Driving on the left

The smallest roads on Scotland's Isle of Skye are less than a lane wide as they squeeze between ancient jumbled stone bridge abutments. The largest roads are are two-lane blacktop ribbons which roll along the island's sinuous coastline. I drove on both last week during a refreshingly uncomplicated trip to Scotland with my fiance Jackie. And we kept telling each other every time we got behind the wheel, "Remember to drive on the left."
A tour guide told us that the Brits drive on the left because it allowed right-handed horseman to swing their swords at the oncoming traffic. The left-handed Napoleon, the legend continues, ordered his armies to march on the right side of the road so that his own sword could be at ready. Colonization and war spread those two customs around the world. Australia and Malta drive on the left, while Canada and Madagascar prefer the right.
Perhaps that's just another anti-French story from the British isles, but it's fun to think that the centuries-old decisions of army commanders and fortunes of war determine the frustration levels of modern-day tourists like us. I am sure there is a great deal else that we take as standard today that can be traced back to a simple memo by some unnamed bureaucrat. April 15th as tax day, for instance, or Tuesday being election day. Routines fit the world as well as they fit individuals.


IKEA Nation

On Sunday I ventured into an IKEA store for the first time. My purpose was to buy a new kitchen table, but I also wanted to experience this Scandinavian furniture phenomenon that many of my friends revere. And after a two-hour foray inside this giant big-box slice of Sweden, I think their appreciation is well-founded.
At first the names of their products--a bed named "HORESUND" and a lamp called "PULT"--can be off-putting. But after you realize how well-designed and durable these space-saving and solid wood furnishings are, you think of those odd names as just Old World charm. It's Beowulf, but for your kitchen and bath.
And I like IKEA's DIY system of shopping. First, you write down the aisle and bin numbers of your chosen artifact from the maze of showrooms. Then you retrieve it from a warehouse that rivals the storage room in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It makes a lot of sense when you consider the alternative of waiting on a sales staff to find and move your order.
Building my new furniture took about an hour in the evening, and required no more expertise or special tools than what one would use to hang a picture. One unique thing is that IKEA furniture never comes with extra screws or washers. You use everything they give you. I wonder how much money they save by doing that? A colleague of mine suggested that if IKEA ever decided to make a car--it would come in cardboard box the size of a large pizza and require only a screw driver and an allen wrench to assemble. I don't doubt it, but would it be big enough carry home a nice-looking BJORKUDDEN table?