Ian McMillan: Now I see the point of a stick – and I want one

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I know it’s quite early but I’ve already decided what I want for Christmas; you can keep the gentlemen’s woollen socks and the Essence De Heckmondwike body spray and shower gel gift package and the Dickie Bird/Ashley Jackson cruet. No, what I want is a stick.

Not any old stick, of course. I don’t want one of those sticks you light the fire with, or one of those sharp ones that falls on your head when you go for a stroll through the woods after a gale. The stick I want is a proper Yorkshire walking stick. Before you ask, I haven’t fallen down or, as older people say ‘had a fall’ and I haven’t twisted my ankle playing football with my grandson Thomas. My gait is steady and true.

The reason I want a walking stick is that you can point with them, and from what I’ve seen, pointing with a stick is one of life’s great pleasures. I was in Cleethorpes recently, walking on the tops by the beach, and it felt like I’d stumbled upon The Annual East Coast Stick-Pointing Festival.

People from middle-age upwards were pointing left, right, up and down and even describing circles in the air. It was like first rehearsal of a crowd scene in an amateur production of Henry V, just before the Battle of Agincourt, as the troops are getting ready to slot their arrows into their longbows.

I watched, fascinated, as an elderly couple pointed out a bird that was turning in the still Lincolnshire air. The man had a stick, the woman didn’t. The woman’s pointing could only be described as feeble. She raised her hand and thrust her finger out; somehow her finger seemed to be dwarfed by the vastness of the sky and the majesty of the bird.

One of the first things babies do is point, a little digit emerging from a shawl, and that’s what her pointing felt like: babyish. The man’s pointing, on the other hand, was epic, operatic, symphonic. It was as though he was conducting the scene with a baton, or directing a film. All our gazes were transfixed as his stick arced and looped, mirroring the movement of the bird above. After a while the woman stopped pointing and left him to it. A finger can’t compete with a stick, as the old saying goes. As I carried on watching, the versatility of the stick was underlined. The man stopped pointing and the couple moved on towards the ice-cream van, then suddenly he pointed down to the floor with his stick, to a precise place just to the right of a wooden chip-shop fork where a 10p piece gleamed. Without his stick he might have had to point with his foot; the stick helped him to pinpoint the exact location of the shiny treasure, the money-for-nowt that all us Yorkshire folk are always searching for. The crowning glory of his stick, and of many others I saw that day, was that it had badges on; metal badges that were like a map of the places the stick’s owner had visited. They personalised the stick, they made it more individual, more like a an autobiography than a piece of wood. So that’s what I’d like for Christmas: a stick. Just make sure you wrap it up carefully so it’s a surprise!