The text read: “You’ll know this Simon, where do I get a great umbrella in London?” It was from my cousin Harry, but I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know what to answer.
Being absent-minded at the best of times, I’ve never spent more than five pounds on an umbrella. Even the free brollies from various law firms that litter the office get lost. I take them out when it’s raining, and they get left on the tube, the bus, the Pret a Manger counter. I once bought what seemed a rather nice umbrella from Muji for five pounds. Full-length, a mossy green and smart without being boring. It got left on the bus on the way home.
Ashamed by my lack of brolly knowledge, I didn’t reply to Harry. Being the sort of wandering fellow he is, though, he spent the next hour exploring Bloomsbury and its environs. And I got a triumphant text: “Found the most brilliant umbrella shop. Old, musty, lovely men inside. Didn’t buy anything, but there was a great one with a sword inside.”
The only thing he could tell me was that it was on New Oxford Street. But a bit of research easily identified his find as James Smith & Sons, purveyors of fine umbrellas, sticks and canes since 1830.
From the website it looked as though most of the umbrellas would be out of my price range. With city umbrellas starting at £79, it would be foolish to spend that amount of money on something that could be lost of the train back to Dulwich.
For the sake of research more than anything else, I wandered in there last week – not intending to buy anything, but merely to gain sufficient knowledge of the place to be able to answer a text (and perhaps its detailed follow-up) the next time around.
The inside felt practical. Rough and ready, with a taste of sawdust in the air. Somehow, a place so unpretentious makes you feel that you are implicitly getting value for money. The sheen and gloss of a fashion brand may seem alluring, but you know you’re paying a sizeable premium for that excitement, that sense of belonging. At no point does it seem honest.
Anyway, turns out James Smith does a rather nice range of city umbrellas that start at £39. For your handle there’s a choice of cane, redwood and a rather rough wood that looks as if has just been hacked off a nearby trunk. They are long-lasting, and can be repaired at any time on site.
I opted for redwood, and am rather pleased with it. It’s lovely to extend that feeling of luxury or tradition to another part of your attire. I really hope I don’t leave it on the train.