The ideal ratio of toilets to sinks to hand dryers

Dear reader, this is TMI, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I have a weak bladder. Whenever I’m in a public space, I’m trapped in a vicious circle.

These dryers are shit. And there’s never enough of them.

It looks a bit like this:

  1. In public, unlike at home, there is no guaranteed access to a toilet.
  2. Not having access to a toilet makes me anxious.
  3. Anxiety makes me need to go to the toilet more often.
  4. There is no guaranteed access to a toilet.
  5. Not having access to a toilet makes me anxious.
  6. Anxiety makes me need to go to the toilet more often.

You get the idea. But, this post isn’t about my medical problems. That was just to demonstrate my frequent use of public toilets and, hence, my degree of authority on the actual subject of this post: how such facilities are designed.

My biggest bugbear of public toilets, besides perhaps the high chance of them being dirty shitholes (pun intended), is whatever the fuck the owner was thinking when they settled on the ratio of toilets : sinks : hand dryers.

How many times have you been to a toilet with a near-equal ratio of toilets to sinks, but a woefully low number of hand dryers? (That’s a rhetorical question because even I haven’t counted – that would be fucking weird).

Take the Gents at London Bridge station, for example. I think there are about 12 urinals and 5 cubicles. There’s a row of about 8-10 taps. How many hand dryers? Three. It’s absurd. There’s always a queue to use them. Or, more often, people just don’t bother and wipe their hands on their trousers. Ew.

The pattern repeats itself in public toilets big and small. I’ve seen shopping mall toilets decked out with entire banks of taps that are seldom used, but there’s only a handful of dryers. Worse still are the toilets equipped with just one hand dryer, regardless of whatever else is in there. Entering at the same time as someone else results in an awkward game involving peeing or washing hands especially quickly or slowly, so that you don’t both end up needing the dryer at the same time. Making someone wait next to you to dry your hands using what is, often in such places, merely whispering hot air onto your hands, is fucking awkward.

Anyway, it’s time for the answer. What is the ratio?

3 : 2 : 1 (toilets, sinks, dryers) as a bare minimum. Ideally you’d just have a dryer integrated above the sink or something for a 3 : 2 : 2 configuration, but I guess I have to be realistic since every public toilet owner I’ve come across has an apparent aversion to supplying hand dryers.

Highly specific sub-rant:
Remember those hand dryers at London Bridge? Reader, they are extra shit. When the toilets were first opened (as part of the £multi-million renewal of the entire station), they were equipped with Dyson “jet towel” style dryers. You put your hands in at the top and lower them to dry. They broke after less than a year. After some time of having literally no functioning dryers (what the fuck?) the station replaced them with regular ones where you place your hands under a nozzle at the bottom. But remember – the toilets were designed to have Dysons. The mounting position for the electrics etc. is such that the replacement dryers are now mounted way too low. So now, in addition to desperately trying to dry your hands faster than an F1 pit-stop, you look like a right twat crouching to fit your hands underneath. Top job, well done everyone. Bloody cheapskates.

Guest whinge: You can’t underestimate how much this annoys me

Now it’s time for a guest post. Because we do those around here, apparently. This one comes courtesy of my father, so you can kinda see where I get it from. Let the whinge begin…

I pacifically searched for an image that would have a shocking affect

I was going to have a whinge about how people get aphorisms wrong like “It’s a learning curve” NO! It is a STEEP learning curve. Or, even worse, “The proof is in the pudding” NO! NO! The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

But there is something else that is even worse that really irritates me and that is people who cannot use “overestimate” or “underestimate” correctly.

You hear it all the time; some idiot will want to stress the importance of something and they’ll say “You cannot underestimate the importance of this” when what they really wanted to say is that no estimate, however big, is large enough. In other words you cannot overestimate the importance of this.

Or they want to say that something doesn’t matter and so they say “you cannot underestimate how little this means to me” to them I say, “I bet I can!” I think it is the double negative that confuses them; the “cannot” followed by the “under” but there is another negative hidden in the word “little” that brings it back.

It just isn’t possible for anyone to overestimate how much this irritates me or, alternatively, it would be easy to underestimate how much this irritates me.

(Note, OED hyphenates under-estimate. Merriam-Webster shows it as one word, underestimate)

Editor’s note:
I have my own pet peeve that’s linguistic in nature. When people say they could care less, when what they really mean is they couldn’t care less. I don’t know why this is such a common thing in the US. But I’ll stop before I say anything else about that country which I might regret later…

Service please: Abercrombie & Fitch’s Regent St. Store

As a fan of the brand, it pains me to report that I have never had a successful shopping experience at the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Regent Street in London. Something has gone wrong every. single. time.

