IKEA & The Empire

I remember a time when I said I would never set foot in IKEA again – but of course, I have.

I said it because I was fed up with being seduced by cheap prices and buying stuff, more stuff & stuff we didn’t need and me, a second-hand shopper wants good, old stuff.

On the other hand, it is Scandinavian design and I am a sucker for that, but then again I would rather be shopping in Stockholm than Southampton.

(Shopping in Stockholm does require a more than modest lottery win, I need to say.)

So, we had a list of things we needed to get from IKEA including large mats to replace those we had bought several years ago and on which we could now could fondly trace the red wine spill, the casserole slip and various dog issues, as well as general grime.

To get me through this ordeal, I decided to think of it as I imagined some 19th century Empire-bound wife would as she planned setting up home in the tea plantations of Northern India or in the nice suburbs of Calcutta.

She would have been shopping in the Army & Navy stores – set up in 1871
to supply goods and chattels to army and navy ( not surprisingly) officers, and to supply them cheaply.

There was a stationery department ( always a favourite with me), a drapery department, fancy goods department ( I am not sure what was in that, but I do wonder what fancy goods you might need on an Empire posting), handily they also had a gun department (and as fancy goods go, a gun might work.)

They don’t have such departments in IKEA.

In 1890, The Army & Navy opened new stores in Plymouth and Mumbai. For all I know IKEA have stores in Plymouth and Mumbai, but it’s just not the same.

My best beloved has a dinner service which he bought from the Army & Navy before his first posting to Baghdad. The Foreign Office let you do things like that in those days so that you had decent, British, upstanding plates on which to serve food to grateful natives no doubt. ( We still use it – for less grateful Sussex natives.)

So from a store where you could buy supplies to take with you when you set off to bring civilisation and British values to the locals, the Army & Navy developed into a mail order service.

They had a massive catalogue which included everything from bars of soap to wedding dresses – both, no doubt, terribly useful in their own ways.

IKEA has lots of useful things too.

So, we bought a light fitting, had a long debate about toilet brushes, as you do, some cups of exactly the right shape for Nick – he is a man of habit and these cups are the exact right shape and he’s not to be deflected with other shaped cups.

It was relatively painless – and we did get some good large mats.

There was a mattress topper which we have to order online and that is fine, that is today’s world.

But there is a bit of me, sitting on the veranda on a hillside in India looking through the Army & Navy catalogue and being delighted that they can deliver a kitchen range and linoleum ‘within 40 and 17 days respectively.’


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