Your out-of-town, self-assembly furniture stores are the acme of fashionable shopping for millions of Britons. Every weekend and bank holiday thousands of families flock to your hangar-like blue and yellow warehouses on the windswept semi-industrial hinterlands of London, Birmingham, Gateshead and Warrington. Now you're mounting a 'Swedish Week' campaign.

Here you promise a cornucopia of high-quality, Swedish-designed furnishings made from natural materials at affordable prices. Shopping at Ikea, your catalogue says, is as easy as '1-2-3 ' I beg to differ.

Have you actually tried to buy anything at one of your stores recently? The other Saturday, my wife and I, baby and four-year-old daughter visited your Croydon emporium to find a wedding present.

After gingerly negotiating the pram through thousands of parked and parking cars we arrived at the entrance. It is here that the vapours began. It is not simply that the store was overcrowded - the entire population of south London appeared to be there - but that everyone was trying to funnel into a one-way maze that forces customers to shuffle miles through every single department in order to get to the section they want.

This may be a shrewd commercial wheeze on your part, but it is not conducive to low blood pressure. (There is a quick way to cut through the maze, but this is hard to find and massively undersigned - this secret route is known to store staff as 'the hole in the wall', which is what, quite literally, it is.)

I have to tell you that the gawping, jostling and grasping throng proceeded to display some quite extraordinary behaviour. At one point an overweight 14-year-old bumped into my wife. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'Fuck off,' replied the youth.

Bad temper abounded. Before being permitted into the ballpark, children have to be measured to make sure they are at least 3ft tall. A young mother queuing with her son, who was scarcely 2ft tall, was politely warned by an assistant that he was too short. 'What about that girl?' she said, pointing to my much taller four-year-old. 'He's as tall as her.' Both children were remeasured and, after making a terrific scene the mother finally accepted the verdict of the wall-measure, snarling 'Thank you very much]' at the assistant, and storming off.

The real cauchemar, however, was saved until last. The queues at the check-out tills were 10 deep; it was like the night the England footy fans rampaged through Stockholm. Ominously, we joined the line waiting at till 13. As other queues shortened, ours remained stubbornly and mysteriously immobile.

Meanwhile, the children were getting fractious. Eventually, all patience spent, I stomped off, leaving putative purchases, swearing never to shop at Ikea again. After hours driving through car-congested south London streets, an afternoon spent being jostled, sworn at, drawn into other people's arguments, snarled up in a shuffling people jam with a cast of thousands, an immobile 10-deep till queue was the final straw. Refuge was found in the calm and relative sanity of nearby Habitat. We bought a tasteful blue vase for a wedding present, unaware of one final irony: Ikea now owns Habitat.

(Photograph omitted)