I originally posted this pic shortly after the sofa was installed, just to show off the outrrrageous length of it (trust me, when you're over six foot you don't get to stretch out on sofas in this fashion very often) but I feel the story behind its acquisition must be told.
The last time I bought a sofa was back in Brighton in 2001. Noah, Tom and I went a third each on a stupendous £150 wire frame folding sofa which, at the swing of its levered backrest, converted from comfortable TV watching location to congenial resting place for weary (or, more often, drunken) house guests. It seemed very clever, what with it being so cheap, to the point where I worried about how we would divide it up at the end of our tenency. However after several months of having Noah's fat arse parked on it twelve hours a day while he worked on the Internet the cushion began to lose some of its plump fluffiness and slowly but surely the rails of the underlying framework protuded through the padding to the point of being quite painful. By the time we moved out in 2002 it was so awful that the scrap was over who was going to get rid of it, rather than who got to keep it.
Skipping forward to 2006, I found myself about to move into a new house in Stratford (the one I now occupy). The landlord informed me that although it was technically unfurnished, the previous tenants had left certain items which I could choose to keep or have removed at my discretion. One of those items was another of those cursed uncomfortable sofas. Not only that, it had already been worn to a point so far beyond the very worst of my old model's career that to describe it as an appropriate interface between arse and floor would be to do random piles of broken glass a disservice. All the same, it was free and I kept it.
I put up with it, partly out of inertia and partly out of an unwillingness to spend money wehn it wasn't strictly necessary, covering it in the spare duvet and any spare cushions to provide passing relief for my poor chafed cheeks. I discoverd that I could take about 90 minutes but precious few minutes more, meaning I eschewed "The Godfather" in favour of a string of bad, formulaic movies from the cheaper Hollywood studios. It was building to a head but the cruch point came when my girlfriend came to meet me at the door with a slight limp.
"Something the matter, dear?"
"I've been sat on that sofa all day and my lower back has gone numb but apart from that.. I'll live."
Faced with an imminent orthopaedic lawsuit I got straight onto ebay and searched for sofas located nearby. I set myself a budget of fifty quid and bid on a couple of ex-Ikea leather things which would, I guessed, fit quite nicely in the living room.
"The trick with ebay," I cheerfully informed my employer as I sat wasting company time, "is to go up to a price you've decided and stick to it."
"What if it goes for only a fiver more?"
"Ah, that's the secret," I said, bidding up to £65. "You have to know when to quit."
"Do tell me more," he said as the bids topped £70.
"It's all about moderation. Curses, I've been outbid again. Seventy-five and that's my limit."
Thank God, I lost by ten pence.
Two days later I spotted a new option, a four-seater monster with eight (count them) throw cushions and a pedigree brand on the label. The starting bid was fifty quid, with no interest so far and three days to run. I put it in my 'watched items' and waited.
At lunchtime on the Wednesday, with only an hour to go, there were still no bids. Blimey, I thought. What about this sofa did I miss? There were precise dimensions on the listing: 80x110x260cm which didn't sound so big and I rang Richard to check that the living room was actually wide enough to accommodate it.
"Well, sort of," he said. "As long as you don't want to fit much else in here."
"That's good enough for me," I said, stuck in a bid for £65 and, much to my surprise, won the thing for the opening price.
People in Campden were highly amused and told me I'd never move the thing home but I was fully confident that only a madman would manufacture a sofa that didn't fit in in the cavernous maw of an estate car. By way of a check I rang my little sister and got her to go outside on a brisk January evening and ascertain my chances of getting it into my parents' Volvo estate. Ten minutes later her return call confirmed that said vehicle would only accept such a load with the help of an angle grinder. Ah, that is the deal-breaking detail I missed, then.
The weekend before, I had hired a taxi to get home from the supermarket with a late-night snack. I recalled being blind drunk and taking great delight in engaging with the driver in affected, roaring, export quality hooray Henry bullshit and thoroughly enjoying myself. I also recalled his car being one of those cavernous old Mercs, the ones that were designed long before all those prissy safety regulations that meant new Volvos were half full of exploding gas bags and roll-bar supports. Surely any sofa would fit in there. I rang George.
"George, old bean. I was wondering if you might assist me in the conclusion of a conundrum."
"I'll certainly be of any assistance I can, old chap. What ails you?"
"Well I have certain very specific and somewhat demanding transportation requirements for a new piece of domicile furniture that I have purchased in a village not far from here."
"What sort of requirements? I can't make any guarantee of satisfaction without further details."
"Well it's a sofa." I gave him the measurements.
"I see." That didn't sound good. "Well as it happens I haven't got measuring tape to hand."
"Ah. Well I have one right here. I've just been down at the taxi rank hassling people in pathetic little VW estates and minibuses with seats that don't fold flat." This was true. "It wouldn't go in anything that's available this week."
"Well, I'll pop over and we can measure it."
He didn't take long, bless him, and pulled into the courtyard across the road. I measured up as best I could and decided that while it would be tight but it would just about go in enough that, while it would poke out of the back, it wouldn't actually snap in two at the first bump. We decided to give it a try.
