I HAD a corking time recently. I
had been trying to open a bottle of champagne - as one does when life is
dull and grey - and with a few expert wrist-twists, the result of long,
hedonistic practice, I expected the cork to be released with a discreet
pop, followed by a well-controlled geyser.
The cork, however, remained
firm, as if superglued. I tried again, the veins, doubtless, standing out
on my forehead. I felt like a desert wanderer seeing the mirage of an
oasis. The glasses were ready, the guests waited, but the refreshment
seemed as unreachable as that vision.
In a macho strength trial, I
tried another round with the cork, but retired defeated.
the male persuasion, smiling at an old geezer showing his cork age,
grappled with the top, but displayed an equal lack of bottle.
Then my wife
suggested an emergency measure - bear down into the top with a cork-screw
and heave as if hauling an anchor. That I did. The result was like a new
gusher spouting oil with liberal quantities of ex-pensive giggle-water
splashing onto guests, including the birthday one.
opening times. I must have misspent hours trying to unscrew resistant
bottle tops, force open jars and dig deeply and inefficiently into cans
with openers, leaving serrated edges and cut fingers.
It is an
open secret in this tension-ridden realm that much of the nationís stress
results from manufacturers of products, with minds that are a closed book
to me, who create containers that defy easy opening.
Vacuum-packed jars can be a particular torment. Some contain instructions
to press down the lid and then twist, others merely advise turning the
top, when I often have to use about the same force needed to close a damís
Often I go through a medieval-type ritual of tapping
the lid on a flat surface, then running the jar under hot water, tapping
it again and trying another twist until the jar gives in, or I give up,
Sometimes, after pulling a canís ring top and
finding it break off, trying to open a bottle of sparkling mineral water
without it either incontinently discharging liquid or the tinfoil top
turning without unscrewing, or fruitlessly attempting to open a cardboard
pack of batteries from the designated area at the back, I feel like one
who, passing through the furnace of life, has got caught up in the
Sardine tins once had a wretchedly-inadequate key to
open them that often left the metal top only partially un-rolled. That, in
the brand I use, has been replaced by a ring-pull, like a parachute
release, which, maddeningly, plunges me into gloom when it sometimes snaps
off and I have to use a can opener.
I have lost count of my
disintegration days, when wine corks crumpled in pulling, opened milk
cartons, that could be converted into pourers, squirted liquid from every
aperture except the right one, heavy plastic wrapping prov- ed as
impenetrable as a suit of armour and restaurantsí sauce, mustard and
vinegar sachets seemed impenetrable except with a stiletto, a Swiss Army
knife or oneís teeth.
My agonised opening world has been made more
uncomfortable by suitcase keys - many are more like tiny trinkets than
useful implements. Mostly they work, but sometimes they revolve in the
lock and malevolently refuse to open or close the case.
fitted with combination locks. If you forget the code you may need a
safe-cracker or, as I did on one holiday, a handyman with pliers to open
Too many container manufacturers need strips torn off them like key-using
corn beef cans. I appeal to them to make life easier for consumers who
have better things to do than banging jars on sink tops, using special
opening tools or shoving corkscrews down champagne bottles. I rest my case
- an open and shut one.
En passant, in reply to Craig Pritchettís letter,
last Saturday, about my earlier article on chess, I must point out that I
expressed regret that there was no national plan to promote chess in
Scottish schools similar to one Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary,
envisages for England.
I rejoice at the regional initiatives Mr Pritchett
instanced, but when I contacted the Educational Institute of Scotland and
Scottish Executive spokesmen, I was told there was no national plan. I did
check - mate.