Q: What’s the difference between a can-opener and a chainsaw?


A: A chainsaw will actually open a can.

Seriously, the basic function of a can opener is in its title – that is to open cans. So why can can-opener manufacturers not make a can-opener that does just that! Now, I am not a complete numpty when it comes to mechanics and engineering. Well, okay, I am pretty close to being one, but surely it can’t be that hard.

My first experience with a can-opener was a green and bone coloured monster which was attached to a wall in the kitchen of my childhood. Mum would allow us to sit on the bench to use this anchored behemoth to crack open cans of cubed fruit which she would then turn into a variety of party foods such as cubed fruit in port wine jelly or cubed fruit in green jelly. I even have a vague memory of cubed fruit in yellow jelly but that may have just been me fantsizing.

Anyway, the can-opener had a locking mechanism which meant the can would stay suspended in-situ while the handle moved cogs revolving the can under the cutting wheel. The fact that the opened can did not fall to the ground with an explosion of fruit and juice always amazed me and possibly is the reason that I believe Houdini will return.

But even then this engineering masterpiece, which rivalled the Pyramid of Cheops, failed more times than it worked. Large chunks of tin were left in tact to stare back at my mother who would revert to a variety of implements and  “grown-up words” to entice the lid off or the fruit out.

A trade-up was inevitable and soon we had an electric can-opener. That isn’t one that opens electric cans. It is a powerful, turbo charged, lock-and-load, cans beware, 240-volt, 50-hertz lid extraction device. And away we went. Cans hid in fear as the throb of the can-opener echoed throughout the kitchen. On day one, no can was safe. By day three the cans had rallied and were outwitting yet another can-opener. Mr Kenwood was relegated to just another Step 1: in the can opening process (step 2 being the aforementioned variety of tools and profanities).

Now many years later, in fact just yesterday, I was faced with these same challenges which still haunt me. I have two can-openers. One is a sold metal, never-fail, scout issued unit which we used to use when I was a wee lad and we went out camping. The other is a new fangled, brushed steel, two cogs, two blade, uber-opener from Ikea. You may ask why have I two can-openers when one is a “never-fail” and one is an “uber-opener”. Let me just say this – can-openers lie. Don’t believe them. They suck you in with promises of a good time and a life-time commitment only to leave you stranded on the curb with a suitcase full of unopened tin cans. {sigh}

Can-opener one pierced the lid. With a twist of thumb and forefinger I rotate the butterfly handle to turn the cogs which in turn grasps the lip of the can, easing it in a circular motion under the cutting blade.

Well, the theory is there. The reality is: with a twist of thumb and forefinger I rotate the butterfly handle only to have the cogs let go of the lip like a baby elephant hanging from a helicopter runner. (I know, that doesn’t make much sense but there is something in the imagery that amuses me. Don’t worry, the elephant falls onto a truck laden with duck feathers. Bet the ducks wished they weren’t still wearing them.)

Anyway, the cogs gave way and the can stared back at me with a single, perfectly positioned hole. I consider a career in a body piercing parlour while attempting three more can incursions only to be repelled at all attempts. My never-fail can-opener had once again failed. Bring on can-opener two.

This beasty is meant for opening cans. It is silver, gleaming, bladed and new. It’s teeth grasp the can in a vice like grip and the solid handle moves effortlessly as the blades cut through the first centimetres of can lid. The can shudders and gathering all its strength, fights back with a buck and a twist. The opener leaps over a solid 3 centimetres of lid and plunges once more into the receptacle’s crown. Two more centimetres and again the can repels the flesh eating blades.

And so it goes. Now I have a half opened can, as is my lot in life. I start to question the can designers and ask why don’t they provide a key like on the old Spam tins? Not to be defeated I reposition the can-opener and try again, and again. I take out a knife and slide it into the open wound of the can, prising the lid up and turning the once circular tin into a mangled ovoid shape. My mother’s words of years ago flood back and I start to echo them until I realise that the even the chickens in the yard are covering their ears in disgust.

I grab the bottle opener – you know the ones with the bottle opener at one end and the thing that makes holes in cans on the other. They used to use them before ring pulls and you could open a can with them by making a series of diamond shaped perforations around the circumference of the can. The bonus of these was that you ended up with an open can and a ninja throwing star.

But by now, the knife and so called can openers had so disfigured the can that my latest assault would not work either. Enter the chainsaw.

Now, we had a lovely Moroccan spiced goat meal even with the hint of motor oil which I cleverly passed off as exotic herbs. I know that the next can I open will have none of these problems and the can opener of choice will work like a charm. I also realise that it is just lulling me into a false sense of security.

I am not a greedy man. I think I am fairly understanding of the difficulties associated wth inventions and manufacturing. But in the decades since the green and bone coloured leviathen adorned my childhood kitchen, one would think that someone would have come up with a can opern that worked more than 35% of teh time.

Am I asking too much?

PS: Tonight’s ingredients are from a jar!

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