The Banana skin on the Doorstep of our Lives


You either do what you want to do or spend your life just waiting for week-ends to come around. I think that pearl of wisdom might have come from a successful Austrian or Moldavian philosopher inside a mountain cave deep in thought and wholly absorbed in ‘Weltanschauung’ contemplation of the importance of doing nothing much except occasionally sweep out his cave.

It is all in the broom, some say. The broom that sweeps our lives of all the debris that never found any use in our lives. Lately I noticed the debris building up again. Has anyone noticed that shops now try and sell even more with big discounts on multiple items? You are urged to buy six loaves of bread and get 50 cents off for doing so. The latest that caught my eye is to buy scissors in packets of six. Six scissors?

What is there to cut still? Do peoples cut the cloth for a twin set or blouse, make boys trousers? My mum was a fervent cutter and sewer of the cloth with one of those pedal sewing machines. It was a ‘Singer’. Her feet would go up and down so fast; today it would be seen as an early form of rap-dancing beating the BigBang boys or even a Moon Walk.

My mum had one pair of scissors her whole life. Sometimes a man on a bike would come along. The bike would be put on its stand and knifes and scissors would be sharpened by him peddling the bike that drove a round sharpening stone on top of the handle bars.
This sharpening device has never been improved since. In any case nothing gets sharpened anymore. People chuck it all out and buy multiple sets of knives and scissors, six at the time. The happy shopper comes home with six loaves of bread and six pairs of scissors. It fills their lives, gives substance to an existence so thread bare that my mum’s Singer could well be in for a revival.

Those ideas of the past don’t easily let go. How come that people were more connected with sharpening knifes or scissors? Even enameled pots and pans were repaired with patches put into bottoms when rust had worked a pin-hole into them. Of course, it is nice we can afford to buy stainless steel that doesn’t’ rust but do we need to be so much on the rampage to consume? Why not take pride in a saucepan that has cooked meals for decades on end and try and keep it going as long as possible.

We used to have kind, friendly and benevolent relationships with all sorts of utensils. My mum’s green enameled milk bucket at the bottom of the stairs used to get filled by the milkman when ordered by my mum from above shouting ‘three liters to-day, please”. That bucket experienced entire generations of kids growing up. I can’t remember if this bucket followed us to Australia but I would like to think it did.

Our housed are now so full of everything. Cupboards piling over, scissors behind settees, drawers full of knives with a giant butcher block blocking access to the kitchen. Ikea boxes in the garbage bin. An Allen key looking forlorn, just cast away with all the other debris. We are groaning with debris.

We need a new broom.

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28 Responses to “The Banana skin on the Doorstep of our Lives”

  1. Patti Kuche Says:

    Gerard, it is with great excitement that I let you know that a sharpening van does the rounds here in NY, it rings a special bell and does it on the spot. You would love it. I know how much I do! And we have shoe repairs on almost every block. I like to think your Mum’s enamel bucket followed you to Australia and is still there somewhere!


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Yes, a revival of good values coming here too. A jubilant sign of the times. Shoe repairs are doing a roaring trade in re-heels and soles.
    If this is happening in NY as well, soon the world will brake out in doing the fox-trot again. H and I are doing a wild Lambada right now as I speak.


  3. Andrew Says:

    We still have knife sharpeners in HK. Not many but a few survive on the streets. The point of built in obsolescence and disposable consumer-durables (the ultimate oxymoron?) is global growth. Now we all have at least 2 of everything – except the poor people, who don’t count – if we don’t throw things away and overfill the land full sites then manufacturing will stop. Some of us are hoarders. Guilty m’lud. I have 2 sets of golf clubs. Not used in 20 years. But what should I do with them? The world, and our house especially, is almost full. Soon things will fall off the edge of the planet. Look out below. You may have stumbled on the answer, Gerard, a ban on manufacturing things that have a life of less than 2 generations. Or we could send everything back to China. Mr. Rudd could write the accompanying letter. Dear Chairman Xi, please find enclosed 200 tons of blunt scissors. Love & kisses, Kevin.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Glad to see HK had knife sharpeners. Global growth is shifting to the developing nations. Brazil, Indonesia , India , Sri Lanka and others.
      It’s time to take a brake from growth being the domain of the Western world. Perhaps that’s happening now. I don’t know, but we live well above the level of others and it seems unjust and unfair.


