Fortunately the sobriquet Mac the Knife did not stick

For a brief moment I was known as Mac the Knife, fitting in two respects – the incident did involve a knife and my surname was McCleland which is close enough to Mac. How did a docile 15 year old end up hospitalising his close friend by literally shafting him?

Main picture: The errant knife was similar to this one but rustier and worn

In Standard Seven a new boy appeared in my class, Michael Henderson. His mother had recently emigrated to South Africa from Rhodesia. For whatever reason there was an immediate bond between Michael Henderson, Michael Baker and I. The three of us would wonder together around the playing fields during the school breaks. We were not amongst the main manne or the rokers who seemed to frequent the Tuck Shop. Furthermore they were always buzzing around the girls having the best on display. In fact we never entered the Tuck Shop as we had too little pocket money. In any case, we took sandwiches for lunch – normally peanut butter. So uncool, so square, so not main man

The Alexander Road High School Badge

The Alexander Road High School Badge

The other reason for avoiding the Tuck Shop is that it was reserved for the in-crowd only. This included all the school’s sportsmen especially the rugby players.

A cunning plan was devised. We would become main manne by playing rugby. Not that any of us possessed any inkling of the rules of the game or even any inclination to play rugby but if the key to access to the chairs in the Tuck Shop was by playing rugby, we would conform to the social rules.

Rugby at Alex

Using borrowed kit, we attended our first practice given by our gym instructor, Mr Parker. Not being aware that forward passes were inadmissible, I gaily passed the ball forward much to everybody’s chagrin.

Whilst playing centre in my second training match, I was in the right place at the right time. Two metres from the opposition’s try line, I was passed the ball, ran two steps and dotted the ball down.

My first try!

I was on my way to being one of the in-crowd.

Rugby at Alex#2

It was not to be. My rugby ability was so poor that I failed to be selected even for the XCs– the Extra Cr*p – Team.

With our ambitions thwarted by Mr Parker, we opted out of that option.

At this point, Michael Henderson appeared at school every day with a huge pocket knife. For all that we knew, it could originally have been a Swiss Army knife, but with no plastic sides its make was unknown. This rusty old knife was Michael’s beloved toy. He would flash the rusty blade around whenever he had the opportunity. Then a pernicious habit arose: “pegging” one’s shoes. As we walked he would throw it at our feet, sometimes striking the shoe itself.

Alexander Road High School

Alexander Road High School

Despite numerous entreaties to desist, Michael continued “pegging” us during every break.

Finally one day the inevitable occurred. The consequence wasn’t that the knife had penetrated my shoe leather deeply but rather that I snapped as it could have been more serious. In a rage I pulled the blade from my shoe and threw the knife uncontrollably at Michael.

The THUD was almost audible from the Tuck Shop. Protruding from his leg was the shaft of the blade. It had penetrated right through his leg.


For once – when I did not need any attention or being noticed by anyone – there was I, the centre of attention of all the main manne.

From the gathering crowd, it happened – a shrill cry arose: Mac the Knife.

The blade was so deeply embedded in the bone that it took a half an hour operation to remove.

The worst part was apologising to his mother and to Michael himself.

I received the knife as a souvenir but was still not part of the main manne.

Mac the Knife

My brief moment of fame and adoration of the main manne – or was that infamy – was now over.

With Michael H banished from the trio, it became the duo of Michael B and I which would still eat our home-made peanut butter sandwiches instead of eating cool food of the main manne such as burgers and hotdogs in the Tuck Shop.

My fate was now in the hands of the Head Master, Mr Winston Cordingly, with whom I would partake in a one-onone tete-a-tete in his office. Psychologically I would be scarred for life after the universal remedy was applied, Six of the Best.

Instead it was worn as a Badge of Honour.

I was one of the main manne.

For a brief moment only

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