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Date: 27/03/12

Every Picture Tells A Story

Photo of a metal dinner knife

This is a knife. A pretty nondescript, common-or-kitchen knife. Old and worn.

But this seemingly undistinguished item of working-class cutlery from the Fifties has a family history, which I shall now impart.

My mother had a socially-useful sideline in breaking and entering.

More specifically, breaking and entering the house next door.

You see, our neighbour, Jinny Gough, having been widowed at quite a young age, went out to work in the Steelworks in order to support her son and two daughters, all in their teens at that time.

When she went to work, she never took her house key, for fear of losing it or having it stolen. So she used to rely on her eldest, Arthur, to be there to let her in when she got home.

Of course, teenage boys being teenage boys, this is not always what happened, and she would find herself locked out.

Scarcely a month would go by without the sound of a rather timid knock on our back door (yes, the back door; good neighbours never, but never came to the front). When my mother would open the door, there Jinny Gough would be, with a slightly pained and exasperated expression on her face.

"Mrs Stapley," she'd say (and despite their having been good neighbours and friends for years, it was always "Mrs Stapley" rather than "Ivy", in the same way that - in the other direction - it was always "Mrs Gough", never "Jinny" or "Jane"), "please could you let me in to my house?"

My mother would go to the cutlery drawer and pull out the knife you see in the photograph above. She would then go down our path, out on to the road and then up Mrs Gough's path and around the back of the house. There she would get the dustbin (of the old metal, handle-on-each-side-and-a-round-lid variety, now seen only in comics), put it up against the back wall by the kitchen window, and climb onto it.

Working slowly but in a determined fashion, she would then insert the knife between the opening part of the window and its frame (metal-framed windows and a council house - a wonderful contribution to security and draughtproofing) and, little-by-little, would ease the window catch open.

She would then climb in through the window (putting both feet in the sink), clamber down and then unlock the back door from the inside to let Jinny into her own domain.

She could have sold tickets for it, for I swear she got the time this whole procedure took down to about three minutes in the end.

As you can see, I still have the knife. It's close on forty years since the last time my mother used it as a tool for nefarious activities, and I use it now either for small-scale plastering or - far more frequently - for getting the grass and dandelions out from the cracks between the paving slabs on the path. But its rôle in the family chronicles is almost heroic, and I didn't want a story which reminds me of my mother's ingenuity and of a good neighbour (now both long gone from us) to be completely lost to the world.

I think that this tale cuts the mustard, don't you?