Flat-pack tomfoolery and chance encounters make Ikea a real adventure

Friday Focus: It has been said that a visit to Ikea is like a journey through Dante's nine circles of hell. I'd say that doesn't even come close.

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It has been said that a visit to Ikea is like a journey through Dante's nine circles of hell. I'd say that doesn't even come close.

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The problem lies not so much with Ikea, but with other people, and in particular, one's own family. Last weekend, I tookmy wife and children to the new Ikea on Yas Island. As Ikeas go, this is a pretty good one.

There is plenty of shaded parking, cheap food and lots of space to get lost in. This is clearly Ingvar Kamprad's genius, along with his invention of the flat pack system so you can carry your furniture home.

As you weave your way through the maze, finding and losing members of your family, who appear every so often shouting words such as "Tostvig" and "Ruttgar", it's hard to imagine that you are ever going to escape, and certainly not without spending a fortune on things you don't need or desire.

What makes it worse is that my wife is half-Swedish, so apart from a naked dip in a freezing fjord, she can't imagine anything more fun than Ikea.

When you finally escape, laden down with weird-looking lights, boxes of candles that smell like cheap aftershave, packets of salt liquorice, Dime bars and all manner of things that will need to be put together, you realise that it's never over until it's over.

In fact, it's never over, not even when you manage to put everything together and the children have stopped wailing because their "Billy" shelf fell over. It's never over because one day you know that your wife will say: "Shall we go to Ikea this weekend children?" and they will reply: "Ja, tack, jatte bra."

And I know that orange is the colour of the season, but Ikea's colours should be yellow and blue, the colours of the Swedish flag. So how come Ikea's yellow looks more like orange?

It's amazing though who you run into at Ikea. First I spotted a banker of my acquaintance, enjoying a rowdy lunch with his girlfriend (it wasn't him or his girlfriend making a racket, but the children around them.)

"Look at this," he told me, pointing at a tray laden with food and drinks, "all this for Dh52 [US$14]." I had no idea that things were so tight at the top these days. Nor, having glanced at his girlfriend, did I feel that she shared his enthusiasm for the platter. Sitting nearby was a management consultant.

A former army man, he had that glazed look that soldiers in Vietnam affect in photographs. "Don't worry," I told him. "One day this will end."

"It is ending for us, we're going back to London," he replied. I wished him well, told him that I would miss him, and asked the essential question: "How are you doing getting your children into school?" He replied rather smugly: "We have places."

It turned out that when he left London two years ago, he asked the headmaster how he could reserve places for his children. "No problem," replied the head. "You just keep paying."

So all the while my friend was educating his children in Abu Dhabi, he was also paying for a couple of places in London. And you thought getting into the British School was a headache.

One man who has probably never been in an Ikea in his life is Leonardo Frescobaldi, an Italian wine maker. He appears in this month's How to Spend It magazine, the luxury goods supplement published by the Financial Times.

Neo-Marxists, revolutionaries and anarchists everywhere must have thought that its days were numbered when the financial crisis hit in 2008, but the rag appears glossier and lusher than ever. Mr Frescobaldi is given a page devoted to all the objects and places that make his life worthwhile.

This includes his love of the artist Giorgio Vasari, on whom he comments: "I actually had the incredibly good fortune to find that there is a work by him in one of my homes. Since then I have dedicated myself to discovering him."

It turns out that Fitzgerald was right, and Hemingway was wrong: the rich really are different. Now in which of the many rooms of my many houses did I put that Matisse collage?