Breakfast is a silent meal this morning. We stare at each other as if both understanding we are replaying the same events in our mind.
We didn’t get much sleep, mainly because the thing on which we were supposed to be sleeping couldn’t be slept on until it had been assembled. And during that assembly, we were getting more and more annoyed.
The evening had started well. This IKEA visit had been a model of planning and single-mindedness.
We knew the bed was in stock because we looked it up online. There wasn’t even any time wasted putting metaphysical questions to IKEA’s perky virtual assistant. (If ever there was an online facility ripe for facile japery it’s the ‘Ask Anna’ feature on IKEA.com of whom you can ask questions such as: “Anna, who tells the sun to rise?” Anna seems completely unaware of Pat the Baker and replies, with perfect politeness, “I’m afraid I’m not here to discuss the weather.”)
Lessons had been learned from many previous visits to the store. The first time was the worst. We had just moved into an empty house. Everything in IKEA was a possible purchase and we couldn’t make up our minds on anything. It was a miserable culmination, when, having passed through the final bit of the Market Hall, we looked in our trolley and found only some tin-openers. That was all we could agree on.
As we went there more often, we began to appreciate the little things that made the experience a bit more tolerable.
Little things like watching someone in the IKEA restaurant attempt to buy a child’s meal, despite not having any children. The sight of a grown adult lying about imaginary children in order to get cheaper meatballs is a powerful reminder of the human condition.
You can also take exciting shortcuts. The IKEA store layout is designed to guide you very deliberately along a predefined logical path through a home’s needs. But if you are some sort of adrenalin junkie, they have provided shortcuts that allow you to skip entire zones and land in somewhere completely different. The slightly jarring feeling of leaving the Pillows section and landing without any transition in Flowerpots must be what it’s like if you’ve discovered a portal to another universe, or if you’re in Lidl.
The proliferation of free pencils is another bonus. Nothing lifts the spirits like a free writing instrument. And you don’t get that soul-crushing despondency of being in a bookies’.
So it was in high spirits, that a couple of hours later back at the house, we began to assemble.
The instruction booklet should have been the first clue that this would not be a wham-dowel-screw-bam-thank-you-mam situation.
The booklet had 30 pages. Perhaps because we saw ourselves as veterans of the process, we didn’t pay enough respect to it and rushed into the job.
IKEA is the perfect embodiment of the phrase: Everything happens for a reason. There are no grey areas, no equivocation, and no “Ah shur that’ll do”. Follow the instructions and everything should be fine.
If you use a 101350 dowel where the instructions specifically call for a 101345 then you may think you’ve got away with it but your transgression will be punished at a later stage when your piece of furniture ends up looking like something out of a Dali poster.
After a number of restarts, the tension in the bedroom was rising and my wife decided to assemble some other bits elsewhere and let us fume separately.
This seemed to do the trick as we were soon making triumphant little noises as the things started to fit into place. Then I noticed a change in tone coming from the other room. The triumphant little noises were replaced by the kind of noises one might make in battle—the kind of battle where the only way to defeat an opponent is to swear at it.
“There’s something wrong with the instructions for these bloody SLATS!!” she roared.
I froze. She’d questioned the IKEA instructions! I was afraid the little cartoon assembling man with the bald head and the onesie would come to life and start berating us.
I wanted to say, “These are Swedes. They don’t make mistakes and might I remind you that their government has given ours a very generous bilateral loan.”
But she was right; the instructions were leading us into an impossible situation.
It’s worth pointing out that slats should not need much instructioning, but our confidence was shot at this stage after Dowel-gate.
We began to experiment with the rules. It felt crazy and a little scary.
With this combination of pain and adventure in the bedroom, we might as well be characters in a raunchy new blockbusting book about flat-pack: Fifty Types of Screw.
“I trembled as he held it in his hands. I knew the pain that I would soon feel. He paused as if expecting me to say something. But my throat was dry.
“When he spoke there was a tremor in his voice ‘Do you know where this thing goes?’ he said, brandishing the hinge.”