Monday 1 June 2009

Flatpack magic

I am sitting alone in my car in the car park at Ikea, drumming my fingers on the dashboard in frustration.
Not, as you might perhaps have expected, because of my location - in fact I have come to terms with the fact that Ikea and I are in a long-term relationship. I simply cannot see any way in which the Swedish pine-peddlers will not be enjoying my custom for the foreseeable future, because my family are growing (in physical size, that is - not in number), whereas my budget for new furniture has remained fairly constant for many years at around 'nil'. Seeing as my children continue to (a) grow, thus requiring new beds and the like, (b) almost casually break the furniture we already have and (c) find myriad other ways for me to spend any 'spare' money we might accrue, it's clear I will be offering up the meagre contents of wallet to the Temple of the Allen Key for several years to come. Need for new furniture + lack of funds = Ikea.
No, my issue is with something that been a cause of frustration in my life for much longer than trips to blue and yellow prefabricated warehouses at the edge of major towns: namely, my mother. She is 'helping' with our Ikea trip by driving my wife and children to the store in her car, so that my own vehicle is free to transport home any furniture we buy. And she has gone missing.
I last saw her about half an hour ago, as I crested a hill. As I glanced in my rear view mirror I could see her car in the distance, doing her customary 37 miles an hour. As the speed limit on the road was 60, and it was a single track road, I could also see the enormous tailback of traffic behind her, which stretched off to the horizon. I could also faintly hear the hooting and shouting.
In the intervening thirty minutes and eight miles - which are essentially a straight road - she has somehow gotten lost. That, or somebody has rammed her off the road in frustration.
I call my wife's mobile. She answers the phone with a very detectable air of resignation, which is not surprising, as I have been calling her regular intervals to complain about the speed my mother is driving at. She has thus been placed in the excruciating position of being asked to pass on a series of increasingly rude comments to her mother-in-law, which she has politely declined to do. Wise to this, I have taken to shouting my messages at the handset so that my mother can hear anyway. I suspect my wife has not enjoyed this situation one little bit.
"Where are you?" I snap.
"We are a bit lost..." she says, after a pause
"How? I mean, seriously, how? It's basically a straight road. It's not like you were going too fast to read the roadsigns, is it?"
"We followed the wrong car..."
"We saw another Ford Focus in the distance, so we followed that. It wasn't you. It didn't go to Ikea."
"You followed another car without ever drawing up close enough to see if it was the car you wanted?"
"It was going a bit fast for your mum to catch..."
"God. Where are you now?"
"Not sure.."
"Give me a description of what you can see..."
She does so. It becomes immediately clear that they have driven some ten miles further on from the correct turning. I give fresh directions, adding (at volume) my opinion on the optimum speed they should travel at in order to get to the store before it closes, and ring off.
However, I still feel I need to vent some frustration. I decide to call the one person in the world who probably knows exactly how I feel.
"Hello?" says my sister.
"How do you stand it?" I ask without preamble. "How do you not go stark staring mad and leap out of the vehicle, screaming?"
There is a short pause, but it doesn't take her long to catch on.
"Is it her driving, or has she lost her sunglasses again?" she asks.
"It's the driving. I have toenails that grow faster then she drives."
"It's the glasses that annoy me the most at the moment. I think her record was six times in one day. She takes them off, and then can't see well enough to find them again."
"Can she see well enough to drive?"
"Only very, very slowly, apparently..."

Some time later, my family arrive. My children seem very pleased to see me, which is good, because in the time they were gone I was starting to worry they may have forgotten what I looked like. My mother gives a disarming smile and a shrug, and my wife looks mutinous, a look I clearly interpret as saying 'We will discuss your phone calls later.' But the rest of the Ikea trip proves to be very easy: the store is very quiet, doubtless because most shoppers who drive at normal road speeds have been and gone long before we arrived. We don't even have to queue for the traditional Ikea lunch in the cafe:
"These meatballs are very nice," says my mother. "I wish I could take some home"
"They sell them in packets for the freezer..." adds my wife, helpfully.
"Will they keep? For the journey home? Won't they melt?"
"At the speed you drive, I think that's a certainty" I reply. "In fact, I think there's a fighting chance the polar ice caps might have melted by the time you get home,...
"Oh, hush now, and eat your meatballs. Your Daddy is a grumpy Daddy, isn't he, girls? Grumpy...."

