It was one of ‘those’ holiday days that all families endure. The dead zone: the day to end all days. The weather was shoddy, lethargy had set in, we were all sick of the sight of each other and tetchiness was rampant. To break the monotony, I suggested to my daughters (my wife was ill, so was, smugly, exempt) that I would take them anywhere and do anything they wanted for the afternoon, to add a little downtime cheer.
Regrettably, I did not announce any pre-requisites and they collectively handed me some kryptonite: “Let’s go to Ikea.” they demanded. I actively avoid such places and it has been a decade since my last visit. It is down there with a trip to Accessorize or Primark as my wallet takes a bashing and I fail to see even one iota behind the hype surrounding such brain-numbing retail activity.
We jumped in the family car, which set the tone for the afternoon as the wife had left the lights on and the battery was flat. After 20 minutes in the cold faffing around, we were on our way through the anus of London town: the North Circular area. Reaching Ikea, I pointed out to the girls all the roads on the left and the ULEZ signs, telling them “If we go 10 feet that way it will cost us, but I’m not silly,” only to be met with a ‘no right turn’ at the jaws of the Swedish hellhole.
Cue panic: it was unclear whether if we turned left we would pay the princely sum of £12.50 into Khan’s back pocket, so we drove on, taking a further 30 minutes, via a detour around the aptly named Hanger Lane, as it leaves you out to dry in a toxin-fuelled motorised jamboree.
Eventually, after sidestepping sneaky speed cameras every 50 yards on the return journey around the A406, we reached the garish blue and yellow liveried retail ‘experience’. I was comforted to see there had been no change over the decade: it was rammed with extremely unhappy looking people, barging each other aggressively with oversized, over-branded trolleys. Entering the store was akin to the midnight express exercise yard, with those going against the white arrows sneered at for daring to challenge the Nordic system. The first section was dull: bedrooms: which proudly claimed you could build an entire sleep zone for £500, before we continued with even more overpriced flatpack crap in ever-increasing monotony, including the dining room and rug sections.
Even the girls were bored of the constant jostling and, with our solitary item of a three-pack of scissors in a trolley the size of the space shuttle, we made our way to the ‘market zone’ where those with yellow pull along baskets, which hurt your back unless you are 5 feet tall or smaller, were forced to transfer their items into the space shuttle due to, inexplicably yet predictably, Covid.
Eventually the girls found something they liked: a small three-pack of artificial cacti. It was indicative of teenage laziness that, even when I urged them to buy the real thing, the off-putting part was the fact they would have to water it gingerly once a fortnight. Too much effort apparently, as we put the artificial plants in near the scissors, who were looking cuttingly lonely.
After speaking to a member of staff who expertly directed us to the ‘flatpack desk’ section 12 miles away, before admitting he didn’t work there, but ‘came for a browse most days’, we retreated from the lunatic to the confines of the queue. I looked at the sweating mass of folk before me, hunched together, as I consoled myself that the large trolleys were keeping them safe from the virus, before I suggested we dump the wheels to save waiting, and go to Homebase instead. Miraculously, the girls agreed as we skipped merrily past sweating middle-aged gentleman on the verge of coronaries, as they attempted, unsuccessfully, to slide a dining room table into the back of a Ford Ka.
I don’t believe I have ever been as glad to get back in a car as we planned our escape from this badly designed freak of retail nature. But then I turned the key, and nothing happened. As I headbutted the steering wheel, thankfully, my wise before her years 14-year-old daughter, Izzy, came to the rescue: “Dad, dry your eyes and man up! They sold jump leads near the till. Just pop in and get some.”
- Brett Ellis is a teacher