Welcome to the first in our 'documentary series' of A day in the life of a Worcester Decorator, the View from the top of the ladder (a light-hearted account of our adventures in the painting and decorating trade based loosely on real experiences). It doesn't feature guns or explosions, rather it's more paint brush, ladders, and lots and lots of painting and decorating.
Part One. A Worcester Decorator prepares for the day.
Wednesday 16th March wakes to a clear spring day. As I march out to the white ford van in my driveway, the clear signs are that the seasons are shifted: winter has given way. The daffodils are in bloom, the birds are vocal and squabbling, and the warmth of the sun is enough to outweigh the cold of the wind. Yes. Spring has arrived.
With a cheer in my step and a more generous heart, I decide to risk opening up the back of the Tardis. That's the name of my white van, for obvious reasons: specifically that it seems to contain more inside it than your average container ship from China.
A white van designed with a Tardis upgrade is a key part of any decorator's identity. They are as much a requirement to my job as are my stained overalls and my prehensile tail. (The latter is especially useful for scaffolding work, or for reaching those hard-to-get-to decorating places). Unbolting the rear doors (it requires a special lock), I usher in the morning light to a world more accustomed to darkness. Like an ancient prophet, I view my domain and ponder the work that needs to be done to bring them into the light.
Frankly, there's a lot of it. My toolbox is secured to the floor and padlocked shut - more to stop things getting out than to prevent rogues getting in. Rolled blankets lie over a tethered ladder, and much of the base of the van is ready and armed for the day's activities: paint buckets, from Dulux to Crown to Farrow and Ball, sit in neat serried ranks, ordered by declining size on a secure holdall, to one side of my van having various paint brushes and rollers clipped against the interior, ready for immediate deployment. Matte sits alongside gloss, the quick dry paint next to the mould proof emulsion, tape next to wipes, and the smell of paint and turpentine moves me to excitement. It is a temple to my trade as a Worcester Painter and Decorator extraordinaire!
Having verified my tools and paints, I compare them to the checklist I composed the day before, on the Tuesday evening. The list is typical of a decorating job in a Georgian property, but I am immediately reminded of one thing: the masonry paint is missing.
"Hells bells and buckets of boiling red blood!" I fume to the bemusement of my garden wildlife (a robin in the branches of a Hornbeam, and the neighbour's cat, which turns its attention back to the robin after giving me a lukewarm appraisal). But it is no problem. In fact last night I had instructed one of my 'marauders' (as I affectionately refer to the team), to stop by on his way home to pick up a 5 litre tin of masonry black paint. A quick call on the mobile should verify it:
"Mornin' Captain," comes the answer after four rings. "I've got the paint. Masonry white."
"Black. It should be black. Not white."
A pause. "Only kiddin' boss. Black it is. All put on the business account."
"Very good Grundy! I'll see you in Britannia Square!"
I slam the doors shut, lock them, make sure my thermos is filled with hot coffee and my pack lunch are both ensconced on my passenger seat, before I turn the key and put the Tardis into gear. We're off! But only for five minutes or so. I turn on the radio for my daily dose penetrating news insight, Radio 4s Today program, to be reminded that it is Budget Day 2016! What horrors will the Chancellor have in store for us small beings of enterprise today? Will it be another penny on our pints? Or will I get lucky and benefit from the changes with the rise of the income tax threshold? Ah, but then there's the fuel tax . . . and with oil so low he might just decide to take a little bit more for himself . . .
Before heading into Worcester and Barbourne itself, I navigate the Tardis to a hydrocarbon dispensary (a petrol station - but that expression breaks my sci-fi imaginings), to make sure I can at least top her up before any budget changes come into play. And then onward, with the ageing Tardis creaking and the suspension protesting, as I dodge pot holes and the men working on filling those pot holes, I make my way into Worcester and to my appointment at Barbourne.
Part Two: A decorator earns his pay.
