Miles Kington: How an industry found itself in a twist

The British public was paying through the nose for our crazy devices. It could not last
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The Independent Online

For years nothing had happened to make corkscrews interesting.

Then suddenly there was the Screwpull.

And there was the carbon dioxide spike which you stuck through the cork to force it out.

And after that there were all those corkscrews looking like car jacks, which exerted enormous force through exquisite use of leverage, and which everyone got each other for Christmas.

Then it all went a bit pear-shaped because someone decided that corks in wine bottles were actually not such a great idea (they were the main cause of wine being corked), so screw tops were the best thing for wine bottles after all.

And corks started being phased out. And so did corkscrews.

You can't use a corkscrew for anything else but removing corks, can you?

Or can you?

Let us go straight over to the emergency crisis talks at the HQ of the corkscrew biz, Hernia House, named after the most common injury caused by corkscrew use.

Yes, here in the Great Hall of Hernia House, several hundred of the top execs of the corkscrew industry are gathered in sombre mood under the chairmanship of Sir Basil Crudgeon, CEO of Megapull. Crudgeon is the most respected man in the cork-withdrawing business. His huge red nose and wine-stained shirt attest to his expertise. All fall silent as he gets to his feet and sips from a glass of what may be water, but probably isn't.

Crudgeon: Ladies and gentlemen, oh, and any wine waiters present! Laughter. The last time I rose to address you all, the mood was euphoric. It was two years ago. We were making sillier and sillier corkscrews, and the public were buying them all. We made corkscrews which looked like dredging equipment. We made corkscrews which looked like artesian oil-well machinery. There was even one firm - I will not name it - which made a corkscrew indistinguishable from a machine which performs an enema. At least, so I am told. I do not know how an enema is performed. I have ignored the golden rule: Know Thine Enema. More laughter. We now know that these were the golden years of corkscrew production. We sold every corkscrew we could make, and as a result the average British household now has 11 corkscrews on the premises.

Voice: And seven of them still in their Christmas wrapping and unused! Huge cheers.

Crudgeon: Quite right, sir ! We could not believe our luck. We knew, if nobody else knew, that the Waiter's Friend, a simple corkscrew costing virtually nothing, was the best corkscrew ever invented. And yet the British public was paying through the nose for our crazy devices! Cheering, if a little fainter. It could not last. No cheering. Sooner or later the bubble would burst ... Talking of bubbles, I would like to raise a glass to the champagne industry, which still has no use for screw-top technology, and indeed to the whole murky world of sparkling wine, which has as a whole fought off the introduction of screw tops! I think I am right in saying that no sparkling product has gone over to the dreaded screw top ...

Voice: Oh no? What about Coca Cola ?

Crudgeon: I am talking about grown-up drinks, sir.A sound not unlike laughter. But I also believe I am right in saying that if we do not come up with another use for corkscrews, we are sunk. What we have done is to perfect a device which sinks a spiral into softer matter. Up to now that other softer matter has always been cork. But cork is now being replaced in wine bottles, and we are faced with the dread question: What on earth can a corkscrew do except remove a cork???

It is not often that we find an entire industry staring into the abyss. Perhaps we ought to return to the subject tomorrow, to see if they come up with any good ideas, or simply commit mass suicide.