I got lost in the woods, yesterday – the terrible Norwegian woods of Ikea. Or are they Swedish? Either way a scary place. I thought I’d actually prepared myself fairly well for the quest, knew the name of what I was looking for, and what size it was and everything. Wrote it down.
I’ve only ventured into Ikea once before, and on that occasion I was with my family. My position then was simply that of Card Bearer, so I suppose I must have trailed after the others in a kind of haze, blanking out the experience as I went until we got to the checkouts and somebody snapped their fingers to get my attention.
But this time I’m all alone, and it’s not two minutes before I’ve become sidetracked, looking at the strange signs. I’m almost sure I’ve met Farum and Dagny in schools that I’ve visited, and I’m thinking that maybe people are starting to name their children after bits of Ikea furniture. Then I look up and realise I’m miles from anywhere, adrift in some dark continent called Rugs, and wishing I’d brought a ball of string with me. Or some breadcrumbs. In the end I have to do what no man ever likes to do: ask directions. I stop a passing woman, presuming her to be another Babe in the Wood, and say ‘Do you think there’s any way out of here?’ She turns out to be quite a seasoned traveller, because she points to the ground and says ‘Follow the arrows’. Probably adding ‘dummy’, under her breath.
Arrows, though! Right there on the ground! As good as breadcrumbs, or better even. Certainly the most useful thing I’ve seen yet.
So I’m following the arrows, and after three or four miles it becomes automatic. I’m able to look around at the passing landscape, and I remember now the first time that we came here. We bought a big lump of something for the kitchen. When we got it home and unravelled it we found an instructional leaflet that read ‘In order to assemble this piece of furniture it is best to be two people’ – which existential thought has occupied me for many an hour since.
Eventually, travel stained and worn out, I stagger into a great echoing cavern called Self-Service Shopping, which is plainly where I should have started from because there’s my thing, the actual treasure that I’ve come here to find. The Malm. I’ve promised it to my daughter, currently Malmless of London. And there’s a trolley too, and suddenly it’s all going right because I can just make out the toll plaza, a fuzzy speck in the distance. Another couple of hours should see me returned to civilisation.
At the checkouts I find myself nodding to other whey-faced survivors, some of whom may well have been stuck in here for years. There’s an atmosphere almost of camaraderie, as I imagine you might find amongst people who’ve been involved in a terrible rollercoaster accident and somehow remained of a piece.
A bit of an argument with the lifts (I generally do argue with lifts, to be fair) and at last I gain the car park. I open the boot of the car, and allow myself to believe – perhaps for the first time since entering this hell-hole - that I shall see a teapot and a packet of biscuits once again. Just a matter now of transferring my spoils from trolley to car. The Malm is extremely heavy, and as my back goes pop I think, ‘They could be right, these Ikeans. Perhaps it really is best to be two people.’
UPDATE: Here's strange beyond belief. Just a few seconds after posting this, my phone goes beep. It's a message from Ikea!
For a giddy moment I imagine the Ikeans want to give me some kind of award, a medal maybe, the shopping equivalent of the DofE (Gold). But no. The message in full reads:
'Good News! Your product has now arrived'.
Whaat? Please don't tell me I've been dreaming. Please don't tell me I have to go back to Ikea and do it all again.
Later I shall summon the courage to go downstairs and see if there really is a Malm in my sitting room.