Whet, whet, whet

In 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 creates greater economic value. I noted that the whetstone still features in Hong Kong. I took this shot on May 10th this year.


This man sits near Causeway Bay wet market. Note the umbrella protecting him from rain and shine. Cleverly attached to the handlebars of his bicycle. His T shirt is arguably misleading as it states he is “Young, Black and Be-you-ti-full” – he clearly fails on more than one count. Be that as it may I suspect you could shave yourself with his blades. And he has a smile on his face, a rare sight in Hong Kong.

Long may he prosper. And come to think of it, he could start a Boy Band and call it Whet, Whet, Whet. I think it might catch on.


15 thoughts on “Whet, whet, whet

  1. Excellent post. I’m sure if HK had more knife-sharpeners as happy as the one in the photo, merchant bankers would become superfluous. There would be dancing on the streets again and kites flown from every street.

  2. That is a good story, and a very nice street shot. I found it extra interesting as just yesterday my secretary commented on the sound of bells coming from the street outside my office. She thought it may have been the “ice cream man”. It was in fact the “sharpener man”, making his annual trek in and around our area. He sharpens knives of course, along with scissors, scythes( for the devils amongst us), lawnmower blades and perhaps more. Next year I will attempt to photograph him so as to immortalize this dying trade.

    • Thanks Barry. I would really like to see your knife-sharpener man. I would imagine lawn mower blades make good trade. I seem to remember my father forever sharpening the blades on the hover mower. Perhaps these niche trades are not as dead as we thought, being passed on from father to son. It would make a good photo theme – trades that are dying out. I might have to have a go.

  3. When we first moved to Spain the travelling knife/scissor sharpener would come round, which prompted Mr Tight Partner to get out his own whetstone and sharpen all our knives. After that, he started doing next doors’ too, they were running in and out of their house endlessly finding knives and scissors for him to sharpen. The travelling person stopped coming.

    At work, my father would sharpen a couple of knives on a steel, but the most frightening thing was when he sharpened the blade on the bacon machines. This was a ferocious activity and no-one was allowed near him, although he usually got a few spectators. He had to take the guard off the blade, use the stone to sharpen it and, because the machine was Ye Olde Fashionede turned by hande, his other hand would turn the wheel as fast as possible so that sparks were flying on the blade and stone. Because we sold quite a lot of bacon and ham he would have to do this two or three times a day. How there were never any accidents I’ll never know. One wrongly placed finger or whatever and it would have gone flying. At least it would have been a clean cut. Suppose he knew what he was doing.

    At home of course my mother sharpened the knives. On the kitchen doorstep.

    That looks a particularly wicked knife that your man is sharpening. It works nicely in b&w too. But street photog often does interestingly. A bit like a lot of alessandro’s photos.

    • So basically you are saying that A put the poor guy out of business by doing the work gratis? Shame on him! Your father sounds as if he was a real expert with the bacon slicer. The closest we had at home was the bread slicer. I think I still have a proper steel somewhere that was used for the carving knife and I also have a sort of double steel in a metal casing that we sharpen smaller knives on. The knife the man is sharpening – the machete thingy – is quite common in HK and occasionally we get horrible crimes committed by the triads, called strangely enough, choppings. Cleavers are nasty things.

      I was reading Barry’s comment about the “ice-cream” bell ringing of his local knife sharpener. I can just about remember the last of the rag and bone men coming round the streets of Hereford. Not quite Steptoe and Son but very similar. Always with a cart drawn by a horse like Hercules. I suppose that was recycling early 1960s style. It seems to have died out when I was a small kid as I don’t remember them in later years. Perhaps when the world finally goes to hell in a handbasket all these things will return. We can but hope.

      • Basically I’m saying that it’s a nightmare trying to give anything to our neighbours and yet they have helped us so much so anything we can do/give them for nothing is not just a pleasure it’s a relief. I doubt he went out of business due to one set of occasional punters.

        I do wish I had some photos of the market stall. Yet another bygone way of life.

