Umbrella Genesis

When I was thinking about what to write this week, my mind kept coming back to my umbrella. Not sure why, it just did.

Perhaps it was because it was raining, Ken? Perhaps. Your guess is as good as mine.

In case you don’t know, I carry an umbrella with me almost everywhere I go. If it’s a marvelous bright sunny day with zero chance of precipitation then, no, I won’t have it with me but we don’t get many days like that here in the Wild West of Ireland. So, generally, yes, I have my umbrella when I’m out walking.

Although it rains a lot more over here than in other places, you don’t see as many umbrellas as you might expect. It’s even less common to see a man wielding an umbrella. The guys here are too rugged for that kind of thing. So I’m a bit of a rarity. Some people I meet on the street call me ‘The Umbrella Man’ and it’s often the subject of discussion or wry comment. Sometimes they call me The Writer Man too. I'll take either. 

So, yeah, when I was thinking about what to write this week, I thought I’d better write about my umbrella. The trouble is, I’ve been writing this blog for a long time now and I tend to forget what I’ve written about before. I looked back and found I had written about my umbrella and me twice before.

Where does that leave me for a blog post this week, when I’ve already covered my brolly so thoroughly? Genesis, perhaps. Where did it all start?


I didn’t always tote an umbrella. In fact, I wasn’t an umbrella guy at all when I lived in London. I was a hat guy. I wore a black trilby back then. I don’t think I could carry off a trilby now and, full disclosure, I don’t think I ever really carried off wearing one back then either.

If was only when I came back to Ireland in 1997 that the umbrella thing started.

In returning home, I left a practice in Upper Camden where I had worked very happily for five years. It was something of a wrench for me and, although I was going home, I was very sad to leave.

We exchanged small presents, the partners and me. I got a copy of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. It’s still there on my shelf behind me as I write this. Wait… I’ll take it down.

On page 43, there is a tiny insert, the type is the same size as all the other entries. It reads:

ARMSTRONG, Kenneth (B. 4 July 1963)
Irish Writer – following world voyage wrote first radio play, one success after another following in the footsteps of M.M. while working as an architect in London. Returned to Ireland in 1997 to expand horizon, keep dogs, drink, fish, improve golf handicap. During this period his writing suffered while his family grew. Finally produced masterpiece, sold 1,000,000 copies and film rights to Hollywood.

It was a cute little gag. Although it wasn't entirely a gag. I had written several radio plays by then and I was a little fixated on M.M, who is still going strong. It didn’t all come true, of course. I don’t have dogs, I don’t fish, golf or drink hardly at all. My horizons have gone the other way, if anything.

But I’m still trying with the writing. I wouldn’t say anything suffered while the family grew. Everything was perfect.

I’ll put the book back on the shelf now. It doesn’t come down very much, to be honest, and it’s still as spruce as it was on the day that I got it, though you can tell that a book is old, can’t you?

My present to the partners was an Oxford English Dictionary. It’s funny how we both chose rather similar books for each other. Inside I wrote, “I could not find the words,” and I thought that was pretty cute.

I got another present too, along with the book. You’ve guessed it. An umbrella. A simple note attached read, “You’ll need this.” I have.

That umbrella is long gone. Left in a coffee shop or blown inside-out by a gale, I can’t recall. But the encouragement to have an umbrella and to carry it with me is something that was given to me and something I have never let go of, whatever the weather.

That other encouragement has been much the same.

Perhaps I would have been the Umbrella Man all by myself but I really don’t think so. I don’t often hold on to good ideas on my own.

I have to be encouraged a little.

(Remembering Ian and Philippa and Son Coll)


Emily Suess said...

Just wanted to say, since I don't Facebook much these days, that my Sundays are still much improved by your blogs.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Emily. My social media in general is much improved by your presence there. x

Jim Murdoch said...

One of my oldest possessions is an umbrella, a proper brolly and not one of those compact contraptions although I own a couple of them too. I don’t know what possessed me to buy the umbrella because at the time I was living in East Kilbride and could literally see my office from my kitchen window but one day I went into BHS with every intention of coming out carrying an umbrella. It’s forty if it’s a day, probably closer to forty-one. I loved it. I used to walk about pleased as punch with myself twirling it on the palm of my hand. I see people with knives talking about the balance and never really got it—I mean it’s a knife for Christ’s sake—but this brolly just felt right in my hand. How it survived the many many moves I’ve made over the years I’ve no idea but it’s hanging on the hat stand in the corner of my office right now and I fully expect it to outlive me. The hat stand we bought in IKEA and I fell in love with it immediately. Most of our furniture is functional and, of course, so it the hat stand but it’s classy and I just wanted it. (Not like me at all.) I can’t find a photo of it online which is a shame because that means they’ve discontinued it which is sad because it was different.

Marc Paterson said...

Well, I'll just say this: keep carrying that umbrella.