Martyn McLaughllin: Will Heath-Robinson style gadgets be lost if Woolies is wound up?

THE demise of the hallowed pick'n'mix counter isn't the only reason we should bemoan the loss of Woolworths.

The famous chain may have been the retail equivalent of a great-aunt who makes out her will to feral cats in the form of postal orders, but treasures could be unearthed beneath all that mismatched merchandise. Woolies was one of the few stockists of products by JML, a company that puts the cheer into capitalism. Its Wham-O premise is as facile as it is laudable – conjure up ideas no sober inventor would consider and watch the public buy them in their thousands.

Take the Toastabag™. Tummy rumbling? Keen to avoid the protracted torment of making a toasted sandwich? Simply jam your piece as normal, seal in a Toastabag™, and pop it in the toaster. Venerable bearded men with Bunsen burners estimate such actions will free up four seconds of your life.

The ingenuity knows no bounds. The Magnicard™, a credit-card-sized magnifier, prevents miniscule font nightmares. Like many of the company's lines, the marketing pitch is a question – "Small print driving you crazy? – to which JML hopes our answer will be, "Why, I thought I alone bore this terrible burden! God bless!"

It would be remiss not to mention of JML's boffins, breakers of new ground in the magnetostatics field. Their industry means your reading glasses are forever safe with the Never Lost Readers Stand™. Yes, it's magnetic and, yes, your glasses stick to it. Provided the instructions are in large type. Other Heath Robinson-inspired products conjure philosophical musing by name alone: Invisible Bra™, Slendesse Leggings™ Bling-A-Thing™. All potential props in the Coen brothers' screwball comedy, The Hudsucker Proxy.

Yet this stuff is popular. From humble beginnings in the 1980s, its founder, John Mills (he had a lot of free time between takes for Gandhi), has overseen a rapid expansion. JML's motto is "making life easier", but I believe its contribution to mankind's cause is greater.

It inspires closet Edisons who dream of Magnotoastabras™ or Invisible Slimming Pens™. More importantly, it proves that, no matter how inconsequential or offbeat your vision, someone will pay for it. Toastabags™ retail at 3.99 a pair. That's the "sloth premium" people will pay to avoid effort. The skill is not in the merit of the inventions, but the opportunistic realisation that people will always cut corners.

As the late American wag Sid Caesar pointed out, the guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. It was the guy who invented the other three who was the genius.

We must all support rangers

IT IS heartening to hear rangers are returning to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to a third of the world's fragile mountain gorilla population.

The expanse of forests, snowfields and lava plains has become a battlefield for Hutu militias and Tutsi rebels, their war displacing the rangers for the past year, leaving the endangered animals even more vulnerable.

A friend once introduced me to Virunga's senior warden, Jean-Pierre Mirindi Jobogo, who was visiting Glasgow (insert obligatory 'from one jungle to another' joke). He showed me scars from poachers' bullets and recalled scores of colleagues who paid an even higher price.

"How many animals were here 1,000 years ago?" he asked. "Did man think of himself as a primate then? Do we now?"

As Jean-Pierre and his rangers once more risk their lives, we should find him an answer.

• AS FAR as potential murder weapons go, the effectiveness of the tenor saxophone has yet to reveal itself. The tuba, I suppose, is capable of delivering a mighty thwack, but the trusty candlestick need not have restless nights.

Why, then, has Boris Johnson described a cultural scheme that will pass on old musical instruments to young people as an "amnesty"? Will we see armed police smothering the maisonettes of retired bassoonists, demanding they slowly place their reeds on the floor?

But the real misdemeanour here is Johnson's typically enthusiastic press release promoting the venture, which coins the term, "funkapolitan".