Ikea is a totalitarian state. When you drive under the overhanging barrier preventing reasonably sized vans from gaining access to its car park you are entering sovereign territory. Should you get stranded in Ikea for any number of reasons, the best way out is to call the British consulate. Alternatively, you might try the Ecuadorian embassy. I hear they are very good. In any case, I got stranded in Ikea. This is my story.
The spare room was nearing completion, so Stefano the Albanian builder and I went to buy a day bed. Stefano manfully crashed his van straight into the overhanging barrier, then drove the wrong way up the ramp with cars tooting. It was brilliant, like being in The A-Team.
Inside, we trudged round the one-way system display rooms three times in both directions until we found the day beds, making us both ecstatic. I then had to let Stefano have a chicken dinner in the canteen, whereupon he insisted I try the meatballs drenched in taupe-coloured gravy that tasted of caramel.
Still refusing to be traumatised, I led Stefano another three times the wrong way round the display rooms into Market Hall, where we managed to survive not finding a single curtain that fit any of my windows, nor any kind of candle that didn’t smell of cherries or caramel, or both, whilst also pointlessly buying a series of tiny glass tumblers costing 50p each.
We then ventured into the really rogue part of the state where a bloody civil war is always raging, also known as The Self-Service Furniture Area. Within seconds, desperate people, mostly women and the old, were begging Stefano for help but we had to ignore them. It was heart-breaking.
Gripping our ticket to freedom — the aisle and location numbers of the day bed — we pushed our two trolleys stuck together up and down until it seemed that aisle 11 location 30 might be a ploy to keep refugees from DIY detained for ever in tiny tumbler-buying perpetuity.
Finally, we loaded three boxes on to our trolleys, and off to the checkout we went to wait behind someone buying a packet of caramel candles that didn’t have a price. We paid the not nearly cheap enough £420 for the day bed, loaded it up and crashed our way out of the overhanging barriers until there really was nothing left of Stefano’s roof rack.
Back home, he set about assembling the bed and I took the spaniel for a walk. When I got back, Stefano was kneeling on the floor as close to tears as a 6’4” Albanian gets. There were, he said, no fixings.
‘No fixings at all?’
‘What, not even one screw?’
So the next morning I set off at 8 a.m. to get to the border for 9 a.m. sharp. Uniformed officers informed me that the state of Ikea is closed until 10 a.m. Open for browsing only from 9 a.m. I drew myself up. If browsing was what it took to survive, then I would browse. I marched over the border and trudged around the display rooms until I found my day bed. I lay down for a bit of a sleep, decided it was quite uncomfortable, and set about selecting stray items from the displays to put in a big yellow sack.
When I got to Market Hall, it was 9.55 and refugees were queuing up ten deep at the tape. I pushed to the front with a bag containing a small child’s toy for £1, a set of small dayglo plastic boxes for £1.75 and a strange coathanger that looked like a one-dimensional wine-rack for £3.99. At 10 a.m. when the guards opened up, we charged over the line.
Past the curtains that didn’t fit any windows I ran. Past the tumblers for 50p. Ohmygod there’s some other tumblers for 20p. No, no, don’t stop. I had to get to the returns desk to take a cheese-counter ticket. But when I got there and pulled one out it said 23. There were already displaced people everywhere, sprawled over sofas, queuing, sitting on the floor. Where had they come from? Had there been a diplomatic incident at B&Q?
I ran up to the nearest guard and burst into tears. ‘I will die if you make me wait until ticket 23,’ I wailed.
She made a phone call. I waited for 20 minutes, sobbing. Then a little man in overalls came and took my receipt, shaking his head. They didn’t have these fixings. I told him he had to have these fixings. He demanded my address and went away. Another 20 minutes passed. I slumped to the floor. The little man returned with a huge box of fixings. I fell upon them weeping.
And at that very moment, Stefano texted: ‘Don’t bother, we found the fixings in the box.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 17 November 2012