A week ago, while looking for a new spatula, and to replace a broken corkscrew(a wedding gift) at the Le Creuset Store in Hyde Park Corner, I found to my delight, the whole range of Opinel folding kitchen knives in a small boutique kitchen-ware shop. I instantly bought one: a size up from the No 8 size I have had for nearly 20 years which was a 33rd birthday gift from my then husband.
This new one has a stainless steel blade. The curvy blonde beach-wood handle is shiny and smooth and fits comfortably in the palm of my hand, the locking mechanism easily twists into place. The shop assistant was surprised at how adept I was at tapping the bottom edge of the handle to make the folding out of the blade easy, saying that she had never seen a woman so excited about a knife before! This really is a simple object, and not expensive as kitchen knives go, but she must have seen my deep satisfaction(I wanted to write “happiness” first), or at least a simple love for these particular knives. I did not even bother with the pretty packaging: I folded it and slipped it into my bag, and carried it, like a delicious secret, home to my kitchen where I opened it out and stuck it in place next to my old one on the magnetic knife rack on the wall.
I’m not sure what this love of this knife is about: is it simply the elegance of design which appeals to me? Is it because I have had another one for so long and used it often? I remember my ex-husband all those years ago drilling a little hole in the handle and finishing it off with a brass tube so that I could carry it on a key ring(I never did). He had an Opinel which he’d done the same to, so that he could thread trout fishing line through it and hang it on his fishing waistcoat( I’m sure there’s a name for it, but it escapes me now: you now, the khaki sleeveless vest type garment which zips up and has all kinds of pockets, and even some velcro sewn on to hook flies onto). Maybe my love for this knife also has something to do with the sharpening ritual which went together with that first, non stainless steel blade: the sweep of the blade at just the right angle on the whetstone, which he had perfected. I never could get that right, and have always used a commercial sharpener, the current one a Wüsthoff for all my other more expensive knives.
Or maybe it is the sharp, bitter, iron like taste at the back of my throat when I scour the discoloured blade with steel wool and solid green caked sunlight kitchen soap. This brings memories always of my grandmother at her sink, doing the same with her peeling knife which was a bone handled old pen knife of my grandfather’s, the blade worn into a hooked, miniature scimitar. I used to watch her top and tail beans with it, her fingers fast and precise, the movements so measured and rhythmic as if she was whittling wood to the beat of some inner song.
Maybe it is the fact that this is a folding knife: I always wanted a pocket knife as a child, but even though I had asked for one, my parents clearly thought that it would be inappropriate for a girl to have one. My mother was not a feminist. Needless to say, nor was my dad! Pocket knives, together with “Ketties”(Afrikaans for catapult) and kites, were strictly for boys. My brothers had those: and pigeons in a pigeon coop and air guns and bicycles. My sister and I had dolls and miniature tea sets and pots and pans sets to play with. No wonder I found refuge in books! I dreamed of far off places, paging through my father’s world atlas. I wished that I were grown up, so that I could see other places and other people. But I did not really have any concept of how big the world really is. I certainly did not know about a certain French folding knife, which all French housewives in country kitchens, and hunters and farmers and wine makers had been using since 1897.
Maybe its all these associations which come together for me in this beautiful object. The utter loveliness of having a new French folding knife in my modern, fully feminist, female kitchen; and that I can tuck it away in my luggage (admittedly not hand luggage these days!) when I fly away to far-off, now familiar, but once unknown and almost unknowable places.