In which The Author does some mental arithmetic
Here’s something that’s been annoying me on and off for years, but came to a head yesterday afternoon.
My toilet roll holder fell off the wall. It’s been hanging by a thread for a little while, but finally gave in yesterday. I blame the house’s previous owners, who clearly knew little about DIY. As any fule kno, you can’t use standard wall plugs in plasterboard (even for light loads) and expect the job to survive very long. Ordinary plastic plugs are designed for masonry, expanding as the screw is tightened and biting into the substrate with their toothed edges.
Plasterboard is too soft for that. You can buy special plugs which are the same depth as the board plus a few millimetres. As you tighten the screw, the end flares out to grip the reverse side of the board. For heavier loads, you can buy metal fixings which do a similar job. It’s a little bit like putting a ship in a bottle: you put the screw through the workpiece, attach the hinged piece loosely on the screw, fold the flaps back against the thread, and insert the fixing into the hole. The flaps spring out, and as you tighten the screw they spread the load against the board. Simple but effective.
I’ve used these fixings to put shelves up, and they’ll hold quite a weight when they’re in place. But that isn’t the annoying part.
No – the annoying part is how these fixings are sold, as I remembered yesterday which hunting through my Box of Useful Things.
As I’ve said, I’ve previously used them to put shelves up. Picture a shelf. There’s usually a bracket of some sort towards each end. On occasions there might be an extra bracket in the middle, but in most cases two will do the job. Most brackets need two screws to hold them in place (otherwise they’ll just rotate freely). Hence, selling the fixings in fours, sixes, eights – indeed, any even-numbered quantities – would be the logical approach.
But logic goes out of the window when you’re dealing with manufacturers and retailers. Certainly the fixings sold by Wilkinson in Aberdare defy all reason – they come in packs of five. That’s too many to put up one average-sized shelf, and too few to put up two. It’s not even enough to put up a long shelf with an extra bracket in the middle. In the first case, you get one left over. In the second case, you have to buy two packs and get four left over.
I found myself in the first situation yesterday. I had one fixing left over from my last job – but I needed two to rehang the holder. As a result I’ll have to make a trip to Wilkinson, and spend a pound or so on five fixings, four of which will live in the Box of Useful Things for a long time.
If the manufacturers and retailers stopped for a moment to think about the way people would actually be using these things, maybe they’d start selling them in packs of six. After all, they sell conventional wall plugs in pairs on a long plastic strip; obviously someone has taken the sensible option and thought about the practical situations in which they’d be used. I can only assume that it’s a way to prise more money out of customers. If I’m wrong about that, and it’s just plain stupidity, then I’m not sure which is worse.
Talking of retailers and their illogical stock control policies, I was in Waterstones in Cardiff a couple of months ago. I had a browse through the Science Fiction section, as always, and came across something which seems to epitomise the central purchasing system which came on stream just after I finished working there. They had several copies of Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, and a couple of copies of Foxglove Summer – but no Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground or Broken Homes, respectively the second, third and fourth books in the ongoing Peter Grant adventures. That’s almost equivalent to keeping only The Hobbit and The Return of the King on the shelves, but not the other books in the saga of the One Ring.
Is it me?