Saturday, May 31, 2008

He whom his youth denies is truly dead before he dies

It was over twenty years ago but I still remember my knife. It was a lovely thing, a sleek black handled torpedo knife bought in France. It was the kind of knife that was (and probably still is) illegal in the UK but I think that added to the frisson of electricity I'd feel when carrying it.

It was similar to the one pictured, although it's lacquer was sleeker and unadorned and the knife in the picture is a switch knife where the blade comes out of the side, rather than the front, of the handle. It was an object of great significance to me.

Perhaps my younger self would give different reasons but looking back I know I was very conscious of the number of fights I was getting into, often out numbered, often when I was worse for wear and it seemed logical to do something to "protect" myself when those situations got out of my control.

I definitely think there was an element of trying to bolster my self-esteem. I'd left school at sixteen, was working in a lawnmower factory and had no sense that life held much in store for me. Perhaps having a knife meant that despite all appearances I felt I was someone you should respect.

As to the potential consequences I'm not sure I ever gave them much thought. I was always being stopped and questioned by the police, but it didn't occur to me that this was rather an awkward time to have an illegal weapon. I hadn't paid much mind to the fact that pulling a knife escalates a situation and makes it more likely that the carrier gets seriously hurt - and if I'd used it on anyone it could have changed the course of my life - but perhaps that's what I was hoping for. The last thing a knife does is protect you from harm.

There's much chit chat at the moment about the problem of knife crime in the UK, most of it revolving around increasing prison sentences, as if anyone thinks about that sort of thing before putting the blade in their pocket. All their solutions seem to revolve around being harsher, less compromising, less understanding - deepening precisely the problems that lead people to carrying a knife in the first place.

It seems to me, and I'm sure the problem is more complex than this, that if you don't want people to see violence as an accepted part of their lives then those people need help to see there are viable alternatives. That their life is not over at sixteen, that society is not something separate from them, that they are a valued part of it, that the strength of the community is in mutual respect and friendships - not how tooled up it is.

I'm not saying lets go back to the fifties - I don't think there's anything particularly appealing about teddy boys and rickets - but I do think that where many, not just the young, feel that they are on the outside of society looking in - that everything is run for someone else's benefit then you're going to get problems.

For me the question is not how we get the young to accept the society we live in now - but how we empower ourselves to create a society where everyone genuinely is a valued member of the community. Not a land fit for heroes as such, but at least one where we value each other - but then I always was a soppy sod.

Which reminds me, I really did love that knife. I wonder where it is now.


neil h said...

I always wonder how many people actually know how to fight effectively with a knife anyway? I've done a bit of Fiore Dei Liberi's dagger combat, and it's not the easiest weapon to use against another armed opponent. You really need to have your wits about you in any close quarters fight, otherwise the outcome may as well be decided by flipping a coin. How anybody could even consider using a knife when drunk is beyond me.

Aaron said...

I would go further and just say that getting 'tougher' on crime does little to reduce it.
I've always felt that if you could get to the roots of crime, such as poverty, inequality and lack of community and support, we would have a society where our youth would not feel the need to arm themselves for what they might feel is protection...