I was dragged along to Ikea the other day to buy a super-dee-duper Swedish-designed suitcase which has people who are into such things all of a tizzy. Well, I wasn’t dragged along just to buy the said suitcase, but also to poke and prod and open and close and grip and grasp and haul and heft and wheel and weave the confounded thing prior to its putative purchase — to give the thing as thorough a road test as possible without actually packing toothpaste and underwear into it and loading it up on to an airplane. Because in our household we don’t just waltz out of a luggage shop with the first suitcase we set our dewy eyes on: we do our research. We go on-line. We join forums. We seek out third, fourth, fifth opinions. Then, when we decide that the piece of luggage is a likely candidate, we carry out a series of preordained tests in the shop, and based on whether or not the case passes muster we may or may not buy the unfortunate case. BTW: in all of the above, when I write “we”, I really mean “the significant other” (SO). And furthermore: it would certainly not be me doing the road-testing. My job is to grin and bear the shame and disturbance of my highly cultivated aura of cool while the SO acts the first-day-in-the-city hayseed, tearing into suitcases with grim zeal, unzipping this, velcroing up that, and expressing wonder (or an expert’s disapproval akin to the tut-tutting and frowning of a judge at a dog show) at this feature or that. Oh, and my other role is to pass sly (and what I consider witty, but what the SO has let me know are unhelpful) comments while the she slumps to new depths of unselfsonscious backwoodswoman baggage blackguarding.
I usually do not mind going to Ikea, but, not sharing the SO’s thing for luggage (and handbags and all manner of objects to do with the storage and/or transport of personal items), on this occasion I would have preferred to be almost anywhere rather than padding the solvent-smelling, soft-LED-lit aisles of everyone’s favourite Scandinavian home store. I had been bribed into coming along, though. At the end of the long and winding trail of baggage rustling I was to be granted a furlough into Ikea’s own promised land of milk and hygge — or, rather, of meatballs and lager. Because, as everyone knows, Ikea does both food items splendidly. The meatballs are better than your mother would make, unless your name happened to be Junior Lawson or Baby Oliver, and the lager is almost as good as lager gets — like a smoother, more delicate, more floral Grolsch. And together, the lager and meatballs are the definition of sybaritic symbiosis. They go together like horse and carriage, Thelma and Louise, Hall and Oates, Kylie and Jason, Jim Reid and Hope Sandovall singing “Sometimes Always”. You get the idea.
A large part of the indignation referred to in the title of this piece stems from the stymieing of my desire to fill my gut with meatballs and lager. (Otherwise the piece would have been entitled “Indigestion in Ikea”!) In short, after having comported myself like the SO’s shiny-shoed best boy before, during and after the Calvary that was the locating, road-testing and purchase of the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious suitcase, I was denied my culinary reward in the Valhalla of Ikea’s cafeteria.
“What?” I hear you ask. “The SO broke her word? Instead of taking you by the hand and leading her good little man to his deserved treat, she pulled you scowling and red-faced to the car park amid sobs of ‘I want my meatballs’?”
My path to Odin’s house was thwarted by those vilest of creatures — the self-important and obnoxious security guard.
Here’s how things went: after navigating Ikea’s tricky gigantic revolving door, we high-tailed it upstairs to the Family Section, where we knew the luggage was on display. The marvellous suitcase was found and put through the hoops. It was given the green light by the SO. Suitcase in hand, we wended our way through the lighting, bathroom and bedclothes section, mooched desultorily around the bargain bins (just in case, you know?) and proceeded to the checkout. While waiting in line and resisting the temptation to buy scented candles, fancy napkins and fake plastic flowers (even though, as is typical for a visit to Ikea, I began to believe that my life would be more complete — edgier, hipper, more here-and-now — with these items) I looked across at the little Swedish supermarket at the other side of the cash registers and suggested to the SO that we pay it a visit prior to going upstairs for my date with meatballs and lager.
“Why not?” says she.
We cough up for the case and make our way over to eyeball a selection of salmon, unrecognisable preserves, odd-looking rhubarb-based drinks and even stranger-looking hard-boiled candies. I get some lager for home consumption, smoked cheese and a family-sized bag of squishy chocolate-covered vanilla and god-knows-what sweets — on the off-chance they are nice. I feel, while not complete, that my life has taken an upturn. I am part of the cool, Swedish-cheese-and-rubbery-sweet-eating set. Next stop one of those swingy rope chairs for the balcony and a collarless shirt, and I will be able to change my name to Sven (a name which always lends the cover of a book extra gravitas).
