Mark Keenan: 'Nobody told me IKEA is a relationship rocker of renown'
The big view on Ireland's property market
Nobody told me IKEA is a relationship rocker of renown. But as we pulled into the car park at the blue and yellow mother ship of flatpack, there were flashing red lights all around us.
From beneath its hulk emerged a fighting couple pushing a trolley and tearing strips off each other. The next departing pair comprised a lady in a mustard hat gesticulating wildly at her man, he expending gargantuan effort to drag along a palette of precarious giant Jenga at the pace of a Jawa sandcrawler. You know the expression from TV animal appeal ads: The boulder-bearing Afghan donkey being whipped uphill? Broken. Tearjerk piano tinkling and emphatic voiceover: "Every Sunday Gerard is brought to a giant windowless warehouse where he must haul heavy loads on tiny castors… for hours."
"That's funny." "What's funny?" "We're only here and I've seen two couples fighting." "Didn't you know?" "Know what?" "That Ikea is notorious for couples fighting."
It makes sense. Most men hate shopping. When I shop, it's a supermarket trolley grab. I run in, snatch, hit the till, out. When I was little I had a Rupert the Bear book with a story about Rupert getting accidentally locked into a department store for the night. It gave me nightmares. For years.
The average IKEA is 350,000 sq ft with no windows. Instead of all the toasters in one place and swivel chairs in another, it mixes everything into endless showroom displays. You follow an arrow trail, obliged to see the entire 350,000 sq ft before you can buy a thing. Conversely, my other half loves shopping and is hard-wired to pick up and caress every single item in stock before she can leave.
"Not us!" we laughed. We can disagree but we don't fight much. And we had our PIP (Pre-IKEA Pledge): "We need these three items. We know what colour, name and catalogue number. We are agreed not to buy anything else. At all. Or look at anything else. At all. We get in, get the stuff and get out." Not cloudy and there's definitely no chance of meatballs.
We are only in the door and someone's lost their granddad. The couple are distracted with their list, but haven't seen granddad get on the escalator, expecting them to follow. Up he goes alone, croaking desperately, reaching an arm out and looking forlorn. He disappears into the ether above like David Niven's dead airman ascending to his heavenly maker in A Matter of Life and Death. The couple remain list-attached, unaware of their loss. Losing granddad at IKEA is a biggie.
Already I am sullen with this "follow the arrows" malarkey. A satire news item online is headlined: "Man arrested in Atlanta for putting fake arrow decals on the floor in IKEA, creates labyrinth with no exit." I want to make that breadcrumb trail. We are in that labyrinth.
Against my expectations I am first to break our pledge. I see two interesting architect lamps. I love architect lamps. I was off the arrows for thirty seconds max, I pleaded at the post mortem. That was it though - her licence to go freestyle.
How many sets of handles can you have for something? No, it's a Kallax we want, not a BiTrade. No that's a Flysta. Is our home a cushion sanctuary?! Why do we need a special mat to scrub potatoes? Yes it's cool but it's still just a wooden box!
There is an enormous machine that shoves flat-bed trolleys into a point where waiting customers will need one. There is a man with a clipboard. There are no trolleys. The machine is not working. Like passengers queuing to check in, the line builds up behind us. What do we do now? Word goes back "... gone to get someone." An older lady starts 'quiet crying.' An age later the machine starts rolling. We get a trolley. Onwards to the warehouse from Indiana Jones. This is where you discover, three hours after arriving, that they don't have the unit you came for.
While I am trying to find our box among the millions stacked skyward, a mother and daughter approach with a particularly large example on their trolley. "Excuse me," says the daughter. "Can you tell me whether this can fit in my car?" "Em, well, I don't know. What car do you drive?" "A Renault Clio." "If your back seat and your front passenger seat both fold right down flat. And if your mum goes in the back seat. Maybe." "The back seat goes flat alright. But does my front seat fold down?" "Em, I don't know. It's your car. You could try it." And then mum in a low voice: "To be honest, I just wouldn't feel comfortable sitting in the back with all of that." And suddenly their fight is on. It's not just couples.
But men and women need each other's skills for IKEA. Women have that find-a-needle-in-a-haystack thing that men would be lost without in there. Men have the Stanley retractable measuring tape. Now we discover IKEA doesn't have the colour we want in the Kube shelves. We need it to match one we already have. Compromise. We'll take a shorter Kallax unit in our colour and add a single box to it to bring it up in height. They don't have the box in that colour either.
We find the last shorter unit in stock and in our colour and we'll come back for the box. Both snappy and smouldering, but almost there.
Then. Between us and the tills a huge floor space opens with soft accessories. Ambush! Without saying a word, she veers off to the right, both hands already out, ready to receive. That smile starting. One thing. Then another. Feeling them up. Abandon trolley and into pursuit. We compromise. Ten minutes only. OK. OK.
Back on route. The tills are coming. We get through. We are waiting in a queue for the giant lift for trolleys. We're at the front at last. The doors will open soon. An expensively dressed man bypasses the entire line, wheels alongside me and jabs the nose of his trolleyed Svalnas wall combo right in front of our Kallax. That was it. I totally lost my Knopparps.
Walking to the car. Her Nibs: "Well if they really cared about the queue being skipped, someone else would have said it too!" Me: "He damn well knew what he was at!" Her Nibs: "There would have been another lift in a minute." Me: "And you? You think we should have let that w****r away with that?!" Her Nibs: "Oh f******g whatever!" And a couple just arriving in a car are both staring at us.