Sticks – help or hindrance?

Age Scotland volunteer Pat Craig guest blogs about the frustrations of walking sticks and how being the owner of one can feel like more of a problem than a solution. 

Older man with walking stick

Sticks – are they a help or a hindrance?

One of us was going down and I was determined it wouldn’t be me.

That’s the problem with sticks; they act like a beacon sending out a clear message that you need help.

It’s nice to be helped but all too often, you’re grabbed by the arm and hauled rather than offered an arm so allowing you to remain in control.

There was the time I was on a bus, stick safely folded in my handbag, desperately clinging to an upright, like an out of practice pole dancer. Action was called for so handbag opened I unleashed my folding stick. Despite nearly blinding another passenger – have you seen how quickly these things spring open? – my journey continued, unaltered until a heavily pregnant young woman gave me her seat. The view out of the bus suddenly seemed very alluring to many on that journey.

Buses are challenging. One-man operated are worst; drivers with tight schedules sometimes aren’t at their most patient. Pavements seem so low and baby buggies can be obtrusive. The only way to exit is to slalom down the bus grabbing each pole or support as you go tapping like Treasure Island’s Blind Pew.

Chances are if you’re using a stick, you’re handicapped to a greater or lesser degree but sometimes rather than easing the handicap, it just seems to exacerbate it.

Ever tried to balance a pint and a stick or a cup and saucer?  If you lean it against a seat or stool your stick will fall. Then you’ll have to scrabble around the floor to pick it up, all the while trying not to play footsie with complete strangers. Lay it flat on the floor under your seat and inevitably, someone will trip over it threatening to sue you for negligence as they go down.

Occasionally you get a break. Was the designer of the glass tables with the hollow legs in a very smart Glasgow hotel I had lunch in recently ahead of his time or was it simply chance? Whatever, they provided a perfect receptacle.

Sadly, there are no longer facilities to check in your cane along with your top hat. However, recently a charming young man in a mobile phone shop relieved me of my stick, putting it under the counter so that we could concentrate on the business in hand. His grandfather, he explained, used a stick.

He had insight, most of us don’t.

Needing a stick is not fun, OK if it’s temporary due to daredevil stunts on the piste, not so much fun if it’s arthritis or other permanent mobility challenges.

It instantly ages you, unless you’re very dashing or glamorous and if you’re not careful can pull you down both metaphorically and actual.

The only way forward is to embrace it.

A friend tells a very funny story of how he was stopped by a police car, lights flashing, on his way home from work. He’d been reported by a passerby who was alarmed that a visually impaired man, using a white stick, had just driven off from a car park. All became clear when he explained he worked with visually impaired people and was taking a stick to a client who’d left it a meeting!

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