So This is Christmas and What Have You Done?

So This is Christmas and What Have You Done?

We all know Christmas is big for business so Christmas ads must be big too. John Lewis, that bellwether of the British high street, usually leads the pack. Its lavish TV offerings rarely fail to tug at the heart strings or loosen the purse, and this year is no different with a theme centred round the loneliness of old age. Like I need reminding that, childless as we are, our incontinent years might be a little bit crap. John Lewis has been criticised for spending so much on a TV campaign when they could have donated to charity instead. I’m all for bashing the corporate world for not paying their dues and not doing their bit. But in this case, the reproach is a tad misplaced. The campaign is supported by Age UK and has resulted in thousands of extra volunteers for the festive period. Besides, it’s our collective responsibility to care for the vulnerable, not a shop’s.

We also know Christmas is all about over-excited kids brainwashed into wanting bigger and better, faster and flashier. It’s all down to cynical marketing and playground peer pressure: pester-power is the biggest bang in the advertiser’s armoury.  Or is it? Grab a tissue and watch this clever message from IKEA Spain. It had me in floods.

The moral of my story? Spend more time with your kids and spare a thought for the two old fairies at the bottom of the garden.

With thanks to John Lennon for the title of this post.

A Very British Olympics

A Very British Olympics

We Brits love to wallow in glorious failure. It’s almost a national fetish. We relish the underdog fighting against insurmountable odds – remember Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team (not to mention Dunkirk)? This time we had a runaway success on our hands and it crept up behind us like a batty boy in a back room, confounding the doubters and crowned with a bulging bag of bling. Blighty has been in a foul mood for years and, for a brief moment, people have something to smile about. For me, it was the Paralympics that defined the true spirit of the Games – from mad dash to Mad Max, fire to phoenix, high fliers to high wires, gold-play to Coldplay – the very best of humanity tainted only by the very worst of Channel 4 coverage. Keenly covered at home, not so keenly covered abroad, some of our friends across the seas should hang their heads in shame. The Americans televised only limited highlights (despite the presence of a large and impressive American Team) and my former foster home, Turkey, decided to screen a soccer match instead of the opening ceremony. Tonight saw a joyous and very British closing show received by a wall of noise. It was a triumph – a triumph made in Britain.

Photo: Ian Kington/AFP

Now that the big top has come down and the circus is leaving town for Brazil, what next? Will the park become a weedy white elephant like so many of the past? Will the colossal cost deepen the double dip as the bills drop on the mat? There’s a chance, a good chance, that the legacy will endure. The park itself is small and perfectly formed (a bit like me), the velodrome was going to be built anyway and the aquatics centre will replace the aging National Sports Centre pools at Crystal Palace. I used to train there when, for a short while before I discovered hormones, I was a promising young diver. It was a bugger to get to. As for the Olympic Stadium itself, it’s a great fit for big-ticket concerts by big-wig stars. It’s already booked for the 2017 World Athletic Championships and we may yet see Hammers’ fans screaming from the terraces. Transport links in that part of town have been completely transformed and the Olympic Village will provide quality affordable housing for one of the most deprived areas of the country. Remember the Millennium Dome (itself a 2012 venue)? Who would have thought back in 2001 that it would emerge as one of the most successful music venues in the world as the O2? Few facilities were specifically built for the Games and some were designed to be temporary. One or two may even get packed up and shipped off to Rio for 2016. Now, here’s a thought. Perhaps the IOC should commission IKEA to design the travelling flat pack games. Now where did I put that allen key?

See the best of the Games. You’ll have to click into You Tube to watch the video.

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The Big Bang Games

Thank You, Mitt Romney

The Beau Belles

When we decided to jump the good ship Blighty, we enjoyed an extraordinary run of good luck. Our neighbour bought our house and its contents. IKEA-chic (or is that shit?) was clearly to his liking. We hauled over just 17 boxes of our precious personal possessions (aka old crap we couldn’t give away). Our extraordinary run of good luck has continued. Thanks to a select group of Bodrum Belles, we’ve flogged off our house contents all over again. We’ve hauled back to Blighty just 17 boxes plus Liam’s beloved Roland keyboard and our marvellous Samsung flat screen TV (miraculously still working; most of our other electrical goodies have malfunctioned). I love this recycling lark. No need to re-flat-pack the flat pack. So, a massive hand to the Beau Belles of Bodrum.