At this stage, knowing that the meatballs and lager are only an escalator ride away, I am salivating. The SO hands the case to me while she packs our purchases into a canvass shopping bag. I extend the case’s lightweight alloy arm and begin wheeling it towards the escalator, feeling for a moment that I am in an airport. I am happy with expectation. I step onto the first slowly rising step of the escalator wearing the smile of one of the more serene Buddhas, feeling a Zen-like harmony with a universe that is about to stuff me with processed meat, gravy and lightly hopped, malted and fermented barley. I imagine that to strangers I either look smugly self-satisfied or a brick short of a load. Then, one yard into the air my serenity is broken by a gruff “you there”.
Before I can turn to see the issuer of this vulgar salutation, the voice barks: “You can’t go up there with that!” I see that I am being addressed by a security guard, who is about ten yards away as the crow flies, but growing increasingly distant as the escalator moves me towards the first floor. He is a short, dark man wearing the brown militia-like uniform of one of Spain’s largest security firms. His oiled hair shines from my vantage point. I see he has a belt which holds a gun, truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. Things must get pretty rough here in Ikea — meatball mania, flat-pack frenzy, cushiony craziness, lampy lunacy. Momentarily confused and not wishing to hold a conversation with someone who is growing smaller by the second, I try stepping down the escalator.
“Excuse me?” I say, walking against the tide of expanding steps. Despite my efforts I am still rising. I wonder if my voice carries to him with a Doppler effect. I also wonder if I should run down the steps in order to make ground. Or should that be unmake ground? At this stage the SO has reached the bottom of the escalator (I had left her behind me in my enthusiasm to reach my meatballs), and seeing what’s going on is making a beeline for You There. Reckoning that I look like Jimmy Stewart during one of his sillier cinematic moments, I give up trying to trot down the escalator and leave negotiations with You There to the SO.
I watch the discussions from an atrium from which access to the restaurant or the living room section can be gained. The SO’s face is smiling and placating in the wake of the mini-security guard’s expression of thunderous mistrust. It is here that my indignation begins to bubble to the surface. You There’s body language screams contempt, and it is my beloved SO to whom that contempt is directed. I can see her explaining to the diminutive Guardian of Flat-Packs and Soft Furnishings that we are not shoplifters. We just came to buy a suitcase and eat some meatballs. And I can see that You There is having none of it. If anything his hostility increases. His little barrel chest bulges outwards and he starts to point: at the exit, at me and the suitcase, at the restaurant. He then makes a Hitleresque gesture with his right arm, rapidly drawing an imaginary diagonal line between the SO and himself with a stubby index finger.
“Under no circumstances”, the gesture says, “can you go upstairs with that suitcase. For all I know you’ll trek through the store secreting into the case items for which you have no intention of paying.”
I can see the penny dropping with the SO that there is no way in the wide earthly world she’ll convince You There that we are innocent customers, who after a twisting and thirsty tour through part of Ikea’s labyrinth are crying out for refreshment. She flashes him a final smile as if to say that no matter how ignorant or fascistic You There might be, he’s not going to kill her post-luggage-purchase buzz. And she’s not going to let her manners slip either. She thanks him and tells him she understands his position before slipping on to the elevator to join me in my atrium of indignation.
“Little prick,” I spit, and then proffer some other four letter words. “I’m gonna go down there and stuff him into the suitcase. Prick.”
“Don’t bother,” I am told. “Let’s just forget about your meatballs and get out of here.”
You There glowers at us all the way as we take the downward escalator and make our way to the exit. Even while we’re packing our new suitcase into the boot of the car I still feel like giving this jumped up jack a piece of my mind.
“We broke with protocol,” says the SO, thinking out loud. “In Ikea you’re meant to spend a couple of tiring hours wending your way around the displays. Then pop up to the restaurant for your meatballs. And then, and only then, mosey downstairs to pick up — and pay for —everything you’ve decided to buy.”
“Well. There’s no excuse for ignorance,” is my reply.
I’m not sure if I ever want to go back to Ikea. We have been regular customers. A hefty proportion of the furniture in our house is from there. We have usually made a couple of trips a year to our local outlet to pick up sundry items. Our girls love the place. Their imaginations are fired by walking into the display kitchens and bedrooms and pretending that they are walking through their other parallel lives or the lives of invented friends and relatives. Trips to Ikea have always been fun. But now the heavy-handed, bad-mannered attitude of one outsourced employee and a glimpse into the inflexibility of this multinational’s look-eat-purchase policy has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. As of writing this my indignation has not yet worn off.