It's not yet 8.00am when I pull up. I spot Grundy waiting on the pavement with the masonry paint in his hand and a mauled bacon sandwich hanging from the side of his mouth, at the same time balancing his mobile between his cheek and shoulder. It's obviously an unsustainable proposition. Something's got to give. As I step out of the Tardis the sandwich slips and a rain of sugar-filled ketchup drips onto his overalls, mixed with a dose of Worcestershire Sauce. Not that you'd notice. Being a painter decorator has its perks - we might not get bailed out by tax payers or be on the receiving end of million pound bonuses but at least we are expected to be messy. With a growl of annoyance, Grundy wipes the splatter into his battle-scarred overalls. It is an instant cure. The sandwich is finally consumed and his call ended.
"Watching you eat is like watching a BBC wildlife documentary," I declare as I move around to the back of the Tardis. Grundy shoots me his grin. He's tall and lean and possesses that sinewy strength that I always associate with half-starved fugitives on the run. I've known him for more than twenty years and we've worked together in the painting trade throughout Worcester for most of that time. Does that mean I'm on the run with him? I hadn't thought of that! (Though I, alas, don't look half-starved).
Grundy's reply is lost as a hail breaks out from nearby. My young apprentice, Maxwell, steps out a car, followed by Sean, our skilled plasterer-in-chief. The 'Marauders' are gathered for a day of adventure! I run through the day's checklist of things I want to achieve: it's our second week on this decorating job and only now, after preparing and stripping and sanding the walls, are we ready to leave our own mark for the owners. The property in Barbourne is a typical Georgian semi-detached home, with a white exterior and strong square lines, the home set behind a neat lawn that has only received its first cut of the year. I inhale, trying desperately to enjoy the scent of freshly cut grass.
I end up with a nose-full of Grundy's Worcester Sauce and turpentine as the back of the Tardis swings open. Hm! The best laid plans . . .
But, to steal (and butcher) from a famous movie line: "There's nothing like the smell of turpentine in the morning to get a man up and running!" I am spurred on. "Right ho! Today we're getting the scaffolding up in the hallway. The owners are away until next Tuesday so I want the hallway done before they get back. Grundy and I will set that up this morning. Two stories on the tower should do it–"
"I reckon 1.5, guv," Sean said with his typical sage like nod. "Any higher and you'll be crouching."
"OK. We'll take it inside and see." Sean's point is right though. Painting a ceiling if you are too close to it is hard work - you have to crouch at odd angles, and doing that for any length of time is punishment on the muscles. No one can say that being a decorator is an easy job! It's tough on the joints.
I press on with my checklist. "Max, how do you fancy wall papering today?" His young face bounces in enthusiasm. "You and Sean can start in the drawing room." The walls there are nice surface areas and ideal for a young man to start perfecting his trade. To be fair, I was happy with Max's work and he had come on quickly over the last few months since he'd thrown his hat in with us, but one thing I have realised in giving young people their wings is that it is them that have to be persuaded more than others: they need their own confidence in their own abilities to be made known. I was confident in Max, but he just needed that extra push to be confident in himself.
"Just after lunch I will have to go over to see how Sue is getting on in Warndon. Then I'm going to pop by the Diglis to get a quote together for that chap who came through yesterday."
"Big job, guv?" Sean asks as he lifts some of the paint out the back of the Tardis.
"Mouldy ceiling in a badly ventilated bathroom. So it'll be a scrub and clean job first with water, bleach and goggles. Probably take two days."
We move over to Grundy's van and together unload. First the blankets go down. As a decorator operating in someone's house, you have to make absolutely sure you show their property respect and work by their rules. Cleanliness and respect are key here. After the blankets go down then everything else follows: the tower comes in in pieces, then the rollers and the paints and the brushes and the wallpaper. Grundy and I slot the tower together, testing the joints and making sure the standing board is stable to hold us aloft. Grundy has his qualification in assembling the towers, (and other scaffolding), and I follow his instructions. We've done it so many times it's second nature and very soon the structure dominates the hallway, giving us access to paint the ceiling. But Sean is proved right: it is not two stories we need but only 1.5. It's another lesson I've learned: always listen to the experts!
