Red Nosed Painter

Jack makes it on time for a change – –

I’ve been watching and experiencing the drop in temperature here and it’s bringing back memories.

During my twenty-five years as a painter and decorator (five years’ apprenticeship, ten years qualified tradesman and then ten years running a business) I would often be working outside at this time of year. We would frequently have government contracts to paint the exterior of offices, police housing, schools and hospitals. 

On our kitchen wall!

It was grim working outside in winter in Scotland!

So my training prepared me for this too. Scrape ice off the window sills then dry them with a blow torch, make polystyrene insoles for your shoes etc. Most important was to find a warm place as a ‘bolt hole’ to retreat to from time to time – usually a boiler room.

For my more modern friends I should explain that this was in the 1960s and 1970s when the paint hadn’t yet become water based. It was all either oil or polyurethane back then for outside woodwork. So no need to avoid freezing temperatures.

There’s a wonderful book called ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ by Robert Tressel that describes those kind of working conditions really well. It’s set in the early 1900s but not too different.

After those twenty-five years I was successful in obtaining a full time post teaching painting in the local community college where I had been a student during my apprenticeship. I remember a Monday morning early in my college career standing in the library looking out the window to the main street. A painter’s van with a ladder on top was driving past and the weather was cold. I was warm and I thought how lucky I was – – –

Much later in my college career, and after a number of promotions, I recounted that story more than once to the then Principal (Chancellor in the US) and described myself as a ‘lucky painter’. She forbade me to ever say that again!

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