IKEA is a depraved consumerist nightmare and everything Karl Marx warned us about. I recently moved into a new flat with a rooftop balcony and needed to deck the place out with new furniture for my new life, closer to the sky. Somebody suggested I go to IKEA for their low prices and range of unassembled furniture. I enjoyed the meatballs but the rest of the experience was fucking awful.
On Friday, I borrowed my old man’s trusty Ute for the pilgrimage to the temple of Scandinavian minimalism, which if you’ve ever been there – and I bet you probably have – is a clear contradiction in terms. I knew in advance they were serving meatballs, so on Saturday morning I skipped breakfast and knocked back a quick belt of whisky to open my eyes to the stark reality of normality. By noon, me and lil’g, The GF, were on the road to Victoria Gardens in Richmond.
I’m not a religious man but I am a superstitious man, and there’s a difference. Religious people fuck things up and superstitious people just touch wood. On the way to IKEA, I had one of those premonitions, accompanied by a slight stomach cramp from the previous night’s shenanigans.
We were listening to Gold 104 FM, great classic hits, and half way through Mr. Tambourine Man, I remembered a story about a friend of mine who went to IKEA and, two hours into the experience, thought he’d never make it out. I turned to lil’g and asked her if this was true, but she just smiled and held my hand.
When we arrived at the bustling Victoria Gardens shopping centre, we parked up top to avoid the usual colonic fight for parking space. I spend much of my time dreaming about the zombie apocalypse and walking into IKEA I felt a rush of apocalyptic adrenalin that almost wiped out my frontal lobe. If it was going to happen, it would start here and I’d be fucking up zombies with sharpened Swedish pine, while lil’g nodded her head in time to the carnage. There’s a compelling beauty to bloodshed.
Anyway, the meatballs and mash were actually quite good, washed down with peach tea and an insight into the lives of those who’ve chosen the Australian dream in the same way I might choose laundry detergent in Safeway. So, with a stomach full of Nordic staples we threw ourselves into the wonderful world of IKEA.
It started with easy chairs and quickly progressed to a butcher’s bench called BEKVAM. By the time we got to the kitchen section, I was bored shitless and wishing the zombie apocalypse would kick in so I could at least justify the hip flask in my back pocket and the venom crawling up my spine. There’s a moment in everyone’s life when you stop, take a look around and say, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’
With that in mind, I told lil’g that I was satisfied with what I’d chosen and could we please get the furniture I selected and go home for a beer on my balcony. I love watching the sun set on Brunswick West; I find it reassuring because I live in the better half of Brunswick. It was at this point that lil’g told me that we had to go down to the warehouse and find the shit. But nothing prepared me for what was about to happen.
After two hours of confusing herding we eventually found ourselves in the warehouse from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pallet racks extending to the heavens loaded with animistic furniture. I stopped in my tracks and actually marveled at the dagger that had appeared before me. ‘How would the Macbeth’s have reacted to this?’ I thought, as my scrotum contracted. Buying furniture for their empty nest, hoping that they could adopt an African baby, and spend the rest of their lives blissfully unaware of awkward Christmas gatherings with fertile loved ones…
…but I digress, because that is my want and writing about The Macbeth’s in the same paragraph as Raiders of the Lost Ark mixes allegories, and we shouldn’t be afraid of doing that.
For those of you who’ve never been to IKEA, it’s a good idea to take photos of the tags attached to the furniture because they correspond to their location in the warehouse. We hadn’t taken photos of the tags upstairs, and so began the agonising job of using the touch screen information tablets to locate the position of our flat packed furniture. Most touch screens in public spaces are pretty shite at the best of times but IKEA have come up with a new way to torture us with technology. You have to press the icons at least a dozen times before they activate. A test of patience for a man like me is always going to be like staring down the barrel of my inherent flaws, and likely to end in a hail of blood pressure and expletives. And it did.
I stood there swearing at modernity and so-called Swedish ingenuity. It was man versus warehouse and I was going to win the day. I thought if Bear Grills can drink piss from a dead camel’s bladder, I could at least learn how to operate and overcome rows of concrete, steel and cardboard. And we did.
With lil’g’s patience at the helm of this voyage into the dark maw of commodity fetishism, all we had to worry about was me swearing in front of minors, which was inevitable and character building for them. As Stephen Fry said, ‘The sort of twee person who thinks that swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest, is just a fucking lunatic.’ And he goes onto say, ‘It’s not necessary to have coloured socks; it’s not necessary for this cushion not to be here but is anyone going to write in and say, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there, it really wasn’t necessary’. No. And things not being necessary is what makes life interesting, the little extras in life’. So toughen the fuck up, you weeshites, and let the red-faced Scotsman exercise his cultural right.
And with this in mind, I swore my little heart out until we got to the other side and finally paid hard currency for our purchases because as consumers that’s what our ‘little extras in life’ are.
Back in the Ute, with my purchases safely stowed away on the tray, I thought about all this. We require things to sit on. We require consumerist herding in this fucked up world we call Victoria Gardens. We are live stock in our own particular way and, by the corporate sector, we are treated accordingly. However, I’m no fool and I know when somebody is taking the fucking piss.
