A nice woman came to my house to begin the process of long cane training. I was tense. She introduced herself with a name that sounded just like the Bulgarian word for “it’s not important.”. The flatmate and I would have thrown each other a look. We both thought the same thing. “Kak?” which means something altogether different in English than Bulgarian and it’s not “What?”.
My nice mobility trainer and I set off down the road. The purpose of this jaunt was for her to observe me, out and about, so that we could make a plan of action, if action were needed.
I consider my pavement technique to be pretty good but would you believe it, no sooner was I out of the front door than me, an extendable dog lead, a Chihuahua and a very angry neighbour got into a tangle. The angry neighbour started shouting and I apologised. My nice trainer whispered in my ear “don’t be sorry.” I realised that it was easier to be sorry than to explain. How confusing is that?
Dusting ourselves down, we set off again. Some of the things that I thought were one thing turned out to be another. The wheelchair kerb access that I thought had been lovingly dolloped out, with a trowel, up and down the High Street, often don’t follow the guidance, and are just as likely to tip a wheelchair user out as they are to trip me up. The exit point from Sainsbury’s car park is in fact the entry point. The top speed for a mobility scooter on a pavement is 4mph and not “get out of my way I’m on my scooter”. Pressing buttons at traffic lights is largely pointless as most work on a cycle that pedestrians are powerless to influence. If you gag on an overhanging branch that ends up in your mouth, which it is likely in my case because I’m prone to having my mouth open a lot as I like talking, it’s acceptable to spit.
My nice trainer taught me that having a cane in my bag is a start. Just because I don’t use it all the time, does not mean I am a fake. Sometimes it’s useful and sometimes it’s not. Sometime I can’t face the prospect of the cane in my hand, sometimes I crave it. Lots of people who can’t see much swither in their use of the cane. I find that the comfort of knowing its in my bag means I never leave home without it.
The cane does not make everything clear. It brings it’s own confusions. A distant cry, from the far end of a tube carriage of “Do you want to sit here?” could be directed at anyone. I usually ignore this because who knows where “here” is and who knows who the question is directed at. What if you get mistaken for a terrorist and get tazered because some trigger happy policeman thought it was a gun? Confusing but true.
After an hour my nice trainer and I stopped for a coffee. She suggested I take my cane out of my bag and leave it on the counter in front of me. “You’ll see why,” she said. When the bill came the man behind the counter talked me through the card payment. I didn’t need to explain or apologise. It was all encoded on that folded up cane on the counter.
The woman who said she was of no importance, turned out to be a rather important person in my life. She helped me understand I can be full of inconsistencies and contradictions in the way I navigate the world, and a pair of secateurs in the handbag can deal with overhanging hazards and leave me free to keep jabbering. I need never apologise for it.