’s Roses that nobody wanted).  I once hit the jackpot in a coat pocket: a distressed packet of Maltesers from a visit to the cinema.

This time? Zilch. I’d even checked the car. Nothing but mints and empty wrappers.

Then I remembered.  Hadn’t one of my sons left a couple of things behind when he’d moved out?

cash cow

Yes, the expiry date was decades ago.  I said you can usually find chocolate. I didn’t say it would be edible.

3 Quizzes are nothing but ritual humiliation. 

I entered the village hall full of optimism.  A table of 8 middle-aged people, including one teacher and two doctors?  We were bound to scoop the big prize (a motley assortment of goodies including a jar of stuffed olives and a sleeping bag. No, I can’t explain it either). But we failed to identify one of Lady Gaga’s hits, and went downhill as the evening progressed.  Dressed in academic gown, the quiz master repeatedly tapped our table with his pointer. 

SaturnUnfortunately there were no questions on cranial nerves, just posers on chemistry, Nobel prizes, and astronomy. And why does someone always have to shout ‘Uranus’?  Especially when it isn’t.  

Our score was pitiful.  Sir threatened us with an after-school detention. 

Old dogs can’t learn new tricks. They have enough trouble remembering the old ones, especially since they sell bottles of wine at quizzes. But I quite fancied a sleeping bag.