May the odds be ever in your favour. They weren’t in mine.

I’m quite loyal to a small number of brands. For tech, it’s Apple. For speakers, it’s Sonos. For sneakers, it’s New Balance. And for clothing, it’s mostly Abercrombie & Fitch (having graduated from Hollister as a teen and Jack Wills during my Uni years). I’m not obsessed with brand labels, I just appreciate having a coherent experience and design language, and as I’m currently feeling washed-out colours with and clothing that’s not smart but not casual either, Abercrombie hits the mark.

It’s a shame, then, that their new flagship store on Regent Street hasn’t got off to a good start. Having opened up towards the tail end of the pandemic (or the government’s definition of the pandemic at least, given we’re still at 1,000 hospitalisations a day), it’s smaller and plainer than the previous one, which occupied an impressive (and whole) building on nearby Savile Row.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that every time I shop there, something goes wrong.

Now I should say that all the staff are polite. Changing room attendants are attentive, and staff are helpful if you’re stuck trying to find something in the store. In fact, every experience in the store designed to support you in handing over your money is a positive one (funny that).

When you get to the checkout, though, it’s another story. Here are some tales:

What’s a discount?
Look, Abercrombie is pretty expensive. I try to save money by taking advantage of their many sales and promotions, which they email me about all the time and which clearly state are applicable both in store & online, with the discounted price reflected at checkout. They even have banners at the store entrance explaining the current offer.

I hope you’re good at mental maths though (I’m not), because if you’re not careful, they’ll end up charging you full price in-store anyway. More than once, I have had to bust out the calculator app on my phone to work out what the price should be and then remind the assistant about the promotion, because they didn’t apply it as they should have done. Social anxiety being what it is, I need to be really sure of myself if I’m going to ask someone to do something, in case they have already done it and I just got the figures wrong. It’s a stressful experience.

What’s a tag?
I have twice had merchandise bagged up for me without the security tags removed or deactivated. The first time it happened, I actually don’t recall the item having a bulky tag on it when I tried it on. I could be wrong, but it feels like they put one on instead of taking one off? The even worse thing about the first time is that the security scanners they have at the exit weren’t active. I only found out about the tag when I walked into a Boots halfway across London (heaven forbid you knick a pack of paracetamol) and it screamed at me. I had to trudge back to get the tag removed.

The second time, the scanners did go off and an employee dashed out to find me ruffling through my bag, probably looking more bemused than shocked, and helped me get the tag deactivated. Like I said – they’re really nice. This just shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

What are locks?
The experience that most sums up the chaotic nature of the store is when I witnessed a shoplifting incident right in front of me. A couple of people who, I will just be straight with you, did not look like Abercrombie’s usual clientele, were acting a bit suspicious on the other side of their fragrance display cabinets. I was trying out all the fragrances to pass some time, and these two were pretending between themselves to be intrigued about the different fragrances. Then, one of them opened the cabinet door and slipped a couple into their handbag, before making a swift exit. The scanners didn’t go off, of course.

I have no idea why these cabinets are not locked or protected in some other way, but it was pretty off-putting for me.

I actually emailed Abercrombie about the problems at the store (because of course I did). The store manager replied to me (from a gmail account, weird). Whilst I appreciated the personal response, most of it was fluff. The interesting tidbit, I think, was where they blamed Brexit for hiring issues. I think they meant that both in terms of quantity and quality of store staff – but just couldn’t say that directly. Here’s hoping my next visit will, finally, be a success.

No right to reply: Etsy

With the second regular series after Get in the bin, I’m going to be applying a little truth filter on the public statements that companies make in response to criticism (because they’re often bullshit).

Welcome to Etsy! We offer buyer protection on all of our tax avoidance schemes

Today’s victim perpetrator (let’s get it right, everyone), is Etsy.

This week, The Guardian published an article about how Etsy, which describes itself as “a community doing good”, paid only £128,000 in corporation tax on sales of £160,000,000, thanks to booking most of their UK sales through their Irish subsidiary.

For more information on their tax avoidance mechanism and how much tax they would otherwise have been liable for, the article is a great read. But I’m interested in the right to reply that usually appears at the end of these things. So let’s take a look.

An Etsy spokesperson said the company had “paid or accrued for any known and material tax obligations in compliance with current cross-border tax laws.”

This just means they physically pay the tax bills they are presented with. Which, if they didn’t, they would be sued in court. So it’s a moot point, really.

“Cross-border corporate tax law is extremely complex and Etsy is committed to paying our fair share”.

This line introduces an abstract concept: fair share. Fair in whose eyes? Are they saying that they think the tax rate is too high in the UK? I mean, why else would they funnel their UK sales to their Irish entity? (Obviously I think they could be a little more committed).

