I was at the top of Kantara Castle in Northern Cyprus when I finally realized that it was time to bow to the inevitable. It is an extraordinary place, one of a series of magnificent Crusader castles set dizzyingly high with views, on a clear day, across the sea as far as Lebanon. It had been worth every one of the several hundred rocky uneven steps to get up there, but now I had to get down. There were no rails, virtually no handholds, my knees were buckling and stabbing with a thousand arthritic needles. I had thoroughly overdone it. It took me well over an hour to get back to the car park, much of the undignified journey bumped downwards on my bottom. I was shaking with exhaustion and pain by the time I got there. I had to start using a walking stick.
Stalking my stick
Back home, I went hunting. It was surprisingly difficult to track down a walking stick. The only place locally I could get one was in the Age Concern shop. Don’t get me wrong – they’re a great organization, but it added greatly to the feeling of being old and frumpy, as did the stick itself. It was everyone’s first walking stick, black, solid, with an ergonomic handle, alterable height and, most importantly, foldable for hiding when not in use. It was incredibly practical and incredibly dull.
A couple of years and two arthroscopies later, it had became evident that the stick was going to become a permanent part of my life so dull, practical and occasionally hideable was no longer going to cut it. I don’t profess to be a fashion icon but I simply don’t understand why some disability aids should be more socially acceptable than others. It’s perfectly OK to wear glasses – to the point that my teenage nephew spent years choosing to wear them occasionally as a fashion statement when he didn’t need them – but hearing aids and walking sticks which simply aid different parts of the body are disguised or drab. The only decorated sticks I’d seen were either designed for elderly men with monocles or looked as though they’d been covered in a pair of 1950s curtains. Time to make a statement – to find a walking stick that was me.
Dogs, ducks and peacocks
I started at a local fair, thinking I’d get a beautifully hand carved wooden stick. I found plenty to choose from, but while most of them looked lovely, the wooden ducks’ feathers and dogs’ heads were carved for show not use. They dug painfully into my hand as soon as I put any weight on them and I would have had blisters within hours. Reluctantly, I turned away and continued my search online.
I knew I’d hit paydirt when I stumbled upon Walking Sticks Online. Here there was everything from silver headed canes to swan-necked ebony, folding sticks with candy stripes and black and gold peacock feather sticks. I could only afford one and there was too much choice!
There were certain practicalities. As a relative rookie, I decided that I wanted a height adjustable stick and I definitely wanted a comfortable handle. I’m no lightweight, so it had to be sturdy. And it had to be fun. In the end, it came down to a choice between a tiger print and a tropical jungle print and the parrots won. It makes me smile and is hugely admired everywhere I go. A triumph. However… it isn’t quite perfect.
It isn’t foldable. My old black one was and that was useful although it was still quite clunky and had a habit of springing apart. I keep thinking about shiny ski or hiking poles in lovely fluorescent colours and wondering if anyone has made a tough telescopic version with a proper ferrule and handle for everyday walking that would tuck into a backpack or bag for travelling. I travel a lot and it would be incredibly helpful when going through x-ray machines or when sitting in cafés. I spend a huge amount of time apologising to people at the next door table who’ve been hit by a falling stick or rescuing it from under benches or tables. I found a stick advertised by Flexyfoot that claims to be telescopic – with the added benefit that the soft handle and flexible ferrule help to relieve shoulder ache. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it’s probably worth a go to see if it lives up to the sales pitch.
A bit of bling
I also have my eye on a bit of evening bling. After all, if I am going to be using a stick if I go out at night, I need a posh one too. I may go for the black and gold one but I found another website, GlamSticks, that custom makes sticks with sequins, diamante, rhinestones and even wedding satin and ruffles. Just perhaps, for my next night out, I’ll go all out for a bit of bling. After all, I’m worth it.
PS I don’t have any ties with any of the companies mentioned in this article.