Petty Victories

So, this week I’m going to talk about toilet rolls, and toilet roll dispensers. This might seem like a bit of a departure from my usual high-brow material — you know, Superman, Gameboys, Cafés — just please bear with me, as I’m trying to make a wider point.

About 18 months ago or so, I became an employee of The Company, and those close to me will know that my initial enthusiasm waned about, ooh, three or four months in — working for The Company has turned out to be routinely miserable.

This week The Company introduced another cost-cutting measure (the last one being the removal of Earl Grey from the kitchen). This measure was to cut down on the amount of toilet roll we use, because, God knows, every major corporate bankruptcy of the last 20 years has been primarily down to the employees backsides being over-wiped. This measure has turned out to be pretty representative of the way of thinking at The Company, so I’m recounting it to you so you’ll have a better idea of the sort of mindset I deal with on a daily basis.

Out went the traditional toilet roll dispensers and in came the new — translucent plastic cylinders bolted to the wall with a tiny, anus-like aperture through which one sheet of toilet paper, and only one sheet, could be teased through. The mechanism was such that the serrated cuts in the paper would tear after one sheet was removed — thus, people only being able to remove one sheet at a time would use fewer sheets overall. Ingenious.

Except, this isn’t going to work like that, and it took only a moment’s thought to realise why. When a single sheet is pulled out, it comes out tightly rolled up, like a cigar, with no usable surface area. To get a usable surface area, the person in the toilet must either unfurl each sheet dispensed, one at a time, and form a sort of stack, or they must just pull out about five times more than they’d normally need to quickly form a scrunched-up wad.

Now, call me a cynical old pessimist if you like, but I just can’t imagine people genteelly unrolling single sheets of paper to use them — nearly everyone is going to go for the wad, because we are all busy, impatient people. So what was initially introduced as a cost-cutting measure will actually only serve to irritate people because these dispensers are more of a hassle, and will probably raise costs anyway as more sheets will be used

This is precisely the way of thinking that plagues The Company. This toilet roll decision is practically a model for every other ill-conceived and unworkable notion that I’ve seen introduced during my brief time here — notions that contain gaping logical flaws, visible apparently only to a select few.


The petty victories referred to in the title are my own; I am not, by nature, a rebellious sort but if somebody’s going to start rationing my toilet paper then I’m afraid this is just an interference too far, so I set about seeing how the system could be subverted.

Turns out, it can be subverted very easily. To get more than one sheet at a time, you just have to pull slowly and at a 90° angle to the dispenser and it all flows out easily, like an intestinal worm. Alternatively, you can poke a key or a 10p piece in the lock at the top of the machine and jemmy it open, allowing you free access to the still-unfolded treasures that like within.

So — a cost-cutting measure that’s annoying, that will probably raise costs, and that can easily be thwarted anyway. Marvellous.

This is the sort of thing that occupies my working day. I suspect it may be time to move on.