One of the outcomes of my previously reported fall, resulting in multiple fractures, now mostly healed, is that, even on the shortest of journeys – round the block, say, to Cinnamon Village for my morning coffee and croissant – I can be seen walking with a stick. This, in part, is at the recommendation of the Fracture Clinic at the Royal London Hospital, reinforced by my GP, the reason being that it will help my balance and ward off any such future falls. And it’s true: without the stick as my companion I would have come a cropper on at least two recent occasions; the result, as much as anything, of inattention together with wonky paving stones.
So far then, so good.
The side-results are interesting. Once you start using a stick regularly, applying a certain amount of downward pressure with every other step – and the smooth and carefully designed handle of the stick encourages this – it affects your posture. You’re leaning just a little to one side and bearing down, no longer as straight-backed as before. Slower, too – no bad thing in itself.
Something else happens. Other people – passers-by, passengers on public transport, even friends – see you differently. While it’s true that for the past decade or more, it hasn’t been unknown for thoughtful folk on the Tube to stand and wave me into their seat, nowadays, and on buses especially, fellow travellers who’ve settled themselves into those downstairs seats marked for pregnant women and, yes, men with sticks, jump almost guiltily to their feet, leaving me no alternative, even if I’m only travelling a few stops, to nod my thanks and take their seat. It’s much the same, if less obvious, in shops and on even slightly crowded pavements. People notice and give way, for which I’m grateful.
Grateful, too, for the occasional conversations one strikes up with fellow stick-users when sharing the designated seats on the 134, say, the 390 or the 88. The latter, stopping as it does, outside Tate Britain, can be an interesting source of such conversation, most recently a discussion of the overall gloominess of Walter Sickert’s canvases currently on display in the gallery. Frequently, of course, things don’t get far beyond a brief exchange of ailments, their cause, symptoms and treatment, though I was treated recently to an interesting if overly detailed – we kept getting stuck in traffic – account of a recently undertaken and troubled – it’s the infrastructure that’s buggered – train journey from Wilmslow to Euston via Crewe. Perhaps most surprising of all, an informed discussion of Seamus Heaney’s poetry while travelling on the 134 between Camden and Tufnell Park. As my friend, Graham, who lives in a village outside Lincoln, might say,’ It’s another world’.
Overall, the stick business, how do I feel? Safer, certainly. Slower, for sure. My partner says, and I’m sure she’s right, it changes not only the way I appear to others, but the way in which I see myself. An old man. An old man with a stick. Going forward, as we both hope I am, not altogether a good thing