Tuesday, 29 January 2008

IKEA: WhyNotSmile Investigates

So the doctor ordered me to take another 4 weeks off work, and I am in the process of obliging. Four whole weeks of unexpected freedom... what does one do? Naturally, one takes oneself off to Ireland's premier retail experience, which opened just before Christmas and which one hasn't had time to visit yet.

This was partly because I wanted to (for research purposes, you understand), and partly because my dad had told me to go and get a bracket thing for a curtain pole. My mum had already got 2 brackets, but we need 3, you see, so I had to go and get another one. This is for the curtain pole in my new sunroom, which is being installed on Thursday.

I forgot to mention that my dad came and installed the shower screen and shower rail/holder/thing a couple of weeks ago. My, was that a lesson in new swear words. Still, they're both up, and so far have stayed up and done their jobs well.

But back to IKEA. My dad had given me the serial number from the other curtain pole bracket things, and with this information safely stashed in my handbag, I set off. The first thing that hits me is that IKEA is Really Quite Big. Even the car park is Really Quite Big. I drive round vaguely for a while, then park abandon Fifi on the middle level of the multi-storey and make my way, at a jaunty pace, towards the store.

I get in the lift, which is one of those ones that tells you what it's doing; unfortunately there's an elderly gentleman who seems keen to speed things up but has got a bit muddled, so every time the lift says 'Doors closing' he hits the 'Open Doors' button, and then it would say 'Doors opening' and then he hits the 'Close Doors' button and it would say 'Doors closing' and so on and so forth, but eventually we make it down to Level 0 where the lift wishes us well and we all get out.

(Incidentally, I have hated talking lifts ever since I had to go to an appointment in the Royal Hospital, where the lift announced, at every floor, not only the floor number but also the ailments which might be attended too on that floor. "Level 3, Orthopedics" and all the people with plaster casts and crutches get off. "Level 5, Paediatrics" and all the children leave. "Level 7, Gynaecology" and various women look embarrassed and stay on till the next floor, where they get off and run down the stairs.)

I've been in IKEA once before, somewhere near Holyhead, with Jayber Crow and Espero (they were just married and wanted to furnish their house; I was trailing along so I could get on the boat for cheap). This meant that I knew what to expect, and how it all worked and everything, which is helpful because when you go in you have the choice of signing up for an 'IKEA Family Card' (gives you discounts and a free cup of teaorcoffee every day), visiting the play area (Smalworld, or something, but the a has an o over it, which in Swedish is pronounced like the a in 'small' so it's a very pleasing cross-linguistic pun), lifting a trolley, bag, tape measure or catalog, or proceeding up to the display area. It could all be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer.

So I proceed up to the display area and start wandering. The first thing that strikes me is that everyone is going in the opposite direction from me, and then I spot that the arrows on the floor are doing the same thing, so I do a smart half turn and set off again. The second thing that strikes me is that it's all very Swedish; even more so than Sweden, which is nice (I mean that it being more Swedish than Sweden is nice, not that Sweden is nice, because it's not really. I was there a few years back, and it's all right but very expensive). The third thing I notice is that it's all very pleasant; lots of little rooms, with furniture, toys for children to play on and signs encouraging you to 'Look Inside This Drawer!' and 'Lie Down and Try Out the Bed!' and other cheery things.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that finding the curtain pole bracket is going to be harder than I thought, particularly bearing in mind that (1) I don't really know what it's supposed to look like and (2) my dad isn't very good at reading small writing, so the serial number in my bag is not guaranteed to be correct. Anyway, I carry on, admiring lots of nice things (mainly bookcases and bedside tables) and thinking I might go home and measure up and come back again.

Eventually I get to the end, and go downstairs to the Market Place, which is where they actually have stuff you can buy. The journey begins in Kitchens; I'm hoping for some new cookie cutters, but I'm out of luck. Eventually, however, I find myself in Curtain Rails, and lo and behold, there is a big box of brackets. The very first one I see, I mean, the Very First One, and it's the right one. I'm so pleased that when I then wander into Bathroom Accessories (with the bracket clutched tightly), I immediately spot a bin that would look nice under our sink, and I just pick it up for purchase, then and there, just like that, because I am in a Good Mood.

At this point my luck begins to change. I inadvertantly take a shortcut and bypass Towels, which I'd rather wanted a look at. By the time I realise my mistake, I have to double back, and retrace all my steps to Curtain Rails. Going in the Wrong Direction in IKEA is clearly frowned upon. But I get there, and by this time The Bin is starting to seem a lot bigger and heavier than when we started, so I shift it around and almost destroy a display in the process. I don't see anything I want in Towels, so I press on. Next up is Lighting, which I dislike intensely, so I go straight through and find myself in Domestic Storage. I wonder whether they do magazine racks, so The Bin and I set off in a vain and fruitless search. They don't do magazine racks.

And so I plough on; I'm getting a bit fed up now, The Bin is feeling like a very large lead weight, and I seem to be passing by aisles and aisles of candles. We reach the self service bit where all the flat packs go, and I realise I'm quite glad I hadn't set my heart on the bookcases and bedside tables I'd admired upstairs; I will leave those until my dad is around, with his car. A quick dash around Bargain Den and I'm ready to go. So I go and pay for the bracket and The Bin, and then find myself in the Swedish Food section. I also spot a little snack bar thing, so I take myself over and get a cup of tea and a chocolate doughnut (only 80p!!), and go and stand at the little table things, on which I am relieved to set The Bin. I realise too late that I have chosen the Plane Spotters table, but never mind. I make my tea (you actually buy a cup, not tea, and then you go and make it yourself, which I think is a nice touch) and drink it slowly, enthralled by the planes.

Then I pick up The Bin, and go back to the Swedish Food section, where I pick up a jar of Lingonberry Jam (simply because I feel I can't not), leave The Bin on a convenient shelf, pay for the jam, retrieve The Bin, and head to the car park.

There is a choice of 2 lifts; a crowd of women are heading to the one on the right, so I bear left. My lift comes first and then the women all race over and jam themselves in. I am pinned to the wall by flat packs. As the lift sets off, one of the women starts exclaiming that she didn't know there were 2 lifts, and they could easily have been in the other one, and that would have been the wrong one, and then what would have happened? Unable to spot any logic to grasp hold off in this pronouncement (there are 2 lifts, side by side; they both go straight up; where did she think the other one would have taken her?), I nod thoughfully with the rest of the occupants.

When I exit the lift, I realise I have no idea where I parked the car, but thankfully she is sticking a good foot and a half further out of the space than all the surrounding cars, so I find her quite quickly. I stash the bracket, The Bin and the Lingonberry Jam in the boot, and we head home, tired, yet pleased that we've done it.

Epilogue: when I got home, I stashed The Bin under the bathroom sink, had a couple of rounds of Lingonberry Jam on toast, and put my feet up. I could get used to being off work.

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