[The image jitters, there is a thump as the sound comes on, and a haggard, hair-covered face fills the frame. Veils of windswept snow crystals twist and drift across the view.]
SIR RANULPH FIENNES [for it is he]: Bally thing’s playing silly buggers again. Hello! Hello! Michael!
MIKE IN THE STUDIO: Sir Ranulph! Can you hear me?
[A snow hare is hopping through a drift in the background, using its footprints to spell out the words “Hello Mum”.]
RANULPH: Call me “Ruffers”. Everyone else does.
MIKE: Er, “Ruffers”, we understand that your record attempt is going through something of a difficult phase. You’ve already suffered frostbite?
RANULPH: Nothing serious: just a couple of toes.
MIKE: And, apparently your pet Arctic tern, Jeremy, has died?
RANULPH: [Waving rigid feathered corpse in front of camera] Poor blighter copped it as we went over the last rise. It was inevitable there’d be casualties on a mission like this.
[RANULPH is wearing a badge sponsored by ICELAND. As he speaks, its scrolling dot-matrix display is showing this week’s exciting offers on Bird’s Eye sweet chilli flavour hash browns.]
MIKE: And you’ve found a way to deal with the tragedy?
RANULPH: We didn’t build an empire on sentimentality, young man. I put some notches in Jeremy’s beak and used the serrated edge to saw off my dead toes. Waste not want not.
MIKE: After the loss of part of your foot within the first week would you say that this—your attempt to become the first man walk across Siberia, dragging a frozen mammoth on a microscooter—is turning out to be your greatest challenge to date?
RANULPH: Bladdy hell, no! That would be my 2001 expedition to be the first man to shop at the Lakeside IKEA without a female guide. Drizzle on the M23 like I’ve never seen. Fully laden Citroen aquaplaning like a duck on a frozen pond. They thought it couldn’t be done—and it certainly got a bit ugly in the Pick Up Zone—but I proved ’em wrong. Cost me an arm and a leg though.
I thank yew.
But seriously folks, I never thought I’d turn into the sort of bore who blithered on about the awfulness of IKEA, but here I am. I set off 14:30hrs Monday and got back home at 00:30hrs today. Admittedly this included an unwanted excursion to Bluewater. When people said, “You should go to the IKEA next to Bluewater”, they meant “next to” in the sense of “the other side of the Dartford Crossing”.
Admittedly I did eat there, and there were hours of nervous driving in the rain and gloom and lots of loading and unloading, but I had no idea it was possible to spend so much time shopping—not even “fun”, frivolous shopping, but functional, frightening shopping, surrounded by twenty-times-lifesize images of Scandinavians who probably wear their black polo necks to weddings and, when they aren’t gazing out at eternal vistas of slate grey sky, design folding kitchen tables with names like Star Wars characters. As for the real people in the shop, yes, IKEA is a great place to meet good-looking women, but they are all walking around in sensible shoes with Gavin from Personnel and fall into one of three stages of life: pregnant, recently pregnant, and post-menopausal.
My main piece of advice to anyone contemplating similar foolishness: never, never find yourself at the checkout near the ten o’clock closedown. I witnessed a shocking scene of IKEA rage at about eleven when one guy (unknowingly, I think) parked his car in a loading bay that two women already had lined up for themselves. The guy started an attempt at an apology, but gave up immediately and joined in the abuse when the women went from nought to nuclear in a single step. Nasty.
Favourite IKEA moment? An American couple in front of me in the queue for the home delivery service had three flat-bed trollies loaded with furniture. Mr America was pleading in exasperation at a poor dispatcher because he had told him it was only possible for him to have next-day delivery. I think this might be the first documented sighting of citizens of the USA complaining about overly prompt customer service in a retail establishment on British soil. At that point I was close to emotional collapse. This was enough to push me into hysterical giggling and the woman next to me in the equally long queue for Customer Services desk said: “I’m glad someone thinks it’s funny.”
Mind you, I’ll probably be back next week: they’d sold out of the bathroom cabinet I wanted, my rug is the wrong size, and I didn’t get any placemats and napkins. Serviettes for me then.
I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: my sharing these boring details with thousands of people across the globe or the suspicion that, within a matter of hours, this post will attract more than the average number of comments from people sharing the trauma of their own IKEA flashbacks.