Reims is one of only a few cities in France that has a motorway running through its centre. When we first arrived, we used to see written on the overhead gantry ‘Risque de bouchons’. As the area is full of champagne houses where bottles are filled and processed, I assumed that there was a risk that lorries could accidentally spill corks on the roads and cause hazards for motorists. After all ‘bouchon’ is the French word for a cork that stoppers the mouth (bouche) of a bottle. After a while I realised that the French for traffic jam was un bouchon, just as in English we might call it a bottleneck.

Cork is a wonderful product that comes from the bark of particular oak trees called Cork Oaks. Cork is an excellent insulator and is often used for floor tiles, place mats and trivets to protect tables from being damaged by hot dishes. Rather than throw wine bottle corks away we have adopted the habit of keeping them in a very large glass bowl. This week it was time that something must be done as the bowl was full to overflowing.

One way we had found of recycling corks to their best advantage was to make a heat mat out of some of them to protect our wooden table. I had found a shallow wooden tray in a craft shop and had carefully arranged wine corks to fit in it in an attractive, symmetrical tight fitting pattern. Corks come in slightly different sizes and finding the right cork for the right place had taken a lot of time. We had never felt the need to glue them in place as they hardly moved and it was easier to remove crumbs or bits of food by just lifting out one or two. I must emphasise just one or two, because if more were displaced it was very difficult find the right place and orientation of the cork so that they all sat level again.

Our first warning to any visitors we have is, ‘Don’t touch the corks’. An unfortunate visitor had been left in the house for a while on his own and he had had an accident with the tray. He had picked it up, turned it over to look at where it was made and …….. spent 4 hours putting the corks back in place!!

Having more corks than anyone could ever need means finding a use for them or throwing some away. Twenty or so, were plastic looking and felt like plastic. Written on each one were the reassuring words 100% recyclable. However, on looking into the subject it is not clear how this can happen or where. Those got put into our plastics recycling box.

What can one do with a collection of 125 champagne corks? I can assure you that we have not drunk all of those bottles. We often pocket them when going to events where bottles have been opened. I have made about a dozen into key rings. I am hoping that boat owners feel that an accessory that floats will be an advantage when they are on the water with their keys. I have seen that miniature plant pots can be made by hollowing out the centres of these bigger bouchons – that sounds an interesting idea.

That left 144 wine bottle corks. Oh, well that seems like another heat resistant tray is called for. As IKEA is currently selling a small bamboo tray, the idea took off. After a careful sorting out of matching corks, a neat pattern emerged. However, this time each one was carefully glue gunned in place so as to not horrify an unsuspecting visitor.

Don’t touch the corks!
Too many corks!
Key rings that float.

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