Lost in the Supermarket

Bob Jacobs's picture

Well, it’s ages since I wrote a blog entry but the moment is upon me.  It’s been a quiet few weeks at work, as all my clients are either up to their necks in dealing with my colleagues as they complete their audits or are off on holiday.  I’ve been able to tidy up my files, look over the parapet at what’s coming our way, catch up on technical reading and take it easy.  All that will soon come to an end and I’ll be dashing about like a lunatic trying to do too many things at once come October.  I’m missing out on a trip to Chicago next week: two of my colleagues are going instead, though as one of them is observing Ramadan I don’t think he will have as much fun as I would have done.  C’est la vie.


Earlier this week, I foolishly offered to go to IKEA in Wembley as it was near one of my clients where I had a meeting.  My client blew me out due to family problems but that didn’t stop me fulfilling my domestic duty.  What a nightmare!  The whole place is designed on the premise that they can make more profit by having as little to do with their customers as possible.


On entry, I was greeted by loads of signs purportedly telling me how to use the shop.  Someone thrust an enormous yellow and blue bag into my hand and pointed me up an escalator, which I duly took, to be confronted by more signs and arrows through enormous displays of god-knows-what – sofas and bedding , bedrooms, furniture etc etc.  I had a specific briefing to buy two items: a particular chest of drawers and a specific single quilt set.  I had a picture of the former and a catalogue number for the latter, so my hopes were high for an efficient in and out operation …


Oh no you don’t!  First you have to find your item.  Spotting an area called Storage, I thought I’d find my chest of drawers there but drew a blank.  Finding a shop assistant, I showed her the page from my catalogue with the picture of the chest of drawers.  She told me it would be in Bedrooms and vaguely pointed the way for me.  Dazed and confused by all the signs, displays and hordes of people, I eventually found an example of the item and then read the label attached, which advised me where to collect it from: something called “Activity 2”  - What?!  Oh well, something Swedish that didn’t translate too cleverly, I suppose.


Now I had to follow the signs to said “Activity” and walked my legs off following the tortuous trail, clutching my little map in my hand.  Nearing my quarry, I spotted a stack of trolleys and battled one out from its tight embrace with a dozen of its fellows.  I hooked my yellow and blue bag over a handle and rolled the trolley forward, reading the labels on the packages stacked in the shelves beside me.  Unbelievably, I stumbled across the name I was looking for and even more unbelievably, the right item in the range.  I checked my page from my catalogue, I checked the item.  I checked its catalogue number.  I checked its colour: bingo!  I wrestled the package off the shelf and onto my trolley, cunningly trapping it so that it wouldn’t roll away mid-operation.  I felt really chuffed with myself.  I’d had no idea I was even in “Activity 2” but here I was with my booty.  Now for the quilt set.


I wandered on towards the checkouts but could see no promising signs.  Eventually I found another person to ask, who explained that I needed to go back into Soft Furnishings, deep in the store – but at least it was on this same level. Once more I struggled through the hordes, this time going against the flow, like, as it happened, several others who, like me, had found themselves defeated by the order of things.  In Soft Furnishings, I found hundreds of things that could have been my quilt set but were curtains or tea towels or sheets or anything else but had totally dissimilar catalogue codes.  Things weren’t looking promising but then I found a sign saying “Quilt Sets” and I started to feel more optimistic.  Again, though, none of the displayed items had a serial number remotely like mine.  In fact, they didn’t even have serial numbers like each other.  There doesn’t seem to be any logical order to IKEA catalogue numbers, as far as I can tell.  I kept looking though; and then, there it was, exactly as described, with exactly the right code.  Eureka!  Without ceremony, I flung said item on top of my flatpack and turned back to join the flood heading towards the checkouts.  Arriving there, I was surprised at how few were actually it up to receive customers, while others hosted long and resigned-looking queues.  I found a short one, threw my yellow and blue bag in a suitable receptacle, and waited triumphantly and patiently for my turn, where I was processed very efficiently by the man at the till.  Then it was out to the car, where I struggled to lift the flatpack into the boot, especially as the boot was full of birdwatching and walking gear and the flatpack kept sliding down the pile of boots. Eventually I managed to jam it in and closed the tailgate, handed my trolley to a trolley collector and reversed out into the Exit lane.  They are supposed to help you with the loading and lifting but he was remarkably scarce until I’d done the job.


I missed a trick at the exit, rather foolishly turning left towards the N Circular and thus having to head East when I wanted to go West, so I had to take the next exit and do some nifty manoeuvres on feeder roads and roundabouts before joining the rush hour traffic heading West.  On my way home, I quietly glowed with triumph at having so successfully managed my assignment and looked forward to the praise that was bound to be heaped on me by my grateful lover.  For musical accompaniment I had disk 4 of my latest compilation of “New Listening”, stuff variously downloaded or purchased in the last year, or heard on the iPod and mentally earmarked for further listening.  This compilation is in no particular order and, as a lot of the music and artists are virtually unknown to me, continually surprises and puzzles me as to what I’m listening to.  As I recently had a bout of catching up on CDs to replace vinyl versions of Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and U2 albums, there are liberal sprinklings of those three on this particular collection, as well as new stuff like the Fleet Foxes.  There are several songs on this collection that could be them, judging by the descriptions I’ve read, but may be someone completely different.  Hmmm, one day I’ll pin them down.  There was a good sequence of JJ Cale’s Magnolia, followed by John Martyn’s Wildflower and then Tim Buckley’s Nobody Walking that enhanced my mood successfully.


At home, I decided against trying to lift the flatpack out and through the front door on my own, waiting instead for Mary to come home from her late meeting.  When she eventually got home, I persuaded her to help me with the lifting.  I opened the boot and she looked at the box and said,


“How many drawers has it got?”


