Today, I undertook the ultimate shopping experience with my wife. It had to be with my wife, because a trip to Ikea is something a man never undertakes by himself, but only as a result of the cudgelling of a shopping crazed spouse. I have been building up to this for the last week. A few days ago, my wife, in idle conversation mentioned the word “Ikea”. This is a word, a name, an experience I had been trying to forget. I have been in receipt of psychiatric counselling since my last visit. I would suffer from nightmares, night terrors in fact, and wake up in a cold sweat and screaming “Where's the exit – where's the exit” as I was convinced I was trapped in a world filled with hordes of the undead, green skinned and fowl smelling rotting flesh, forever following an endless succession of arrows marked on the floor, and never, ever being able to break free into the outside world and freedom. Yesterday, almost inexplicably, my wife received in the mail a £10 Ikea shopping voucher. This was almost unreal. Sensing the unseen powers of the universe at work, and my wife exclaiming that we are obviously meant to go, I resigned myself to the inevitability of today's expedition.
Now, as soon as the word “Ikea” is voiced, I know it is only a matter of time before I will be going back, inexorably drawn by its siren calling and the lure of Swedish Swedishness. And I have to admit, I have been pretty much sucked in. In my study, or computer room as I sometimes call it, I have three Ikea bookcases, all black, with white “doily” patterns on them. They look really garish and everyone hates them - except me. The walls are painted blood red, which blends well with the red table lamp which I bought for a song at Ikea. As you can tell, I am a real style guru.
I first came across Ikea some 28 years ago when I was living in Germany. It was this big blue building I would drive past on my way from Mönchengladbach to Düsseldorf. I never went into it, and the innards remained a mystery to me for years, until we came across it again in England. Then we had our first visit.
What makes Ikea so different from every other shop is that it is laid out in a totally different way to every other shop. It has a beginning and an end, a start and a finish. Once inside, you reach the starting line at the top of the escalator, and then work your way around the course, following the arrows on the floor, until you emerge, hopefully (if you work for Ikea), laden down with a vast mass and array of goods you never knew you wanted or needed. The course you follow is a long one – a bit of a marathon in fact. Its a bit like trekking up a mountain. When you think you have reached the top, there is always something beyond, and so you stagger on, never quiet sure where you are and when the end will be reached. Along the way, you will pass myriad examples of every type of household item you could ever want – or never want, and many of them at extremely low prices. It really is a case of “stack-em high and sell-em cheap.” Another thing about Ikea is that it is impossible to have a quick visit. Every trip to Ikea is a major event, and conscious of the hours and hours customers spend in the always overcrowded store, they have a large restaurant to feed the starving masses before they are once again ejected into the never regions of the beyond, well, the car park, anyway.
And so it was that I have now found myself the proud owner of a set of eight coat hangers I didn't know we wanted, a set of 6 wine glasses I didn't know we wanted, a load of golden Christmas baubles I didn't know we wanted, and two tall-boy multi-shelved cabinets my wife has been telling me we do want. Of course, they are flat pack – what else? And of course, we will be spending a good proportion of tomorrow banging and screwing the things together before they are proudly placed into position in our porch where they will be used as posh shoe-racks in place of the course, ugly, lude rack occupying the space at the moment, and due to be re-employed in the depths of the garage, out of sight from those who might frown upon their banality.
One has to maintain one's standards – even if they are cheap and Swedish.