Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The ultimate Swiss Army Knife

Have you ever wondered why Switzerland has not been invaded in recent memory? Could it be because of that knife carried by the Swiss Army?

If so, the arms race is escalating. A new Giant Swiss Army Knife has been introduced that features 85 different devices and weighs two pounds. This from Andrew Martin in the Guardian:
… Grotesque, if superbly engineered, the Giant weighs nearly a kilogram and features 85 devices in all. Unload this mother into the plastic tray as you walk through security at Heathrow and just see what happens.

The Giant is supposed to feature every blade that has ever been incorporated into Swiss Army knives as made by Wenger, one of the two firms that make them . "We've sold 20 to retailers so far, and we can't get them in fast enough," says Garry Woodhouse of Whitby and Co, sole importer of Wenger knives into Britain. "They're assembled by hand in Switzerland, and I'm told that the man doing it is working his fingers to the bone."

This might explain why my version of the Giant seems to have its tools arranged in a different order from the listing on the Wenger website, so that I am in danger of mistaking the reamer for the golf-club face cleaner, or committing the faux pas of attempting to use the fish-hook disgorger to tighten my bicycle spokes. And I admit that I just can't find some of the devices that I know are definitely in there: the mysterious "special key", for example, or the elusive "12/20 gauge choke tube tool".

None the less, I have successfully employed the cigar cutter, the flashlight, the laser pointer with 300ft range, the mineral crystal magnifying glass (rather beautiful, the way such an apparently delicate instrument is honed at its end into yet another screwdriver), the tyre-tread gauge measurer and the corkscrew. It took a mere four minutes to remove the cork with the Giant, incidentally - a matter of holding the bottle between my feet, leaving both hands free to revolve the cumbrous contraption.

…although Swiss rationality and neutrality are often mistaken for wimpishness, Swiss mercenaries were long considered the most reliably vicious in Europe. The infantrymen of the Swiss Confederation were particularly skilled in the use of very nasty-looking pointy things, including crossbow bolts and the 18ft pikes with which they fought off the Habsburgs at the Battle of Morgarten in 1315. (The pikes carried by the Papal Swiss Guard are an echo of this battle.)

Even George Bush might think twice about invading Switzerland, where every man is required to do regular stints of military service, and keeps his kit, including his gun and his knife, at home in between . The version of the knife that is actually issued to the Swiss army, by the way, does not feature a corkscrew. Versions with bottle openers, however, were particularly popular with American GIs, and today 50% of Swiss Army knives are sold to America. I'll bet that most Americans who own a gun also own a Swiss Army knife. It off ers the same fantasy - ever more attractive in our apocalyptic age - of self-reliance in extremis. The very chunkiness of the Giant knife points up the liberating portability and specifi city of most other versions, even the "white collar" knives such as the Ambassador, which features a toothpick (for the reflective aftermath of all those banquets) but not, of course, a can opener; or the Manager, which features an orange peeler for those craven lunches taken at the desk rather than down the pub with the workers.
You can read his entire column here.

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