After having woken up to the sound of thunderclaps and heavy rain the other morning it seems appropriate to continue with the wet weather theme following last week's in depth column on wellies.
I thought we had fully covered the different colours of Wellington boots worn by Thai officials but readers quickly pointed out this was not the case. I was rightly reprimanded for not mentioning a former Bangkok governor who displayed a fine pair of yellow wellies while sloshing about the city.
Only last week the present prime minister and his aides were spotted putting their orange wellies to good use during a visit to a flooded community in Yasothon. I’m all for diversity, but think I still prefer the traditional black boots.
In addition to wellies, umbrellas could also come in useful this month. Apart from a brolly’s main function of poking people in the eye, it can be used as protection from both the rain and sun. However, in Britain you would be unlikely to see anyone put up a brolly when the sun comes out. People would think you were bonkers.
Admittedly in Thailand the ferocity of the rainstorms often render an umbrella useless. Even with a brolly you will still get soaked and probably get blown halfway down the street rather like Mary Poppins.
Lost and found
Umbrellas are something of an enigma in that although they are useful, carrying them around is a pain and they are easily mislaid. More than 10,000 brollies are lost each year on London Transport alone. I dread to think how many I have lost in Bangkok and wouldn’t mind betting a couple of mine have been whizzing around the London Underground since the 1960s.
I recall having a favourite Bangkok Post umbrella which was adorned with headlines from the newspaper. I had even written one of the headlines which had added to my attachment to the brolly. One evening I was taking refuge from a heavy rainstorm in a Sukhumvit noodle shop when I was asked by a young lady customer if she could briefly borrow my brolly as she had to get something from a nearby shop. I agreed and of course that was the last I saw of the umbrella or the young lady.
As a nipper in England, I often went for walks in the nearby countryside with my father. If rain was threatening he would say: “We had better take a gamp” before picking up an umbrella in the stairwell. I got to calling it a ‘gamp’ too although I had no idea of its origins. It was only later I was to discover that “gamp” was a reference to the Charles Dickens character Sarah Gamp, a drunken nurse who was seldom without a brolly in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit. The word ‘gamp’ was in common usage in Victorian times and carried on into my father’s generation.
The stereotype of a London city gent with a brolly and a bowler hat was reinforced by the idiosyncratic 1960s British television series The Avengers. The hero, John Steed, played with aplomb by Patrick Macnee was rarely seen without his bowler and brolly, both of which he also used as weapons. When Steed was in a tight corner you knew that as long as he had his brolly he would be fine.
Steed so epitomised the foreign perception of a British gentleman the Anglophile parents of French footballer Steed Malbranque even named their son after the TV hero.
Another screen character who was rarely without an umbrella was Penguin from the Batman series. But the Penguin’s umbrella was more like a war weapon, capable of shooting bullets, daggers and lethal gas. Malbranque must be thankful his parents weren’t Penguin fans.
Charge of the Brolly Brigade
Umbrellas show up in the strangest places. One of the most unlikely sights was during the Peninsular War in the early 19th century when many British officers, including those on horseback, were spotted putting up umbrellas on the battlefield when it started raining.
This did not go down too well with the commander of the troops, the Duke of Wellington. He issued orders that “Lord Wellington does not approve of the use of umbrellas during the enemy’s firing”. He called the appearance of brollies “not only ridiculous but also unmilitary.”
It’s a pity. An attack led by the Royal Welsh Brolly Brigade would have been a sight to behold.
The laughing cabbie
One night on my way home from the office the rain was lashing down and I stood on a flooded Na Ranong Road praying for a taxi to come to the rescue. At least I had my faithful umbrella. But suddenly there was a “ping!” sound and the brolly collapsed on my head. I almost felt betrayed by the brolly, letting me down in a moment of need.
Thankfully a taxi emerged from the murk and I leapt into the back seat, absolutely soaked. The cabbie burst out laughing. “You wet mahk mahk. Ha ha ha!” he said joyfully. I didn’t see my situation in quite such a humorous light but at least I had a cab.
The happy cabbie proceeded to serenade me all the way home and I swear one of his songs was an Isan version of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.