The penknife is mightier than the sword
The sword is mightier than the penknife. Certainly the case when Spanish sailors are boarding your ship and a Spaniard, making quite an impression with a fighting sword, is wielding it to cut and thrust his way through your subordinates to get to you!
When I got to know David Haslam, he was Sir David and a Rear-Admiral in the British Navy. The days were long gone for navy swords to be used for anything other than ceremonial occasions. Although I’d seem him decked out in full regalia a few times, I’d never seen him wear a sword.
Nor did I ever get to see his penknife! But I am one hundred percent certain that he always carried one on his person.
A navy hydrographer, he took time out from a work-related conference held in Auckland to visit us. Early 2012, and great consternation created by the loss of his beloved penknife – you’d think that, for him, the greatest shock of all the 9/11 shockwaves!
New Zealand Customs had taken it off him and, Rear-Admiral Sir or not, they weren’t about to give it back. “I never go anywhere without it! I was just a lad when I bought that knife,” the by then septuagenarian told us.
Years earlier, I’d stored away the anecdote of how he’d come to get the penknife in the first place – he was quite the raconteur.
The final step to being accepted as an officer cadet in the British Navy involved a visit to Whitehall London for an appointment with the Admiral of the Fleet. David had left nothing to chance when it came to how he presented himself, and I’m willing to suspend disbelief and imagine that you could indeed have used his shiny black shoes as a mirror.
David said he walked down the lengthy approach to the imposing desk under the imperious gaze of the Admiral. Standing in front of the desk, he was looked up and down one last time. David slipped into an imitation of his superior’s gruff Queen’s English: “Well, boy, got your penknife on you?”
“I don’t have a penknife, sir.”
“What, no penknife! Come back when you’re properly dressed!” The penknife he bought later that day had been his constant companion till that fateful encounter with a Kiwi customs officer.
His story about being weighed and found wanting on his first visit to that five-star naval officer made quite an impression on me. Over the years, I have, like David, developed an attachment to penknives beyond their mere usefulness.
Plural because at present count I have five. The oldest by far is a small Swiss Army knife with few extras. When we settled in here thirty years ago, it was my go to knife for the simple reason that it was the only one I possessed. I thought I’d lost it for good on more than one occasion, but miraculously it would always turn up. Once it went AWOL for months!
That one surely has to be a talisman of sorts! I now keep it in the workshop area of the garage and use it mainly in there, where I’m less likely to lose it!
As you by now know only too well, I’ve gone through lots of phases in the course of an already relatively long life. My craft phase went on for decades, one of its subphases was whittling wood.
I jibbed at having to pay seventy-five bucks for a decent whittling knife. Eventually persuading myself that it would be essential – how else could I become a master at the craft?
The apprenticeship was going okay until I attempted to whittle and watch TV at the same time – at the in-laws’ what’s more! I sliced my left index finger down to the bone – what an unseemly mess with all that blood, groaning, and first aid going on! I decided then and there to abandon whittling and to go in search of less violent pastimes.
A Winchester, made in the US of A, it now lives in the top draw of my writing desk and does an excellent job of sharpening pencils and slicing the tape on parcels.
My third knife will be forever associated with feeling sad. My brother-in-law died of acute monocytic leukemia at the age of fifty-six and the penknife I was given as a memento is a limited edition collector’s item. It lives in my man-bag and so only gets trucked out (but definitely not wielded around!) when I’m all decked out and ready to hit the town.
Then there’s the freebie that came with my Italian made ‘Grisport’ steel toe cap boots. For boots with steel toes, they’re surprisingly light and very comfortable and I much prefer wearing them to gumboots. Influenced by the quality of the boots, the ‘free’ knife gets the benefit of the doubt! I have it wrapped in a windscreen cloth and wedged in the plastic pocket of our Suzuki Jimny’s front passenger’s door.
And lastly, in a departure from form, a ‘multitool’ knife – a birthday gift from son Joseph. I was really upset when one of the blades of the needle-point pliers snapped in two while I was trying to pull out a biggish staple.
It was months before I could bring myself to tell Joseph. Unfazed, he got on to ‘Leatherman’, the manufacturers, and true to their claim of a lifetime guarantee, he got a replacement for me.
Not sure that I ever did confess that I was abusing it with a large staple. Confessing now if he happens to be reading this.
I seldom venture out into the paddocks without a small pouch belted round my waist; it carries the Leatherman multitool, a strand of temporary electric fencing wire about half a metre long, and a couple of lengths of blue twine that in a previous life wrapped small hay bales. I keep the needle-point pliers well away from staples, but find them ideal for teasing out the tightly knotted strands of plastic and filament wire when I’m fixing fence lines.
The only craft I engage in these days is writing my blog. But good craftsmanship, in any form whatsoever, still rocks my world.
Right now I’m thinking about John. I got to know him when we both had stalls at the Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market. He handcrafted knives of all shapes and sizes: steel blades, wooden handles, leather sheaths.
I specially wanted to hear what he had to say about my Leatherman multitool. If my memory serves me right, he said the guy who established the company started playing around with design ideas in his home workshop and that it was his knives that inspired others to follow suit with their own versions.
What I do remember clearly though, was John observing how it had a heavy and light end and that you put it in the sheath heavy end first so that it hung well from your belt and didn’t slip out the top.
Although, as I said, I keep my multitool in a pouch, the sheath’s in there too, and I always slip it in heavy end first. Here’s thinking of you John.
This week’s piece, like last Monday’s, has turned out to be another trip down memory lane. (See a-trip-down-memory-lane.) Seems appropriate somehow, with Christmas just round the corner. Who doesn’t shine a spotlight now and then, for better or worse, on Christmases past?
Speaking of which, like last Christmas, it’s time for me to take a two week break from my blog. I look forward to telling you more Little Owl Gully tales in the new year.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this year. I look forward to having your company again on Monday, January 10th, 2022.