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Alan and the Painter Man

Before you can sell a house you have to make it look attractive. Nobody wants to live in an ugly dwelling. Extreme cosmetics provide the best solution to the problem. An effective approach generally involves giving the house a fresh coat of paint so that prospective buyers are not immediately repelled by the peeling, grubby and sadly dilapidated face that it shows to the world. Beauty is always skin deep as far as houses are concerned.

The first step in the painting of a house involves the construction of lots of scaffolding. Jimmy the Painter came and drilled large holes in my weatherboard cladding. Then he bolted some rusty pieces of angle iron into them. He laid some long grey planks over the iron frames. Lo and Behold! Scaffolding!

Once the scaffolding was arranged to his satisfaction, Jimmy dressed himself in a Darth Vader costume, plugged his combination ray-gun and water blaster into a convenient power point, and then clambered all over the scaffolding planks, shooting jets of high pressure water at the house as he went. Grimy, dried out sheets of white paint flaked off the walls exposing large swathes of orange clad wood beneath – it would seem that at some time in its long life my house had been much more vivid than it was now. Since the house had been built in the 1960s, perhaps it had once been owned by a hippie. Maybe there were bright, swirling, psychedelic patterns hiding behind the conservative off-white that it now displayed to the world. I got quite excited at the thought and discussed it with Harpo and Bess.

“What's psychedelia?” asked Bess. “Can you eat it?”

The more worldly-wise Harpo took a toke at his catnip mouse. “Groovy, baby,” he said in a mellow tone. “Far out, man.”

The catnip mouse was soon joined by the catnip snake that Harpo keeps for emergencies. “Don't Bogart that join,” said Bess, and then she ruined the moment by bursting into hysterical laughter. Harpo gave her a withering look. “Don't bring me down, man,” he complained in a mellow tone. “That isn't cool.”

When Jimmy's high pressure water reached the window frames it tried hard to insinuate itself inside the house. But I've been on the receiving end of water blasting before and, being wise in the ways of soggy jets, I made sure to block as much of the wetness as I could with large piles of super-absorbent towels. Nevertheless some moisture still got through and I ended the day with dripping towels, damp floors and suspicious wet spots on my trousers. Fortunately, apart from the areas immediately adjacent to Jimmy's Portable Storm, it was a warm and sunny day outside. The water would soon evaporate.

Jimmy de-Darth Vadered himself, emerging pinkly flushed, moist, slightly shrunken and wrinkled from his shell. He packed away his fearsome weapon. “I'll leave the house to dry overnight,” he said. “I'll be back tomorrow to start sanding it down.”

The next day Jimmy arrived with a huge Swiss Army knife that was stuffed full of useful gadgets. Holding it carefully, Jimmy pulled, pushed and wriggled its mechanisms backwards and forwards finally revealing a Tom Swift Atomic Sander, and an ingenious device for de-scaling fish.

He spent an energetic few hours scraping away at the fishiest planks on the house, and then he dressed up in a space suit of heroic proportions so as to protect himself from the dangers of the next stage. He turned on his Atomic Sander and began to smooth down the rough edges on the borders of the old paint patches, generating vast clouds of radioactive dust that settled on him like a second skin. Trees and bushes withered and died for miles in every direction as the evil cloud spread its baleful influences far and wide across the suburb. The maleficent fumes caused serious mutations in the hordes of tusked wetas that lurked in the undergrowth. They grew to ten times their usual size and thundered up and down the street hunting down, killing and eating their natural prey – the roaming herds of harmless, herbivorous courier vans, and stray packs of feral children who were returning home from school.

“I need to go outside,” said Bess at the height of the infestation. “I want to kill one of those science-fictional wetas.”

“You know where the cat flap is,” I said. “You don't need my permission to use it.”

She gave me a “spot the loony” look. “The cat flap's for coming in through,” she said in withering tones. “I need to go out through the people door. Open it for me. Now!”

I opened the front door for her. Jimmy was sitting happily on a plank half way up the left hand wall, giving it a good grind. He looked round curiously as the door opened. Bess took one horrified look at this mid-air monster surrounded by billowing clouds of dust and then she turned tail and fled to the other end of the house where she went outside through the cat flap.

Once Jimmy had finished sanding down the house he went off to a decontamination unit to re-purify himself for the next day's tasks. The enormous tusked wetas followed him hopefully, apart from the one that Bess was munching on. I was glad to see them go. They were not a selling feature.

The house now looked even more hideous than it had when Jimmy first started his massive reconstruction efforts – it was blotchy and freckled and spotty. It appeared to be in the terminal stages of some horrible pox. I was almost ashamed to be seen living in it. Now was obviously the time for a complete cosmetic makeover. I looked forward eagerly to the next stage of the project.

Jimmy came back the following day with a brush and a pot of paint. This was a hopeful sign. Perhaps now we'd see some constructive action to cure my raddled and poxy walls. It would all be down hill from this point onwards.

I was in the kitchen boiling a jug to make myself a coffee when I heard an enormous crash! I raced outside and found Jimmy contemplating the empty space where a major part of his scaffolding had once been.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The long plank across the front of the house snapped in two,” he said. “It was creaking a lot yesterday when I was sitting on it, so this morning I thumped it a bit with a big hammer before I climbed up on it, just to see what would happen. And the plank broke in the middle.”

“Good job it didn't break while you were up on it,” I said, “or I'd be calling an ambulance for you now. The concrete down there is quite hard and unforgiving.”

Jimmy nodded agreement. “Lots of broken bones, I shouldn't wonder,” he said contemplatively.

“Even worse,” I said, “you might have had to stop painting the house.”

“That would indeed have been the worst aspect,” agreed Jimmy. He poked moodily at the two halves of his shattered plank. “Yesterday I had one long plank,” he said. “Now I've got two short planks.”

“Thick as!” I said admiringly.

Jimmy rearranged his scaffolding so as to make the best possible use of his new planking facilities. He opened his tin of paint and stirred it a bit, then he climbed up on the planks and began slapping paint everywhere. The scaffolding bent alarmingly beneath him, but Jimmy didn't seem worried so I went back inside and finished making my coffee.

By the end of the day the lawn was white, and so was some of the house. Jimmy was an enthusiastic, and very efficient, painter. He worked to a simple rule: if it moves, paint it. If it doesn't move, kick it until it does.

As the week progressed, the house grew whiter and shinier. It took on all the airs and graces of a delicate and very pretty lady dressed to the nines and on her way to a formal ball. Jimmy provided her with the final touch of powder and lipstick by giving the window frames a dark blue trim. The job was finished.

The house stood tall and proud and pretty, dominating the street with elegant insouciance. It looked very enticing and pleasing – an attractive house in which to live. I couldn't see any reason for wanting to sell it and move elsewhere.

“You are wrong!” Robin explained firmly. I found myself unable to fault the logic.

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