Knives for sale at a vide-grenier in France.

"Knife culture" is one of those menacing phrases beloved of the British gutter press; which is to say, most of the British press nowadays. They try to create the impression that no-one ever has any need for a knife except to stick it into someone else. And yet, not so long ago, most schoolboys and many schoolgirls habitually carried knives. If they cut anyone with them, it was almost invariably themselves, and by accident. 

Getting your first pen knife was something of a rite of passage: it showed that you were on the way to becoming a Big Boy (or indeed a Big Girl) and it normally happened well before your tenth birthday. And yet recently, when a friend bought his twelve-year-old nephew a pocket knife, several of his relatives reacted with the sort of horror that would have been more appropriate if he had simultaneously introduced the boy to heroin and handed him a loaded revolver. This despite the boy's age and the fact that the knife (a "My First Opinel") is advertised, entirely reasonably, as suitable for children aged seven and upwards: the link takes you to the manufacturer's page. From there, follow the link to "Making a Small Mill" and then tell me what small boy would not be delighted with such a gift.

When and why and how did the English become so namby-pamby, so unrealistic, so over-protective? And perhaps more to the point, how is it that (for example) the French doesn't have the same ridiculous attitudes. The ready availability of knives in France (including even flick-knives) does not seem to lead to mass slaughter, so we probably need to look elsewhere in the culture. Maybe it's something to do with growing up, instead of being a perpetually infantilized consumer, terrified by an alarmist press, whose only experience of knives is from movies or television; where, of course, disproportionately many people do tend to stick them in one another.

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Words and picture copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016