Brolly hunting in London: Tourists seek shelter

Gold, silver, bronze: No matter who wins what at the London

Olympics, a million or more visitors will need to get themselves an

umbrella.

I live in London and even I need a new brolly, as they are

called here. My old one has been reduced to deadly spikes between

tattered remnants of cloth. The husband blames me, says I’m hard on

things. I blame the British weather – it was the wettest June on

record and July is trying hard to beat that.

Clearly it’s time to go shopping.

TARTANS AND ANIMAL HEADS

It rains so much in Britain that a store devoted to umbrellas

has thrived since 1830. I went to James Smith & Sons, Umbrellas

Ltd. to interview the experts.

Umm, no dice. Too busy to speak to the media, today, tomorrow,

ever. Do I understand? Ever.

Did they flunk marketing 101? Who doesn’t want to talk to the

press about their product?

I can still walk around, eye the goods. One section has a dozen

tartans, another brollys with big thick stripes possibly related to

obscure sporting clubs of which I am not a member. They are sturdy

and good-looking though. You could whack a London rioter with one

of these if need be, use them as ladies’ hand weights.

For 75 to 80 pounds ($116 to $132), you can walk away with a

wooden duck handle on your brolly. Ditto ones with parrots, foxes,

cats, dogs, even a dinosaur. On the other hand, what are you doing,

trying to pretend you have a moat?

Still, the folding umbrella section inspires definite brolly

envy, with some so compact they could fit into clutch. This is

where girlie-girl options run riot. Ruffles and Degas ballet

dancers, mock-Burberry plaids and polka dots, brollys in hot pink,

teal blue, blinding chartreuse. Those craving attention in an

Olympic crowd should look no further.

”My sister will be crazy about a clear umbrella like this, it’s

a gift for her,” said Mario Marcari, a tourist from Brazil.

Others sought quality and tradition.

”Black is the new black,” explained Doug Knowles of San

Francisco, who travels often to London on business. ”In the

business world I would look odd carrying around polka dots.”

The quietly professional staff who won’t talk to me demonstrate

to others the sturdiness of umbrellas with steel shafts, teach them

how to press spring-loaded buttons so brollys pop into action

without blinding family members.

SUN SHADES

Am I joking? No. James Smith & Sons still sells what used to

called parasols for 155 to 145 pounds ($225 to $240) for both men

and women but only in cream and white. The chances are nil,

however, that Britain will see enough sun to drag these babies out.

And after a few days on the island, you will start craving vitamin

D like the rest of us.

OFF TO THE TOURIST TRAPS

Those with a thinner wallet can go to Camden and other outdoor

markets where the ubiquitous ”I love London” and Union Jack

brollys cost 3 to 5 pounds each ( $4.70 to $7.80). Still, don’t

they just announce your lack of imagination to the rooftops? If one

must go the cheapie tourist route, a London Underground brolly for

10 pounds ($15.50) has a classic, recognizable design.

For a unique look, artists at the markets also use umbrellas as

canvases, painting them like others do sneakers.

THE SPORTS BROLLY DEBATE

As the New York Yankees have shown, team logos can travel

worldwide. Top English Premier League teams like Manchester United,

Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all sell brollys with logos,

starting at 24.99 pounds ($38.60) on up for those they call

`Gustbusters.’

Truth is, they’re mostly for wives, girlfriends and tourists. At

a game, it’s impossible to chant obscenities at opposing teams

while carrying a brolly and still keep your manhood intact. Plus

blocking another fan’s view of the pitch could start a mini-riot.

Not to mention that carrying the wrong logo is a good recipe for a

bar fight in some parts of town.

”They’re drunk, they stand in the rain,” a London-based

sportswriter said, explaining British fans to me. He spoke on

condition of anonymity because he stands in the rain every week

too.

The sports umbrella debate even has its own class divide. The

posh crowds watching tennis at Wimbledon ALWAYS have brollys and

have been taught from a young age how to scrunch down low so people

behind them can still see.

BROLLY FASHIONISTAS

For those wanting a more sophisticated look, it’s time to hit

the museum gift shops. The British Museum alone has about a dozen

brollys, ranging from 16.99 pounds ($26) for a Shakespeare Floral

design to 26.99 pounds ($41.60) for one that reveals London

landmarks when it gets wet. Trendy types seek brollys that prove

they have been to the latest art exhibition, but old standbys like

a Rosetta Stone umbrella (16.99 pounds, $26) could flash your

archaeology IQ.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE BROLLYS

In Mayfair, London’s wealthy hedge fund neighborhood, the

enormous golf umbrella with a fund logo is de rigueur. But you

can’t buy them – adding to their allure – and you must be part of

the tribe to know which fund is hot this month, which is not and

which is the next Ponzi scheme. Plus you will get in trouble with

Olympic security (see below).

LISTEN TO THE OLYMPIC SECURITY STAFF

As I passed through Olympic Park security this week, a jovial

debate ensued among the guards. Were the uncovered spikes on my

tattered umbrella a weapon?

Apparently not. But the staff did have one big plea for visitors

– NO GOLF UMBRELLAS. They will be confiscated. You will be angry.

You could get wet. This was allegedly written in extremely fine

print somewhere in the instructions about Olympic tickets, but the

guards know thousands will be upset when their brollys are

permanently detained.

They say they hate being the bad guys.

And no walking-length umbrellas with steel tips either. Stick to

the folding ones.

BACK TO THE SOURCE

I admit defeat, go back to James Smith & Sons, buy a lovely

brown-and-silver plaid folding brolly for 34.99 pounds ($54.70).

It’s so pretty it banishes my bag-lady look. Will they talk to the

press now?

Of course not.