So a couple of weeks ago whilst Caz was having an eye op in a clinic in Milton Keynes I popped down the road to IKEA to buy a picture frame to house some poster images I’d found online of a few of the best concerts I’d ever witnessed; Led Zeppelin playing at Aberystwyth (it’s so true), Springsteen at Villa Park, Tina Turner at Woburn and Hendrix at Blackpool’s Winter gardens. I know it sounds as likely as Hancock apologising for being such an arrogant twat, but it truly happened. And he shared the bill with Pink Floyd, The Nice (EL&P), The Move, Amen Corner and Eire Apparent. What a line up.
So I needed a frame that was exactly the same size as two others I have in our lounge. No probs. I bought it with lots of great help from a very nice till assistant (who also helped me locate an old IKEA credit card in my wallet) and brought it home, showed it to the wall, only to discover that I’d bought an over-sized frame. Damn why didn’t I just take some measurements? No sweat I’d just take it back to IKEA at the next opportunity. And I’d actually taken some small items back to IKEA MK that I’d bought during lock down. No queues and sorted in 5 minutes. In fact I was surprised at how quiet the MK store was generally. So I figured returning goods to any store would be equally easy at the moment.
So last Sunday we had one of those rare things these days, a day without commitments and I told Carol I was going to pop up to IKEA in Birmingham – just about our nearest branch these days – to get a refund on the bought frame and buy a proper-sized replacement. It’s actually just off J9 of the M6 so kind of north of Brum – Walsall is a better guide. But no worries. We then got a message from our daughter Ems that she was popping over to see us for lunch so I got away about 10.30am thinking I’d be back inside 2-2.5 hours. Perfect. Or so I thought…
I got there after several delays on the M40 and then at the M6/M5 junction. Hey ho. I then turned into the car park and it took me 35 minutes to find a parking space. Arrgghh. The queue of people to get in snaked all around the car park – there must have have been 1000 people queuing. I’ve never seen so many people trying to get into an IKEA store. I figured that I’d just pop in to the returns area and then blag my way into the main store, run through and get the new frame inside 15 minutes. However the queue for the returns section was daunting too. I gave it 20 minutes and moved about 36 inches. Fuck this I thought and returned with the frame to the car and headed home. Only to get caught up in more traffic problems getting through Birmingham. I stopped travelling through Birmingham on the M6 many years ago and this reminded me why.
Needless to say we had a late lunch but it was lovely to see Ems. Though I was still annoyed at not getting the transactions sorted. Anyway today was another of those rare free days for us. Carol was due to have an appointment with her eye consultant back in MK to check on post-op progress but his staff called yesterday instead and resolved things over the phone. Sweet. Separately Carol had ordered something from Emma Bridgewater a few days ago; one of the items was lovely but another just wasn’t the right size. That’s it above. So rather than re-post it back to them, we thought why not take advantage of the day off and head up to Stoke to visit the factory which we haven’t seen for years. At the same time we arranged to pop in to see our son-in-law E’s mum who lives in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme. We get on with Margo really well but hadn’t seen her throughout lock-down so this would be a welcome catch up. Margo invited us for lunch at her place around 1pm. We set off early and thought we’d do IKEA again on the way up. We were passing the place after all and it was a week-day so surely it must be quieter there. We even planned on doing the Bridgewater factory before lunch too. Ha fucking ho!
First up we hit traffic on the M40, and then twice on the M6. Sigh. We got to IKEA around 11.30. Never mind we thought. The queues to get in were not as bad as on Sunday. But the queue for the returns area was horrific again. Bugger that. I told Caz we should just wazz round and get the new frame and I’ll just get a refund on the bought frame some point later. We got in ok and chased round. Carol got a few items and I found the right size frame hurrah. We headed down through the lower area only to find the most horrendous queue for the check outs. Honestly there must have been 500 people ahead of us and very few IKEA staff on hand, seemingly, to ease things. Now at this point I began to wonder about my affection for the company. They are one of the companies I secretly admire (unlike many people) like Apple and McDonalds for their brilliant marketing and customer service approach and great products of course. But this Birmingham store is just hopelessly under-staffed and poorly-managed. Why are they letting people in if they can’t process them? And having many hundreds of people queuing in close proximity surely cannot be covid secure.
So we decided to abandon the 4-5 items we’d wanted to buy and left to head up to Stoke. Frustrating. Made even more so by the traffic queues we ran into heading up the M6. Sigh. We were now running late for Margo’s lunch so headed to her place first and had a lovely time with her. It was so nice to see her after so long. She is missing Ian and Sarah and the boys as much as we are. Hey ho. We couldn’t stay too long as we needed to head over to the Bridgewater factory and then try and get back back to the footie for 5pm. So we said tarrah and headed back towards Stoke. I’d checked out the location of the factory before leaving. I remembered it being in an old factory just off the A50/52. I knew where it was to within 250 m and felt confident about finding it quickly. Well we circled around the area of Hanley up and down and around and across and I couldn’t locate it. I then stopped somebody to ask for directions, they’d never heard of it. I asked 5 more people. Five ! What is it they asked? A pottery, world-renowned I said. None of the inhabitants of the small district which housed the most successful pottery-maker and employer in the area had heard of it. One person directed us to a lovely park area, not quite where you’d expect to find an industrial era kiln and Victorian out-buildings housing the modern business.
I should have just asked Margo for directions of course but I’m a man and know geography instinctively. Ha yeh!
So after cruising some of Stoke’s less salubrious areas for an hour and a half, during which time we found the Westwood, Portmerion, Gladstone, and Middleport potteries and various heritage museums we hooked up to Waze on Caz’s mobile and it directed us to the M6 and back home. Almost instinctively knowing we’d had enough. Intuitive.
So we headed home taking the M40 toll road to avoid all the traffic. But all it did was sped us to the start of a huge queue on the M42 which took us an hour to clear. Sigh. I might as well have gone via Birmingham and saved £6. We’d left home at 10am and got home at 5pm having spent just an hour with our lovely in-law Margo. But everything else was just driving and queuing. I got suckered last Sunday and got suckered again into Friday traffic today. Six hours of it and we ended up exactly no better off in terms of products returned nor purchased. We’d located one retail centre and found it over-run and had missed the other completely, despite having found it on 2 separate occasions in the past entirely by accident. I checked the map when I got home and discovered I was within 75m of the factory on 3 occasions. But there were no signs to the facility nor had anyone In Stoke we spoke to ever heard of it. All right my radar was frazzled today but It’d be nice to have some local help sometimes. It’s enough to make you gnash on your pottery pipe. That bloody Bridgewater dish is too small but it will be placed in our car as a receptacle for paracetamol pills, to ease the pain of M6 driving and retail shopping. I’m going to shop online in future – it’s just less frigging hassle. Just what are the advantages of shopping indoors these days? Answers on a post card please to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
There are some lessons here summed up by the Major when he asked ‘Why do we bother Fawlty?’ I know what he meant.