Changing times for pocket contents

A KNIFE, a shilling and a piece of string - that’s what we used to be told to carry with us when we were out in the countryside.

Times change: when I was young, a shilling was too much money for a young ‘un to carry about and risk losing, but every lad had a knife.

String was not so easily come by either, but any time there was a parcel, we would carefully untie the string and keep it.

Nowadays a shilling - five pence - is worth little and buys less. It is sensible to have a small sum of money on you at all times, and something I regularly forget.

As for string, well, that exists in abundance anywhere that hay and straw is stored, and a roll of binder twine has so many uses.

You can tie a gate back up, mend broken saddlery just enough to get home, temporarily fix anything from a fence to a haynet, put a makeshift lead on a dog, even lace your boots if you have enough patience.

It’s good patching material for a host of mishaps, just to hold the fort until a proper mend can be effected. Knives, however, have a whole new remit to fill. Nowadays you have to have a reason good enough to stand up in court for carrying one, though there are countless times a knife is needed in the countryside.

A three-inch folding blade is permitted: that’s not an problem because you can do an amazing amount of tasks with a knife that size, from eating your lunch to gralloching a deer, preferably in that order if on the same day.

In law, the blade should not lock, and a blade that cannot be locked is a risk to the user.

However, unless you are carrying the knife for a specific task, in which case any suitable one is legal, the just-in-case knife has to be unlockable. But of course you never know when you set out whether you will need a knife, if you are just going for a walk round.

Time was I would have a knife in each coat pocket, nothing fancy, just there for any one of the many jobs made possible by a knife.

I have cut untold numbers of sheep out of brambles, fixed many a rocky fence and secured even more gates using the knife to cut the string for tying them up with, freed quite a few caught-up ponies, taken down brambles or briars that made a footpath difficult, and undertaken a host of other unforeseen tasks that can crop up.

But nowadays you cannot risk forgetting that the knife is in your coat, and then wearing it somewhere where, if the knife was found on you, it could cause the start of criminal proceedings against you.

Even a knife kept in the vehicle might ruffle some feathers, though more damage could be done with a screwdriver or car jack. Such is the way that a law made with good in mind also scoops up the innocent.

But today my knife is legal, justifiable and necessary. It is old, and the blade is thin from much sharpening, while the wooden handle is pitted and scarred. I check that it is sharp enough, then zip it into an inside pocket, and start upon my way.