Belfast Telegraph

Nothing will ever be the same in home furnishings again ...

By Barry White

All the signs said, 'Car Park Full', but going by the well-known principle that there's always room for one more, I risked turning towards Holywood Exchange and a well-known furniture store. It was no surprise to see scores of empty places; once someone turns on a full or men at work sign it's never turned off.

The first impression is the sheer size of the place, like an aircraft hangar just a couple of hundred yards from George Best's runway.

Try to get a bit of long-distance training in before you go, walking, stopping, starting, sitting and weaving past imaginary pushchairs. And plan to spend time in that enormous restaurant, with the best view of planes landing and taking off that you'll ever encounter.

I must be one of the few who had never darkened an Ikea door before, just listened to endless talk of bus or car rides to Glasgow and the bargains to be had, making it all worthwhile. Now I understand; within minutes of arrival, directed into the covered car park by hordes of yellow-coated attendants and getting my statutory carrying bag from a helpful Portuguese-Brazilian couple, I was mentally jettisoning half of the furniture we'd accumulated over the years.

It's not that the couches, chairs, tables and whatever look and feel better than most of the stuff that fills conventional furniture shops, or that they're 10% cheaper than anything you've seen before. The prices are 40-50% less, more than enough to make up for - remember! - the fact that every big item you see has to be screwed or hammered together when you get home. As you follow the arrows on the floor, and read the price tags, so that you can fill in your purchase form, you find yourself wondering if you're seeing properly - surely yesterday I saw a unit like that at twice the price?

Yes, and try to concentrate on what you actually came to buy, and don't get distracted. There are no windows, but there are dozens of kitchens you've always wanted, children's play areas at calculated intervals and shelves full of books in Swedish.

For the mechanically-inclined, there are machines proving that heavyweights can jump on the chairs for years without effect. Where's the exit, you ask, and for a long time you're fated to follow the arrows taking you round every possible department. But make a desperate enough appeal, as we did, and you can duck under barriers and short cut the distance to the ground floor cash tills and, glory be, the exit. We made it, empty-handed, but content that when the time came, we'd be ready for a full-scale expedition.

Anyone below the age of ¿ 60? ¿ will have no memories of the days when Swedish design, in teak, was all the rage, and when the only place to buy was Hanna and Browne, in Arthur Street. Those Scandanavian days are here again, thanks be, and I'm sure that interior furnishing here will never be the same. My sympathies are with everyone in the furniture trade, or who has just opened one of those Made in China knick-knack shops that clutter up our shopping streets. The competition has landed.

You're a New Zealand tourist on a black-taxi (only it's red) tour of Belfast (both sides), being regaled with well-balanced stories of the Troubles, when, in front of Queen's University, the driver suddenly brakes and gets out.

He's spotted a commotion and in seconds he has forced a man on to the pavement, while two frightened girls look on.

What's up, the girls explain, is that the man had threatened them with a syringe and had grabbed their bag. They resisted, while everyone else - except the gallant taxi driver - looked on.

The attacker runs off, hopefully having learned his lesson, but the girls, who were young American exchange students, still look shocked.

I'll take you home, says the taxi driver, turning around and delivering them to Queen's Elms. He even tells the police. As a New Zealand visitor, you're thrilled to have been part of a Belfast Troubles experience, and will be dining out on it forever. Even the natives are impressed, though one confesses it was over before he realised what happened ¿

I can almost understand why the MLAs refused to hear the Maze stadium presentation, because they hadn't been told what it would cost to run. They had requested a business case for months, and it's coming, but they were being used, they thought.

They should have made their protest, then heard what the architects had designed (at a cost of £1m).

But, thanks to the fuss, I now realise that the £80m stadium, which experience tells will cost twice as much, plus conflict transformation centre, plus year-round running costs, will have to come out of the Northern Ireland budget.

All we have, for free, is the land - although it is potentially worth a lot. About 20 days of sport can be accounted for, at the stadium, which presumably would be the Coca Cola or Guinness Stadium. Then what? We should be told.

Forget stories that the UUP, owner of considerable property, is broke. Under reconstruction, it has to get the constituency associations, some of which are flush, to contribute to central funds.

The party's waiting to see what happens, post-Paisley, to the DUP and its vote. Then it could revive ¿ or fold.

Belfast Telegraph


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