Somewhere retail: IKEA Wembley Because Brent Cross isn't actually in Brent. Who'd have thought. So I travelled instead to Brent Park in Neasden to visit that other retail colossus - the big blue IKEA on the North Circular Road . Me and thousands of others of northwest Londoners, all spending our Saturday in Swedish furniture purgatory. It's possibly the slowest, least efficient form of shopping anywhere on the planet, but that never seems to stop us turning up in search of yet another lampshade or cheap bookcase. Why did I go, why?
IKEA Wembley doesn't exactly welcome those who turn up by public transport. The walk from Neasden tube is long and tortuous, involving dubious road crossings and a seriously mucky footbridge. Even by bus you're directed through the murkiest, dampest corner of IKEA's multi-storey car park. Only car drivers are welcomed with bright shiny blue and yellow frontage, because only car drivers can drive away with three sets of flatpack furniture in their boot . Come on in, but only if you have two hours to spare.
At the top of the stairs there's a choice of a trolley or a big flappy yellow bag. Please, take neither. You won't need the trolley on the first floor, this level is full of furniture that can only be collected downstairs. And you don't need that bag either. The management sprinkle candle holders and coathangers amongst the fitted kitchens and bunk beds, just to tempt you, but they're all available downstairs too. The rest of us will find it much easier to negotiate our way around the tortuous winding pathway if you're not blocking the way with a huge metal basket on wheels. It's bad enough trying to walk past toddlers in pushchairs, and dithering wives uncertain quite which shade of wardrobe would look best in their bedroom, and bored shoppers sitting on every comfy sofa like they're part of the exhibit. Come on, where's the shortcut?
Don't divert into the cafe/restaurant. The queues are terrible, the table-clearing service is non-existent, and you don't really like meatballs anyway. Head back down to the ground floor, into the Market Place, to be faced by a dazzling range of cheap household goods graced by a variety of obscure foreign names. And this is where IKEA's marketing brilliance kicks in. You weren't really planning on buying very much, but look over there. You need a storage jar like that, don't you? And that mat would go nicely by the back door, and you don't have enough dinner plates, and don't those pillowcases look jolly, and all at such reasonable prices. By the time you reach the exit you'll almost certainly be carrying more "essentials" than you expected.
Next it's time to be confronted by shelf upon shelf of wood-in-a-box, as you pass through the vast interior of the flatpack cathedral. And then the pace slows, and the throng of customers ahead grows deeper, as you approach the interminable inefficiency of the checkouts. There are 38 checkouts at IKEA Wembley. On Saturday afternoon, one of the busiest times of the week, fewer than half of them were open. Be warned, they're staggered in two rows, so the queue that looks shorter may actually turn out to be longer. I waited 15 minutes in my queue while the shoppers in front slowly unloaded and paid for a motley assortment of unnecessary consumer goods. The lady behind me caved in and sent her kids off to the "Bistro" to buy 35p ice creams to keep them quiet. Their queue was longer than ours.
And then the final indignation - having to pay for your own carrier bags. Obviously it's great not to be littering the environment with unnecessary plastic landfill, but it's also an expensive pain if you've forgotten to bring sufficient receptacles with you. I'd not planned ahead before leaving the house so I ended up with a weeny 15p carrier, whereas most other people were purchasing (and filling) several 30p sacks. And I got a very funny look from the cashier, and the surrounding shoppers, when I unloaded my handful of purchases onto the conveyor belt. I'd waited just over quarter of an hour to buy almost nothing, for less than a fiver. But then you can never have enough tealights, can you? by tube: Neasden by bus: 92, 112, 206, 232, 316, PR2