the DILDO WAREHOUSE

 
 

Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy asked me to read at their People of Letters event at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. They wanted something on the theme of "a letter to the thing I wish I'd written." I read this. It's collected in this book.

 

It A month ago I learnt that people write letters when they return used sex toys for a refund. 

This wasn’t even something I learnt on the internet. A reality TV show set inside this warehouse was about to start on the channel I work for, starring the people who move these rubber dicks through the post so that ladies in Wigan can move them through their flaps – and this was what I was being sent to investigate. By ‘investigate’ I mean ‘go and see what the lighting is like in the warehouse for a promo video’ and by ‘me’ I mean me and a bunch of work dudes descending on the offices of Lovehoney, where thick butt plugs are used as paperweights and realistic dick-and-ball-sack combos are suction-cupped to walls, where they are used to hang lanyards instead of their actual designed use, which is ‘an alternative to shampoo bottles for vicars’.

We walked through the call centre, where affable girls in their early twenties field questions all day long from the standard ‘Where is my parcel?’ to ‘Are my balls supposed to go this colour?’ and ‘What is this stuff coming out of me?’ Wind-up dicks are balanced on the top of computer monitors, where tiny robots, trolls or Lego men might be in any other office.

We were told about the staff box, where toys that have been opened for in-house photographs are dumped until Friday comes round, when staff can take whatever item they want for free. A ginger teenager says shyly that nobody ever sees what other people take and also ‘You have to be quick to get the big black ones.’ Although staff sneak in when no one else is looking to make their selection from the box, if you asked the specifics of what an abstract plastic thing is for they would be able to tell you in detail, along with any of the problems that might come with it. (For instance, a sex swing that you can suspend from tops of doorways in your house is no friend to dry rot.) Despite endless conversations about topics your work internet would block, nobody ever admits to sticking things up inside them. Nobody ever admits to using the toys themselves.

As we moved through the offices they mentioned the returns letters. I asked what returns letters they were talking about. They said, ‘We’re getting to that’ and told me about some other stuff I didn’t know.

I learnt a lot that day. I learnt that the man who invented the Fleshlight first modelled it on his wife, and now that his sons are working in the business they’re essentially pimping out their mum’s rubber vagina.

I met the guy in charge of statistics, who measures how many sex toys are sold in various unlikely units. He told me they shift over 7000 sex toys per day, to over 3000 customers, and that a town in Northern Ireland is the anal bead capital of Britain. He told me that London is the capital of nothing, apart from Upminster, which spends 6.1 times the national average on porn. All the towns that elderly parents live in spend the most on sex toys, because there is fuck all else to do there. To wit: people in Salisbury spend 2.5 times the national average on fetish clothing for men; Worcester spend all their money on shoes for prostitutes, whereas Redditch is all about sex toys for couples; Coventry evidently has no time for mediocre bumsex and spend 1.4 times the national average on better anal sex, while Preston is the twentieth sexiest place in the UK and spends all of its money on sex games.

Matt the statistics man says they measure the number of dildos sold in kilometres of insertable plastic. The distance of insertable plastic sold in the first half of January 2014 is 6.12 kilometres. The first half of January distance is longer than any other time of the year, due entirely to the fact that people have spent their Christmas sex-free in their parents’ houses with their own framed childhood faces staring down at them from dusty bookshelves. Mid January is when the regret and returns happen. Which is where the letters come in. But we’ll get to those.

What I took away from this whole dildo warehouse experience is that I now have something to always compare future jobs to. Get fired from dicking around on the internet and have to be a waitress again? God, fine. Get fired from being a waitress too and have to work in a comic-book shop again? Fine. Just please don’t ever let me work in the returns department of a sex toy company with the following returns policy: ‘We want you to be totally confident about every order you place, so we have a 365-day no-quibble returns policy to put your mind at ease. You can return anything for any reason, even if you just didn’t like it, including if it’s been opened, worn or used.’

Even if you just didn’t like it.

Even if it’s been opened, worn or used.

Even if it has been rammed repeatedly up your arse and the arses of others, even if the end snapped off and was never recovered, even if it stopped working because your own personal bodily juices jammed up the mechanism: you can return this bruised, battered and wholly unsanitary item to Andrea, the boss of the Returns Department. (Her daughter works in Goods In, because this is a local job for local people.) And despite this don’t ask – don’t tell policy, people always tell.