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Are You Being Served?

In the Beginning

Climb Every Mountain

Our IKEA delivery arrived. Incredibly, the van managed to scale the north face of Mount Tepe, the crumbling, virtually vertical, concrete access road that leads to our new home. Ascension requires an ultra-low gear, decent tyres and nerves of steel. Out of the van leapt half a dozen men who swung into action, unloading, unpacking and assembling. Five or so hours on, our IKEA room sets are ready to be dressed and accessorised. We will move in tomorrow. Fabulous!

Are You Being Served?

Despite our genuine fear of death or permanent disability, we left for Izmir at first light, driving by hire car due east to Milas, the next sizeable town from Bodrum. From the outskirts, Milas seems to have little to commend it; a nondescript minor provincial town of concrete awfulness. We swung north inland. Ascending into the hills (well, mountains by British standards) we passed alongside Lake Bafa, a stunning expanse of water that reminded Liam of the Italian lakes. Reaching a high plateau, we stopped off near Soke at a long row of giant discount outlet stores built in the middle of nowhere. We breakfasted in McDonald’s: a fondness for egg mcmuffins is a guilty secret of ours. Replete with 50% of our daily allowance of saturated fat, we continued onwards towards Izmir. We hit the toll motorway near Aydin which came as something of a relief. Neat, newly constructed and four lanes wide, it wouldn’t look out of place in Germany. As we descended from the plain back towards the coast, Izmir stretched out impressively before us.

Izmir’s IKEA is located in suburban Bornova, adjacent to a smart shopping centre. We had already pre-selected our major items by thumbing through the catalogue and ambling around the Edmonton branch in London, so I asked a nice young man if there was anyone available to help us. He duly obliged and presented us with our very own personal shopper to guide us around the store. We simply pointed at items indicating “one of those, two of these” and she did the rest, checking stock levels and suggesting alternatives as needed. I felt like a Harvey Nicks celeb and loved it. Liam, on the other hand, found the whole exercise rather unsettling. I’m very much a smash and grab shopper, whereas he’s more of a grazer and likes to take his time, lots of it. We had a bit of a row; our first in Asia. He eventually tolerated the experience with sullen resignation.

After we concluded our business, we took tea in the restaurant and went to accessorise in the market place. The genius of IKEA is the canny strategy of pricing so much so low as to seduce shoppers into buying things they don’t know they want and probably don’t need. Naturally, we complied like proverbial sheep. Two trolley loads later, we sauntered towards the tills. There waiting was a trolley train assembled on our behalf by half a dozen co-workers (as IKEA likes to call its shop assistants), all arranged by our efficient personal shopper. The same brigade of eager workers then packed our market place goodies and wheeled the whole lot to the home delivery desk. I was staggered. What an experience: inconceivable back home where IKEA has taken self-service to an entirely new level of indifference.

Darkness had fallen by the time we left the store, and we were in urgent need of somewhere to bed down for the night. The thought of driving through the bustling city centre during the rush hour terrified us, and so we headed out towards the airport. I thought it reasonable to assume that the international airport of Turkey’s third city would be ringed by hotels. Not a bit of it. The entire vicinity is devoid of inns. As time had marched on and we had grown weary, I suggested a diversion to nearby Selçuk, a small town south of the airport. I had a vague recollection of a decent hotel from a previous visit. We were decidedly relieved to learn that my powers of recall were still in reasonable working order and that the hotel was open for business so late in the season. The Kalehan Hotel is found on the main road into town nestling beneath the citadel. It is a bit of a treasure crammed with gorgeous Ottoman-style antiques and bric-a-brac. Though a little tatty around the edges, it was, nevertheless, a clean, reasonably priced and comfortable place to stay. The breakfast, though, was inedible.

DFS on LSD

We’ve acquired a ludicrously large house with little to fill it with. Local stores are either indescribably awful (think DFS on LSD) or outrageously expensive (or both), so we settled on IKEA, the store of choice for the middle class poor everywhere. It is comforting to know that the IKEA formula, like McDonald’s, is so dependably familiar whether in Bournemouth or Beijing. However, the idea of an eight hour round trip to the nearest store in Izmir fills us with dread, but loins girded, we have stoically resolved to go forth in search of flat pack paradise.