The last time we braved IKEA, No.4 was small enough to be stuffed into a drawer by his siblings.
His absence became apparent some time after we’d progressed from the kitchen department to office furniture. Our 3 visible kids were running amok, delighting in our stupidity – we’d brought them to the biggest and best Hide ‘n’ Seek playground in the world.
We sought No.4 with a degree of rising panic – cursing IKEA’s clever storage solutions as time ticked by.
Thankfully, we located him while he was still breathing. He gasped a slightly bemused smile as we grabbed him into our arms. The others found an escape route up an impossibly high bunk bed and perched there, laughing their annoying little heads off.
I think we saw the wisdom in surrender by this time, promising them meatballs in the café if they came down, and wishing we could disown them forever.
Of course, we decided to keep them (they’ve lasted longer than some of the must-have items we bought on that day of torment).
So, No.3 says she’d like to visit Sweden on her Inset Day (day off school). I look up at her, “Very funny.”
She smiles a question, “We could go to IKEA?”
“Very, very funny.”
Determinedly deaf to the ‘definitely not‘ in my tone, she says, “So that’s a ‘Yes’?”
Let me explain: her father/my husband recently embarked on a solo mission to the Swedish furniture empire. He daringly navigated unchartered shortcuts, battled with boxes containing a bunk bed/desk/wardrobe combination, then waited in an interminable queue to pay – all for No.3. He swore never to return, but our daughter now thinks IKEA is the shop of all shops.
My desire to frame a growing stash of travel photos overrides any sense residing in my brain – I submit, and agree that a day trip to ‘Sweden’ will be ‘awesome’.
Coffee and hot chocolate first – to enter into the spirit of this Swedish shopping experience.
It works – my temporary IKEA family card buys me a cappuccino for just 40p, and we snaffle a whole load of cheap chocolate and snacks at the cash desk. My sceptical mood – ‘call this a Swedish day trip after a drizzly, slow M25 car ride?‘ – is on the up. I have caffeine, chocolate and a new Swedish word – choklad.
Of course, you can’t simply head straight for photo frames – that’s not the IKEA way. You have to follow the designated route through every ‘room’ in the (ware)house. We go with the Swedish flow.
I tell No.3 we’re in Stockholm as we sit and gaze at a rainy nighttime scene through some partially drawn curtains. It’s a bit dark and gloomy – not quite what I’d had in mind …
We bag a couple of unwanted and unnecessary items (notably inexpensive post-Brexit), and are happy to find some fun lights to brighten the day.
Huge pictures on the walls sweep us from Sweden to the wider world.
IKEA really is a global phenomenon – there are 389 stores in 48 countries. The biggest IKEA store (to date) is in Seoul, South Korea, and is a whopping 59,000m².
Although Swedish at heart, and with an ethos of simplicity, IKEA is organised in a complex multinational group of companies. But this sophisticated worldwide business occasionally gets it wrong with words, e.g. naming a workbench a ‘Fartfull’ (or was that intentional?).
We skip past bath mats and toilet brushes, and I rejoice that I haven’t lost my only daughter in some Nordic Narnia-style wardrobe … although at one point it’s a very close call.
The Elusive Exit
We think we’re at the finish line … but of course not – this is IKEA where it’s possible to spend whole weeks at a time. A few Christmassy cuddly toys soften the sight of a multitude of aisles filled sky-high with so many boxes of flat-packed furniture (guaranteed to scrape the skin right off your hands and elicit a whole host of Nordic profanities – if you know them), that no number of elves would know what to do with them.
We hold fast to the Swedish dream at the unappealing checkout, keeping our eyes firmly on the Food Market just the other side.
Finally, this is more like it – Swedish food through and through with the usual IKEA eye for design. Huge round knäckerbröd, präst cheese, classic daim chocolate bars, frozen rösti, and kex (biscuits).
Plus we spot a single lonely jar of cloudberry jam (sylt hjortron). It’s ours.
Before we go, a quick bite to eat at the small food counter next to the Food Market (far better than joining the throngs queueing in the restaurant). There are hot dogs and meatballs, but we opt for veggie balls. They are spicy and sweetened with a generous splodge of tomato ketchup.
Emerging from ‘Sweden‘, I lug the great boxed mirror (unnecessarily purchased item No.13) through the grim Thurrock rain to our car, and forcefully shove it in so that the boot almost shuts.
Unfortunately, I angle the new reflective glass in such a way that whenever I look in the rear view mirror to check the surrounding traffic on our homeward journey, all I see is my worried self. It totally freaks me out.
PS I did buy those photo frames.
IKEA (Sweden) was kind of fun, but it’s good to be home.