Careful with that axe Eugene
was wondering why we all had knives as boys. First off was the availability. Every newsagent sold them. They had them on cards hanging up beside the pipe cleaners and those red petrol capsules for lighters. There were always three types and they ranged from about four inches long down to about an inch and a half for the really small kids. They had tartan or pearl handles or they were flat and silver, though those ones were dearer. I always liked the 2 ½ inch tartan handled ones. The perfect little penknife for little hands and little pocketsies. Second, they were cheap. They only cost pennies so were easily replaced. Thirdly, people were always giving you them as small treats, like crème eggs or postal orders. I got scout knives with tin openers on them, souvenir penknives with thistles or “Bonny Scotland” written on the side and, when I was ten, a visiting American aunt gave me the first Swiss army knife anyone had ever seen. My friends and I had never heard of the Swiss army and were enthralled by the tweezers and toothpick. It was almost James Bondian. We thought the scissors were girly but admired totally the workmanship in the overall package.
There was hours of enjoyment to be had with a knife. There was knifey. Knifey is played like twister. The object is to make your opponent do the splits or fall over. We’d play knifey on any bit of grass. Also you could make a knife blade venomous by sticking it in the eye of a dead cat. We would dissect worms quite dispassionately; there was no malice in it. At the seaside we could shuck mussels for bait quick as any fishwife. If you found yourself near a tree or on a bench especially in one of those shelters where old people sit on the promenade, you would carve out your initials on it. You did it without thinking; the brave bit was inscribing “loves S.M.“ below. Mmm, Susan McMillan, my first true love. Then there was whittling. To a nine year old boy, making a pointed stick is the essence of pleasure. When just right, you took the finished stick along the shore looking for jelly fish.
I still carry a penknife. I’ve lost a couple at the airport, I keep forgetting. Talking about that, not long after 911 I was queuing up behind this old pensioner you know the type, he looked like Harry Lauder and when he emptied his pockets into the tray, he pulled out the biggest penknife I’d ever seen. It was ancient. Of course they took it off him, he was furious so they took his lighter as well, he was totally bereaved. Silly old bugger, what was he thinking?