Ikea has become a dangerous cult, worshipped with religious fervour

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The Independent Online

Of course no one should laugh, what with real human suffering being central to the tale, and all that. But the comic, gaiety-of-the-nation absurdity of the Ikea riots of 2005 has to be acknowledged. There's an element of recognition in our amusement, of course. Who, after all, has not felt like conducting a flamboyant nervous breakdown among the towering, dominating, yet strangely bereft-of-the- thing-we-want aisles? Or even - as could so easily have happened at the midnight opening of Ikea's Edmonton store - committing a murder?

But there's more to it as well. Much more. There's the irony inherent in how comprehensively the marketing idea that Ikea confers sophistication to us, the masses, has been contradicted by the desperate behaviour of the midnight bargain-hunters and gatherers among us. There's the mockery, too, of the recent advertisements, in which a beret-wearing pseud turns his nose up at Ikea's low prices, implying that the pretentious would rather pay more.

There's certainly no pretension in passing a child over the crowds because she's in danger of being crushed. Frankly, most of us would be willing to agree that it's worth a small premium not to be challenged with a wooden mallet, or trampled underfoot, while making our consumer choices.

Probably, since Ikea has so many of us so firmly in its thrall, our laughter is largely a schadenfreudian slip. The mighty Ikea has stumbled - though we wouldn't like it to actually fall just yet, and there's some enjoyment in witnessing that.

Or maybe, to a adopt a Millie Tant view of matters, laughter confirms that within this bizarre civil disturbance all the shallow, materialistic, atavistic and addictive absurdity of modern existence is writ small enough for us to see what tiny children consumerism makes us. Not so long ago there were riots against consumerism in the streets of London. Now there are riots in its favour.

It has already been pointed out that similar scenes greeted the opening of an Ikea store in Jeddah last September. More than one journalist has suggested that these scenes reflect the almost religious fervour with which we approach material acquisition now. Shopping malls have long been regarded as modern cathedrals. Now, it appears, Ikea was a dangerous cult all along.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, has a more realistic explanation for the mayhem than any of this though. "Ikea were opening a store which is one road away from my constituency, which is the second most deprived in London. It was heavily advertised and word had gone around that you could get huge discounts. It seems to me it was obvious that people would converge on the store."

Suddenly the joke's over. It turns out that the disturbance was the fault of Ikea for overestimating the dignity and ability to queue in an orderly fashion of the British public, not the fault of the people pushing, shoving and brandishing weapons, or of the politico-economic system that does so much to promote their poverty and their longing.

The trick, apparently, is to accept that Britain is now so ghettoised and so financially disparate that certain socio-economic groups cannot be treated like responsible adults. Marketeers must now, it is clear, take account of whether their efforts at temptation might rouse the underclass to violence. How silly of Ikea not to realise, when opening a store in one of the world's wealthiest cities, that such eventualities should be taken into account. Not very funny at all.

There's one thing above all other things in the Edmonton consumer meltdown that we can all take heart from. At last the limits of the Swedish furniture supplier's flat-pack ethos have been clearly drawn. The unequivocal lesson is that flat-packing people emphatically and entirely doesn't work.

Privates on parade

These days, all sensible public figures want to keep their private lives private. But the royals are compelled to make a far more generous dispensation. Royal births, deaths and marriages are our business as well as theirs. It is by these crude mechanisms that our heads of state are selected. But how vulgarly in step with only the crassest aspects of the modern sensibility such metaphorical display of the bloodied sheets really is.

Nowadays you can tell a celebrity apart from a celebrated person by the way the former court publicity by going on chat shows and talking about themselves instead of their work, turning up at parties, appearing on reality telly, pressing interviews on the celebrity press, employing spin doctors or even just calling up gossip writers to spill their guts about their private lives.

It's not just that royals are now snapped with celebrities such as Geri Halliwell (left). The trouble is that quite a number of the activities undertaken by the narcissistic-personality-disordered creatures who populateHeat are identical to the displays that must be undertaken by the Royal Family. Somehow, something that is supposed to define tradition, dignity and pomp instead more resembles the desperate antics of a superannuated Spice Girl.

Does a three-year-old really need to know about drugs?

The other week, to the shock of most of the parents I've discussed it with, a questionnaire about drug education was sent home from school with all the children - including my sons aged three and seven. Of the parents and carers who filled in the odd little document, 70 per cent said that they would prefer to conduct such education at home.

It was later explained to parents at a hastily convened meeting why it was that our views were worthless. Parents were told that one of the objects of the "module" was to challenge stereotypes about drugs, something about which we knew nothing. In a role-play asking children what sort of person they might see at a bus stop with a bag full of drugs, the drug-ladies told us with heavy hearts, some racist children actually describe a large scary man with dreadlocks.

This is worrying not just because of the stereotype but also because it suggests that the child is already aware of the existence of street drugs. Instead, the pedagogues explained, the answer they are looking for is, for example, "a nurse".

At this point one of the disbelieving, horrified, parents actually jeered, "Yeah, right. Because nurses never take drugs, do they?"

This being a democracy, and us being the taxpayers financing this ghastly exercise, our views have been swept aside. Drug education has now started for the oldest children at the school. One 10-year-old, asked to tell the wise ones where he had heard about drugs, solemnly informed them: "On television, and now at school." How we all laughed when this was related at the PTA meeting. The casual observer would have assumed that we'd just found a forgotten cache of 20-year-old giggly grass.