Once Grundy is left to it, I take a twenty minute diversion and head out into the back garden with the black masonry paint and my decorating equipment. It's a simple enough job: the tops of the stone gate posts need freshening up and a good 'slap of paint' will go a long way to giving it the desired effect. The first thing to do before I even apply any paint is to ensure that the stonework is clean and dry. I get the dust and grime off with a quick wipe of a dry cloth: I had soaked it down and cleaned it yesterday but it's always worth having a final wipe before applying any paint. The decorating trade as a whole can be summed up by that simple rule: paying attention to details. If you do this, then your reputation should be half won. And in a city like Worcester, reputation is of paramount importance where painting and decorating is concerned.
Having applied a first coat of black paint to the stone I am called by Max who brings the welcome news of a tea break. In most of the trades, or at least the painting and decorating one, we usually have two stops in the day for twenty minutes: one at 10am and the other at 1pm. With chocolate biscuits dunked in tea on my mind, I saunter back into the house and wait for the kettle to sing. As Max makes the tea, I examine the works and see how the team is getting on: the marauders are doing a good job. The paper is beginning to cover one wall in the drawing room, and Grundy stretches his arms and back before climbing down from on high. It's a testament to his decorating skill that, despite being up there for nearly an hour, there's not one discernible new splodge of paint on his overalls.
Max re-appears with a tray, biscuits assembled leaning shoulder to shoulder on a small plate. Gingernuts - not chocolates. My dream fades before my eyes! But Max's expression is sombre. He glides past me and slows. "I made a bo-bo," he confesses. "I put two teabags in one of the mugs by accident."
The world falls silent. The Doomsday Clock hesitates one second before Armageddon.
Grundy takes a deep breath. His eyes meet mine and he shakes his head in disbelief. "Two . . ." he mouths. "T-two into one?"
I raise my hands, palm outward. "Right. Let's all calm down."
Max looks at me nervously. "But it's only a tea bag," he murmurs. "Just one PG Tips out of–"
"Only a tea bag?" Grundy repeats. "My god man, have you learned nothing from working with us? I mean why? Why?" The poor man looks close to tears. "Why would you put two into one? It's . . . not right."
Sean appears in the hallway, his face downcast. He stares at Max with the sympathy of a hyena to an injured gazelle and then turns away.
I take Max by the shoulder. "I think we should have a talk, Max," I tell him. I nod my head upward, to the tower. "Why don't you come up to my office?"
Part Three: The religion of the decorator is revealed.
Max, being younger, clambers up the scaffolding to the top of the decorating tower quicker than me. From the height, I observe Grundy and Sean's shared bewilderment at the tea bag crisis. Their confusion and simple disbelief has broken them. Like decorators throughout the world and in dimensions untravelled, without tea, they become aimless creatures, prone to bad habits and constant whining.
"Look at them, Max," I tell the youth, gesturing to the poor tea-starved wretches who have started to curse the entirety of God's creation. "They cannot function without tea." I rest my hand on his shoulder. "None of us can, Max. It's simply not done."
His lips shudder. "But I only put an extra tea bag into a cup. It was an accident . . ."
"I know Max. I know. But you can't put two into one, Max. It's a waste on a criminal level. Look at Grundy, I know it's a hard thing to ask of a man in our trade who praises the beauty of a well painted wall, but look beyond his grim demeanour and hideous visage and ill-fitting clothing, ignore the general disgusting look and the evil intent in his twisted eye–"
Grundy casts his head skyward to his lords in the tower. "Oi! I can hear you, you know? I'm not that bad."
"You've always reminded me of an oil painting personally," Sean chirps in. "A Picasso. One of those things from his blue period. All disjointed and simple and painted at odd angles."
