Sunday, 25 May 2014

Splits, knives and growing up

A few days ago my wife and I both happened to mention a game called splits which we both played as youngsters in the fifties and early sixties. For those who never played splits, this is how it went.

It had to be played on grass for reasons which will soon become obvious. Two of us stood facing each other with our feet together. One had a knife, preferably a small sheath knife, but a penknife or even a table knife would do as long as mum didn’t catch us taking it.

The one with the knife threw it into the grass by the other’s feet. The blade had to stick into the ground cleanly to count as a good throw. The non-thrower then had to remove the knife from the ground and put their foot on the spot where the knife had been. Then it was their turn to throw.

The aim of the game was to throw the knife far enough away from the other’s foot that he or she couldn’t reach it – hence the name splits. However with too long a throw there was less chance of the knife sticking in the ground properly, so getting the distance right was essential.

Another rule allowed you to throw the knife between the other’s feet. If it stuck into the ground cleanly between the feet, you were allowed to bring your own feet together again.

Most older kids seemed to have at least a penknife in the fifties. They were used for harmless games like splits, carving initials on trees or school desks, sharpening pencils and other important functions. In my world it was part of growing up on a council estate and we did not see knives as street weapons.

No doubt there were accidents and possibly a few tragedies, but our role models were mum and dad and clean-cut heroes on black and white TV such as the Lone Ranger. Role models presumably strong enough for us to be trusted with knives, and tacitly allowed to play games such as splits.


Sam Vega said...

Blimey, I'd totally forgotten that. We used to play it a lot. And yes, we all had knives. I remember being taken to the local hardware store by my older brother to get my first "serious" knife - i.e. not a pen-knife, but a sheath-knife. I thought that it was called a "sheaf-knife".

As for the carving of initials, a colleague recently reflected on the practice of carving pairs of initials within love-hearts to denote that you were romantically involved. "What type of psycho takes a knife on a date?". Funny, but only possible as a joke now that society has changed so much.

A K Haart said...

Sam - oddly enough we'd both forgotten it too. Thinking of kid's games and seeing knives in a shop window brought it all back.

The joke is funny but as you say, only now society has changed so much.

Demetrius said...

In garrison cinemas in the 50's they put on what was in the can. On one occasion they had some Lone Rangers which in error they put up during a screening for the troops. The contingent of Scots infantrymen present had views on the nature of the relationship between the Ranger and Tonto which they expressed forcibly. Most of the rest of us just he was a wimp and cheered for the baddies.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - ah but he always defeated the baddies.