I’m no anthropologist, but it must surely be significant that in no language or culture on Earth does the phrase “As safe as a sharp thing” appear. Today, for the third time in my life, I’ve managed to do myself a noteworthy injury with a knife.
The first time it happened I must have been about ten or eleven, and suffused with that innocent spirit of scientific investigation that so often leads to significant personal injury, legal and financial liability, and wanton destruction of property. The question at the forefront of my mind on this occasion was: “What does the inside of a chewing-gum-filled gobstopper look like before you’ve sucked away the hard outer shell?” To find out, I took the gobstopper and set it in the palm of my hand. Then, in my other hand, I took my Swiss Army Knife. I opened out the main blade and, with ever-increasing force, dug it into the gobstopper. Unfortunately, chewing-gum being significantly less dense than the shell, and a concave surface less resistant than a convex one, the practical upshot of my investigation was not merely that I drove the knife through the sweet but also clean through my hand.
I don’t remember it being particularly painful until I actually looked at my hand and saw what appeared to be a white worm awash with blood in the middle of the wound. Horrified, and not knowing how a tendon was meant to look, I tugged on it. Now that was sore.
The second time my experience with knives all went wrong was when I was in first year in Uni. The year before I had been working on the OM ship MV Logos II in Latin America, and when in Mexico I had bought, for what was only the equivalent of about £15, an excellent knife manufactured by Diablo. You can see it in the picture to the left: it is what is holding my friend Alex’s headband affixed to the ceiling (oh, the merry japes of the Aft Meeting Room crowd during drydock and refit! We weren’t hard up for entertainment, as you can tell). I am fairly scrupulous about keeping my knives sharp (a blunt knife being, as far as I’m concerned, something of a contradiction in terms) and my Diablo had, and still has, an edge you can shave with.
I know this to be true because I have done so. When I first came to Uni and St Columba’s I discovered one Sunday morning that not only had my electric razor broken but all my disposable ones were blunt. I had a cunning idea, and, like Baldrick’s, mine too turned out to be total pigswill. I took my knife in hand and shaved. All was going extremely well until, still not entirely awake, I yawned hugely and opened a correspondingly huge gash from my ear all the way down to my jaw.
The blood had mostly stopped flowing by the time I finished my 45-minute walk to church, where I arrived early for the music group practice. My appearance was sufficient to silence the band. “What on Earth happened to you?” Louis asked. “Oh,” I said, affecting a nonchalance I didn’t entirely feel, “Some idiot tried to get clever with a knife.” Looking into the shocked faces I confessed that the idiot in question was me, thus confirming a number of long-held prejudices about drummers in general, but the pain had mostly gone by that stage and I felt able to laugh about it. When the wound healed it did so cleanly, and now there is no scar to tell you what happened.
Sadly, I don’t think there will be any corresponding clean healing today, despite the precision with which I appear to have injured myself. Cutting an Italeri model soldier from his sprue, the scalpel blade rotated through 90 degrees in the handle, slipped off the sprue and plunged with clear homicidal intent into the tip of my thumb, which it proceeded to slice neatly in two. The knife was extremely sharp, and so the injury is surgically neat, painless, and took but a few minutes to bind together with steri-strips and surgical tape – although I am still mortified at the thought that I might just have got my ass kicked by a soldier seventy-two times smaller than me.
And now I have to get ready for DRIVE, a youth club at church where I am one of the leaders. I don’t know what the plan is for tonight or the coming weeks – that’s Tom‘s responsibility – but my recommendation is that I be put in charge of Health and Safety.
I think I have many lessons I can impart.
Here it is: your moment of Zen: