Saturday, November 16, 2013

Plastic fantastic?

Much has been written about the pros and cons of plastic soldiers and, of course, apart from some Games Workshop Lord of the Rings figures, I haven't actually finished many of the dozens of boxes worth I have  bought.  I don't have any great aversion to them it's just that I never finish much of anything these days and I was positively enjoying painting the Perry Miniatures plastic Prussians.  Some are just poor anatomically (Gripping Beast Vikings) but plastics are getting better all the time.  Price isn't an issue for me but some of them are expensive anyway.  The price variation in plastic historicals seems wider than that in metals.

Plastic is lighter of course and I was reminded of the increasing importance of this when reaching for a bottle of red wine in Houston airport yesterday.  On my way to Bogota again with the lovely S in tow we thought it might be a good plan to grab something red for a nightcap, given that we weren't arriving at the hotel until around 11.00pm.  The selection of red wine was frankly pathetic but there was a likely looking generic Australian shiraz which would act as a suitable relaxant.  Anyway I grabbed it and, shockingly, it deformed under my fingers.  It was plastic!  Or ratherpolyethylene terephthalate (PET), to be exact.

Now the Legatus well remembers plastic wine bottles from his childhood, which you could get in hypermarkets like Mammouth in the south of France in the sixties.  One litre for 50 centimes in a strangely industrial looking square bottle, with a flip off cap, which looked like it should contain bleach instead of wine.  Indeed, the taste of this wine was fairly indistinguishable from household cleaner and my father only used it for cooking.  Even at the age of ten my palate was sufficiently developed that I realised that this stuff was to be avoided. I didn't have any again until a holiday I had in the Loire valley with my best friend, my girlfriend and my immediate ex-girlfriend. (only slightly difficult).  It was my friend's turn to buy the wine for our picnic and  as he was someone who could be politely described as careful with money we ended up with one of these litre plastic bottles of red which, after twelve years, was just as bad as I remembered it.

Well, S and I were in a hurry and there wasn't much choice so I paid the (no doubt exorbitant) $12 and picked it up at the gate in that strange way that Houston airport handles duty free.  Incidentally, why is it that wine drinkers are penalised by duty free shops?  There are big savings on spirits but wine always seems to be more expensive than it would be in the shops.  In the end it was worth it financially, as the 18.75 cl bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon in the minibar worked out at about £10, or £40 a bottle. More importantly 18.75 centilitres wouldn't have gone very far between the two of us. 

So what was it like, our plastic-clad wine?  Actually rather good.  Perhaps a little lacking in definition, lightweight, some blurring at the edges?  No it was very nice.  Not that it lasted very long.  Fortunately S had bought one too which we are drinking now even though it's only 4.30 in the afternoon.  Well it's 9.30pm in England anyway.  Her excuse is that it is lunchtime in Vancouver.

The key issue for producers and shippers is that a PET bottle only weighs 54 grammes as against the 400 grammes of a glass bottle. Cutting down weight means less fuel expended in moving it around.  All good news for the environment and the bottles are recyclable (although not as recyclable as glass). There have, inevitably, been questions about plasticides leaking into the wine but this is not the sort of wine you are going to lay down in your cellar.

What with plastic soldiers and now plastic bottles of wine I wondered how soon it would be before we got plastic women which would really finish the Legatus off.  S pointed out that you can already buy very realistic plastic women, not just those inflatable ones beloved of bad comedy films.  They don't complain, nag and you don't have to buy them expensive lingerie (actually some of the "collectors" do I gather) but then the Legatus has always preferred an active rather than a passive woman so that would be one plastic product too far.  Soldiers yes, wine bottles possibly, women no.  Of course the real thing is best in the first two as well, really...


  1. Very amusing Legatus! I enjoy plastic soldiers, plastic bottles of cider and would not turn my nose up at a plastic woman as long as she came with an off switch!

  2. An off switch! Brilliant! That would be a necessity!

  3. I heard on the radio yesterday that they are now experimenting with paper bottles for wine, too.


  4. A brilliant post, I concur that a plastic woman is a step to far in my opinion, give me real any day.

  5. I think a paper bottle is a step too far. You need to be able to see the liquid within otherwise its just a milk carton. That's the reason I don't buy wine boxes.

  6. Plastic figures... they took me a while to get used to, but they are OK...but I do get annoyed by the multi-pose-ability of some ranges which frankly just take far too long to put together with is a huge off put to even getting started...

    Plastic wine bottle - I hadn't come across these as yet... as much as I do enjoy a quality tipple, I am too much of a scrooge to buy the good stuff, and my scheckels invariably buy the cheap 3L winebox (I tell myself it leaves more funds for buying miniatures!)...

    Plastic women... must admit I have caught the weird late night documentary show on Discovery or where-ever that has highlighted these 'prosthetic women' and the people who buy/use them... I have to say I was rather mystified at the appeal... but each to their own, who I am to judge, and as long as they are happy and not causing anyone else any harm, I will refrain from judgement... I did chuckle a bit though! ;-)

    I suppose the interesting bit will be when and if they become robotic ally active - can cook your meal, hoover, do the dishes, iron your shirt, and ahem 'other things' upon command... and as you say an off button... ;-) no whinging, no nagging... conjures up images of the Stepford wives or one of those robot world shows, with Yul Brynner...

    A thought provoking post Mr Legatus! ;-)

  7. Yet another interesting post!

    I do have a question, though, further to a couple of years' worth of reading your blog.

    Out of curiosity, may I ask whether you have a particular marital arrangement?

    My wife would kill me if I were to travel anywhere with the lovely X, Y, or Z (all being Chinese, of course)!

  8. I've never been too keen on the paper bottle idea either - I have recollections of being in hospital and having to pee into a cardboard "sample bottle" that looked like it had been made by a child from papier mache.

    As you quite rightly say Legatus the reason is cost - of the bottle itself and the savings that can be made from the reduced weight during transport.

    When you combine something like this with bulk shipping in a tanker from the winery (you can fit three times as much liquid in a tank container as you can in bottles within a container) and then bottle close to the target market (there is a big facility in Bristol for instance) you can really drive the transport costs down.

    For a £5.99 bottle where only about 50p goes to the producer anything the supermarket (and most of this stuff sold in the UK goes through supermarkets) can shave off the costs boosts their margin - "every little helps".

    I prefer glass myself (although I'm fine with lighter glass bottle design) - but I swing both ways on the cork / stelvin argument.