Walking with a stick.

I’m on the lookout for a walking stick …. a stylish, classy sort of stick. An elegant cane, maybe. Perhaps with an ivory top, or, better still, jewel encrusted. Something Maggie Smith might use in Downton Abbey. A fashion accessory!

I realise that I will be alone in my search because my friends, to a woman, feel that using a stick equates with old age, and a defeated old age at that. Perhaps men might be permitted to use a stick. But women – never. I, on the other hand, have been using a stick for a couple of years now, and look on it, lovingly, as my friend. I bring it everywhere with me. It helps me to take long walks in Glendalough, to climb stairs in interesting old houses, to linger, longer than is really necessary, in art galleries. In a nutshell it has enabled me to have a far more interesting life than I might have without it.

Exactly when did walking sticks become so unfashionable? I see photos of the most sophisticated literary people in the South of France in the 1920’s using sticks – they referred to them as “canes” – regularly. Young and middle aged men – and elderly women. It gave them gravitas! I still have my father’s walking stick – and he died in 1970. But somewhere between then and now they went completely out of fashion.

My current stick, alas, is no longer fit for purpose, though I love it dearly. If I continue to use it I’ll end up with Rotator Cuff Injury and that’s no joke. It’s a really smart stick with a brass knob on the top that screws off to reveal a glass tube – for brandy, in case I needed a snifter!

I was at the Concert Hall one night and during the interval the chap beside me commented on my stick. I unscrewed the top to show him the phial for brandy. “And I’ll show you something else it does” he said, taking it from me. He unscrewed another section of this brass top to reveal a compass! “That’s for finding your way back home if you get lost after all the brandy” he quipped.

That stick was full of surprises. You could break it up into three pieces for transporting it. I got it after an incident on a trip to Lanzarote. When the plane landed at the Airport I found it hard to negotiate the aisle with my stick at the time (a rural type ash plant). My husband took it from me till we disembarked. When the ground staff saw him with the stick they went to endless trouble to help him down, thinking he was disabled, but they rushed me down so quickly that my dodgy knee gave up entirely, and I had to seek out a physio on the island and stay put in our hotel, my foot up, for our entire holiday.

So when we came home we set about finding a new stick – my “surprise” stick. But it is too high for me. Correct height is essential with a stick, unless you are to end up with RCI. The way that stick is made it is impossible to reduce it in height – you can’t saw off a piece at the bottom. So I am now on the lookout for Stick Number Three. And, as in all good fairy stories, the third stick will be the best!

You are exposed to a completely different side of the human race when you walk with a stick. Kindness is all around. In the Avoca shop in Kilmacanogue staff rush to my assistance, carry my tray, choose a comfortable chair by the window, offer me a cushion.

On buses people – particularly young people, but also seniors like myself – can’t do enough. They offer to move to the back of the bus so that I won’t have to struggle up the aisle. The stick attracts people like a magnet. They talk to me more easily. I’ve heard more stories over the past couple of years than I heard in the previous 70. At kerbsides traffic pulls up to let me cross. I’m never rushed or hustled along. Everything is pleasant.

The incident I cherish the most – and still think of it – concerns a dirty and destitute young man who was sitting in a doorway as I passed by one evening. I dropped a euro into the tin box he had by his side and gave him a smile as I walked on. He waited for a moment and then shouted after me – “I hope your leg gets better soon”.

What I dislike is having to explain to people exactly why I choose to use a stick. Yes, I did have my knee “done” a couple of years ago, and my bionic knee is truly a miracle, totally pain free, thank God. For me the joy of being able to walk for pleasure again, is immeasurable. I didn’t realise how important walking was to me until I could no longer do it. No, the op wasn’t pleasant. I still recall my horror when the anaesthesist told me I would have an epidural (because of my age!!). “You mean I’ll be awake?” “Yes, but…” “But I can’t even watch “Holby City” on the TV” I pleaded. He laughed. And I can still remember, very, very clearly, surfacing to hear something being hammered. “Is that my knee?” I asked. “Yes” I was told. Oh my God! But it was SO worth it.

However, I’m not overly anxious to repeat the experience, hence the stick. I’m using it for the other knee which is arthritic, hoping that I can put off,indefinitely, the need to have it “done” also. Besides, it makes walking both easier and more pleasant. So I feel exonerated by an article in the current issue of “Arthritis”. Always use a stick when walking, it says, to help take pressure off the joints. Thank you. I will.
So now I am on the lookout for Stick Number Three. It’ll be the best yet!

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