On Saturday Eliza and our respective progeny headed for IKEA Croydon. Eliza wants a “slidey door wardrobe” and I don’t need a reason to go to IKEA. Off we went in Eliza’s people carrier (after spending ten minutes trying to fit Mac’s car seat in), light of heart and free of care. There was hardly any traffic and, despite meeting every White Van Man on the road that morning, we arrived in good time. First stop, the loos. Mac has now decided against going into the Ladies with me. Fine when daddy/assorted male friends and relatives are with us, not so fine when there isn’t. Mac couldn’t see any harm in asking random passing men to take him to the Gents. Naturally I stopped him from approaching anyone and hoiked him into the Ladies whereupon he kept repeating “I’m a boy, not a girl” lest anyone be confused by the jeans, caterpillar boots and checked shirt and short back and sides his father made him have on Friday.
After a general mooch about - “shall we have coffee now or later” - we found ourselves surrounded by wardrobes but only one double one with slidey doors – one mirrored, one plain but big enough for her and Simon. “I don’t need a big wardrobe, I haven’t bought anything new since Jack was born” Eliza suddenly announced, pulling at her purple T-shirt. After sighing deeply, she decided that it would do “I suppose” and we set about measuring its height, width and depth with one of those IKEA tape measures. It wasn’t until I was half in/half out of the wardrobe admiring the neatness of the shelving that an imperious voice informed us that “all of the measurements are printed on the ticket”. No, not a member of staff, just a passing interested stranger. We thanked her and attempted to look nonchalant. Eliza picked up a brochure and leafed through it whilst Interested Stranger examined the “integral trouser rack” in the wardrobe next to ours. “Do you want it with one mirrored door and one plain one or both mirrored or both plain?” I whispered as I watched Mac opening every single drawer of a tallboy and putting a pencil in each. “Don’t you have to have it as it is?” Eliza hissed back.
“No, you can have whatever combination you like” Interested Stranger foghorned into my left ear. “My daughter has plain doors but I have one mirrored and one plain” she continued with a smug smile as she watched Mac who was now smiling angelically up at her, having dispensed with his pencils. “Okay, right, thanks” Eliza said firmly, shooting me A Look and making as if to leave. Interested Stranger bent down to Mac and said “Oooh, aren’t you da cutest liddle boy den?” in a high pitched voice. “Mummy, why is this lady being silly?” asked my son, raising one eyebrow, his latest trick. I stuck my head back into the wardrobe.
Finally having escaped in fits of giggles, we whizzed round the rest of the shop – I always come out with more than I planned to and this visit was no exception. I still haven’t worked out where to put two of the three fig plants I bought but they were a bargain at just £2 each. And David’s groan of “do we need more glasses?” when I unpacked the six hi-balls and six tumblers said it all. Oh, and the candle sets, but one of them will do for Marjorie’s birthday next month. And the dogs can never have enough fleeces. And we did need a new rug in the kitchen (but maybe not one this big) and I couldn’t go to IKEA without getting something else for my kitchen accessory rack but, as David pointed out, I hardly ever make cakes so the measuring spoons I’ve bought will be pretty redundant. But the huge wooden bowl looks pretty impressive in the middle of the table and even better now that I’ve put lemons in it. And IKEA means meatballs, both for lunch and to take home after a visit to the shop.
The restaurant was packed and I volunteered to go and get the lunch while Eliza found a table and sorted the kids out. I indulged in my habit of People Watching and listened into a number of interesting conversations, including a mother and daughter who were talking about something going septic because “you’ve never once opened the Savlon tube”. “Meatballs for the grown-ups and Eliza, pasta for Mac, plate of chips for Jack” became my mantra as we snaked round in the queue. Fifteen minutes later I arrived back at the table to find Jack having a tantrum and Eliza refusing to move away from the window as she was “watching all the cars mummy”. Mac sat serenely at the table and told me that he’d changed his mind “I want meatballs now mummy, not pasta”. We left for home an hour later, frozen meatballs defrosting in the boot, Mac’s unwanted pasta churning in my stomach.
The road out of IKEA is tricky……round a sort of roundabout and then keeping left to head back to Thornton Heath, Selhurst and so on. If you get in the outside lane (avoiding people who have just got off the tram and are so desperate to get into IKEA that they just run across the road without looking), you’re heading onto the A23 and Junction 7 of the M25. Which we did, Eliza saying “Shouldn’t I have gone up the hill and not along here?” as we headed Brighton bound. “Don’t panic” I said, knowing that she would. Who was I kidding, my own hysteria was mounting. I hate, hate, hate getting lost or taking the wrong turning which is why I should carry my sat nav round with me at all times. “Omigod, omigod, omigod….I’ve only got one nappy left for Jack!” Eliza breathed whilst I envisaged all three dogs sulking because I’d left them with David and abandoned them for longer than the “couple of hours” I’d promised.
I won’t go into the details of how we got back onto the right road but, suffice to say, it added nearly an hour to the journey once we’d dealt with traffic jams, wrong lanes, missed turn-offs and angry drivers who actually knew where they were going and were cursing the idiots in the navy blue people carrier. Tempers were frayed in the car as my map reading skills leave a lot to be desired and Eliza kept saying “Shall I go right here? Shall I go right here?” and then going left because I “took too long to sodding answer!”. It was a trying time and I had gnawed through my nails and was about to start on Eliza’s when we saw a signpost for Crystal Palace football stadium. Never before have I been so happy to see evidence of the Eagles.
Once we were on familiar territory we both exhaled shakily, tried to control our breathing and attempted to lighten the atmosphere. I made the mistake of clocking the expression on both Mac and Ashley’s faces when I whirled round to shout abuse at a motorcyclist who, fed up with our dithering, had overtaken us on the inside and had nearly taken the wing mirror with him. Both children were rigid with terror, Ashley’s eyes were the size of dinner plates and Mac’s bottom lip had gone into wobble overdrive. Jack was sound asleep and had missed all of the drama. “Silly Jack’s mummy!” I cooed to the pair of them as we passed the stadium, “getting us lost like that!” Ashley’s eyes widened even further but Mac’s lip stopped wobbling. “Silly Mackenzie’s mummy for distracting me by pointing out the heavily tattooed youth which made me get into the wrong lane in the first place” Eliza boomed heartily but with A Look at me. Mac’s lip started wobbling again while Ashley’s eyes returned to their normal size. “Shall we sing a song?” I bellowed cheerfully. “As long as it’s not ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’, yes” Eliza muttered darkly.
We arrived home seven hours after we’d left it, both Eliza and I hysterical (but this time with laughter rather than panic), Ashley singing Wheels on the Bus, Mac loudly informing us that he doesn’t really like meatballs and Jack still soundo. “How come,” said David as I recounted the tale of terror to him over a cup of tea and a slice of almond cake “I just go somewhere and nothing untoward happens but you…..you go out and something always does?”
Whatever can he mean?