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Knives, Guns and Bangs

One of my precious possessions as a four year-old was a knife. About twelve inches long, it was made of soft white alloy, a toy rather than a knife in fact. But it had one attractive feature for a little boy: the hilt was in the shape of an axe. So it was two weapons in one. One day I was playing with the knife and some plasticine. With great care I made some soldiers, kneeling on the floor and working on the wooden seat of my little-boy chair. Then I held the knife by the blade (rounded edges that would not cut butter) and using it as an axe took great delight in hacking my soldiers to pieces: a head off here, an arm there—none were spared. I was wholly absorbed in the massacre and didn’t notice that grandma had noticed. She said something to my mother. Mother saw what I was doing and in a moment knife and plasticine were confiscated. I was devastated. Couldn’t understand what was wrong. Apparently hacking pretend soldiers to pieces was not considered a suitable pretend game for wee Craig, but wee Craig was not of the same opinion.

A year or two later I had a small toy field gun, a simple spring catch and rod affair for shooting spent matches. It was a tiny thing but surprisingly accurate. I took great delight in building a structure out of dominoes—a fortress where desperate defenders made a last stand—then shooting it down. With careful aim at non-crucial dominoes on the side or top, the fate of the castle could be extended until finally it all came tumbling down. This non-anthropomorphic battle seemed more acceptable to mum, though of course she was not aware of the lively carnage going on in my mind.

I wonder if you remember spud guns. A little older, and I acquired one: possibly a unwise Christmas or birthday gift from a naïve adult relative. They were metal, with a small tube projecting at the end of the barrel, about 15mm long and 6mm diameter. This was pressed into a potato and with a little dexterity could be twisted out so that a fragment of potato remained jammed in the tube. The trigger pulled the whole barrel back over a small piston, creating enough pressure for the spud pellet to come flying out with some velocity over short distances. What joy! A limitation was the availability of potatoes, which became decimated with holes and useless for ammunition or food. Even large potatoes didn’t last long for a fearless hunter chasing criminals through the jungle.

Even better than the spud gun, I made my own dried pea gun. A device of wood and elastic bands, it was quite powerful, shooting peas 30 or 40 feet. It was a bit dangerous though: a pea in the eye was possible for the enemy spies I stalked, so I didn’t get much use from it. Then there was cork pop-guns, catapults, water pistols, darts made from pins and matchsticks (favoured in the schoolroom). And do you remember the give-aways from time to time in children’s comics: bang-makers, boomerangs and so on?

Not sure why my mind has drifted to these memories. Perhaps because today is my birthday and at 76 I’m officially in my second childhood. And maybe Remembrance Weekend has drawn my mind to combative toys. I think I’ve grown up without excessive aggression though, despite fighting many imaginary wars and saving the world a time or two. That being the case, I wonder if my mother was unnecessarily concerned about the imagery of my childhood play with plasticine. Not sure on that one, but it’s possible we over-protect and under-prepare children for their life in an increasingly turbulent world. This weekend we remember with gratitude those who sacrificed their lives in defence of freedom. Good and evil exist and I suppose my imaginary childhood conflicts on the living room carpet expressed an instinctive sense of this.

An important feature of those pretend battles is this: I always won. One thing I want our grandchildren to know is that Good always wins in the end, no matter how bleak or hopeless it seems. This is central to my faith: Jesus Christ overcame evil through his atoning sacrifice. He overcame death through his resurrection. The horrors of war, the tragedies, agonies and heartbreaks of mortal life will continue, but there is a life after this, where we will be reunited with loved ones. I believe that conditions in the world will get much worse before they get better, but eventually Christ will come. In the meantime he offers his grace and peace in our life right now, available to all who need it, whether struggling in the conflict of war, fighting illness in hospital, or grieving the death of friends and family. So, my rambling thoughts for Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. I hope you are able to observe the two-minute silence at 11:00am, and remember in both gratitude and hope.

Final thought: in describing some of my childhood toys, I began to pity the modern generation glued to screens, thumbing the action on their device, but missing the imaginative interaction I enjoyed in the physical world.


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