Zen and the art of umbrella usage

...my son couldn't help but laugh out loud when he saw people walking around Manchester in the rain without an umbrella

First, an admission: despite the above title I'm not going to mention Zen. It's a reference to a book by Robert M. Pirsig - Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance - which had a huge impact on my own worldview as a confused young western man travelling the world in the late eighties and early nineties. So I just wanted to slip it in somewhere. As you will see, my short treatise on umbrella use falls somewhat short of the genius of that book.

Why umbrellas? Well, I grew up in Manchester, where they enjoy far more prominence than in most other places, due to what might be termed the rather inclement weather. And walking down a street in Manchester with my son recently, in the wind and rain, of course, made me realise that having been born and raised in Catalonia he had not yet received the umbrella training required if you are to survive the challenges of a Manchester winter. Because, you see, other places may suffer higher rainfall and stronger winds, but there are few places where you so often get the perfect combination of the two that can see you blown halfway down the street and saturated in a space of seconds, thus making the rest of your day traipsing around the shops a fairly uncomfortable one.

But before broaching advanced umbrella usage, we had to start with some basics, including when and how to use an umbrella. Regarding the former, my son couldn't help but laugh out loud when he saw people walking around Manchester in the rain without an umbrella, at which point I was duty bound to explain that what he thinks of as rain is to locals merely heavy drizzle, and no self-respecting Mancunian needs an umbrella for a bit of drizzle. As for the how, I emphasised, after he almost took someone's eye out, the need among those unaccustomed to using umbrellas - and I'm talking to you now, my Catalan friends - for a constant awareness of the umbrella's circumference and the height at which it is being held if accidents are to be avoided.

Back to the story: when I naively handed my son an umbrella as we emerged from a shop in central Manchester amidst gusts of wind and heavy rain, I found him making all the basic umbrella mistakes that you have learnt to avoid by the time you learn to walk if you grow up in Manchester. Turning his back on the wind, he unwittingly turned the umbrella into a parachute that lifted him off his feet and several yards down the road. Fortunately, central Manchester is, perhaps for this very reason, a pedestrian zone, and he only threatened to crash under the wheels of one of the numerous carts pushed around by the ubiquitous street vendors - the UK equivalent of top manta - rather than under the wheels of a bus. Suffice it to say, I have since given him a crash course on The art of umbrella usage. Zen, however, will have to wait.

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