I’ve always had this thing about umbrellas.

I suppose I’d seen them before I saw Mary Poppins. I must have. But that’s the first I remember: umbrellas were magical birds. Alive. I’ve never quite got over it. An umbrella leaning against the wall is a bird with furled wings, holding the secret of flight; the curved handle is a hookbeaked head that might suddenly turn and look at you.

When I was little, my umbrellas had names and personalities, and lived in the wardrobe with my other animals.

Well, I say ‘when I was little’. In my twenties, I used to pick up broken umbrellas off the street because I felt sorry for them. I had a small flock of them in my bedroom, all named. Umbrella romance blossomed between the tall black businesslike one and the polka-dot one with the ruffles. Later, a baby came along – a tiny pram umbrella. I named her Annabel.

Now, in my thirties, I still find it hard to throw away a broken umbrella. It’s like throwing away a battered old teddy bear. My umbrellas limp along for years, ribs sticking out at all angles. Except the parrot one. The parrot one is in the best of health because I never use him to keep the rain off.

Imagination is a very upside-down magic. It makes it easy to turn things into people, and almost impossible to turn them back.

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