George very kindly offered to charge me only half of whatever the meter read for the round trip and I couldn't argue with that, especially when it was already up to £20 as we pulled into the vendor's driveway. Two expensive cars stood on a gravel driveway before a vast triple garage. I felt a bit like a rag and bone man, picking up a second hand sofa for what was, to this guy, the price of a wheel nut. Either way, I got a sofa. I need to stop worrying about this stuff.
A very jovial chap answered the door, the whiff of a rather nice wine following him out into the night.
"Are you sure it's going to go in that thing?"
"We measured it and I'm fully convinced," I said, my voice wavering like a 13 year-old boy's. "Fully convinced."
"Well,'" he said. "It's in the garage."
When the door went up I was at first amused; it tickled me to see that even rich people have trouble dealing with garages full of piles of old shite. Paint pots, plant pots, wood planks, gas tanks and even a Black & Decker Workmate were piled high in every corner. The hilarious part was that the total market value of everything in there was about two hundred quid - certainly less than the potential cost of keeping the two cars out in the cold at any rate. I picked my way through to the sofa, which was right in the centre with a purple two-seater settee placed neatly (if upside down) on top of it.
We lifted off the purple one and revealed a sofa which, in the flesh, looked a lot larger than the Merc. Curses. Nevertheless, I refused to give up without concrete evidence.
"That is never going in," said George helpfully.
"Bollocks," was my retort as I flung base and throw cushions aside enthusiastically. "It's smaller than it looks."
The eldest son of the house - a faintly amused lad of about 15 - and I staggered out with the leviathan, knocking over a gas cannister on the way. There was a tense moment when I thought it was going to burst and shoot, rocket-like, through the wall and into the somewhat expensive house next door. It didn't, of course, but the thought of it did distract me long enough to stub my toe on an errant brick. Bastard. George went off to back up the car and thus save us walking the extra ten feet but took so long that by the time he was moving we were practically on top of him anyway.
"Woah there!" For one horrible moment it looked like he was going to crush my young helper and the fifty quid sofa might suddenly become a fifty million quid lawsuit but luckily he didn't and Dad was distracted picking up the gas can. So far, so skin-of-my-teeth.
We wedged it in the aperture and quite rapidly realised we had Bob Hope and no hope. Even with the feet unscrewed and the soft parts crushed as flat as possible it was a clear inch too large up the back. We rotated it to every angle known to geometry but there was just no way we could get more than about two percent of it inside - hardly enough to be classed as a safely packed vehicle load. Eventually, crushingly, I admitted defeat and we screwed the feet back on before carting it back into the garage.
"Don't sweat it," said my affable seller. "I'll drop it by over the weekend in the X5 if you pay for the petrol."
"It's funny," said George, always on hand with a helpful contribution. "When I saw that purple one I thought, say, that will fit in easily."
"Well, you can have it."
"Yeah, I was only going to burn the thing tomorrow. It's got a stain. Used to be Laura Ashley though."
"Yeah. You'd be doing me a favour."
"I say, thanks very much!"
It was one of my all time most surreal moments. We loaded up the sofa and said farewell as if everything was perfectly normal but I was in a bit of a daze.
"By the way," said George. "Don't worry about the fee."
"Well that's very generous," said I. "But the thing is, if you think about it what's happened is some guy neither of us has ever met has just paid you a sofa to drive me around Warwickshire for an hour."
"It sounds like an idea for a really stupid movie."
"Yeah, they could call it Carl and George: The Wrong Sofa."
It was then that I discovered that George could either drive or laugh but found doing both simultaneously a bit of a struggle. We swerved about on the single track lane, through a small Warwickshire village, the sofa slamming into each side of the car as he chortled his way from puddle to garden wall and back. The near misses only served to intensify his mirth and it was only by sheer luck that we lived long enough for the excitement to wear off. Once his amusement and my pulse rate had subsided we were almost back in town.
"Well thanks for an eventful evening," I said. "Sorry it didn't work out."
"No no; thank you." And then he was gone.
Richard, my flatmate, was less than amused by my failure. He had spent the afternoon dismantling the crappy old sofa and the disappointment on his face as he walked in at midnight to find me slumped against the wall on the folded cushion, sans-frame, was writ large.
"Go on then, what went wrong?"
"Don't ask. It wouldn't go in the Merc."
"Not even on the roof?" In truth, that hadn't really occurred to me but if you think I was going to admit that you've obviously never met, erm, me.
"No roof rack. And besides, this thing is two and a half metres long; it's longer than the car." This was an exaggeration but if you don't tell, I certainly won't.
"Well it looks like we're on the floor then mate."
We sat and watched the end of some movie or other and had a commiseratory bottle each of local ale and some home-made biltong, which took the edge off the pain just long enough for me to drift off into a fitful sleep.
In the morning, I was back on the case. I rang a guy I lived with when I first moved to Stratford, who owns a wine shop in town and owns a rather cute little delivery van. He's always been a bit of a risk-averse kind of guy so I wasn't sure he'd willingly wing it but when I rang him he agreed to help straight away.
