Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Knife Grinder

When I was in Hyde Park on Sunday I came across this monument, which I swear I have never seen before, even though I've wandered through Hyde Park at least a hundred times. Funny how something like this could go unnoticed by me for so long. It's a bird sanctuary with a bench and a small fenced lawn, surrounded by trees and set aside in the name of W. H. Hudson, a naturalist and ornithologist who died in 1922. He was also the author of the novel "Green Mansions," which I've heard of but haven't read.

Yesterday morning I was cleaning the house and I had the front windows open. I heard someone yelling in the street and peered out to see what was going on. An older guy was wandering up and down yelling "Grinding! Knife sharpening!" He was trailing a little dolly with a bag and some equipment.

Now, this seems very Mary Poppins to me -- an itinerant knife grinder -- and coincidentally, Dave and I had some knives that we'd been complaining about because they were so dull. So I went out and asked him how much it would cost to sharpen them up. We settled on a (slightly too expensive) price and I plugged in his grinding wheel. He set up shop on top of one of our recycling bins and went to work:

One of my neighbors brought out some knives too, and I overheard him negotiate a better deal. Live and learn!

I could barely understand the grinder, he had such a thick East London accent. He asked where I was originally from, and told me he had relatives who'd moved to Florida. (Doesn't everyone?) Then he asked for a beer or a glass of wine. (It was 11 a.m.) I said I didn't have either, and he said, "Are you one of those people?" I assured him I drank but just didn't have anything handy, and gave him water instead.

When he finished, he scraped each knife blade across the palm of his hand, like a razor across a strop. I'm not sure what this was supposed to show me, but I accepted his judgment that they were adequately sharp. After I paid him he sat on our steps and had a cigarette, and then went on his way. We haven't used the knives yet but I'll let you know.

My allergies have been acting up like crazy this year. I don't know what's going on. I've even had to resort to occasional medication, which is pretty rare for me. There's a brand of allergy medicine here called Piriteze that we've been using (turns out it's the same as Zyrtec), and that's been pretty effective and doesn't seem to make me sleepy.

On her blog, Dana mentioned a recent Internet meme that asks people how old they were before they had a black teacher. In her case it was middle school. I realized, can you believe it, that I didn't have a black teacher until college? This shocks me now that I think about it. I can't even remember a black substitute. We lived in an overwhelmingly white suburb -- there were only about four black kids in my entire high school, and my yearbooks depict a sea of white faces -- but still. You'd think the school system would have insisted on more diversity in hiring.


  1. What a cheek! The knife grinder overcharges you and then asks for a beer or a wine! Don't be surprised if a sixty something fellow with A Yorkshire accent knocks on your door and tells you he will fully defumigate your flat for a mere fifty quid. Then I'll spray a can of cheap air freshener before helping myself to a martini.

  2. We have wandering knife sharpeners here but they travel with their own power. Most are on bicycles, although some are on motos and one guy is very modern and has his "shop" and generato in his van. I've seen a couple actually pedal to generate power WHILE they sharpen. They also signal they're around with repeated notes on a pan flute. It's wonderful. I can't believe he overcharged, used YOUR power, AND wanted an alcoholic beverage... also that this is the first time you've seeen him or anyone like him in your time there.

  3. When I was in high school I started reading Green Mansions. My English teacher asked how I liked it and I said only ok. She told me to stop, she didn't want me to read it until I loved it. A year or so later I tried again and indeed did love the story of Rima the bird girl. I should reread it and see how it holds up sixty years later.

  4. The knife grinder story is hilarious. I just hope those knives are good and sharp...
    And the bird sanctuary bears more investigation, which I'm sure will happen.

  5. Hi, I read your blog regularly but never comment but the item about how old you were when you had your first black teacher got me thinking. At our school we regularly had trainee teachers for a year at a time, who did not look after a particular class but filled in throughout the year, so taught all years, classes etc - this was in primary school, a solidly working class white school and circa 1964 we had Miss Francis who was black, from the Caribbean, but we were of an age when we didn't know she was 'black', she was our teacher, Miss Francis, popular, elegant and ladylike, with a lovely voice who came from a far away place. I remember vividly her telling us about the first time she saw snow and the excitement she felt. After that I never had a black teacher, not even at University. (mainly middle class white males there) It wasn't until my penultimate year at the same school that we had a black pupil and he was class prefect in the final year. But with Miss Francis, we never thought about her as a black teacher - she was just'miss'

    Sheltered life that I lead I've never encountered a knife-grinder

  6. Thanx For Supporting The Meandering , After A Few Pints By Noon , Knife Sharpener Guy - Curious As To Why He Had The Base Of A Blender On The Steps - Unusual Motor If That Is The Case - Overcharging , Drink Asking , And Powerless Worker Bee - Pretty Funny Really - As For A Black Teacher, Middle School - In Sunny San Diego, Our Educators Were A Wide Spectrum Of Ethnicity - Happy Chopping Brother Man


  7. I think you were visited by an angel. What fun.

  8. How funny, we had an itinerant knife guy come by our house about a month ago! His wheel was not electric, as you can imagine. It had bicycle pedals to power it. Gavin took all our knives out to him (and got fleeced as you did, HA! Although our guy just asked for water on top of his exorbitant price) and they returned looking kind of terrible but SUPER sharp. And sharp they have remained. We will have him do them again in due course but at a steep discount!

  9. When we first started going to Cozumel the knife sharpener man would wheel his wheel around by a sort of tricycle that he rode and as he moved about he called out his services. He may still.
    It wasn’t until I was in high school that our classes were even integrated. That’s how old I am.