Grundy's response would get our website taken down due to its contents and choice of words. I turn back to Max.
"You see, young man, tea is a religion of ours. Its smooth taste and warming essence gives us all the strength to take up the brush each day, to keep a cool head when things go wrong. Do you understand that?"
Max nods. "I see. It all makes sense now. Tea is the answer."
"Yes. Yes it is. Let's go down now, and start again. We'll boil the kettle again. Together."
The look in his eyes informs me that he has perceived one of the universe's great secrets. It's as though he's discovered the laws of Thermodynamics, of how heat always moves from a hot place to a cold place and never the other way, of how time, like tea, is irreversible and relative.
When we reach ground level, Sean and Grundy have mellowed. Their tears have dried and their whimpering subsides as the kettle grows louder on its journey to boiling point. By the time the water spews from the funnel into the cups with its precious contents, they have evolved back to modern humans again.
We stand under the tower and admire our work as we sip the ruddy nectar. Tensions vanish. Compliments are exchanged. Peace and civility is restored. The gingernuts, dunked and moistened, go down well. We are men made equal to our ambitions!
Part Four: A decorator finds himself in agreement with Napoleon Bonaparte.
Once the tea is consumed and the gingernuts vanquished, I ascend to the heady heights of my office, brush in hand, and join Grundy up on the tops of the painting tower. The news turns to the Chancellor's Budget, and we all wonder how worse off we'll be come afternoon. Will our vices be taxed, with alcohol and smoking? Or will it be our virtues, such as our self-earned incomes and risk-taking enterprise? Like many in this great nation of ours, I don't have a problem paying my taxes for those genuinely in need. It is the mark of a civilised country to do so, but what I do object to is having that revenue squandered, and borrowing sixty-odd billion pounds a year in an apparent time of austerity is, frankly, completely f8@!ing nuts! It simply passes debt on to the generation to come and means that the tax burden will be higher in the future (and services lower), which will also have the effect of stifling enterprise. A pox on all their houses, I declare!
"I agree with Napoleon," Grundy snorts as the Parliament progresses. "He said it right."
Grundy is our amateur historian. At weekends he often ventures off into the fields and vales of Worcestershire with his metal detector over his arm and a packed lunch in his rucksack. He has had a few adventures which I might recount here one day, but the point is, when he says something about history, he usually has some knowledge to back it up.
"What did the ghastly little Corsican say then?" I ask, knowing he wants me to.
"That England is a nation of Shopkeepers. Here." He pauses and gets his iPhone out. "I read it the other day. It's in a talk he gave when he was on St. Helena. His Irish doctor made a note of it. It's interesting reading."
He hands it over and I take a quick read of it. It is, indeed, an interesting paragraph. One in which the nature of society and a enterprising democracy is summed up in light of change brought on by twenty years of world war. I have copied it in for you, my faithful reader, to judge for yourself - all I will say is that is seems the Great Thief of Europe understood our nation better than we might have believed: it is quite complementary.
"Your meddling in continental affairs, and trying to make yourselves a great military power, instead of attending to the sea and commerce, will yet be your ruin as a nation. You were greatly offended with me for having called you a nation of shopkeepers. Had I meant by this, that you were a nation of cowards, you would have had reason to be displeased; even though it were ridiculous and contrary to historical facts; but no such thing was ever intended. I meant that you were a nation of merchants, and that all your great riches, and your grand resources arose from commerce, which is true. What else constitutes the riches of England. It is not extent of territory, or a numerous population. It is not mines of gold, silver, or diamonds. Moreover, no man of sense ought to be ashamed of being called a shopkeeper. But your prince and your ministers appear to wish to change altogether l'esprit of the English, and to render you another nation; to make you ashamed of your shops and your trade, which have made you what you are, and to sigh after nobility, titles and crosses; in fact to assimilate you with the French... You are all nobility now, instead of the plain old Englishmen."
Listening to the Budget commencing on the radio, perhaps this speech should be read by our own modern day princes and ministers?
