It has been a while since I went into the city centre, not since before our holiday in fact. Not a lot has changed, just a few more empty shops and a bit more grime around the edges.
One of the reasons for this shopping trip was a visit to Ikea for some glass storage jars for one of Sally's craft projects, but of course I took the opportunity to have my favourite Swedish meatballs and gravy for lunch.
I had never seen the cafe so busy before, it was a struggle to find a place to sit. With the school holidays I suppose it is a fairly inexpensive place to take the kids to for a bite to eat. The special offers on certain meals probably helped too - ten meatballs and chips for £1.50!!!
So, just what is the appeal of Ikea then? (aside from the cheap food) Is it the quality of the furniture? To a degree yes - it is mostly of a pretty reasonable quality at sensible prices. Their sofas are not particularly comfortable, but in fairness that accusation can be leveled at an awful lot of shops in my experience! Why are most sofas so uncomfortable these days? Don't they want you to sit on them?
Is it the designs? Possibly. There is definitely a trend towards the more minimalist Scandinavian designs in lots of areas now. Take jewellery and watches for instance, where less does appear to be more. The problem with this theory is that if the consumer wants simple minimalistic furniture, why do most people not only fill their rooms to bursting point with it, but also clutter it with their junk completely destroying the simple design ethic that moved them to buy it in the first place? Why chose simple designs in light woods and then hide it all underneath books, CDs, DVDs and trinkets?
Could it be the whole eco friendliness that Ikea tries to exude? This falls down when you discover that the majority of the products are made in the far east by cheap labour and then transported to the other side of the world to be bought by us. The carbon footprint must be rather a large one. Not quite so green now are they?
I think it is partly down to the low prices they charge. Everyone wants a bargain don't they. So what if you have to tie your bootlid down with string on the way home, and then spend several hours swearing over the baffling instructions with a hammer and a screwdriver.
Mostly though, i believe it is down to the subconscious cravings we have for the "perfect life" - you know, the one we see in those popular TV shows. If you watch an episode of Friends, it would seem that if one of them ever needed to move house, they could fit all of their belongings in an estate car. No removal vans needed for them!
The idea of the smart, uncluttered lives we see on the TV has us desiring that level of living perfection too, never mind if we have nowhere to store our undies and our DVD collections.
It's just a shame that, in this country at least, we simply can't pull it off in our real lives - we just have too much stuff - much of it not needed, but all of it wanted, and most of it piled high on our Scandinavian designed, mass produced furniture.
Now, where's my catalogue? I saw a nice coffee table while i was in there today........