Sunday, 11 March 2012

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning!

It is the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty one. Mum and I are on the road. We have hitch-hiked our way to Inverness in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to borrow money from her sister, my Aunt Nell.

Now, after apparently seeing the light about which side her bread is buttered, Mum has decided it is best if we go back to Jimmy's house. Jimmy being her latest husband who she has recently fallen out with. Probably to do with money. Or her perception of Jimmy as a mean, tightwad. Which is mum's opinion of anyone who won't give her any money.

It is a long journey back, and we are hungry and broke. But not to worry she has an idea how we can earn a few bob.

Years on the road with Fergie have taught her a thing or two. Today we are going to become knife grinders. It is my job to knock on doors, ask if they have anything that requires sharpening and bring it to mum to sharpen.

Personally I have my doubts about this. One of which is my shyness at having to knock on strangers doors. But my main concern is our lack of anything to sharpen a knife with!

Mum reassures me on my first concern. Telling me that Fergie was a knife grinder for years and that people are always grateful to have things sharpened. My second concern about the lack of a grindstone is only slightly allayed when she produces a nail file from her handbag, and declares it more than adequate to the task!

Having been rehearsed on my sales spiel I nervously knock on the first door, which is opened by a smiling lady clutching a small child by the hand.

"Good morning Madam,"  I squeak. "Do you have anything that needs sharpening?"

To my astonishment she does indeed have a couple of knives that are blunt, and would love to have them sharpened. Turning to the child she says, "Let's go and watch the man sharpen them on the big wheel!"

As she turns to fetch the knives I take the opportunity to scarper. I have often wondered what she thought when she found me gone!

My knife grinders barrow. Sadly neglected.
The foregoing little story never put me off the possibility of earning money from knife grinding, and when money was short I would take my own little barrow out and knock on doors. Successfully too! Tricia was very good at knocking on doors also. Her sunny personality always brought results.

As mum said, people always need things sharpening. Garden shears are what people want done mostly.
Hmm, maybe it's time to get my barrow restored. Money is tight at the moment.


  1. I would think these days it would be a lot harder to earn money going door to door like that. Ah the good old days, where have they gone

  2. Agree with Ann. These days people don't like their doors being knocked by strangers. When I was a kid we had a regular knife grinder; he always had an audience, even I was fascinated.

  3. I just had two old knives sharpened. I've had them for at least 35 years and I think they were my Grandmothers. They don't make knives like that anymore. So if you were to show up at my door with your barrow, I'd have you sharpen the rest of them.

  4. Your tale reminded me of the wheel my grandfather used to sharpen whatever farm implement needed to be sharpened. He sharpened things as small as kitchen knives for my grandmother to as large as blades for the plow. His wheel was mounted on a contraption that looked like a bicycle. It was a favorite pretend toy when we spent time at the farm.
    When you first began writing about your mother I was so very angry at her. She left her child in the care of cruel strangers and seemed to only occasionally show feelings for you. As time goes on and you disclose more of your time with her, I see that a child's love for his mother is a strong and beautiful bond. I no longer hate her but I hate the way she abandoned her child. I see her frailties too. I am not sure I am pleased with myself for softening my views but I do believe I am seeing her more through your eyes. Does that make sense at all?

    1. My mum did have this effect on people Emma.

  5. You've bought back memories forgotten. we had the knife grinder , rag and bone man with his horse and cart and of course the winkle man shouting his wares on a Sunday (why Sunday? I wonder)
    Also I'm remembering the pig bin men and the coal man, all long gone.

  6. I remember the knife grinder...but Dad was a chef and had his own sharpening we never needed the knife grinder's skills.
    Jane x

  7. We had a pedal grindstone in the barn when I was growing up. I have always wondered what happened to it. Never tried to take it on the road, however.

  8. I can appreciate your embarrassment knocking on doors. I would have run too! Must be time to sell some more paintings.

  9. The problem with garden shears is that so many of them are badly made so the blades don't go together in the right way anyhow.
    I wonder how easy it is to pick up a knife grinding machine nowadays! :)