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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 52 - Old geezer shows his cork age

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.

Others of 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.

I hate 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 gates.

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, exhausted.

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 machinery.

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.

Avoid cases 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 up.

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.

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