“Ireland is the location of our international headquarters, where we employ dozens of people who support our international community across many critical business functions, like software and product engineers, payments operations, technical project managers, and member support.”

Wow, did you hear that everyone? They employ literally dozens of people in Ireland. I work for a business that employs hundreds of people and let me tell you, its revenue is significantly less than £160,000,000 a year. The fact that Etsy employs some corporate staff in Ireland has nothing to do with it.

“Etsy said it endorsed the OECD’s attempt to “create a more equitable and simple model” for cross-border taxation and added: “We are very supportive of a global consensus on how to tax the digital economy even if our tax bill increases.”

This is the second time they make the implication that cross-border tax in its current state is complicated. Which, I mean, is sort of true. But if it’s a simple tax scheme you’re after, you could just…pay the tax…in the same country where you make the sale…? Duh?

Anyway, time to apply the truth filter to the spokesperson’s words:

Fixed your statement:
We do not break the law. We incur tax in Ireland because it’s got a lower tax rate than the UK, even though that’s where we make most of our sales. We do this because it’s our fiduciary (but not ethical) duty to increase value for shareholders by paying the lowest amount of tax through legal tax avoidance schemes. Because we sometimes get criticised for this, we’d like to remind you that we have some staff in Ireland. Naturally, if regulators come up with different tax rules and force us to follow them, we will follow them, because we do not break the law.

Get in the bin: Automated “Support” Chatbots

If my problem could have been resolved by reading a fucking help article, I would have read said article and not had to resort to awkwardly “chatting” with a patronising script regurgitation machine.

About as useful as an elastic tape measure.

Has anyone else noticed the explosion in support chatbots over the past few years? Sometimes they like to call them something else to try and trick you into thinking they’ll actually be of any use whatsoever, like Amazon’s “Messaging Assistant”.

Well they just need to piss off, actually.

Look, I don’t often have problems with consumer-facing businesses the type of which would require me to go looking for help. I know how to cancel an order or redirect a delivery or find out what the return process is. I consider myself to be reasonably competent at clicking buttons on a screen.

But sometimes, the interface provided to me just doesn’t do what I need it to do. Take, for example, my skincare subscription. I’ve been using Lumin Skin for almost a year now, and I like their products. They offer a range of subscription plans containing various products. I quickly realised however that not only was the anti-fatigue eye cream basically not doing anything for me, it was also the single most expensive item in my subscription plan. Cutting it out would save me money and, IMO, my skin wouldn’t be any worse off for it.

When you login to the customer portal, you get buttons and links and options to cancel the plan, delay a delivery, update your shipping address… but there’s no button to actually change the plan that you’re on. Which is especially weird, because there is a button for you to add an additional, new plan, and there you can select any one of their plans, including the one I wanted to switch to.

So, I’m reading around the written support articles, looking for a way to do what it is I need to do. But the help I need is just not there. The particular problem I am having isn’t covered by any kind of pre-defined process that the company has set up for its customers.

At this point, some bright spark at the company must have thought: “hey, why don’t we take the article the customer has just read and make them read it again, only this time it’s in a tiny little window in the bottom-right corner of the page, and it can only be read line by line by answering a series of questions?”

Wait… what?

Yeah, what a stupid idea. Bin it.

My advice:
If you also can’t be fucked dealing with this bullshit, just write the word “human” as the first message. It usually starts a conversation with an actual human who, you know, can actually do the thing you came there to do. Or, if you’re unlucky, they admit that the entire concept of a “live support” was a sham and the only option you have is to send a good old fashioned email where you can expect a response within 2 – 4 working years. Good luck.

Welcome to the whinge

An incredibly boring, pedantic, little shit. That’s how you might describe me after you read some of the posts on the whinge. And for that, I am sorry.

Much like this shopping trolley, customer service has been abandoned.

We all know what bad customer service looks like.

Or do we?

Look, there are two types of poor customer service in this world. The first is blatant: lost luggage, a horribly damaged parcel, or a waiter literally spitting in your food.

This blog is often not about those.

The second is subtle: Hand dryers in public toilets that are positioned too low down, shitty self-service checkouts, and discounts you have to ask for, even though you shouldn’t have to. Nobody is being malicious, they’re just… not being very good at their job. Or the training they received was poor. Or the entire system was poorly thought-out.

Oh yeah, I can talk about the second type all day long.

Don’t get me wrong though, if something genuinely pisses me off, I’ll write about that too. If someone is doing something with malice – say, a scam – I’ll write about it.

So what is the whinge (apart from a sister blog to the binge, my TV & Film review site?) Well, it’s somewhere for all my pedantic, ranty thoughts to end up.