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Sunday 21st September 2014
Max 18°C | Min 11°C

Man's greatest achievement - not getting sticky

Posted by Nick Abbot on July 07, 2014 at 13:25PM

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Summer this year has so far been a blink and you'll miss it affair, but it lasted long enough to cause an explosion of Coca-Cola in Somerset. Not an explosion of sales, an explosion of the actual drink itself.


A man, I will call him Michael Knight, because that is his name, left an unopened can of the cloying syrup on the back seat of his car while he attended to his business, whatever that was, it's none of my business.


It was a hot day but he took the precaution of covering the canned beverage with a towel, so as to shield it from the sun. Something that some people don't even do if they leave their dog in the car. Or their children.


He admits that the vehicle may have become hot while parked but even Coca-Cola would concede that it should not be necessary to leave the engine running and the air conditioning on when leaving one of their products unattended.


It is a good job that he did leave it unattended as, while he was away, it exploded, covering the inside of his vehicle with a brown sticky residue. If there is one colour you do not want a sticky residue to be, it is brown. Fortunately, not much damage was done, as it was a Citroen. No offence.


He said it was a good job that his grandchildren were not in the car at the time, and he is right, as he might have been prosecuted for leaving infants in a baking hot car.


Coca-Cola has said that they will be investigating the incident. You bet they will. I imagine that lawyers with fearsome reputations were roused from their slumbers and sent charging into action and that the finest engineering minds were bent to discovering exactly what had gone wrong and whether it could happen again.


They are fortunate the incident did not occur in somewhere more dangerous, like the United States of America, where they might have been up to their eyeballs in laws suits by now.


What is extraordinary about this incident is how extraordinary it is. Billions of highly pressurised cans of fizzy drink are produced every year, in facilities in all the corners of the planet, even the ones where water is hard to come by, and the incidence of them exploding is so rare that when one does, it makes the news.


Think of the engineering precision that is involved. The tin is so thin as to be lightweight, but so strong as to hold the contents securely when being transported in trucks with steel girders for axles, over roads that are more pot-hole that tarmac. They can withstand earthquakes and temperatures that would please both penguins and rattlesnakes and their failure rate is so negligible that we do not even consider the possibility of it occurring.


The tins are strong enough to endure everything that careless humans can throw at them and yet are as easy to open as a banana. A child weakened by a sugar deficiency can extract the viscous nectar with such ease that they could be blithely updating their Facebook status while they are doing it: “Still not covered in goo lolz 2G2BT ;-)” That sort of thing.


Consider also the remarkable feat of reliability that is the coffee cup. Millions of the things are bought every hour. A Styrofoam cup is filled with contents hot enough the peel away the inside of your mouth, and a cap is casually popped on top. The cost of this receptacle is so negligible as to be practically free. You would have to buy thousands of them to put a dent in the spare change you could find on the pavement outside a Starbucks and yet they are so dependable that entire companies place their economic future in their security.


As a customer, we do not even think of the chance that they will fail. We buy the boiling liquid, trust that the person that sold it to us is better at fitting the cap than they are at the English language, and tip the contents towards ourselves, thereby exposing to great danger our most precious, if criminally underused, personal parts.


That containers so disposable can be simultaneously so predictable, is an astonishing feat. It is testament to the ability of Man to make even the most banal and disposable utterly dependable.


It is not surprising that the Coca-Cola can exploded in that man's car in the baking sun. What is amazing is that it doesn't happen all the time.

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