My great-uncle talked a lot about the car crash in 1963 that nearly claimed his life, leaving him physically frail and open to decades of ridicule.
Doctors said his rib-skewered lungs meant he had to stop smoking and so – “in a kind of way”, as he would say – the accident was worth it.
He lived on to 96 and I cannot remember a day when the wooden walking stick he started using after the crash wasn’t within his grasp.
The support of his wife, the film-maker Jill Craigie – and, after she died, of her friend Jenny Stringer, who came every day to check on him in his final 10 years – were perhaps matched in constancy only by this gnarled larch staff.
In almost all of the most reprinted newspaper photographs of Michael, whether marching to Aldermaston for CND or wielding it enthusiastically above his head during a walk around Hampstead Heath, the stick is there.
In old age, certainly when I was living with him in the last five years of his life, it would be used to prod out a secure footing on the steps or propel him pole-vault-style into a taxi to the Gay Hussar in Soho.
At his funeral in March 2010, CND’s co-founder, Bruce Kent, talked about how he still half-expected to hear the “rattling of sticks” from beyond the grave.
Of course, the image of the tottering leader of the Labour Party was a source of great amusement for many. It is probably most famous for Kenny Everett’s rallying cry to the 1983 Conservative Party Conference: “Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away.”
Many people talk about Michael’s dog Dizzy – named after the Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli – but 20 years earlier he had owned an identical-looking dog, called Vanessa. People often mix memories of Dizzy and Vanessa as if they were a single 40-year-old super-dog. And so I suppose it is possible that my great-uncle may have carried more than one walking stick over the years.
Several such sticks hung on the hatstand at his book-walled museum of a home in Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead, and after he died some friends and family took one to remember him by. Salman Rushdie’s son has one. So do I.
But the one up for auction online today was definitely Michael’s number one choice. It is being sold to raise money for a stone-bench memorial in Freedom Fields park, Plymouth, in the Devonport constituency he represented for 10 years. It is also a short walk from his childhood home. The bench is costing £42,000 and we’re looking for the last £4,000 to get the job done.
We think the stick is now best used helping future generations remember what Michael stood for, rather than how he stood.Reuse content