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Friday, 20 July 2012

Clash of the Canes

Clash of the Canes:
Old Cane goes right to left, New Cane left to right.

I was given my first long white cane a couple of years ago by Oxfordshire's sensory deprivation team. It is a functional and workaday kind of cane, solid and (until recently) reliable. But you couldn't call it elegant or sophisticated. When I was in Paris a couple of months ago, the roller-ball tip on the end of the cane got stuck in a metro pavement grating and came off. Once a kindly Frenchman had helped me locate it and stick it back on I continued on my way, anxious that my cane was no longer quite as robust as it had been.

So on my most recent visit to Paris I decided to treat myself to a new white cane. It felt good to be taking the decision to buy one (as one might buy a new handbag or hat), rather than having one thrust upon me at the taxpayer's expense and with no discussion of accessorisation. Fellow cane user Cathy Kudlick had told me that the Association Valentin Hauy sold some remarkably stylish French canes, and she was right. I tried three different ones and settled on a thin, sleek and lightweight model with a nifty folding device and a comfortable, yet attractive handle.

The following day I was walking home from the library. As I passed a particularly busy pavement cafe, something black and person-shaped zoomed out in front of me and I heard an oddly familiar sound. My new cane makes a comforting rattle as it goes along and the sound I heard was of another, similar, rattle, colliding with my own. Another cane user had come out of the cafe and our two canes had clashed. I didn't know whether to laugh or apologise so I clumsily did both. He grumpily accepted my apology as i would grudgingly accept an apology from someone who had carelessly walked into me because they weren't looking where they were going. I realised then that he hadn't noticed that I too had a cane. How embarrassing to be mistaken for an unobservant sighted person! I can't imagine what the beer and kir drinkers in the cafe must have made of our bizarre encounter.

In the heat of the moment I didn't explain his mistake, but gathered my wits and my cane and moved out of his way. Off he went down the pavement, oblivious to my own blindness and the things we might have had in common. I wish now that I'd gone after him and introduced myself. But I like to think that maybe one day he'll come across this blog and recognise himself.

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