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or… the day the swedish giant stole my will to live

mum’s new place doesn’t have built-in wardrobes. this didn’t seem, at first, to be much of a problem. we’d just go to one of the myriad furniture shops filling the suburbs around where we live and buy a free-standing wardrobe. so last weekend we traipsed around various shops that all seemed kind of the same, noticing a strange lack of wardrobes in all of them. eventually we cracked and asked a sales assistant where their wardrobes were.

“oh we don’t really sell wardrobes,” she said.

“so what do people put their clothes in?” I asked.

“everyone has built-ins,” she replied, as though I was an idiot for even asking. I felt like shouting at her that obviously not everyone has built-ins or else we wouldn’t be looking for a wardrobe! but i didn’t.

ikea is one place that does have wardrobes, big and small, in dozens of different configurations, giving you the tantalising illusion of choice and the reasonbly stylish fulfilment of all your storage needs. unfortunately, in recent months the one that was two doors away in moore park just…disappeared. so we had to go to rhodes. rhodes? out near homebush, in the middle of this bizarre redeveloped semi-industrial, semi-yuppiefied area. when you finally stumble upon ikea, it is like some incredible juggernaut rising out of the marshes.

it begs the question, why the hell does the shop need to be so big?! it took about an hour to walk through it – you have to go upstairs, walk through the displays, obediently following the arrows on the ground, then you go downstairs through the ‘market hall’ and the warehouse before eventually reaching the checkout. the things we needed (including the wardrobe) were spread throughout the shop so we had to walk through the whole thing.

i was very diligent once we found the things we wanted and wrote down the details so that when it came time to order it would all go according to plan. mum was pretty much spacing out by this stage – her ikea endurance threshold is pretty low at the best of times – and so we tried to find a sales assistant who would help us order the wardrobe. “go down to the end, just before the checkout. you can order there.”

so we follow instructions, only to be told by a very cranky and no-nonsense woman “we don’t do orders here, you will have to go upstairs.” so i stand with the laden trolley and wait for mum to go upstairs and order her cupboard. after about half an hour she returns, with instructions to go and pick up the cupboard shelves and handles. because although she has ordered the wardrobe, it doesn’t come complete, oh no, you have to go through the warehouse and get each individual bit of it, except for the large frames and doors, which you pick up from a loading dock after you’ve paid. and when mum was ordering it, the girl said, “I suppose you’ll be wanting hinges with that?” no…we thought it would be more cost effective to just lean the doors up against the frame. but maybe that’s the standard question (if she’d asked if we wanted to upsize the wardrobe it all would have made sense).

next we have to queue up at the checkout, pay for our purchases, go to the pick up area, pick up the merchandise, take the merchandise about three metres to the left and then give it to some other guys who will deliver it because it won’t fit in our car.

so we wait at the checkout. as we’re paying for our goods, the girl comes to the basket i wanted to buy. it was on a big pile of exactly the same baskets with a big sign over the top saying “clearance $8.00”. she can’t find a tag to scan.

“do you know how much this was?”

“yes, eight dollars.”

she flips through a book, thinks she’s found the item, but it comes up as $12.00.

“are you sure?” she asks me.

“yes, it was on a big pile with a sign over it saying ‘$8.00’.”

“was it with any other stuff?”

“no, just the baskets.”

she leans over to consult with the checkout girl next to her. she thinks it might be the wrong size basket for the code she’s found, but what should she do? the customer says it’s eight dollars, but the register says twelve. the other girl suggests she measure the basket to make sure it’s the right one, so she gets out a tape measure and measures the basket. she’s not going to budge, she insists it’s twelve dollars.

“just forget about it,” i am very cranky and so over it by this stage and the basket is really not important in the scheme of things. so she puts the basket to one side. but my mother has also had enough and is now ready to step in. she says in a very terse voice:

“look, we’re spending over $800. i can’t believe you are quibbling over four dollars. isn’t there someone you can ask?”

so the girl gets on the phone and has a two minute argument with someone on the other end about how much the basket costs. it turns out i was right. she says sorry, but i know her heart isn’t in it.

so we go to pick up the wardrobe. it will be a 20 minute wait. we are being fairly tolerant, even though the situation sucks, just accepting that this is the way they do things in ikealand and if you want cheap furniture you have to be prepared to live with a little inconvenience. by this stage our three hours of free parking is almost up so i have to go and move the car. i come back and we wait some more. i take advantage of the little desk with a sign over it saying “what can we do better?” to write out a couple of complaint forms about the checkout girl and the basket and to ask why on earth they have such a stupid system whereby you have to pick up the goods yourself and then take them to someone else to deliver them. why can’t you arrange delivery at the same time, presumably saving someone the effort of getting it off the shelf and then having to find somewhere else to store it until it can be delivered.

after an hour, our flat-pack wardrobe finally comes out, so we dutifully wheel it over to the long queue waiting to arrange delivery. we stand there for another half an hour or so. when we finally get to the end, the guy walks around our trolley, checking the packages and then says, “it’s damaged.”


“yeah, see, here.” he points at one end of the package where the cardboard is ripped and the thing inside is, indeed, damaged.

“i can’t believe this,” i fume, also annoyed at myself for not thinking to check it myself an hour ago. “we’ve been waiting for over an hour and a half!”

“well i can’t do anything about it, you’ll have to go back to ikea.”

i almost burst out laughing at this – we are still standing in bloody ikea – and then i realise that he is a contractor and doesn’t actually work for ikea. so i grab the trolley and wheel it back three metres to the gormless youths at the pickup desk.

“you’ve given us damaged goods.”

to their credit, they don’t try to deny it. but they don’t look particularly surprised either. one of them looks at the receipt. “oh. only, this is the last one, we’re out of stock.”

i stare at him. “you…are…kidding…me…”

“i can give you a discount?”

as we are heading over to arrange a discount, someone else looks at the receipt and says, “oh, no, we have more of these.”

so the guy goes off to get a replacement. i take the opportunity to fill out another complaint form. i understand that working in ikea must be pretty soul-destroying. every single person we came into contact with obviously hated their job. but as a friend said when i told him this woeful tale, “i don’t understand why people stay if they are that miserable. it seems simple – if you hate your job that much, get a new job.”

when the replacement boxes arrive, i watch the guy hurl each box onto the trolley as if they are no more valuable than pieces of styrofoam. it pretty much explains how the things got damaged in the first place.

we only have to wait about ten minutes in the delivery queue this time, and the delivery guy is very nice to us (remember, he doesn’t work for ikea), and eventually we get out of hell. once we have driven away we start to feel a whole lot calmer and less like killing many people. we do, however, need to have a milkshake and chocolate to make doubly sure we won’t do anyone any lasting harm.

and the thing is, that whole saga was the most distressing incident of the whole move. amazing when so much could have gone wrong, given it poured rain both days we were moving, and it’s almost impossible to park outside mum’s place so we didn’t know where the truck was going to go. but when the removalists arrived, someone pulled out of the spot right out the front and the rain stopped and all went well! the removalists were really lovely guys, very efficient and careful. everything was moved in and is now mostly unpacked, and the place feels very comfortable. it won’t take long for mum to feel at home there. emma and stuart came to mum’s today and put the wardrobe together for us (nothing like a couple of engineers to save the day), and it looks great and innocent of the trauma its purchase caused.

anyway, i have told this long-winded tale so you might learn from our folly. venture out to rhodes at your own risk…