Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Chocolate Walking Stick

Once upon a time, when I was young, I used to have a grandfather.

He was a tall man – taller than I am, and I’m not small – and from his photos (and my vague memories of him) slim and probably quite muscular. From what I’ve been told (I’m not saying it’s a fact; my family’s lore is not known to adhere particularly closely to fact) the British, our overlords when he was a young man back about a hundred years ago, took one look at his physique and offered him a job as a sub-inspector in the police. But, for whatever reason, he refused, and spent the rest of his working life as a clerk in a land records office.

Since the Brits used their Indian police as a Vichy style force to keep the natives under control, and said police were only deserving of the deepest contempt, his choice was probably better than it would otherwise seem to have been. But this isn’t about him. It’s about his walking stick.

He used to go on long walks every day, did my grandfather, and he used to take along a walking stick. I don’t think he actually, y’know, needed it. It was more probably an affectation, like a lot of people back then had, to make themselves as much like the lately departed British overlords as possible. I have very vague memories of this stick from the time he was still alive (he died when I was just over three years old, of a sudden heart attack) propped up against his chair. And after he died, for a year or so, this stick served me in my games as a serviceable toy.

Then I grew up a little more, and forgot all about the stick. There were other things to play with, and besides school was a looming new experience creeping up on the horizon. Then one day my grandmother, while talking about other things, mentioned my grandfather’s carved “chocolate coloured” walking stick.

[This thing about “chocolate coloured” might surprise the uninitiated, but it was typical for those of my grandparents’ generation. Things weren’t “blue”, they were “sky-coloured”; they weren’t “grey”, they were “ash-coloured”, and so on. So my grandfather’s walking stick was “chocolate coloured”.]

Now, to my approximately six-year-old brain, the word “chocolate” wasn’t associated with a colour, simply because I barely knew what chocolate was. By some mental contortion, which I surmise had to do with the wrappers of toffees (which used to be called “chocolates”, pronounced “chocklets”) I decided it was silver coloured with tinges of lavender.

Real fancy, y’know. In fact, even to this day, I’d say a richly carved walking stick coloured in silver with highlights of lavender would be pretty damned handsome.

Anyway, so I began badgering my grandma to show me this walking stick. I think I kept reminding her about it for some weeks until she finally fetched it to show me.

And, boy, was I disappointed. It was just that old brown stick I remembered from the ancient times of two years before.

[This wasn’t the only time I was disappointed. My grandma’s description of constellations had me imagining the stars were all lined up side by side in cartoon stick figures. But that’s another story.]

As time went on, my grandmother acquired her own walking stick, which she actually needed to get around. That stick still exists. It’s yellow, made of cheap wood, and nobody would ever call it anything but utilitarian. But she would never use my grandfather’s old stick.

Several years ago, sometime after my grandmother’s death, I came across the famous old “chocolate” stick in the shed which served as a general store room. It was by then rat-gnawed and splintered in a couple of places, but the wood was rich and dark, and the carvings, which I’d treated as crude scratches when I was a kid, were really quite delicately done, a series of diamonds elegantly curved around the crook of the handle.

That walking stick is long gone now. I have no idea what happened to it later. Burned, maybe, with the trash. But the cheap yellow utilitarian one my grandmother used remains.

I don’t know if there’s some kind of moral to this story. I just thought I’d share it with you.