Katy Guest: All hail Ikea, god of storage and sideplates

Our writer joins the faithful in search of lighting solutions
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The Independent Online

Inevitably the news that twice as many people in Britain shop in Ikea on Sundays as go to church will be greeted with dismay in some quarters. There will be predictable grumblings from the pews of St Agnes and St Olaf's that the devout among the Bjursta (a bench) and Alve (a seat with integral storage) aisles are leading a moral decline. And then there will be those who object to the revelation that nearly a tenth of all Britain's furniture is bought in Ikea. A country once redolent of nuns on bicycles, aspidistras and cricket is now more familiar with pickled herrings, potted ficus and the gentle, irregular thwack of beech laminate on plywood. Minimalism has replaced Puritanism in the hearts of the Anglo-Saxons.

The gloomy Eeyorishness with which the British greet Ikea is not just down to an innate suspicion of anything with dodgy foreign umlauts, however. The truth is far more complicated: we actually revel in the peculiar misery that a trip to Ikea brings. We upper hemispherians have evolved with a small chink of darkness in our stoic and chilly northern souls. We embrace long pilgrimages across bleak, empty tundra. We thrive in vast halls of artificial lighting. We welcome epic trials of our strength and patience and perplexing gifts of strange meats. What was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, if not a Middle English precursor of driving to an industrial wasteland and standing for seven hours in a Byzantine queuing system sustained only by meatballs, salted liquorice and thoughtful touches such as co-ordinating desk lighting systems? People of Britain, this is our destiny.

The unspoken rules of the Ikean warrior are ingrained in the human psyche, therefore. One must prepare for the trip in the hushed and mortal tones in which Orpheus and Eurydice might have discussed their Sunday morning jaunt into the underworld. One must greet the sight of the blue and yellow towers with a triumphant hurrah and the symbolic unfurling of the Mastercard. One must eat a hearty last meal of cured animal by-products and stumble through the Marketplace in an indigestion-induced hallucination, in which three-dozen Motto dinner plates (30p each) will have magically danced into the trolley in a manner reminiscent of The Sorcerer's Apprentice by the time one arrives, battered but jubilant, at the till. And then one must go home and refuse to read the instructions, recognise that one has every Allen key in the set apart from the right one, cobble together a near approximation of a piece of furniture, have a beer. Then one must accept the need to go back and buy more Integral Storage Solutions for all the Motto dinner plates, the matching set of Chosigt kitchen funnels (99p for two) and the 97,000 Blomster tealight holders at £2.79.

As well as appealing to the ancient, atavistic yearning for a quest, Ikea has also been the source of exciting recent northern European ructions of a type not seen since the Vikings first arrived to loot and pillage the soft furnishings of the Angles. As recently as 2008, an investigation by the Danish newspaper Nyhedsavisen revealed that all the scummy products – the carpet liners and toilet seats – are named after Danish places, while Sweden gives names to swish beds and sofas and Finland is almost wholly associated with dining chairs. "Is Ikea bullying Denmark?" it asked.

The northern European longing for an Ikea-type experience is one which preceded the Christian church, and it should be no surprise if it now outlives it. But there are things that the Church can do to keep up: replace the pews with unvarnished pine benches and a range of stylish accessories; insert diagrams into the hymn sheets; serve Pastaälgar elk-shaped organic pasta snacks with the communion wine; rename the Bible the Öresund. They'd soon have to build some extra parking.

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