"It might not fit, you know."
"Doesn't matter," said James. "We'll lash it down with string and put a warning triangle on the back."
And so it was that I found myself, not twenty-four hours later, stood outside Vin Neuf in town, measuring a Renault Kangoo.
"It's only just over half the length of the sofa."
"So it would be sticking out?"
"Yeah. Shouldn't be illegal unless it's poorly secured though," I said, brandishing some bungy cords and a length of nylon rope.
"Well, the doors might obscure the lights when they're half open, which is probably illegal."
"Drat." Then I had a brain wave. "I'll ring an acquaintance of mine who works in traffic court. She'll know what the score is."
I rang her, related the situation as it stood and, once she had stopped laughing, asked her advice.
"Well it's three points and up to a thousand pound fine for unsafe loading," she said. "But you wouldn't get full fine for a first offence. You could also be done for the light-obscuring which might count as an unfit vehicle so you could get more points for that but only if they really had it in for you for some reason."
"Thanks," I said. "She reckons it'll be fine." James, not being an idiot, clearly didn't believe me but for some strange reason seemed unfased by the whole thing.
"Let's just go and give it a try, eh?"
And so we took off back up the road to Wooton Wawen (or wherever the hell it was) in a tiny Renault delivery van.
"What a shame," said our cheerful sofa purveyor, indicating the wine motif on the back doors. "I thought you were making a delivery."
"Sadly not," I said. "Except of fifty of your British pounds, perhaps."
"Perhaps not," he said. "That thing's not much longer than the Merc is it?"
"Shut the living shit up," I said, brandishing a tyre iron and flashing my Bowie knife. "If you say another goddamned discouraging word I swear I'll gut you like a fish."
Actually I didn't say that, largely because I had neither a tyre iron nor a knife but also because I'm a civilised and sensible human being. Most of the time. Well, except for that time when I mixed apple sours and Red Bull.. but I digress.
The sofa went in okay this time but just not very far. The space in the rear of the Renault was, as I had measured, barely longer than half of the sofa and it only just sat flat. One big bump and the whole thing would have levered up on the rear lip and snagged on the road below.
"Bugger," I said. I knew full well that James wouldn't agree to drive with such a ludicrously unsafe load, especially not with his company logo emblazoned down the side of the vehicle. But he didn't look so perturbed. Walking around to the front he reached into the passenger side and flipped the seat forward - that bought us easily another metre of space if we could wedge the end of the sofa through between the door and the gear stick. Genius! We rotated it laterally so the backrest was uppermost and I pushed from behind while James guided it between the struts. It wouldn't go for about ten minutes but suddenly he found the sweet spot and it vanished into the back of the van like spaghetti in that scene in Lady and the Tramp. Bloody marvellous! It still stood proud of the back but only by about a foot; not nearly enough to make the doors cover the tail lights. Suddenly it was all coming together.
I happily wedged the base cushions in underneath the sofa and piled the throws in on top. Job well done, I thought.. until I realised that, without a passenger seat, I had nowhere to ride. I only let it fase me for a moment though and, remembering my childhood spent in sofa-cushion forts, I crawled in underneath my new purchase.
"Look," I called, triumphant. "Plenty of room in here! Just use the bungys to hold the doors shut and we'll be off."
"Not quite," said the now ex-owner of the cursed sofa of doom. "There's one thing you've forgotten."
I felt sick. What? I was here, the sofa was here, the cushions were.. oh wait. I climbed back out and handed over a sweaty wad of tenners.
"Ah, yeah; sorry about that."
"No trouble. Do you want the footrest too?"
"Hell yes!" And, with a moment's bungy madness, we were gone.
The journey was very strange; I could only see about three square feet of speeding tarmac below me, occasionally striped with white lines as James cut the occasional rural corner and I found it very difficult to know where on Earth I was. A friend of mine, waiting in the pub, sent me a text demanding to know my whereabouts.
"HELP," I wrote back. "I AM A PRISONER IN A SOFA VAN."
It did take longer to get back than I thought it would. James, I think, may have got lost but I have no evidence either way as one bit of speeding tarmac does, weirdly, look much like another. As we neared town I found I could pull down a few throw cushions and yell through directions and in moments we were at my house. I had already cleared enough room so all that remained was to lift it through the front door - which turned out to be a mere half inch wide enough for the job - and plonk it down in front of the telly.
For once my measurements were correct and there was a good two-foot gap at the end to get around it but it did have to be wedged up against the inner wall to allow the front door enough room to open. Looking at it, I also noticed that the inner door is much narrower than the outer - getting it through to the dining room would not, I think, have been possible. We barely got it through enough to close the front door behind as it turned out.
I had to dash straight down the pub but upon my return made sure to take full advantage of the greatest pleasure known to loungekind - a flying leap over the backrest onto big, bouncy springs. Seriously, bollocks to those Ikea sofas.
They're overpriced anyway.
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