        Was my bacon post before you started reading my blogs?
        Having been brought up with the stuff I can bore for Britain/Denmark/wherever on the stuff. Christmas Eve was fantastic. We would start really early so that my dad could stock pile enough sliced bacon, so that my mum and I could sell it and he would slice even more bacon while we were serving (plus cutting cheese, opening 55lb cheeses, cutting and opening boiled ham), but he still couldn’t keep up, by mid-morning the display counters were looking miserably thin. I used to enjoy cutting it but never got anywhere near his agility.

        What’s a bread slicer? Our post office cum bakery used to have a commercial one. All I’ve ever had has been bread knives.

        Yes, it did look rather machety ish but I’m not up on evil knives. Swiss Army Knife is the worst I get.

        We had rag and bone in Newcastle. We had a terrace house with a back street, so if the ‘rag bone’ didn’t get anything we put out, the neighbours took it anyway. We had a fine clean back street 😀 But that was 90s.

        It returns in a different way. That’s why we have freecycle, people like A raiding helpfully taking useful objects from bins, and people just passing on items. Do you remember the LETS concept? I’m not sure what use you and I would be in that though.

      • I will read the bacon post anon. I hope it was Caerphilly cheese you sold. A bread slicer is a slicer for slicing bread. We used to buy a whole loaf rather than Mother’s pride or Nimble and usually the bread knife came out. But then someone gave my mum a bread slicer – like a miniature bacon slicer no less. Put bread against blade, exert pressure, turn handle et voila! And you could vary the thickness of course. I don’t recall the LETS concept? Do explain 🙂

      • No it was not. It was Cheshire. Farmhouse Cheshire. I was gutted when I wrote the subsequent cheese post that I couldn’t find any photos of the HUGE cheeses we sold. Production seems to have declined somewhat 😦 Anyway, as well as being a bacon expert I quickly became a cheese expert. Although Cheshire is not dissimlar to Caerphilly, or Lancashire, or Wensleydale. But Cheshire was the cheese of choice where we lived, so Cheshire it was.

        We had a bakery near us when I was kid (well actually I seemed to later buy houses near bakeries for some reason), horrible stuff it was, not sure whether it was Sunblest or MP.

        Ah right, I get the concept of the slicer. That would be like, get loaf, get knife, put knife onto bread, exert pressure, and vary the thickness? What a neat invention.

        LETS was a trading thing. Without money. You just swap like for like. But who was to determine what was like for like? Labour for labour or labour for goods or goods for goods. Are organic veg worth more than pesticide ones? (for example)

        It might as well be called Lefts actually. It hardly caught on because it didn’t really benefit anyone with any dosh. Who is going to trade differential knowledge for something they can buy cheaper?

        At the time, the local council where I was working in the NHS was quite lefty. So it was talked about. But never taken seriously apart from by a few colleagues. I did like the concept and still do. It is just too radical, too threatening and too left-wing to ever get anywhere.

        Who is to say that childcare is equal to brain surgery? But as I remember the original idea was that labour was equally valuable. Which it clearly isn’t in a capitalist economy. But it does relate to my point about exchange above.

        There’s something about it on wiki. Must go to the shops and buy as no-one wants to trade my writing for goods 😦

  4. A real stunner. All the elements fit together perfectly like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Plus, the light, the espression, the activity… everything conspired for the perfect street portrait. Just great!

  5. Yup, fails on one count, but makes up for it so so well, with that BIG smile of his. Great photo Andrew. Just makes you smile in response. xPenx

    • HK people are usually grumpy about photographs and put their hands up. If they do, I just move on. This chap was fine. Nice wide grin. A happy chappy.

  6. Do you think he knows what the words on the shirt say? At any rate, they are trivial when considering this man’s skill and obvious enjoyment of his trade.
    This is exactly the sort of photograph that proves you should be doing street shooting as well as your beloved birds and insects, Andrew. You have told a nice story and shown us a delightful person with the image even before your words have been read.

    • Steve, I doubt if he knows but yes, the key is the cheerful demeanour. Happy in his work. So rare nowadays. Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.

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