Donnerstag, den 5. Juli 2007

Our first full day deep in the Austrian Alps was mainly taken up by a walk around Achensee, the big lake near where we were staying. It’s a medium-sized lake, 26km around, cradled in the vast mountains. The clear water assumes a fantastic array of colours depending on the sky above and mountains around. Today, it varied between a stunning blue–green when the Sun was out, and a blue–grey, like a giant, shimmering sheet of metal, when the weather got a bit more overcast.

And, gradually, the preponderance of weather did just that. The morning’s cloud cover was variable, but, as the afternoon wore on, the clouds moved in and the rain began.

We had just finished walking down one side of the lake and were about to head into the town at the other end to find a bus to take us home when we happened upon an umbrella dangling from a fence. Presumably someone had found it on the floor and moved it to a more obvious position to help in the very unlikely event that its owner would come back in the pissing rain to look for it when, presumably, they didn’t have an umbrella. As I stood there, with wet hair because it was too hot to have my hood up, and hair now too wet for it to be worth bothering to put it up anyway, the appearance of this waterproof saviour seemed almost miraculous.

And, indeed, it was. It was minutes after I’d put up the umbrella that the pissing rain really started pissing with a vengeance. Luckily, we were most of the way around the lake now, had a brolly to share, and, when we reached the bus stop, we met some schoolkids and some other wet walkers who were waiting for the hourly bus, which would arrive in about ten minutes. Ten minutes later we, pleased with our good fortune and impeccable timing, leapt on the bus home.

We got off the bus amid some confusion, having a brief argument about which bus stop was the right one to get off at and eventually deciding upon the wrong one. We only just grabbed our bags and leapt from the bus in time to escape the closing doors and realise that we shouldn’t have bothered. It was as we began the trudge back home that we realised: I’d forgotten the umbrella!!!

It had served its purpose and, just as mysteriously as it appeared to me in my time of need, so it would appear again to save another soon-to-otherwise-be-soggy individual. I tried to recall its appearance. It was dark, perhaps with a generic tartan pattern of some kind. It had a push-button to erect it, and was slightly rusted where the struts joined the canopy. Have you seen this umbrella?

I think my inability to recall its appearance precisely is evidence that the umbrella was magical. Perhaps it appears slightly differently to everyone who finds it, tailoring its appearance to be as thoroughly unremarkable as possible to its new owner and thus forcing them to forget it when it has completed its task.

I don’t know how old the umbrella was, or how many lives it has touched. Perhaps it is as old as time itself.

This magical umbrella’s journey through the rainy world deserves documenting, and it was to that end that I spent the evening composing my first opera, Der Zauberegenschirm, which is a pretty good pun if you know anything about operas by Mozart which, if I’d not just come from Salzburg with a girlfriend far more cultured than I, I wouldn’t either.

The only other magical umbrella I am aware of in mythology is the one belonging to Mary Poppins. As for which is better, I think it’s swings and roundabouts: the Zauberegenschirm didn’t give me the power of flight, but nor did the handle double as a wise-cracking bird. Safe in the knowledge that the Fates had not dealt me a duff hand by way of a smartarse brolly, and slightly soggy in spite of the Zauberegenschirm’s best efforts, I put my trainers on top of a radiator to dry out (it wasn’t on, but it’s the thought that counts) and went to bed.

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