What have Ikea against West London? There are branches on the North Circular, Croydon and Thurrock, but for some reason, nothing yet for us West London folks.
That's a real pain if you want to buy their furniture - the North Circular never being the best way of getting into the mood for retail therapy, and the drive to Croydon is simply indescribable in polite language. (You can go by tube and tram, but only if you're prepared to risk a hernia lugging your purchases on the way back).
But West London's loss does give me an excuse for blogging about another Ikea - in Barcelona. (Well, if I can’t be local I might as well go a long way away...?)
Not that you’d know where you were from the design, layout and content of the store. From the iconic dark blue and yellow fascia to the Scandinavian-style menu, you could be anywhere in Europe. Only the internal signage – in Catalan – gives the location away. Even the punters look the same (except maybe a little better dressed) - extended families on an afternoon out, young couples (kids in the crèche), gay and lesbian couples, and the odd puzzled looking foreigner.
And like every Ikea, it evokes strong reactions. Now, we’re very faithful customers for its range of reliable basics, like bookcases, storage, soft furnishings and lighting. But equally, as a shopping experience – especially on Saturday – it comes pretty close to the ultimate definition of stress.
Firstly, there’s the long, slow winding layout. Then there's the search along those huge, intimidating rows of warehouse shelves before, finally, reaching check-out queues that could test even the British sense of fair play.
In fact, the whole thing resembles one huge board game. If you’re clever, you can short-cut the showroom route (by-passing kitchens and offices). But take a wrong turn and, nightmarishly, you seem to have gone back fifteen spaces, to dining, or beds, or wherever. And on our trip, this is pretty much what happened to us: we reached the final slalom of the ‘market’ section at the end, only to discover that the item we wanted was right at the beginning. And I mean, right at the beginning. Return to ‘Start’. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect €200.
Literally re-tracing our steps felt like a salmon that had taken a wrong turn, not entirely helped by my other half’s helpful comment that ‘I’ve always been swimming against the tide’. Well, maybe. But not in Ikea. Not on a Saturday. And not right back to the beginning, either, earning astonished and sometimes pitying stares from our fellow Ikearistos in the process. It felt like we’d thrown the dice and been sent down one very long snake, some hideous nightmare in which we were condemned to wander the showrooms of Ikea forever.
Fortunately, thanks to a very nice store assistant and a conversation in mixed Spanish and pidgin Catalan, we managed to short-cut our route back to the check-out. We escaped a shade under three hours, purchases in hand, with some sanity left and our dignity intact.
The sense of relief was palpable, as we emerged, squinting into the sunlight. We’d played the game of Ikea, and won.