Soft Soap

1 Conversation

"Job for you", says the wife. Dumping something on the breakfast table with a dull thud, she leaves.

"Mmmmmmmmmm", comes my automated reply, then, three minutes later, as the front door bangs shut, I lower the newspaper and see it. A sudden chill courses through my veins. There in front of me stands my Nemesis. Essential chamomile and vanilla handwash it says on the bottle, a plastic job containing 300ml of white liquid soap. From the screw-top lid emerges a pump handle.

Now, there are two ways to get soap out of a bottle like this:

  1. Unscrew the top – it comes away with the pump still attached – then invert the bottle and wait for approximately 72 hours for some of the high-viscosity liquid to emerge.

  2. Use a variety of cutting tools to destroy the plastic bottle, resulting in a gnarled, soapy mess.

Sadly, the wife wanted an unlisted option, which, to be fair, is the method recommended by the vendor. This option – to release the pump – is physically impossible. Yes, I know that on the side of the bottle is printed the direction "Twist pump to open", but this is clearly off in the realms of product marketing fantasy, a little like those "serving suggestion" pictures which show your oven-ready chili con carne served on a plate alongside a lime, a cinnamon stick, a generous handful of jalapeños and a sombrero.

You can twist the pump clockwise. It rotates. Similarly, you can twist it anticlockwise. You can press down while twisting it in either direction. You can apply upwards pressure. The pump won't budge. All it ever does is rotate. It never opens or releases or moves vertically to any degree whatsoever.

"Ah", the wife would say, were she to be watching you from a safe distance, "You need to find the point at which it will release. You should feel a little bump at some angle as you twist it." Well, guess what? There isn't any bump. Neither is there any if you rock the pump back and forth, or if you hold the bottle upside down, or if you unscrew the cap a little "to equalise the pressure". Some soap dispensers have a little arrow indicating the direction the pump handle should point to release it. Let it be known that this is a cruel joke perpetrated by plastic bottle designers in an industry which otherwise rarely gets the chance to let its hair down.

You then resort to assistance in the form of tooling. Grasping the cap with an adjustable wrench, then easing the pump handle upwards with a claw hammer seems a good idea, yet produces no results. Neither does wedging the bottle into a vice, then ramming a slot-head screwdriver down the tiny gap between the pump and the cap. In fact, the only result I ever got from the DIY angle was when I once decided it needed some downwards pressure, and therapeutically smashed it as hard as I could with a club hammer. Indeed the pump moved, but only because the plastic cap had shattered entirely, resulting in unsightly pink soap stains on a tablecloth – a wedding present, I'm frequently reminded – which oddly never did quite come off in the wash.

Another thing you can do is to shake the bottle vigorously for 20 minutes, or stand it in a bowl of hot water, or leave it in the freezer compartment overnight, or roll it down a flight of stairs, or bury it in peat for three months. None will help, believe me. Even toddlers who can successfully break their way into anything child-proof in seconds will be foxed.

For these things are sent to try us.

Yet, there is hope. You need a little belief, as it's all in your head. Listen to your inner voice repeatedly chanting the mantra "I can open this bleeping bottle". Work through all the options listed above (apart from the one with the club hammer, of course), then when your goodwill is spent, your tools are blunted, your body lies broken, and the focus of your labours sits cheerily upright on the table, wait for the wife to return. She will make some ribald comment about you not remembering to open the soap bottle, then pick it up and say, "Oh, there's no need now, I've just done it myself."

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