So it's December 13th 2007, and Ireland's homes are soon to be the happier for it; the good people of the Emerald Isle can barely contain their excitement; screwdrivers the country over are spinning in their toolboxes in anticipation of a weekend of assembling flat packs. Yes, IKEA has arrived in Belfast. A mile from my office, no less. And with it, thousands and thousands of customers, blocking my route to work in their soon-to-be-filled-with-Swedish-flat-things cars.
What is it with Northern Ireland and openings of things? We had actual, proper riots during the summer when Clockwork Orange opened at Junction 1. I mean, people got themselves arrested. Arrested. Because a shop had opened and they got too excited. Apparently the PSNI have sent officers to Spain and England in the past few weeks to see how the opening of IKEA stores there are policed. But make no mistake: whatever happened in other places will be multiplied a hundred-fold in Belfast because people in Northern Ireland would take the day off work to go to the opening of an envelope. In fact, it is barely possible to open one's front door in Belfast without finding half the province on the doorstep with picnics and leggings and middle-aged women saying things like "Ye know, mey sis'ern-law Betty went till one o' these here when she was over seein her Stephen in England las' year and she said it was class, like".
Estimates of the number of people likely to pass through IKEA's doors on Day 1 have been increasing daily, with figures ranging from a rather conservative 20,000 to the positively liberal 52,000. Whatever the final figure, we can be sure that there will be lots of people and far too many cars to fit in the car park and that traffic will be gridlocked from 7am. They're getting police helicopters to hover above and do traffic reports, but let's face it: if you're stupid enough to try to go within 10 miles of IKEA on its opening day, you're going to be sitting in traffic; you don't need a bloke in a helicopter giving you a running commentary. Anyway, they might as well pre-record it: "And there are lots of cars going towards IKEA, and yes, the traffic across East Belfast is now at a standstill and will remain so for most of the morning" and then the helicopter blokes can join the rest of us at the log-chopping ceremony.
For yes, there is to be a log-chopping ceremony. Not for the Swedes, cutting a ribbon, ho no. We're wheeling out the Lord Mayor and handing him a log to chop, for such are the quaint ways of the Scandinavians.
I mention all this by way of convincing myself and all of you that I'm not insane: that I'm not, and never will be, one of those people who turns up at 3 in the morning when a new thing opens. But that, of course, is not to say I'll not be there at all, ever.
For the point is this: opening the largest IKEA store in the UK, in Belfast, a week before Christmas, and offering huge discounts and log-chopping spectacles for those who turn up on day 1 may be as mad as a moose in flares; but if truth be told, I can't wait. I've got my card and my catalogue, I've picked out some chairs and bookcases and storage boxes and things for the bathroom, and when the builders finally turn up and finish off my house, I'll be down there faster than you can say "Herring mit Lingonberry Jam", which is quite fast, and also available in the restaurant.