We continue on with our ceiling work. I take a wound - a paint drop flicks onto my chin, scarring me with white emulsion. But our progress is good. We will have the ceiling painted by early afternoon, and ready for a second coat tomorrow. I stretch my limbs and with the aid of my prehensile tail (every decorator should have one!) I clamber back down to the ground to inspect the wallpapering in the next room.
Sean and Max are working in tandem on this. Often, wallpapering will need two hands to lay it properly, especially on bigger jobs with long lengths of paper needing to be finely balanced and smoothly laid. Sean is up the top of a stepladder and Max is holding the bottom of the paper, careful applying it to the prepared surface. It's at times like this when I have to rein in the urge to sneeze for fear of distracting them.
I hold my tongue until they are in a less delicate pose. "I'm heading over to Warndon shortly. Catch up with Sue before lunch. Then I'll go straight up to the Diglis to have a look at this bathroom that needs doing."
With that, I bid my fellow marauders adieu, and find my way back to the Tardis.
Part Five: A thought on my journey as a painter and decorator in Worcester.
Driving through any modern UK city is enough to raise the blood pressure, but on such a day as this, when the sun is up and skies are clear-ish, then it's at least tolerable. (I once made the mistake of going through Bath on the way to a wedding in Frome. That is something I will never repeat!) But I appreciate the time alone behind the wheel, and I find myself in an unusually reflective mood at such an hour.
I've been in this business for years. Many of my contemporaries drifted into jobs after they went through university, and yet it seems that their lives are not really their own. Working in the offices always in search of that bottom line (might get you in trouble with the secretary if you're not careful!) does lead to some existential questions once you've done it for a number of years. Life's riches can be found in its variety, I long ago decided, and, just as importantly, it is self-determination, having the confidence to conquer your doubt and stand up. It is a never-ending battle.
We've all known people in apparently secure jobs lapse into unhappiness and near-depression as they perhaps grow inwardly tired of working for the same company. Sometimes, it leads to brilliant revolutionary sparks where they will just up one day, resign, and take a radically different path. Change is not an unhealthy thing. For me, as a philosopher in disguise of a painter decorator, I find it is inspiring. It keeps you mentally sharp, cognitively agile, and imbues you with a skill of weighing good people up from the bad. Running your own business also allows you to interact with a far greater range of the working spectrum than many jobs that demand a specialisation: for example, I am writing this wonderful and addictive account of a day in my life , mainly for my own enjoyment, but tomorrow I might be meeting my accountant to go through the finer points of moving my company to Luxembourg and renting out the brand name in an effort to minimise my tax bill (I should wish!), or I might be liaising with my secretary about leasing a new vehicle for the company's executives (alas it's more likely to be a Ford van rather than a Lear Jet), or I might think about some new comforts for my office (a safety rope for the tower rather than a mahogany desk embossed with the finest green jade).
Ah! The life of managing a small enterprise with honest labour and skill should be the aim of most working lives, and going home each day to have supper with the children and to see the family safe and happy. No matter where you are from, that is the underlying drive for most of humanity. It's only the politicians that are different.
With such deep thoughts, I pull the Tardis up in Warndon.
Part Six: One Worcester Painter to another.
In the painting and decorating industry, it's sometimes hard to manage staff levels when new jobs come in that need a quick solution. This is a fact of life in our trade, but being the possessor of an immense intellect marinaded in the soothing tea leaves by Mr & Mrs PG, I have, to steal from Baldrick, "come up with a cunning plan!"
It's not really that cunning. And my intellect is probably not that different from most others. But recognising that I had, on occasion, to up-scale my work force to deal with these jobs, I formed a relationship with such as Sue, who has run her own painting and decorating enterprise in Worcester for as long as I can remember. She has all the qualifications she needs, but the best one is reliability followed up by efficiency. She is good at what she does, and she does what she says she will do.