      • Andrew Says:

        I was being unnecessarily flippant to your serious point, Gerard. In 20 years I suspect things will be very different. But the developing countries can’t consume enough domestically – they need economic well-being in the “developed’ countries so they have an export market. Look at China today. With such an immature or even non-existent welfare system the people still save far more than we do because they know there will be little state support in old age. Rebalancing is what we need. Controlled rebalancing.


  4. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Oh well, Gerard that is how life goes or should it be, so goes the ways of sin? Speaking of sin. Consumerism and commercialism goes hand in hand and the way folks spend money is positively sinful.

    Companies hit the gullible with mass marketing and the meek and weak fall for the promotions thinking that (6) is much better than one since (6) is a bargain. The same thing goes on over here. Buy two pairs of shoes with the second pair discounted by 10% or whatever.

    Too many people don’t want to posssess anything unless it is new. New car, new clothes, new spouse -trade the old lady in for a younger model, new house- a high percentage of folks move on the average of every 7 years.

    Anyway, another great post that has more than a shread of truth. You have written about a world wide problem and one of the reasons we are filling the land fills and why so many people live from pay check to pay check.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, you are writing on similar things as well. Together we can move mountains. Still, shoemakers are doing well and that is a good sign. I wonder if darning socks will ever make a comeback?


      • petspeopleandlife Says:

        If only I could darn those darn socks that would be a very good thing. I wear socks in the winter with certain kinds of shoes and of course with walking shoes and shoes for doing chores, etc. I have put many socks in the trash and cringed each time for I feel throwing socks away is such a waste. But again. I know not how to darn those darn socks.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      For darning socks people used to have a wooden ball inside the sock over the hole. You just weave a woolen thread backwards, criss- cross and forwards covering the hole. The wooden ball is for novices that don’t want to prick themselves with the needle. You can also use a hard boiled egg instead…
      In the past hand-knitted woolen socks used to be unraveled by my mum to knit some new thing again (and again).


  5. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Thought provoking as ever. Great piece Gerard and it certainly struck a chord with me.


  6. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Our previously reliable supermarket has gone crazy in the two for one/big discount/price matching etc directions. I try hard to think through any temptation and only buy things I consume regularly and can store, but now shopping trips include lengthy calculations.

    I still sew and I have two old favourite pairs of scissors – but the knife sharpener has not knocked on the door for twenty-five years. I have both garden and domestic tools for him if he does reappear.

    In the UK charity shops are the answer, both for recycling unnecessary belongings and buying a new wardrobe without a guilt trip.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Hello hilarycustancegreen
      Yes, what do people do with those extra loaves of bread, surely it goes stale? Do they toast them or make Welsh rarebit? There are also huge packs of vacuum sealed meat for sale. I have trouble opening a small meat packet. I suppose that’s why scissors are now so in demand. How do old people break open some of those plastic wrapped foodstuffs. Even biscuits are a challenge to get to.


  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    A wonderful post as usual Gerard. I haven’t seen a knife-sharpener since I was a child in the city. Perhaps the suburbs were too spread out for them to profit. I still use my grandma’s cast-iron frying pans and Dutch oven. I think the same “come-ons” exist in all countries encouraging us to buy, buy, buy. It is character developing though trying to prevent caving in.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you Sweet kayti.
      Glad to hear the Dutch Oven is still being used. I am so pleased part of the Dutch heritage is finding good use in your house. True, all is come-ons and buy buy till we drop.
      It almost took three days to open a jar of Polish Gherkins, perhaps in punishment for not yielding to the offer of three jars for a ‘special’ discount. I am sure some lose the will to go on. (Not us though 🙂


  8. auntyuta Says:

    I remember in my early childhood days in Berlin a man would regularly come to people’s backyards shouting up to the windows of the five story buildings that he had come to sharpen scissors and knives.
    In the early 1900s my grandmother in Leipzig helped cutting material for women’s blouses. Grandma used to tell me that they had this blouse sowing business at the back of the apartment building. They employed about a dozen women for cutting the material and sowing the blouses. Grandma would always help with the work.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thanks Auntyuta;
      That is such a lovely bit of history. Five stories up and no lift. No wonder we are so fit. We were three stories up and dad used to carry his bike up and down each day.


