This weekend, Steve and I have mostly been nest-building.
It started with someone giving us their old TV, and the unit it sat on. It was nothing spectacular but it was an improvement on what we had. This caused us to cast a critical eye over the rest of the lounge with a view to upgrading. The most important thing was sorting out the sofa - which is in fact a cheap sofa-bed that has been, um, well-used for almost a decade and was getting to be less than comfortable, to the extent where certain friends had taken to turning up at our house for an evening carrying their own cushions. Steve ordered a new futon mattress for it which we went to collect on Saturday.
The new mattress is a vast improvement. It's about six inches thick and is an actual multi-layered mattress rather than the previous cheap 'slab of foam' option. It looks a lot nicer too, being covered with clean black cotton rather than an slightly battered old duvet cover. But that was where we ran into a slight hiccup, namely that all of a sudden the seventeenth-hand pale floral-print cushions we'd inherited from who-knows-where, which were quite innocuous on the old duvet cover, suddenly looked very silly indeed.
And so we decided, three years into our relationship and one year into our cohabitation, that it was finally time to take that step and Go To Ikea.
It was never going to be easy. We started off badly, with Steve exuding his "I Do Not Want To Do This" vibes before we'd even left the house. In an effort to be considerate to him, I decided that rather than asking him to put my wheelchair into the car (his car isn't quite big enough for the chair unless we either fold down the back seats, or remove the parcel shelf and have the chair sticking up slightly obscuring the rear window), I would use one of the store's customer wheelchairs. This was not the master plan I had hoped it would be.
We arrived at the "Ikea Plaza" and instead of going into the dedicated Ikea multi-storey car park, Steve chose to park in the Plaza car park. I asked him to check whether the car park we were in had free parking for Blue Badge holders or whether we needed a ticket. Next thing I knew he was coming back to the car holding a one-hour ticket on the basis that he didn't have enough change for more than that. I do not know why he didn't ask me for change. I do not know why he thought that one hour would be enough to get around such an enormous shop. I do not know why he did not want to go into the multi-storey car park that offered free parking for people shopping in Ikea. However by this point the I Do Not Want To Do This vibe had become an almost visible aura so I kept my mouth shut.
There were no staff on the ground floor and precious few directions other than an instruction to start shopping on Level Six. Steve's stress and anger levels were by this point heating the air to a four-foot radius around him and small children were running away in fear. Nevertheless we found the wheelchairs, snared a staff member to check that it was okay for us to just grab one, and started shopping.
Or we tried to, anyway. Twenty metres in it was apparent what an incredibly bad idea this whole thing had been. The wheelchair was practically falling apart, with footplates which wanted to scrape on the floor and a tyre which was gradually shaving itself away against the arm-rest. I wanted to get out, turn around and go back to the car, but the little entry gates had closed behind us, and some display rooms containing many likely-looking cushions were enticingly ahead. We pressed on.
Quick guide to IKEA shopping: Do not bother with the catalogue while in the store, it'll only confuse matters. Treat the first level of the shop as a sort of three-dimensional catalogue. You see something you like, you pick it up, look at the tag, and make a note of its name, size, colour and whereabouts in the store the versions of it that aren't the display model can actually be found. Except that there are some things that you have to go find, and some things that you just pick up. Accept that you will have to travel several miles around the store in order to escape again.
We didn't know any of that. I was gazing at the information on the labels wondering what was important and what wasn't, and whether we really had to (a) write down the details for every cushion that I sort-of liked or (b) go round the store twice, once to look and once to get details written down. Trying to combine getting my head round the system plus a Steve increasingly close to explosion, plus an uncomfortable wheelchair which the NHS would have rejected, multiplied by having no option to abandon the whole escapade, drop everything and leave the shop, meant I was tense and stressed and aargh...
Nevertheless, there's some nice-looking stuff in Ikea, and it was definitely the right place to go, as before long we had found suitable cushions (three of a sort that you physically picked up then and there and two that you went to collect on a different floor) and also our If We Happen To See A Nice One Bonus Item of lap trays. But this was where the clash of shopping styles really took its toll.
The way Ikea want you to shop, is to meander around the store with a trolley or a bag, picking up interesting looking things as you hunt for the thing you are actually seeking. The store layout is such that in order to get to the exit a customer has to walk right around at least two levels of the store in a sort of repeating "S" pattern, with actual walls blocking the direct routes. In this way you are forced to walk past 17,000 products you don't want in the hope that you will impulse-buy at least one or two.
This clashes with the way Steve wants to shop, which is to locate the section for the specific item(s) he is there to buy, choose one, and make for the checkouts. Although that said, he is usually willing to take his time and allow me to browse through anything that catches my interest.
It also clashes with the way I want to shop. I'm all for meandering amongst interesting things and for this I am lucky in that I can walk or self-propel over very short distances. However, despite the provision of wheelchairs, there's no wheelchair-trolleys (or at least not that we could find). There are big yellow bags, for shoppers who are determined that they won't need a trolley, but no way of hanging these on the back of the chair. So when we found the three cushions that we were meant to pick up then and there, they ended up in a yellow bag on my lap with me peeking over the top. That in turn meant that I could not meander by self propelling, because my arms were occupied with the bag, and also that I could not periodically get out of the (uncomfortable) chair to meander with my stick, because my legs were pinned.
I was stuck in the chair, the chair was wherever Steve pushed it, and because of the aforementioned dodginess of the chair including self-shaving tyres, the chair was extremely difficult for Steve to push.
Add in the factor of the rapidly-running-out parking ticket, and now there's Steve all stressed because he's getting sore and tired and he's having to hike around this entire store so slowly when all he wants to do is pay and leave, I'm all stressed because I'm also sore and tired and I'm going so fast past this entire storeful of shiny and intriguing things that I want to investigate, and anyone who impeded us probably got stressed as they keeled over from the sheer force of Steve's Laser Death Stare With Muttered Cursing.
It was a relief to get out.
However. We did get out, so that's a win. We still love each other and although we were both a little snappy and stressed we didn't have the Ikea Row which I understand to be traditional. We went a little over our one-hour of parking, but we didn't get clamped or ticketed. And, more importantly, we accomplished cushions. Three black cottony ones which match the futon mattress, two massive flame-coloured red-orange soft felty ones which provide a lovely warm contrast, and two cushioned lap-trays suitable for laptops, books, writing or dinner.
(Oh, I also stole a pencil, but Steve says it doesn't count because I didn't mean to - I'd jammed it into my ponytail, which is my standard way of holding on to pens and pencils because they fall out from behind my ear, and then I'd forgotten about it.)
I am extremely comfortable now. But if there's a next time it will involve my own wheelchair, at least one more person, and at least two more hours. Oh, and I'll be frisking Steve for sharp implements and matches.