The first time I went to Bath I took with me the craziest fart disease I have ever had. We laid the blame on an M&S Aberdeen beef sandwich I ate on the Paddington Station platform and I spent most of the weekend in various arse-based yoga poses trying to fart through my brand new and largely transparent (for sexy reasons) American Apparel underpants. Which is totally weird because girls’ buttholes are just for elaborate sex and nothing else, as Kevin & Perry Go Large taught us. The second time I went to Bath was to visit a dildo warehouse, a place at least in part devoted to buttholes and what you can do with them. A warehouse full of John Holmes’ legendary penis now packaged up and motorised, miles of rubber fists and water-based lube, strange windmill designs with tiny pink tongues that flicker so fast it looks like a pink blur, and black rubber dicks so huge and wide that I asked if they cost extra in postage (they don’t).
A new reality TV show set inside this warehouse is about to start on UK screens 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 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 buttplugs are used as paperweights and realistic dick and ballsack 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 20s field questions all day long from the standard “where is my parcel” to the “are my balls supposed to go this colour” and “what is this stuff coming out of me”. Wind-up dicks 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 and 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 or shit houses). 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. Ever.
We learn a lot. We learn 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.
We met the guy in charge of the statistics who measures how many sex toys are sold in various unlikely units. He tells me they shift over 7,000 sex toys per day, to over 3,000 customers, and that a town in Northern Ireland is the anal bead capital of Britain.
Fun fact: London is the capital of nothing, apart from Upminster which spends 6.1 times the national average on porn. All the towns your 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 20th sexiest place in the UK and spends all of its money on SEX GAMES.
Stamford, where Kit Lovelace’s parents are currently online, spends all their money on sexy, sexy clothes for clubbing, while Cirencester mostly buys BRAS.
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 brought us neatly to the next department and scene of my future nightmares: Returns.
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, boss of the Returns department (her daughter works in Goods In because this is a local job for local people). In the “how to return your item” video guide on the website Andrea pleads 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 dilds 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. 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 know 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.
“Dear Lovehoney Returns Department,
Due to an ‘incident’ I can neither sit down nor continue to own the Anal Fantasy Anal Sex Toy Adventure Kit (enclosed). Please refund my £29.99 promptly and accordingly. Thank you.
Cheryl in Chesterfield”
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 7-10% of stuff gets returned. Andrea seems to like her job.
After visiting a dildo warehouse in Bath they will literally give you a bag of dicks to take away with you. You will drop them down the stairs of the number 73 bus and spend 30 whole seconds scrambling around to pick them up while the driver holds the doors for you.
Anyway, I guess what I’m saying here is: vicars, you have other options.