Wednesday 11 October 2006

It is a popular superstition that it is unlucky to put up an umbrella whilst inside. In the context of practicality, you can see why it might be worth indoctrinating people with this irrational fear: an umbrella in a confined space is a dangerous thing. An expanded brolly makes it pretty hard to navigate doors in all but the grandest of residences, for example. And you’re not just a danger to yourself; with one of these new-fangled pop-up-at-the-press-of-a-button jobbies it would be quite simple to harpoon a friend of each of the struts and simultaneously cover a roomful of people with rainwater. Eight dead and twenty pissed off is pretty lethal work for a handheld plastic contraption intended to keep one person dry.

However, it’s a bit of an odd stipulation if, as I did, you think too hard about it. “Inside” is a fairly arbitrary human classification. If you’re in a room with man-made boundaries like walls, floors and ceilings on all six sides, central heating and en suite, it’s pretty unambiguous. But what about if, for example, you’re in a barn? Is it still unlucky? Is it perhaps less so because it’s a bit chilly and more outside-y?

How solid does the boundary have to be? A tunnel through some trees would be quite a viable place to pop up your umbrella to evade the many drips which persist even after the end of a rainstorm…but is it too enclosed an environment? Are you subject to a particularly minor dose of misfortune as a result of this fairly-but-not-quite-outdoor brolly usage? Could the misfortune be as minor as simply receiving a slightly above average number of drips from the trees above, which will then simply be deflected by your proud, erect brolly?

Oxford has today been the recipient of nearly 38mm of rain, so there’s been plenty of time whilst walking soggily to and from a football match which I was intended to photograph but which had been cancelled to consider this very real precipitation-based problem.

The answer, of course, as anyone familiar with receiving odd looks as they navigate the city centre will tell you, is a Barbour and some wellies. This choice of outfit allowed me to take advantage of some pretty good temporary lakes and streams on the roadsides which were just crying out to be splashed excitedly through. Sadly, even Oxford’s imperfect drainage wasn’t poor enough that I managed to find any puddles which contained the full 38mm of water. I would have had to find a rain gauge to splish and splosh my way through, which I suspect would not have endeared me to whichever meteorologist was providing this facility.

In fact, that’s probably the unluckiest place of all to put up an umbrella: over a rain gauge. If the fates do not wreak their horrible revenge upon you, the terrible wrath of an angry weatherman will see to it that you receive due punishment. Perhaps an array of ex-television magnetic weather symbols glued as a permanent five-day forecast all over your face. I’d like to see Lady Luck exact a punishment more humiliating than that.

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