  9. auntyuta Says:

    Actually we lived only three stories up and there was a lift which during my early childhood was still in working condition. It’s just that this ‘Scheren- und Messer-Schleifer” would call out to the whole neighbourhood. I think even people who lived on the fifth floor would be aware when they could take their scissors and knives down to this man who would sharpen everything right on the spot where he had positioned himself. I think he had a kind of little wagon with all the things on it he needed for his business. 🙂


  10. sandshoe Says:

    Gez, our family of Mum and dad and the children (my siblings and I) and guests had singing at the piano in our house and among the standards we loved and I remember was a song about the Um-ber-ella man who called out, “Um-ber-ellas/um-ber-ellas/um/ber-ellas/um/ber-ellas” and he would “repair them all with what you call a thingy-ma-jig”

    “When there’s a lull/and things are dull/he sharpens knives/for all the wives in the neighbourhood/and he’s very good.”

    He mended hearts too.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Welcome Sandshoe,
      Singing at our house was only through my dad’s record collection. They were those hard and very brittle squeaky 78 LP’s. I would say our family hand-wringing was more dominant. with ‘ach, ach, and ach’s as an encore.


  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    My grandma also used to say “A new broom sweeps clean, but the old one knows where all the corners are”.


  12. Whet, whet, whet | All downhill from here Says:

    […] his most excellent blog Gerard Oosterman recently bemoaned the loss of knife sharpeners. Probably not a career likely to attract redundant investment bankers but undoubtedly one that […]


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Excellent idea for knife sharpeners to take over from merchant bankers. A knife sharpener’s revolution. The nights will light up by the flashes of crossed knives doing battle with shredded share certificates and gold-options going long on their way hurled out of windows twenty five stories up.
      The music of scissors going click click overtaking the dismal ker-ching ker-ching of cash registers.
      There will be home made bread and rising yeast smell overtaking the HK streets again.


  13. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Good luck!


  14. roughseasinthemed Says:

    Wandered over from andrew’s where I left a lengthy blog post comment about knife sharpening so I won’t repeat it here. I’ve written reams on consumerism, which is your basic point, on two of my blogs. Indirectly I suppose you could include my Land Rover blog as the Series III is 40 years old. I also write about whatever freebies we acquire from neighbours/skips, whether it is food, clothes, plates, bikes, books which seems to entertain some of my readers. Acquisition of a different type, but if it’s useful why refuse it/not recycle it? Anything we can’t use goes to a car boot sale/advertised in Friday Ads/advertised on FreeCycle.

    I find the global economy and consumerism extremely depressing, which is why I drone on about it from time to time. However we all make compromises, which is why I am sitting here typing on a MacBookPro. In defence, it is six years old though.

    I could feel a touch of Monty Python coming on as I read through the comments (You lived in a paper bag on t’ side o’ t’ road? You were lucky. etc) But I’ll join in anyway. I sleep on the floor. The camping mats (28 years old) are perfectly satisfactory so I’ve never got round to buying a bed for the flat. The furniture is/was my mothers’ so dates back to her wedding in 1951. The curtains were made by me (extremely well I might add) and this is the third house in which they have been hung. I have linen from my grandmother and great aunt. Need I go on?

    I do however have a lot of scissors, but they are all for different purposes. None are new. Kitchen scissors, paper scissors, dressmaking shears, small sewing scissors, nail scissors, pinking shears, and as my partner is a decorator we have papercutting shears. I think six scissors are justified 😉

    Like Yvonne I can’t darn socks. Nor can I turn shirt collars by using the hems. I do a neat line in patching overalls so all is not lost.


  15. gerard oosterman Says:


    Thank you for your response and welcome;

    Yes, that’s very much our domain as well. Most of our clothes come from Vinnies or Red cross shops. We don’t sleep on mats but have only just a few months ago bought our second mattress after over 48 blissful years on the first one.
    That first mattress traveled between continental Australia and Europe twice and seen lots of action. It was made of some very firm rubber foam mixture and expensive when we first bought it.
    The same with our furniture which came with an old 18th century Saxon farm ( with thatched roof) that we had bought when living and working in Holland back in the seventies. I am sitting on one of those old chairs right now.
    Anyway, it seems our world can only go forward and survive if we can escape economic ‘growth’. It is a conundrum. Growth is killing our planet and yet without growth we have strife from unemployment and civil unrest. A balance seems to be what is needed.
    I do have fear for a world that my grandchildren will inherit, but… hopefully life will continue!


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