Friday, February 16, 2024

Buying Billies

 Before I ramble about on our recent experience, I should explain that when I talk about 'Billies' I'm not referring to:

  • The lightweight pots (billycans) used for outdoor cooking, popularised in one of the versions of an Australian song, featuring a swagman who 'waited 'til his billy boiled'
  • A male goat, as, for example in the fairytale 'The three billygoats gruff'.
  • A stick or club - known as a truncheon in the UK - which, I learned when checking for meanings of the word, may also be known as a 'billy' or 'billystick'. 
  • A group of adults called Billy (or Billie), which is usually an abbreviation of the name 'William' or (possibly) 'Wilhelmina' 
Instead, I'm referring to a brand of bookcases that can be bought in the Swedish furniture chain Ikea. It's one of the few brands that we are able to pronounce. 

Our first introduction to Billy bookcases happened in the summer of 2006 just before we moved out of our rental house in Cyprus, into the one we bought. Some colleagues were leaving Cyprus around the same time, and offered to sell us some dark wood bookcases. 

At the time it was rather difficult to find bookcases locally. Sixteen years ago, there was no Ikea in Cyprus. The thrift store had some bookcases, but they were a bit flimsy. We had been able to buy two large ones second-hand from the organisation Richard was seconded to, some years earlier, and we had some rattan bookcases we had brought out from the UK. 

But they were starting to overflow. And we had shipped another five hundred or so books out when we sold our UK house. So the offer from our friends was timely, and since they were asking a very reasonable price, we had little hesitation in buying the two bookcases. They told us they were 'Billies' and we probably looked blank. They had been brought to Cyprus by another family who had moved from France but returned a few years earlier. Billies, we were told, were quite popular in countries where there was an Ikea. But we were not familiar with them. 

It's possible that we had the first two Billy bookcases in Cyprus. We rapidly filled them. 

Billy bookcases, old style, full of books

(As an aside: the same folk were also selling four ceiling fans. They were exactly what we needed for four places in our new house. We didn't know that they were available until we went to see the bookcases, and our friends didn't know that we were looking for something to replace the fancy chandeliers that the previous owners of the house had taken away. It felt like a divine appointment; those four ceiling fans still work well, and are a tremendous blessing in the warmer months)

We had visited an Ikea in the UK a couple of times, and hadn't found much that appealed. But we very much liked these bookcases, with their adjustable shelving, and the little metal knobs that fit into holes in the sides. They hold a lot of books, too. 

A year later, in September 2007, Ikea launched in Cyprus, just outside Nicosia. We visited a few months later, and acquired two more Billies: a tall black one for our DVD collection, and a smaller black one, which ended up taking our recipe books... for a while.  I wrote about the experience in this post. That's when we discovered that the 'new' system Billies were not only a darker colour, but ten centimetres narrower. However, that was ideal for our DVDs, and had plenty of room for more. 

Another year later, in September 2008, we visited Ikea again. This time we bought three shorter Billy bookcases for our dining room. The rattan cases were not only running out of space, they were being progressively destroyed by our cats, who thought they were convenient scratching posts. I wrote about that experience in this post

Nearly three years later, we were contemplating adding to our Billy collection due to books, once again, overflowing their shelves. Perhaps they were breeding when we weren't looking. And then we had another divine appointment: friends were getting rid of three bookcases, one of which was a Billy. It wasn't a dark wood one, but that didn't worry us. We did some major re-sorting of books and DVDs, as explained in detail in this post so that the light wood Billy took our DVDs, and the resulting arrangement looked like this:

There was still plenty of space for more books and DVDs, and we also acquired two non-Billy bookcases that we used elsewhere. 

Time passed, as it usually does. 

At some point we bought another tall black Billy, so we could move the light coloured one upstairs to a bedroom, and use one of the original - wider - Billies to house our growing DVD collection. 

We had a slightly annoying gap for a while, due to lack of planning on my behalf, which remained for some years. 

Although the books were mostly under control - the rate of acquiring new ones slowed, and I even managed to give a few away to the local church book sale - our DVD collection didn't stop. It's not that we watch all that many, but we aim to see one film per week, and an episode or two from a classic sitcom or a more modern tenser or heavier television show (most recently Father Brown; we're about to embark on the 13th Doctor Who series). And Richard has a growing collection of DVDs which are thrillers or political dramas that don't interest me at all, but which he sometimes sees on his own if I'm away, or if he is up late. 

So, in 2019, we looked at the Ikea catalogue again. To our joy, they were selling a narrow (20cm wide) Billy, the same height as our bookcases, but with a lot more shelves, intended for CDs or DVDs. We did ponder buying two, but were pretty sure that just one would last us a good long time. 

And in the process of re-organising the DVDs, we decided to move the second older Billy to the kitchen to house the recipe books (and also some of my children's fiction) meaning that the three matching black ones could sit in a row, without any annoying gap.  

We were pleased with the result.

In the corner was a gap of just over 20cm, where we were pretty sure that, one day, we would need a second narrow Billy. But not just yet...

And, indeed, four years later the DVDs were still fitting in the available space. Well, mostly. I had moved all the younger children's DVDs to the bottom shelf of the nearest bookcase. We also had a drawer under the television crammed full with our Christmas DVDs and the ones we haven't yet watched, and the series we are currently watching...

Then, a few weeks ago, we received a couple of Christmas parcels from one of our sons and his family, containing, among other things, a new and rather large DVD series. So that sat on a shelf under our television for a while, and we began to think seriously about a new narrow Billy. 

The decision was cemented when a friend, moving from one flat to another, decided to get rid of her DVD collection since she mostly watches online now. She gave us the first refusal, and since she had a lot of older classics which we hadn't seen, we selected a few. And a few more... and ended up adding another 25 DVDs to our household.

But where could we put them...?  The drawer was choc-a-bloc, the shelf also crammed with DVDs. It was starting to look rather untidy and we're pretty sure we'll acquire more DVDs in future.

So I went online and searched the Ikea site. I read that Billy bookcases had been discontinued for a while, but were back, better than ever. 

But there were no 20cm ones. The narrowest was 40cm, and that was clearly meant to be a bookcase rather than a DVD case, as it didn't have extra shelves. DVD shelving seems to have gone out of fashion, possibly because more and more people are using streaming services rather than physical DVDs. 

Then, due to an inner prompting - you can call it intuition, or the voice of God - I looked on Facebook marketplace. It's not somewhere I normally look, but I thought someone might have some kind of DVD storage that they were getting rid of.

I found someone just outside Nicosia who was selling TWO 20cm black Billy CD/DVD cases. They weren't advertised as Billy, but I was certain they were. Richard made contact, and a couple of days later we took his van and drove to collect them. I wasn't at all sure that we needed two, but since they might be the last two available narrow Billies in Cyprus, we bought them both. One of them is fitted where we planned, the other behind the TV where it's housing Richard's thrillers and other series that I have no wish to see. 

We moved the rest of the TV series DVD sets and the Christmas ones to the side cases, and there's now, once again, plenty of room for more.  

That corner looks much better without the gap:

As well as the two narrow Billies, the folk in Nicosia were also selling 18 children's DVDs, very inexpensively, some of them modern classics that we didn't have... we acquired another fourteen. So I'm now a tad concerned that we have almost filled up the shelf of children's DVDs. 

But that's a problem for another day.

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