  10. When I was a little girl, we had peddlers that would come around selling their wares. And we had a rag man that came around with his horse drawn wagon yelling "Rags! Rags!" We had an ice man who delivered the ice, and the milkman delivered all the dairy stuff. Nice memories. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

  11. My knives need sharpening. I wish we had that guy here. maybe post virus with all the stores and restaurants closing people will become little entrepreneurs and we'll have knife sharpeners and rag men and old pots for new or vegetable venders again.

  12. I'm sure the knife sharpener would have long and interesting story. He seems to have no trouble asking for freebies.

  13. I don't think I had any black teachers or professors. Wow, that is really something to think about. That knife sharpening guy sounds like a real character. It was kind of cheeky of him to ask for a beer or wine. My knives could use a good sharpening too and I even own a grinder. It's just such a hassle to get it out.

  14. I'm glad the Zyrtec helps you - it made me a zombie (although there's apparently a non-drowsy kind which might have been better for me). I'm on to Allegra now, but it doesn't seem to be fixing my primary issue (losing my voice).

    I love the knife-grinder story! I have some scissors that could use some work. They're probably 20 years old, but much beloved.

  15. That knife-sharpening guy sounds like quite the character. I'm looking forward to hearing how sharp those knives are now.
    Interesting question about black teachers. I went to a very racially mixed elementary school in the 1950s in Newark, NJ. I can't imagine that there were no black teachers there, but I am not remembering anyone. I'm going to have to ask my siblings what they remember.
    I'm glad your allergy meds are working.

  16. I don't believe I EVER had a black teacher but, of course, my education was all in North Dakota, i.e. The Great White Wilderness. (in more ways than one!) Your itinerant knife grinder makes me think of Mexico. In our first month there we once bought a king-size mattress from some guys who came along our street hawking them from a truck.

  17. We had maybe two black people in our town. North of the dixie line, middle America, white white white. Even at University , no blacks except basket ball players on scholarship.
    maybe the knife guy is a traveler, thus the dickering price. Quaint!"Mary Poppins" made me laugh.

  18. We still get a knife sharpener coming around but he drives a van and has music playing to draw attention.
    I had my first black teacher in grade 9 - she was the only one that wasn't a nun! She went on to become a member of Parliament and is now a well known elder states person. I still remember the power of her personality in the classroom!

  19. Carrying on the tradition of itinerant traders and craftsmen. Very interesting.
    Just thinking when I had a non-white teacher..Art College.
    When I was 10 there was a mixture of colours and nationalities on our street, in Eastleigh, Hampshire.
    Then in girls grammar school in Southampton there were only a handful of African and Asian pupils in a thousand.
    Cardiff and College of Art was different, a far more representative mix and you just thought not of all the different races, nationalities and religions, just different aspects of art in both students and tutors. Cardiff as an international port has had people from all over the world living there for many centuries.

  20. I have never heard of a "wandering" knife grinder before!

  21. Even now here in spite of quite high immigration levels over the past couple of decades, there will be children who could well go through school being taught by only Anglo Saxon people. I only had white teachers at school and the only 'ethnic' fellow school children were a Greek boy and a German girl in a school of about 800.

  22. YP: I thought it was pretty cheeky! But don't get any ideas -- I didn't GIVE him a drink. I'm not that much of a pushover.

    Mitchell: A pan flute is a great way to announce the grinder's presence! This isn't actually the first time I've seen them -- just the first time I've hired one.

    Peter: Interesting! I should try it! I think we have it in our library.

    Alphie: They do appear to be much sharper than they were.

    Northriding: Thanks for commenting! Yeah, little kids don't really seem to notice or acknowledge race, do they? I think they walk into a classroom ready to accept the authority of whoever's there -- at least when they're young. That changes as they grow into teenagers!

    Padre: Ha! That "blender base" is the reel of his extension cord, which was plugged into a socket in our house.

    Colette: A drunk angel, maybe. LOL

    Lindsey: I'm glad to know I'm not alone in getting slightly ripped off. I imagine over time all that grinding is probably terrible for knives, but hey, it keeps them functioning.

    Ms Moon: Our schools were nominally integrated but the area where we lived was so white it was integration in name only. My stepbrother (who lived with my dad closer to town) was bused into inner Tampa for school so he had a much more integrated learning experience.

    Edna: I wonder why we don't have rag men anymore? We sure have a lot of rags these days, mostly getting dumped outside the charity shops! (The shops probably supply the rag trade, come to think of it.)

    Ellen: I'll send him right over, but prepare to be asked for a six-pack. LOL

    Red: Yeah, I didn't want to get into too much of a conversation with him, but I imagine he's got an interesting backstory.

    Sharon: It IS an interesting question, isn't it? I never really thought about it before.

    Bug: Maybe we're using the non-drowsy kind. I haven't noticed drowsiness, at least no more than usual. LOL

    Robin: It IS an interesting question! The fact that you don't remember black teachers perhaps illustrates Northriding's point above, that little kids don't always notice or acknowledge race.

    Catalyst: Ha! I've never heard of an itinerant mattress dealer.

    Linda Sue: Yeah, he might be a traveller. He said he'll be back at Christmas, though!

    RedPat: Interesting! Who was it? Anyone I would know?

    GZ: It must have been refreshing to be in an environment like Cardiff with a long tradition of intercultural exchange!

    Michael: I've heard about them in stories and seen them very rarely on the streets, but I'd never hired one before yesterday!

    Andrew: It's funny that a Greek boy and a German girl would be considered "ethnic." We had an Iranian exchange student when I was a senior and I thought he was VERY exotic. (And also adorable!)