Um – brella – come rain or shine¬†#rain #sun #tradition #London #history #umbrella

Let me share a quote with you that seems appropriate in the current ‘crazy’ weather climate, affecting a vast number of people across the globe.

Here it is, direct from the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, a sometimes quite rainy area of land inhabited by Scots: 

“I like to imagine the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it ‘brella’ but he hesitated.” 

Um, firstly I think it’s rather presumptive to assume it was a man, but let’s think of the ‘he’ collectively.

The name umbrella evolved from the Latin umbella – a flat-topped rounded flower and the term umbra, meaning shadow or shade. In Italian, Latin’s closest modern-day language, the term for shade is ombra and for umbrella, ombrella.

While we play with names and definitions here are a few more of notable interest:

Un Parasol (French and Spanish) protects against the sun, para means stop or shield and sol is sun.

Un Parapluie (French) is an umbrella, para (shield against) pluie (rain). 

A Parachute (English, French) – para (shield from) a fall.

The oldest reference to a collapsible umbrella is 21AD in Ancient China. Then we follow the umbrella, in all its forms, through the traditions and customs of dynasties such as Ancient India, Siam, the Middle East, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Aztecs and Europe.

In The Middle Ages (of Britain) a cloak, not an  umbrella, was often the desired clothing against rainstorms.

In 1768 a Paris magazine stated:

‘Those who do not wish to be mistaken for vulgar people much prefer to take the risk of being soaked rather than be regarded as one who goes on foot; an umbrella is a sure sign of someone who does not own his own carriage.’

It would not be long before umbrellas became a fashionable item; an accessory not only to shelter from the rain but to avoid the heat of the scorching sun (the sunbeams being particularly piercing in India, for example). 

By the 1750s the British people had got over their natural shyness and promoted the umbrella’s general use.

One such character, Jonas Hanway, founder of the Magdalen Hospital, dared the reproach and ridicule – the staring, laughing, jeering, hooting, heckling and bullying – of hackney taxi-cabs, of carrying an umbrella in London, everyday for 30 years, dying, nice and dry, in 1786.

There is a small street in London’s Fitzrovia, leading from Oxford Street winding itself to Tottenham Court Road, called Hanway Street, reputed to be named after our man. His popularisation of the umbrella was more successful than his attempt to introduce stilts into London, keen to avoid the muck and grime of the 18th century streets. 

Clearly he likes the theme of ‘avoidance.’ 

Ironically Umbrellas are the most ‘left’ items in taxi-cabs. 

They are sometimes extremely annoying but desperately useful articles, not everybody wants to ‘sing in the rain’ or have ‘raindrops keep falling on their head’…
Global National Umbrella Day is 10th February.

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April awakens¬†#April #poetry #Browning #Spring #travel

‘O to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning unaware,

That the lowest boughs and brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bold are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England – now!’

First verse of ‘Home-thoughts, from abroad’ by Robert Browning.

This poem was probably written at home in England in April 1845 when Browning was recalling his second tour of Italy

I am currently in South-West France, recalling and reviewing Spring photographs of England. This photo was taken not far from the Marylebone church in which Browning married Elizabeth Barrett in 1846: 170 years ago.  

The tree is a pink-cupped magnolia blossoming against a cobalt-blue sky.

This world is waking up from its winter slumber. Time to spring into action.

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Cafe au lait, au lait! #art #travel #quotes

The most famous French cafe on the tip of the Mediterranean, Les Templiers (Knights of the Realm) in the Catalan fishing village of Collioure. Home to sun-seeking artists extraordinaire of the early 1900s including Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Dufy – inspired by the light, the warmth, the sweet wines, the traditional music, the scents of jasmine, caught by the nose and a sea-salt aroma, touched by the tongue.

The bar is adorned in artwork, donated by generations of artists who could not pay for drinks.

Scottish artist and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret escaped the smoggy atmosphere of London, to visit Collioure in the spring of 1924…

“We think it is one of the most wonderful places we have ever seen.”


Prennez le petit dejeuner, chocolat chaud, assiette de fromage
…soak up the ambiance, the distinctive style and the air-borne inspiration, drink in the magic of many artistic worlds.

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The Shore-sign Contemplation #art #beach #poetry

Ideas for Poetry can pop up in all sorts of places: promenading along the beach, caught in a crowded city, cruising the countryside, stuck on the underground, rambling in summer pastures, travelling to foreign lands, and at any time, from early morning to late at night. 

Inspiration continues to be an unusual and unpredictable sensation …whatever your tool (painting, writing, acting, baking, singing, composing…) you feel compelled to make the best use of it, to interpret it into something distinctive, unique…
Some signs wash up on the shore…!

The Leaves on a Tree, the Leaves of Poetry

Poet, John Keats sat at his window in Hampstead overlooking this Mulberry tree, a supreme specimen, in 1818 making this comment on inspiration and creativity,”If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.”  Let this be a good argument for sitting and staring out of a window!

The ‘Cockney’ poet’s greatest literary influences were Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, and he admired his contemporaries, particularly Wordsworth.  Keats was a fierce critic of his own work, and faced harsh criticism from outside his circle.  Despite disappointing sales of his first collection, he was intensely ambitious,

“I was never afraid of failure,” he insisted,”for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” Keats, in his short lifetime, was not recognised as a great poet, but some time later and well after his death he sits firmly among the celebrated, the finest, ‘the greatest’ poets. The tragic triumph that was his life story.