I find her at the house in Warndon, not far from Worcester Royal Hospital. This is one of those jobs that is covered by home owner insurance - a burst pipe from the room above made merry havoc on the walls below. The heating has been on, the damaged area dried out, and now it's Sue's turn to put right the stains. Dry, seal, prime and then paint. That is the process with such damage as this. As I enter the room she descends from the office (the top of her stepladder), and greets me with her wide smile.
"The kettle boiled a minute ago," she says. "Might still be warm enough for a brew if you're parched?" I decline, for the flavour of Max's gingernuts are still fresh in my mouth ("boom-boom!"). "It's going well here though," Sue points a clean finger to the ceiling. "I'll be done by the end of today."
"Do you think it will need another coat?" When I paint over damp I usually hedge my bets by making sure. Damp splurges can be hard to get rid of!
Sue nods, her blonde bod shaking vigorously. She's an animated character who never ceases to stop moving. "I'll get another one on before this afternoon." She points to the heater. "The paint is drying quickly in this temperature." Her face angles skyward at the ceiling and top of the wall, where the damage was most offensive. "A third coat should definitely do it."
"Good." Her work is top-notch. As always. By the time the third coat goes on there won't be any sign of damp at all. Another happy client for Worcester Painter and Decorators!
I briefly go through what Sue's plans are for future work. She's got a wall papering job over in Rainbow Hill next week that will take three days - and she might need Sean's help with one part of it - or even Max's if that can be arranged for a day? After that she's got a job painting window frames coming up in Red Hill, and a kitchen in St. John's. It's good to see that people are busy!
Sue cracks on through her lunch hour whilst I retreat to the comfort of my Tardis. Air has somehow got in through the foil package of my sandwich and the bread has turned ever-so-slightly hard. Stale bread and cold caffeine for lunch! Will my torment never cease? What new rack will I find myself stretched on before the end of day?
Rejoicing in such small miseries, and aware that for many in this world of ours there are those that are far greater, I read through my communications with the potential client in the Diglis basin and the problems they have having with a mouldy bathroom ceiling.
Part Seven: A decorator voyages into the Worcester Diglis Basin!
One of the many great things about being a painter in Worcester is that you always get to explore new areas and discover places you would never otherwise venture into. I have stood, in my decorating attire, crowned in my painting regalia so to speak, in the greatest of Worcestershire's houses down to the most humble of dwellings. I have been down roads seldom trodden, and places I'd never have imagined existed had I not had the fortune to be invited by the owners to decorate a ceiling or plaster a wall.
Diglis Basin, to be honest, is not really one of those. It's a well known spot in Worcester, with the hotel garden that overlooks the water. Long ago, when I was a young man, groups of us would go down there in the summer and listen to the faint knock of bat on ball that might just reach us from the cricket grounds over the Severn. Ah! We all have those halcyon days where the interest of time only compounds their value - the great and wonderful periods of our lives where there is so much time before us that we debase its real value by un-appreciating it - after all, is it not said that youth is wasted on the young? Well, I'm not so sure of that. Max, after all, seems to have quite a good time of it.
I meet the client and am invited to participate in the ritual of the tea-drinking. The kettle boils as I inspect the mouldy ceiling in the bathroom: steam from the shower is condensing on the slanted rooftop and mould spores have formed to the extent that they are covering the entire ceiling.It turns out that the ventilator has been broken for a long time so there is no where for the water to go. It's surprising how often I seem to find myself confronted with mould infested ceilings, be it in bathrooms or kitchens in my decorating career. (So often, in fact, that I will have to put a section about it on my Painting and Decorating FAQs page!)
I ascertain the extent of the job as the tea is made. The client brings the mug back through and gives me a slightly jaded look. "I put two teabags in your mug by accident, so I hope you don't mind it strong?"
The universe quietens suddenly. In another galaxy, a star that is about to explode in a supernova and pollute its stellar neighbourhood with the heavier elements hesitates, re-examines its pockets for any remaining hydrogen as we might do loose change, finds it, and breathes a sigh of relief. For a few more seconds it can remain a bloated red star.
