Rio de Janeiro is hot at this time of year as it’s high summer, and the contrast after leaving the winter in Hove is startling.
On our second evening, completely unpacked, I stand in the hot bathroom vigorously using my electric toothbrush in the prescribed manner. I notice that the bottle of Listerine mouthwash (Zero Alcohol of course!) we brought out from England is unopened. My toothbrush is in my right hand but, being reasonably ambidextrous, I think I can multitask ….. despite being a man! Occasionally I’ve done more than two things at once; do I hear applause from you men (?) or is this drowned out by cries of disbelief from you women?
Anyway, the Listerine bottle has a childproof top (boy! sometimes it’s bloody adult proof) and one of those plastic wrappers with a thoughtful arrowed part down its side to make it easy to open. With my left hand I grasp the bottle and try using a fingernail to rip the plastic; I continue to clean my teeth. After some minutes, the only progress I’ve made is to change the colour of the plastic from clear to white …. but no rip! I give up. I finish my teeth cleaning, take a pair of nail-clippers from my bag and cut the plastic. Result!
It got me thinking of other times when I have really struggled with packaging. Some modern plastic is particularly strong, some very brittle. I was on a business trip to Japan some years ago and raided the hotel minibar before going out for dinner. That bloody plastic bag of peanuts! I remember spending some 10 minutes pulling, tearing, ripping ….. I would have died of hunger if I hadn’t stopped, glaring at the unopened bag which seemed to say: “I won!” (Or whatever the Japanese equivalent is?)
Celina loves French mustard and if we’re eating out somewhere it often comes in a little plastic sachet (we go to all the posh places!!). At the top it says “tear” – being helpful I guess. So you try and tear it – along that little dotted line. Nothing happens! You check you’re in the right place and try again. Nothing happens! In desperation you get a fork and push a tine into the plastic sachet – often with so much force that mustard squirts out in all directions! Agh!
My dear step-father Philip believed that if something was difficult to unscrew, you should tighten it first. The Gherkin glass jar top was tight; I tried tightening it but nothing happened. I knew if I put a rubber band around a top, I would get a better purchase. Nothing happened. There was a little pressure inside; I gripped and twisted, I gripped and tightened, I got my arms lower to get a better angle of attack ……. and after some 5 minutes eventually it popped open; I felt I had been in the gym!
Part of my daily medication is an Asprin and they come in a foil pack. For some reason better known to the manufacturer, the foil is quite thick. Actually I think there’s a micron of plastic on the underside of the foil for …. freshness?! Maybe they think Asprin is a dangerous drug as it is extremely difficult to push the little tablet out through the foil. If I had arthritic hands, it would have been impossible. Not sure why they aren’t sold in a simple plastic tub with a twist-off lid?
Whenever I see plastic simply elongating under the force from my hands, I think of Young’s Modulus of Elasticity. This English scientist proved that material will revert to its original shape once a force is removed, providing it has not past a certain point. If that point is exceeded, the material will ‘run’ until it breaks. Sometimes I think modern strong plastic hasn’t heard of Thomas Young!
I buy yoghurt in 500ml plastic containers (Yeo Valley if you’re interested!). It has a hard plastic cap, and then a flimsy piece that seals in the yoghurt. I take the corner and rip it off; most of the times I’m successful, but sometimes I end up with little strips of plastic. So I remove it all and put it in the bin. Sometime the next day you remember that those friendly people at Yeo Valley have printed the ‘use by’ date …… on the piece of plastic now in the bin!
I bought a bag of Pasta the other day ……. and it was a plastic bag. It had one of those little ‘replace for freshness’ stickers you could fold over the bag once you had taken some pasta out ….. but the type of plastic is too brittle, making it almost impossible to actually open the bag easily. The plastic rips and the pasta spills out. So you decant it into a container.
Before this rant ends, how about Cling Film? (glad wrap/pvc/plastic wrap) The most useful material in a kitchen but woe betide you if you don’t cut it cleanly. I’ve watched grown men and women weep at the frustration of trying to clear a piece/find the start/get it to come off the roll cleanly.
A year ago it was almost impossible to extract one brush from a pack of three Braun replacement electric toothbrushes; they’ve got much better!! Pray that the Listerine bottle will similarly improve. Just some idle thoughts for the new year.
Richard Yates – firstname.lastname@example.org