Choosing emulsion – a 1980s dilemma

Putting the gloss on

‘That’s for apple blossom, I’m afraid. This is snowdrift meadow.’

Mum sighed, setting the paint tins down with a thud on the counter.

‘I can’t accept them,’ Mr McDougall said.

Mum had been cutting vouchers from the free paper for weeks. She had her heart set on snowdrift meadow. It’ll complement the Adam-style surround fireplace and the living flame gas fire. Mr McDougall folded his arms. He wore a dusty brown jacket with ballpoint pens and retractable pencils crammed into the breast pocket. He had a thatch of toffee-coloured hair, suspiciously thick at the crown and wiry like watch-springs round his prominent ears.

‘I can only do apple blossom.’

‘But the special offer-’

‘Is on apple blossom,’ Mr McDougall said, tapping the tin lid with a pencil. His elbow nudged a BOGOFF deal on tins of bitumen. A star had been cut from yellow card and stuck to the top tin. ‘Look’ was written in chisel-tip marker pen so that each letter O resembled an eyeball, complete with long lashes.

‘I’ve been coming here a long time,’ Mum said.

A muttering queue had formed behind. A man in paint-splattered overalls grunted and tapped his digital watch. Mr McDougall held out his palms. ‘If I could, I would, Mrs L. But Head Office makes these decisions and I can’t go over their heads.’

Mum nodded. She was doing a rapid mental calculation. Would apple blossom go with the new coving and bring out the best in the super fresco? The man in the overalls was glaring at us.

‘They both look white,’ I said.

‘What?’ Mum snapped. Her car keys clattered on the counter. ‘They both look white.’

Mr McDougall rolled his eyes. ‘You’ve a lot to learn, young man.’

‘I’m only trying to help.’

Mum gripped my wrist. ‘Come on,’ she said.

Outside, in the car park, she sat picking at the steering wheel of our Ford Escort. Phantom of the Opera pulsed from the car’s cassette deck.

‘You don’t see a difference?’ she said.

‘No,’ I said.

‘You can’t tell them apart?’


‘It takes all sorts,’ she said.

Barely a minute had ticked by on the dashboard clock when she told me to ‘sit tight’ and fished about in her pockets for the coupons. She emerged from Fix-It moments later, holding the two special offer tins of apple blossom aloft like prize trout.

She turned the key in the ignition and Michael Crawford sang The Music of the Night as we sped off to rinse brushes and prepare walls. As she pulled onto the drive Mum snapped on the handbrake and prodded my knee.

‘If your Auntie Wendy asks you say that’s snowdrift meadow. You hear me?’


About richlakin

I write about things that interest me
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