IKEA has positioned itself within the market as affordable designer furniture for younger middle class consumers looking for a prescribed sense of style. As Palahniuk’s unnamed protagonist says of IKEA in Fight Club, ‘I had it all, even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof that they were crafted by the honest, simple, hardworking indigenous peoples of… wherever’. It’s the ultimate consumer illusion that the items we buy have a solid history based on righteous fair trade, supporting the underdogs of life, the artisans. That somehow we’re buying into the ‘bigger picture’ of Swedish socialism and neutrality. But when I look at a piece of IKEA furniture I feel like I’m looking at something that can’t make up its mind.
And IKEA wants us to update our furniture based on pivotal lifestyle changes, getting married or starting a family etc. IKEA wants to be right there ushering us into adulthood, doing all the thinking for us – aligning us with like-minded people who are ready for the next stage of their life to begin in earnest. IKEA is earnest, earnestly making consumerism look like an experience rather than a transaction. And they succeed in doing so with the IKEA nesting instinct.
But I will say this, readers: In IKEA the world stops spinning and, just for a moment, you gaze into the muddy gorge of spiritual damnation and feel the need to resurrect Karl Marx, even though his ideas have been shafted by the worst kind of cunts.
In the meantime, I have whisky and an Allen key, and I will build this thing.
“I took her to a supermarket. I don’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere.”
Pulp, Common People
I’ve lived in Brunswick for a few years now and I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Melbourne. This might make me a wanker but I don’t give a fuck. I like it here. It’s hard to find somewhere to live that you actually like but when I stepped into Barkly Square for the first time it was love at first sight. For those of you who haven’t been to my beloved Barkly Square it’s a rather cheap and nasty mall located near the city end of Sydney Road. It’s been renovated recently but I want to talk about the old Barkly Square, my Barkly Square.
I can see the roof of Barkly Square from my Brunswick apartment, that beige wave of concrete, topped by grey skies. The front of the building is dominated by large automated doors and a McDonald’s. Inside there is and was the usual array of shops. However, Barkly Square aka Barkers has had some odd shops in its time, like the shop that only sold stockings and hats or the bookshop that only sold Christian texts and audio books spoken by my ex-girlfriend’s, ex-boyfriend.
When I first moved to my Brunswick apartment, after finding myself in the liminal wasteland of shared accommodation in such places as Prahran and Preston, I spent every Saturday morning in Barkers. In particular, I used to adore walking around Kmart, nursing my hangover. There is something exhilarating about being surrounded by affordable goods that defies articulation. I’d sweep up and down the aisles, trailing my hands across the bargains like Ellen DeGeneres dancing onto her set. I kitted most of my apartment out with Kmart products but told people they were from elsewhere.
After a trip to Kmart I’d treat myself to a Vietnamese roll from the bakery out the front of Barkers, served by surly ladies who only now, after 3.5 years say hello to me and smile. I’d wash that down with a litre bottle of Bundaberg ginger beer and watch the DVD I’d also bought in Kmart. The rest of the afternoon was usually spent drinking whisky and writing at my kitchen table or meeting a friend at The Retreat for over-priced beer in the front bar.
But back to Barkers.
I’ve walked into Barkers in all sorts of states and never been asked to leave. There is an unconditional love that exists between me and this building. I have a Zen-like attachment to the walls and the floors and the toilets; when I enter through those automated doors all the troubles of the world slide down my legs and scurry into the rubbish bins, where the little fuckers belong. I have plans for Barkers though, big plans.
Barkly Square is where I’ll go when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives. I have it all worked out, so well worked out that I will not divulge my secrets on this blog, needless to say I’ll survive and you will not. Surviving the end of humanity takes a lot of planning and tinned products, also the ability to stab loved ones in the eye with a make shift spear. Sorry Mum but if you turn I’ll put you out of your misery using a selection of knifes from the kitchen section of Kmart, I know you’d appreciate the gesture.
Zombies aside, my favourite place in Barkers is the bottle shop attached to Safeway. When I first moved here it was a Liquorland but now it’s a BWS. Those of you who know me, know that I like the odd tipple before evensong. Drinking empowers me and later in the night disempowers me and sometimes leads to me being incarcerated but that’s another story. The lads in the BWS are great, except the skinny one with the goatee who’s a miserable prick and takes his job far too seriously and smells of stale cakes and probably loves Glee. The other lads are excellent value and we enjoy a good bit of banter whenever I go there, regardless of my state of mind.
But why Barkly Square when I live across the road from Princes Park? I’ll tell you why; Princes Park reminds me of that lurid scene in Midnight Express when all the brain dead prisoners walk around and around and around. The joggers at Princes Park are no different except they look healthier, are not afraid of the showers and jog rather than lurch around like smack heads on a carousel. I love Barkers because it has all the hallmarks of the unwanted ginger stepson. I revel in its rudimentary attempts at decoration. I worship at its alter of mediocrity. But more importantly Barkers sneaks under the radar and breaths its fiery smog of blandness up my jacksey and in doing so fills my soul with joy.
We are taught to admire aesthetically pleasing buildings, to regard them as the paragons of social advancement but places like Barkly Square never gain a mention even though they serve an important part of our community. I’ve watched Barkers for 3.5 years now and I can see its community, its familiar faces, and we all know each other and nod and wink and stop to chat.
Barkly Square is the unsung hero of Brunswick but when you get to know the building it takes off its glasses, undoes its hair, shakes it around, puts its hands on its hips and promises to show you a good time.