Struggling on my very first walking stick through the large park area heading into Brigadoon at Bundanoon. A yearly festival celebrating everything Scottish, in Australia. The closest thing to Scotland here is the weather I assume. It’s freezing yet sunny and the whole place is filled with green grass, the sound of bagpipes, and kilts. I’m not Scottish, neither is my wife really. But there’ s heritage there and her father has researched the family tree going back generations.
It’s fascinating and also telling of Australia’s struggle with national identity. Growing up I was never happy with Mum’s answer to the question ‘Where do we come from?’. She’d say ‘here, stupid’. I knew we were born here, but everyone at school was either Greek, or English, or Asian, or a Kiwi, or Tongan, or Italian, or, or… or something. And being Aussie sort of felt wrong. For me anyway. My mates grandfather was from Liverpool and you were reminded of that every time you visited as you were assaulted by his accent, the threat to knock you on your arse, and the big LIVERPOOL poster in the sun room. He’s a great guy. I wouldn’t mind if he was my grandfather. But he was from somewhere, a real country with heritage. My mate, therefore was from somewhere. The answer to the where are you from question growing up was always ‘I’m an Aussie, but I have family heritage in [insert country of origin here]’. You could be a proud Aussie, but only if you were also from somewhere else. Where was I from? Not just here, surely. I didn’t know at the time. I still don’t have a complete idea of my heritage. Even though education about and attitudes to Indigenous Australians was slowly making changes in national perspective throughout my childhood; I didn’t feel like I was Australian. I still don’t. Not until there’s real recognition of this country’s first people in our first constitution as a Republic, but that’s a long way away.
I digress. I plonked down onto the picnic rug my wife had just placed on the grass, and thought ‘bugger, I’m going to have to get back up again today’. She left me there to mind the stuff, while she went off in search of food. I get ‘hangry’, so does she (Hungry and Angry – Hangry). It’s really a public safety initiative that we eat regularly. Her family then arrived and also dumped their stuff to go and look around, buy food, or use the facilities. The most banal task given to any person in chronic pain and/or with disability is to ‘mind the stuff’. Sure, why not, we’re not going anywhere. I didn’t really mind though. I couldn’t get up, I really wasn’t going anywhere. I had to wait for my wife to lift me up. If any of you have met the two of us, I’m sure you’re laughing at the vision of a five foot nothing, petite little lady lifting a slightly overweight, six-foot two bloke with a walking stick up off a picnic rug. I wish we filmed it.
I was not having a very good day. I probably should have stayed home. I was drugged up to the hilt, and still in pain. Not sitting, standing, laying, or walking was comfortable or reduced the pain. I’d just walked from where we parked to the picnic rug and that was me done. My wife returned with food and an odd look on her face. I won’t say she was scared, but she and I were still learning about my condition and how to handle my massive mood swings. I was predominantly learning how to communicate my needs without being a complete and utter arse. It’s not her fault I have pain. She explained that she had something to tell me or suggest to me but wasn’t sure how I would react. My mouth full, I mimed for her to wait until we’d both eaten as that was probably safer.
Upon completion, we wiped our mouths of greasy fried food and she looked at me, pursed her lips and said, “I found you a new walking stick at one of the stalls”. At this stage of my chronic pain journey, I wasn’t sure how I felt about walking sticks. They’re for old people or disabled people. I’m neither of those. Also, I’d said to my wife, and anyone else who’d listen, that if I ever needed a walking stick I’d have one with a skull on it. Do you think I could find one with a skull when I first needed one? No. I got this crappy red handled old lady cane from the pharmacy. Lame! I was forced to use it this day.
“They have skulls!”, she exclaimed with a big dorky grin.
Things were looking up. Maybe today won’t be a complete waste of time.
After watching some blokes in skirts throw some massive logs around to much cheering and rejoicing of the not so Scottish, Scottish crowd; we sauntered over to the stall area. My sauntering was more like a limp accented by a slightly short walking stick, so I kind of looked like a wannabe American white rapper or a very pale Quincy Jones.
We made a beeline straight to the walking stick shop. Wow! They were everywhere. There were all the classics with a variety of handle styles, full length staff’s, and quad bases (think old guy in Pixar’s ‘Up’). All the classics came with the option of modern polycarbonate shafts, folding shafts, several timber options, and natural shafts made direct from the branches of trees. You could still see the knots in the wood with all the grooves. It was amazing. And then the handles…. So many designs from duck heads, swans, whisky flasks, standard handles, compass tops, and SKULLS! Of these handle styles, all came as either pressed metal, or one-piece handmade, handgrooved timber. They were works of art.
“Ya cane’s too short lad”, said the scowling shopkeeper.
‘Here we go’, I thought.
“Well, what do I need then”.
“One the right size”, he replied.
Before the words ‘No shit Sherlock’ fell from my mouth, my wife jumped in and said quite loudly, “He would like your expertise in selecting one the right size, and he likes black, and he likes skulls. What have you got?”.
Amazingly, the attitude of the shopkeeper changed, and he couldn’t be more helpful. After some perusing and size testing I selected a dark timber walking stick, with a polished skull on top… and the freaking eyes light up! Best walking stick ever.
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