In the ‘How to Return Your Item’ video guide on the Lovehoney website Andrea pleads with you to wash your ‘item’ before putting it in the post, although she wears rubber gloves anyway. As we talked she transferred an opened, returned anal douche from one gloved hand to the other in the kind of fidgety, distracted way someone else might tap a pen. (Related fact: anal douches look like grenades.)

I asked her if this was the most harrowing job on earth as she sat beside the large tub of returned rubber dicks she has classified as ‘used’. These used rubber dildos are currently awaiting recycling – the popularity of the Rabbit vibrator brought this on, and at this point I encourage you to imagine future humans opening a whole landfill of broken rabbits; just imagine it – and will at some point turn into plastic forks, which you might later put inside your mouth during a picnic, perhaps with some potato salad. And who’s to say you haven’t already. In 2008, someone actually stole the skip of used vibrators from outside the warehouse. Bath police put out a town-wide notice that nobody should buy an unboxed dildo from a man in a pub. They were never recovered; police presume they’re long since eBayed.

Andrea said the job wasn’t so much harrowing as sad – I don’t think she saw my point re: it being horrifyingly, unendingly gross – and her reasoning was that all letters accompanying returned sex toys are written by hand, not computer, and nobody returns a sex toy without a story despite their ‘no questions asked’ policy, which is both italicised and bolded on their website. You do not have to tell anyone why you no longer want the Pipedream Extreme: Ladies of the Night (Ass or Fantasy Fuck Hole Variant); you just have to send it back with as much of its original packaging as possible.

Below is a handful of letters I secretly photographed that day in the dildo warehouse. These are all entirely legit, and if you find me in the pub later I will show you the photographs of these letters that people wrote with their hands and pens. If you tell Lovehoney I have them, I will definitely get in trouble, and I imagine they have ways and means of making punishment hurt in an interesting way, so maybe don’t tell them about this. Anyway.

Dear Returns Department,
Sorry to have to return this. I bought it for my ex-girlfriend when I was drunk so she could go fuck herself (seemed funny at the time). I don’t fancy ending up in court over Christmas, so if you could give me a refund it would be very much appreciated.
Thanks.
Dear Returns Department,
Please refund the items inside. Turns out the missus was a cheating bitch: the only thing I would like to enter her now is a bullet.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Dear Returns Department,
Please find enclosed the Monster Inflatable Dildo. Moral of the story for me is to believe the reviews and item specifications. Monster? Jesus H. Fucking Christ, you’re not wrong. Now I thought I’d be fine with this bad boy but had second thoughts when it arrived. The damn thing brought tears to my eyes, so this beast is not for me. Respect to those ladies that can.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Hi Returns Department,
I am returning this as it has proven too large for my wife’s modestly proportioned bum hole.
Many thanks
Dear Returns Department,
I’m sorry this box is empty but I had to persuade my partner that I’d sent it back! Hope you don’t mind.
PS Enjoy this Harry Potter book instead, I had to put something in the box.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Dear Returns Department,
Wife not happy with toy. She said she doesn’t need a toy to make her happy, it’s a divorce she needs.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Dear Returns Department,
Refund please, this toy made my quim sad.
Love,
Megan

Andrea never replies to the carefully handwritten and probably cried-over letters that come with the returned couples’ toys, although she’d like to. She worries she’d become an agony aunt instead of a processor of returns, and the returns would pile up, stinking and relentless. The company prides itself on this returns policy. It is mentioned several times over the space of my two-hour visit. A handful of horrifying regulars treat it like a library, but in total only about 7 to 10 per cent of stuff gets returned. Andrea seems to like her job, and it’s all because of these letters.

Although I would like to have written a letter worthy of the drawer that collects the best stories – the ones about kegel balls disappearing inside ladies and having to be fished out with teaspoons, and the ones from old lonely men returning life-size sex dolls because they weren’t as endearing as their late wives – I am 100 per cent glad I didn’t. It means I know how bodies work and what they are capable of, that I have a vague idea of what the human arse can rightly handle. It means I am a fraction better at maths than I think I am, and that even if I have trouble negotiating inches-versus-centimetres translations I am wholly capable of using the internet to figure that shit out.

Dear letter to the Returns Department I never wrote,

I wish I had written you because you would have amused a nice lady in a warehouse, but I speak for myself, my arse and my fanny when I say: I am completely glad I never needed to.

Yours sincerely,
Hayley Campbell