Miles Kington: You never know when a corkscrew will come in handy

I have seen hardened reporters reduced to tears because they are carrying around 75cl of wine which they can't get at
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When I first went to work in Fleet Street, an experienced journalist said to me: "If you're thinking of a career in journalism, young Kington, can I just give you a piece of advice...?"

I was all ears. This could change my whole writing style, maybe even my life.

"Always have a corkscrew on you," he said. "You'd be amazed how often several newspapermen find themselves with a bottle of wine or two, and no means of opening them. I have seen hardened reporters reduced to tears because they are carrying around 75cl of wine which they can't get at."

This wasn't quite the earth-shattering tip I was hoping for, but I followed his advice anyway. I bought one of those penknives called a waiter's friend, a corkscrew with small blade attached, and very useful it was too. I did even once find myself in the very situation which the journalist had forecast, when some fellow hacks had a bottle of wine and no way of entering it - "Kington! You've got a corkscrew! You're a hero!" - but generally it was just useful having a penknife to open, scrape, cut and scratch things.

(Once, when I was driving back from a concert with my friend Barlow, his car had a flat tyre and we were prevented from changing wheels by the fact that he couldn't get the hub cap off. While he fumed and swore, I had a brainwave. I produced my waiter's friend and inserted the tip of the corkscrew under the hub cap and pulled. It came off. I was a hero again.)

Now, it would be foolish to pretend that you can go through life solving all your problems with a corkscrew, though some people in Fleet Street thought you could, but I've never regretted carrying one around with me, not even when they started "improving" the design of the corkscrew. I was quite impressed by the basic Screwpull when it came out, and bought a couple of them. Not at the same time. I bought the first one first, and when it broke after a while, I then bought the second, though when that broke as well I stopped buying Screwpulls. Then came all those black, massy, industrial cork-extractors which looked more like bits of heavy engineering than a corkscrew. I was given one once as a Christmas present by a relative who liked gadgets and who assumed that everyone else did too. I found it hard to use, and ground my teeth over it regularly till, luckily, it too broke.

But by that time my wife had come to my rescue by buying me one of those big things you see attached to counters in wine bars, with a handle like a beer pull, where you stuff the bottle up the bottom end, pull the handle sharply down and up, and hey presto! The cork is out.

It sits in our kitchen to this day, proud and confident, ready for duty like a ship's cannon waiting to be fired. It removes every cork. Nothing defeats it. Except, alas, plastic corks. Faced with a plastic cork, the giant screw behaves a bit like the sword in "Jabberwocky" ... "One, two! One, two! And through and through, The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!" and comes right out again, without a cork on the end of it.

That's where a waiter's friend still wins. Not only does it sit in your pocket, but it can deal smoothly with a plastic cork ...

But wait! What is this? My God, it is the screw-cap revolution! It is the notion that if you get rid of corks, you can never have corked wine, and that whereas we were all once taught that screw tops were the sign of a cheap wine, we are now being programmed to think the opposite.

It will be the end of cork tree groves everywhere, we are told. Never mind about that - it will be the end of corkscrews and waiter's friends!

And when young men who are about to embark on a career as a journalist come to me for advice, what shall I tell them?

Check your facts, verify your references, and seek out the truth, no matter what?

It sounds plausible. But it doesn't have the same ring as "Never be without a corkscrew," does it?