Later at home (which I arrive at far enough ahead of the others to have a cup of tea, a shower, a chat with my neighbours and a lengthy read of the paper before they limp into view), I try and assemble the new bed for our youngest daughter. It becomes clear that one of the pieces supplied is incorrect: on the supplied instructions it has two holes milled in it that are mysteriously absent on the actual article - though to compensate for this I have been supplied with an extra inch-long length of dowel that serves no purpose whatsoever. I resort to checking my eldest daughters bed, which is meant to be the same model, and which features correctly milled pieces. From this I can deduce that in the two years between the purchase of each bed, the model has slightly changed - and what I have in fact been supplied is the new model of bed, only with the instructions for the old model, and a bag of fixings that do not quite match either. Taking it back is not an option, as my daughter needs a bed to sleep in that night, so I persevere with a fixing solution of my own design using the large bag of spare Ikea fixings I have accumulated over the years. This is not a complete success, it must be said, and my mother comes in to check on progress just as I realise that I have broken a second piece of the bed by hammering a dowel into a promising-looking hole that turned out to be too small for it. As a result I am indulging it a bit of imaginative swearing, which she generously chooses not to hear.
I look at her sadly. She is waiting (very patiently) for me to assemble this bed, so that I can then disassemble the cot my daughter previously slept in, which she can then take home with her to give to my sister. I realise that, in an exquisitely unpleasant turn of events, not only are two small children now dependent on me to provide a bed for them that night, but after day of griping at her, its actually my mother who is now waiting for me.
I decide extreme measures are called for. I fetch my tube of industrial adhesive, suitable for gluing chunks of concrete together, and apply it liberally. Sixty seconds later, as promised by the manufacturer, the undrilled piece is firmly glued in position to it's neighbour - but as a side effect both seem to be stuck to the floor.
"That doesn't look so good..." she observes.
"It's probably because you've lost your glasses..."
Even she smiles at this. It's good to have a mum like mine.


pw said...

Another humorous post, as usual. Thanks for sharing.

The bike shed said...

Very funny.

In West Wales, where I live for abut haf the year, it seems that everyone drives at thirty miles an hour, especially on bank holidays -usaully in a Morris Princess, looking through the steering wheel to see over the dashboard...

So you follow them, fall half asleep yourself and end up in place called Ynysybwl or something like that.

Great writing.

Misterimpatient said...

IHI - I Hate Ikea. I too have been lost in the hell that is wrong parts and incorrect instructions AND for beds too. Sometimes cheap is not a useful excuse.

I'm not yet quite ready to laugh about it. Only a year has passed.

Mum said...

How come I am the only one in the family who can claim 3 speedy tickets in the last 4 years or so ? (ALL FOR DOING APPROX 3 MILES OVER THE LIMIT, IS IT ANY WONDER I AM PARANOID)I am just so grateful that I managed to find the car when we left Ikea, I just hate hugh car parks, especially when all the cars seem to be the same colour as mine, perhaps I was successful this time because I had found my glasses !

Mum xx

Tara@Sticky Fingers said...

It seems I was totally wrong all this time - visiting IKEA is a fun thing.
Just visiting from British Mummy Bloggers to say hi and also your poor poor wife. I feel for her, i really do . . . !

Nota Bene said...

Well at least you got your meatballs...

nemo said...

The thing about Brutal Honesty is that it is important to be brutal. Something I know you excel in, Paul!

In fact, it appears there are interlopers who believe they invented the technique:

It could almost be you!

Carol said...

Mark suggested that I pop over and I'm very glad I did!! That was a very funny post!!

We braved the hell that is IKEA at the weekend so I'm feeling your pain!! (Although we had slightly more success at the whole bed building thing).

Hehehe, so just how much trouble were you in with your wife after those phone calls?

C x