“But we agreed on the 6-drawer one.  We discussed it last night and you agreed!”

“Did we?  I don’t remember”

“Of course we did.  I’m getting sick of this.  You never remember anything we agree! And how could you forget?  I wrote it down on the piece of paper!”

“No you didn’t – at least, I didn’t see it”

“Go get the piece of paper!”


So I went and got it and there, where she’d circled the colour we needed, she had also written “6-drawer #9.98” in thin black biro – we’ll forgive her the 8p error.  How come I hadn’t seen this and read it? [editor's note: sorry about the hash sign for pound sign, I'm using my American laptop]


“Oh – so you did.  I didn’t see it.  I just went on the catalogue code, which you haven’t given me –and why did you tear out the wrong page?  Why didn’t you give me the page with the actual item you wanted on?”


“Because it wasn’t pictured!  God you’re useless!!”


Mumble grumble, slight guilt feelings mingled with outraged innocence.


“You’ll have to take it back and exchange it – except you can’t as the packaging is damaged, “ says she, noting where the weight of the slabs has pierced the cardboard box.


“We can try – or we can keep it and use it elsewhere, like the spare bedroom.  I’ll go back and get the right one.”


Which is how come I returned to the nightmare store today, happy in the knowledge that the website confirmed that the coveted item was in stock and, what’s more, accompanied by the complete new John Martyn box set, Ain’t No Saint.


This is an excellent compilation, the first two disks featuring lots of songs I wouldn’t immediately have thought of as representative of their albums, or indeed famous as his “best of”, but fitting together satisfyingly, along with some good outtakes, songs that never made the albums, and early drafts of famous songs (eg Solid Air).  I heard the third disk on the way to and from work: great acoustic and Echoplex laden live performances, similar to several I already own but subtly different.  I’m looking forward to disk four with eager anticipation.  Following on from the last three podcasts, this has capped an excellent auditory week.


The 6 drawer chest is still gracing the back of my car, which has been completely reconfigured to accommodate it.  Mary doesn’t want to move it till tomorrow, in the light, so here’s hoping that she doesn’t find anything wrong with it, and that it doesn’t get stolen overnight.

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Steve Lambert's picture

SL Congatulations Bob,


Congatulations Bob, you're a champion. I got lost in Wembley trying to get to the Stones gig back in '74, how you managed to navigate yourself to IKEA amazes me. However, the real test of patience and stamina is to try to work yourself back from the checkout to the entrance going against the flow, especially if you have a trolley full. This happens when you realise you've forgotten to pick up the latest catalogue or when you get a text message from the wife with an extra item to be added to the list. Anyway you can relax now, enjoy those albums and place yourself alongside Indiana Jones.

Unfortunately you have the wrong chest of drawers in your car. IKEA employ photographers with special lenses to make the furniture appear perfectly suited to any room configuration. When you assemble yours it will certainly look out of place. In addition, any interior designer will tell you that drawers and shelves look better in odd numbers, three and five are balanced while four and six are bad feng shui. Take a tip from me and leave that allen key in the box until you've reconsidered your choice, after all, now that you're an Ikeaphile it will be a smooth run returning it for the original.

Good luck Indie!

Bob Jacobs's picture


My choice indeed!  Unfortunately I suspect you are absolutely right.  It will look awful but not as awful as the mess that currently resides where it is destined to go.


aspwatterson's picture


Perhaps Ikea sell build-your-own pets/human coffins/mausoleums now or you could find an alternative use for the 6 drawer.? 



pd's picture

Ikea Rage

I enjoyed that very much Bob.

I am normally a very mild mannered person but I did once storm out of an Ikea store, leaving my trolley in situ with half a bed in it. After a long procession of errors and mishaps including the trolley falling over twice due to a large mattress and other stuff, and me having foolishly gone there alone thinking I could manhandle all the bedding off the warehouse shelves, into the trolley, and eventually into the car, the final straw came when I needed 2 of "Furgleoogle" or whatever the heck it was called. Anyway it was a wooden slats thingy that goes into the bottom of the bed frame to provide support for the mattress. The store only had one in stock. I'd checked stock levels before driving there of course but clearly someone else had bought them. I saw red and stormed out. I often wonder if my exit was captured on an in-store security camera, it'd be fun to see.

Bob Jacobs's picture

Thanks Paul

I wish I hadn't chosen that title for my piece.  I found myself trying to remember the words of the Clash song.  Now the same few lines are running through my head like the worst pop ditties or that bloody song on the DFS advert about being a rock star or the one that goes dwee dwee dum de de dwee dwee deedy deedy dum or words to that effect:

I'm all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for a special offer
A guaranteed personality

There's a Nick Harper song that expresses similar alienation, featuring an unfortuante experience at a cash machine, but I can't remember how it goes, what it's called or which album it's on.


SHAUN I's picture

Ikea madness!


Ikea is a bit of a lost souls paradise, I recently visited the one in Warrington, a similar story, got the wrong dining room set and filled my trolley with stuff that wouldn't go with any of the new colour scheme. (This later transpired from the great wise one indoors), got so stressed that I didn't bother checking my receipt, and found later that this experience had cost me nearly £400.

Then it took me hours to build the damn thing!

They can keep their supermarket expeditions and hurdy gurdy furniture, Indiana Jones is very fitting as it goes Bob.


My IKEA (Schaumburg,

My IKEA (Schaumburg, IL--home of Woodfield Mall) doesn't seem quite so bad. A bit of a drive, and only a pain when checking out. We can't take the carts to our cars, either. I hate having to leave large purchases as I go get my car. More recently, all my complaints seem to be about the big home improvement stores, Lowes, Home Depot, Menards. Stocking, service, and checkout. No managers when you need one, ever!