Being in Ikea feels like you lost a war. The victors have made their stamp on language, layout and design and you are left with little choice but to acquiesce. The show area features rooms inhabited by hypothetical people. These are the ubermenschen of Ikean culture. Their belongings are perfectly coordinated and they accept their confined quarters with stoicism and a lack of the clutter which marks the rest of us as human. Personally, most of it reminds me either of a studio apartment in northern France or the home of somebody with no real hobbies or interests. The inhabitants of Ikealand are invisible. Instead, young families and groups of obviously related women lumber through their quarters, while men and young children look bored. Some throw themselves wholeheartedly into their environs, if lounging on a sofa while looking at your smartphone counts as throwing yourself wholeheartedly into something. These people seem to want to belong there, or at least create the impression they belong there, as if they know the magic can’t be taken away, it only works here.
It reminds me of when, on a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago, we arrived at Schiphol airport too early for our return flight. I hadn’t broken any laws before departing for the airport and my powers of perception and analysis were equal parts heightened and skewed. We decided to get a beer and ended up in an Irish pub in a Dutch airport, where the standard international interpretation of what an Irish pub is had been applied. After running the gauntlet of ordering two beers, while wondering why everyone was looking at me and being unsure where to put my bag and jacket, the person I was with decided they wanted a cigarette. There was a door which led to a smoking area but, rather than this being an unenclosed area as one might expect, it was a room with no windows, one door and little or no ventilation. It was packed to the rafters with cigarette smokers and cigarette smoke. The TV was on and a number of people who looked like veterans of the establishment puffed away in silence while watching it. They were all still there when we left and none seemed to have the hustle and bustle about them of a normal airline passenger. They looked like locals. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t.
If you are ever caught in a Zombie apocalypse the last place you should go is Ikea. Nothing there would actually prove useful in a post-apocalyptic society. The same isn’t true of all international chain stores. B and Q or Halfords would be worth a visit if you needed to survive the rising Zombie tide but nothing in Ikea would have any use outside a fully functioning market economy. My trip to Ikea today followed on from another cultural experience earlier in the week, which was a visit to the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. The Barack Obama plaza is nothing more than a motorway services founded on a lie. On approaching the exit for Moneygall, the sign describes it as the ‘ancestral home of Barack Obama’. Now, dear reader, I will speak to you directly and tell you I am not going to insult your intelligence by explaining how much of a lie that is. I know,you know, and deep in their hearts the people of Moneygall must know too. However, politicians like getting votes as much as small towns like putting themselves on the map. It was a sordid liaison but each of them felt they were getting something from it. The existence of the Barack Obama Plaza has more to do with the presence of junction 27 off the M7 than it does to Barack Obama’s tenuous, at best, connection to County Offaly. It’s only purpose is to sell petrol and fast food to people who don’t actually want to be there and to channel the profits to its owner. People enter motorway services up and down the country in the knowledge that this is the relationship they are entering into yet, for some reason, in Moneygall they found this idea crass and so they made a half-hearted effort to dress the motorway services up as a testemant to Barack Obama’s fleeting visit. There is a machine which will sell you a commemorative coin for €3 and upstairs, as you walk to the additional seating, you must pass through a strange little museum where boards on the wall outline the standard narrative of Irish emigration to America with a lot of fanfare about how big of an impact we made. There are busts of JFK and Obama and a picture of Bill Clinton. No sign of Reagan though but, then again, he was a Tipperary man.
I am not sure Barack Obama knows they have named a motorway services after him or, if he does, what he thinks of it. Most people who were there were buying fuel or food of questionable nutritional value but there were a lot of Asian tourists there too. I kept hoping that they were only stopping off while on their way to the Cliffs of Moher or something. I felt that was what they had to be doing. But none of them seemed to be buying food or fuel. They just seemed to be lingering there, in no particular hurry, like the people on the couches in Ikea or the smoking area of Murphy’s bar in Schiphol airport. They didn’t keep moving like you were supposed to. They were engaging in it as if they believed what they were told about Ikea, Irish pubs or Barack Obama’s ancestry. But you can never stop for these things. You have to keep moving. Otherwise the zombies will get you.