I've just returned from a fair few days in Sweden, which explains the rather hurried and brief nature of this blog. I went in my capacity as a hard-working hack rather than crime writer, though at the airport bookshop in Stockholm I can't help but browse the crime shelves looking for the next big Swedish thing (Johan Theorin I reckon - and I don't just say that because he pipped me to an award last year. His books are great...though I was robbed. Obviously).
My assignment this time was visiting the site of the world's largest IKEA. The store has not yet been built - apparently they can't understand the instructions and one of the constructors lost the allen key. And no, it didn't come flatpacked. They were using Volvo machines to dig out the land though - Volvo and Ikea...if they persuade Abba to reform to play a concert at the store opening then it will be a Swedish bonanza.
What was fascinating about the new store wasn't its size - though apparently it will house every single piece of available IKEA furniture - but the fact that to build it, they levelled a mountain to create space. First they dynamited it. Then broke it up and transported all two million tonnes of rock to another site to make way for the shop. In true Swedish style, every single piece of rock will be recycled - to make asphalt and in other road construction. I did ask why they couldn't have simply found a flat piece of land to build on but was told that Sweden is too hilly. That came as a bit of a surprise. I've been going there on and off for ten years now and it makes the Netherlands look the Himalayas, but I suppose Ikea is such a vast monolithic corporation that it can pretty much do what it pleases these days.
I'm sure every nation has its own IKEA story. My favourite surrounds the store they opened in Edmonton, London a few years ago. For the first day of opening everything was being sold at 10 per cent of its recommended retail price while stocks lasted. DIY fanatics started camping out two days before the doors opened, and when they did, at midnight, there was such a crush that people were passing out, while fists flew and the police were called as people fought over the most desirable items. Imagine having a fight over some shelves? But that's the most amazing thing about IKEA. People love it. I'm in the process of moving house and I bet I'll be down there, elbows at the ready, to pick up some pieces of furniture. God knows why, after the cursing induced by previous purchases and those bewildering wordless assembly instructions. Just as women forget as time passes the pain and trauma of delivery a child, and are prepared to go through the ordeal again, so we folks who like our furniture competitively priced with clean lines are prepared to ignore the old blisters and trapped fingers of previous flatpack disasters. Once you've wrestled with a stack of wooden cubes for seven hours , ostensibly bought to house your child's toys, though it seems wrong when they're later stained with your blood, sweat and a few flaps of skin, the fact that IKEA's founder Ingvar Kamprad (who was ludicrously 17 when he started the company and is now the 11th richest man in the world) was once a member of a pro-Nazi group begins to make a curious sense.