Now I have returned to the capital, as reluctantly as ever.
Sometimes, like defrosting the freezer compartment or visiting the dentist, there is simply nothing to be done but to go to IKEA. Today was such a day. My windows needed blinds, my pictures needed frames, my heavy heart needed lifting – I felt little optimism about any of the above.
Who are all the people wandering around IKEA in the daytime? They cannot all be like me – driven to part-time work by bereavement and illness, yet now rejoicing in its flexibility, if not its financial rewards. If any of them are unemployed, they should really think about getting jobs in IKEA, then maybe their once-fellow customers would be able to find someone to fucking well help them once in a while, instead of being condemned to wander around like severed souls in purgatory, driven mad by the incessant drumming of rain on the store roof and the repeated grating of one's achilles by the inferior trolley control of whoever walks behind.
IKEA did little this afternoon to alter its reputation as perpetual purveyor of disappointment. In short, and you will not be surprised by this, my windows still need blinds and my pictures still want for frames. My heart remains unchanged, except…
I could not bear a grey, empty-handed trudge back across the tarmac to the tram stop. So I bought a Christmas tree – a declassé plastic number, chemically engineered to engender neither showers of pine needles nor tears of joy and excitement. Its best feature was that it came in a long, oblong cardboard box with a handle down one of its long sides. It made me feel that I might be carrying something wildly more intriguing inside than an ugly IKEA Christmas tree. To begin with, it was a musical instrument (this reminded me of a dream I'd had the night before in which I was dining at The Ivy with my mum and Chris Martin), and I was on my way into town to play at the Royal Albert Hall, or the Royal Opera House, or in fact any of the city's exciting Royal venues. People would almost certainly be throwing flowers onto the stage, and I would receive visitors in my dressing room wearing a silk kimono and a turban.
By the time I was back at East Croydon Station, I was carrying a lethal weapon, of which I was the sole trained operator, and with which I would single-handedly eradicate a cartel of Really Evil Badness.
As we passed through Norwood Junction on the train, I was carrying a box containing a tiny Chinese gymnast who I was smuggling away from her inhumanly strict coaches.
I reside in a fantasy world of my own creating, clearly. An hour or so earlier, I had been scolded by the cashier in the IKEA cafe for dreamily dilly-dallying while he was waiting for my pin number, and the bickering couples in the queue behind were waiting to eat their meatballs. 'You're in IKEA now, you know,' he said, with the mildest suggestion of a threat and a faint echo of The Wizard Of Oz (the way you're directed around IKEA by an arrowed path always reminds me of the yellow brick road).
In the unlikely event that any of my fellow passengers on the journey home had been speculating as to what was inside the cardboard box that actually contained a cheap plastic Christmas tree, the picture of a cheap plastic Christmas tree on the side may have given it away.
But still, I'm saying that today of all days was a time to rejoice in the power of dreams.