It takes us half a day by the time we've driven along the motorway to Bordeaux, walked round, queued to pay and had something to eat. We always set off late to arrive at twelve, just as the French are going for lunch, so we have the store more or less to ourselves, except for the Germans and the other English.
The first Tuesday in January was just perfect. So Monday was preparation day - sat nav primed, merc petrol tank full, details of what we wanted to buy printed off. It was then, at the top of the chemin rural, having checked our post box for late Christmas cards, that I found I couldn't put the merc into gear. Best laid plans and all that. Tuesday morning we watched the merc disappear into town perched precariously, swaying from side to side, on the back of the really too small Rodrigues' pickup truck.
He promised to let us know the diagnosis. Wednesday morning, Alexander lesson having been cancelled for the afternoon, the call came to say the car was fine and we rushed into town, resolved to head off to Ikea after all. And the reason for the gears jamming? A hazelnut wedged in among the cogs. He tactfully suggested it was a mouse who had done it, rather than the merc's untidy owner taking a snack.
So no more than twenty-five hours later than planned, we took our trusty old spacious merc to collect a two-seater sofa for the house and a comfy armchair for the cottage. Fortunately the furniture comes flat packed. And unfortunately I never got round to checking the packing case measurements, otherwise I would have realised that, large though the merc is, the two enormous boxes wheeled out from Ikea's warehouse wouldn't both fit inside the car (and we had no roof rack).
Not sure how we did it. After heaving, pushing, shoving, moving the front seats forward as far as possible, changing the angle of the seat backs, there came a moment when it looked as if we could close the tailgate by leaning on it heavily and praying that nothing inside was crushed. Tod drove home with his knees round his ears.
An hour earlier we'd stood in Ikea's furniture department wondering if we should buy the smaller armchair. But it wouldn't have matched the big three-seater sofa in the cottage lounge. And we have always done spacious, roomy and comfortable for our guests.
As we tried to force the boxes into the car, I said: "we should have bought the smaller one".
As I assembled the armchair in the cottage lounge and stood back to look at this enormous lump that completely swamps the rest of the room (even overwhelming the sofa) I said: "we should have bought the smaller one".
Vita and Bertie, on the other hand, think our new armchair is just perfect.