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.