'Is everything OK?" my client asks. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
I gather myself and say a silent prayer to the wasted tea bag whose true potential will never be realised. "No. I'm sorry. I was just thinking about the logistics of getting the ladder or scaffolding around the shower top. It's a tight squeeze but we can do it."
I take a sip of the strong stuff, and my nerves soothe. In another galaxy, the red giant exhausts its last hydrogen reserves and the process of an explosion begins. Iron fuses into the heavier elements as they journey up through the periodic table, energy is released as they are pushed together to form the lustre of gold and rarer metals in a cauldron of magnetic waves and crushing gravity. A tipping point is reached and exceeded. Detonation, that won't be perceived from Worcester and the Diglis Basin for millions of years, begins. A taste of tea, and everything is right with the universe for our decorating heroes.
I take out my diary and examine the schedule. The first part of a job like this is to scrub away the mould with a mix of bleach and warm water. It's also possible that the original paint will be rubbed off in such an action, though this in truth is not a bad thing: mould spores be more than surface deep. Besides, it’s likely the wrong sort of paint was used when the bathroom was originally painted: it needs mould resistant paint with a gloss so that the steam can't condense on the surface and simply rolls off. After that it is a case of leaving it to dry properly before painting it anew.
We agree on a time and date and I give a fixed quote for a day and a half's work. Drying time has to be included here - we have to leave the ceiling to dry from the bleach wash and then we have to leave the first coat to dry (usually two hours with mould resistance paint), before adding another. We finish off our tea together and then I am back on the road, heading my Tardis all the way back to the rest of my marauders.
Part Eight: The commercial decorator in me is summoned!
I have barely navigated out of the narrow lanes when my phone goes off with the shrillness of a demanding aunt. I put it on speaker and a very posh voice politely enquires about our commercial painting and decorating services. He's from a legal firm in Worcester and they need their offices redecorating - having expanded to colonise the floor above them in the building, they want to make sure it is all properly prepared for their staff and clients and that the great, sensitive affairs of their discourse will be conducted in the right atmosphere. We arrange to meet the following week (he can't do any sooner as he needs to get three others together at the same time and schedules are tight), but nonetheless our date is set and as soon as I pull up in Barbourne I enter the details into my little notebook (I'm old fashioned that way. I don't like these calendars that are online or on my phone. I've had a system that has worked for years and it's one I'm used to).
Commercial painting and decorating has seen a growth in recent months too. I'm not sure of the reason. There's been nothing in the budget about it - George Osborne hasn't, as far as I know, given tax breaks for office painters and decorators.
My suspicions of this are tested when I received another call. Remarkably, it's also for a commercial painting and decorating role in the centre of Worcester, not far off the High Street and Worcester Guildhall. A shop front needs painting. I arrange with them to meet tomorrow late morning. Again, the little book comes in handy. (I did once try to ‘go digital’ but after updating the phone with my computer it somehow all . . . vanished! Give me carbon and graphite over electrons any day).
As I leave the Tardis, I unconsciously examine the sky, looking for signs of rain and wind or anything element that capricious Thule might hurl my way. But the breeze is slight, the birds are singing (I can just hear them over the traffic) and I have time to add a second coat of the masonry black paint to the outside stonework.
Part Nine: A humorous recollection makes a Worcester Decorator smile.
The lads have been keeping busy in my absence: the ceiling in the hallway has had its first coat and Grundy has migrated to another room with a stepladder to attack the lower ceiling inside. Sean and Max have achieved some notable success with the wallpaper, and upon seeing them apply the final roll with a satisfied nod I decide to have some fun.
I build the atmosphere first. I stare intently at their work, smoothly and expertly laid across the whole width of one wall.
“What’s the matter guv?” Sean asks.
My eyebrow goes up.
“You’ve laid it upside down,” I say quietly. “All of it. It’s the wrong way up! The pattern should be the other way round.”
Silence. Max mouths a word and it evaporates into an empty scream.
Sean is not moved so easily, but there is evident doubt.
“I . . . I don’t think so,” he murmurs.
I give a great sigh of exhaustion as befits a man who has just conquered constipation. “Take it all down. All of it. We’ll start again tomorrow.”
I turn on my heel, giving the illusion of decisiveness. I feel Sean’s eyes on me.
“Ah! Very bleedin' funny!” he cackles. “Nice one. For a second you actually had me worried.”
I turn to see Max breath a sigh of relief, followed by an expletive aimed at me. “That’s . . . that’s cruel,” he declares.
I leave them to their duties with a villainous Terry Thomas chortle (I don’t have a moustache to twiddle alas), and find my way back out to the garden and to the freshly painted black stonework. It’s time for a second coat to complete the job.
The first coat of masonry paint has dried since the morning. I add a second, thankful of the sun, which at this time is dipping below the heights of the neighbouring trees. Soon, and the stonework is in shadow, but my work is complete.
I stand back to admire the paint job and to see if any has dripped down onto the paving below. There is nothing I need reprimand myself with: the job, as they say, is a good ‘un!
That all changes in an instant however. An errant sea bird, a dreadful seagull that is filled with malevolence for all humankind and seeks to frustrate our most noble enterprises (like my fine decorating), flies overhead. It declares its intention with a war-like screech and lines me up for a bombing run. I feel the intensity of its glare as it descends.
I take a step back, attempting to draw the creature’s fire from my painting triumph. In an instant it is gone and the paving between me and the stonework is emblazoned in white splatter marks: but thankfully, they have missed my freshly laid masonry paint.
It reminds me of an event that happened to me many years ago in one of those long hot summers that last nearly forever when you are below the age of twelve. I had just finished washing my brother’s car to an exceptional finish. We all stood back to admire our handiwork, and two mallard ducks, flying low and somehow operating in concert, added their own ingredients, directly across the shiny red bonnet. It’s a memory that still makes me chuckle to this day!
Thinking of my client, I splash some water to wash off the seagull’s assassination attempt and retreat back inside, and as our day winds down, with a fearful watch at the skies should my nemesis, or his friends, return.
Part Ten: Reflections of a decorating life.
The captain of his ship gets the least sleep, is a saying that, if isn’t well-known, probably should be - although I think I might have just invented it. Nonetheless, the principle is a sound one: if you are the owner of a business or the manager of one, then you have to make sure those extra hours are put in to ensure the machine is operating “like a well oiled machine.”
So it is then that I am last out of the client’s property at Barbourne. I check all the lights are off, that everything is locked, and ensure that everything is ship shape and proper (and that the marauders have cleaned their brushes - God-damn-their-eyes! They have, of course!)
Then I navigate back home, digesting the political discourse on the radio, pondering who to believe in the Budget and whether my pension will have been raided or if I will have been cast into wanton penury or made the receiver of untold and unearned benefits that would make a sultan blush. Listening to the morons on the radio, it is hard to make out exactly what has gone on.
When I get home, I brew up, sit down in front of the computer, struggle to turn it on, and then send out a few emails: quotes for new business (such as the mouldy ceiling in Diglis), and a quick update to the Barbourne clients who are currently out of the country, plus a request to get my website updated to the agency that handles the Worcester Decorators digital presence.
It’s only then, after I’ve done the admin, that I can afford to sit back, put my feet up on a poof, and relax. I wonder over the things I’ve done and achieved today. The decorating business is not an easy one. Reputations have to be built and then constantly maintained. Client demands have to be met and expectations exceeded. It takes its toll on the mind and the body. My limbs are happily tired, yet the soul is filled with the happiness of honest work and achievement (and my stomach with tea).
Life is good when your labour makes you happy.
And when I sleep, it comes to me with the content knowledge that I will do so again tomorrow.