Before I tell this story, let me just say for the record that in my line of work, sometimes mistakes are made.  When working in often tight spaces with reliance on tools and manual skills, there are occasions when human error rears its ugly head, consequences be damned.  Usually this subjects me to slightly longer hours than predicted, making up for my careless, hasty, mistimed, misjudged or misguided blunder.  I curse myself – not always inaudibly – as I undo and then redo what was done.

Fortunately most of my clients accept that I’m not perfect – even if I don’t – and patiently wait for me to atone for my display of human imperfection.   One such client was embroiled in perhaps my costliest accident ever.

I’d been asked by a woman and her husband, for whom I’d worked on several previous occasions, if I would paint their upstairs and downstairs corridors.  They were valuable return clients and, though I occasionally refer decorating jobs to a very reliable colleague, this job would keep me employed for about a week.

One day I needed to bring my son to this house with me.  He was off school for half-term and this was the day we didn’t have any alternative plans for him.  He patiently sat on the stairs to the top landing playing with his DS while I worked around him.  On the middle landing, where I was working, the clients had stacked all the cans of paint they’d bought for me to use.  I painted one side of the landing and then needed to move the containers in order to paint the other side.  As I began to adjust my ladder, one of the legs accidently nudged something.  I looked down to see what I’d bumped, just in time to find the can of white paint on top of the stack tumbling headlong onto the brown carpet.

It fell so slowly as if it were a lost feather floating down from on high to rest gently in a soft-flowing stream.  When I realised the can of paint would not land like a feather but more like a can of paint, I felt the sudden urge to lunge for the falling canister with outstretched hands like Joel diving for the glass egg at the end of ‘Risky Business’.  But this wasn’t Hollywood and I’m not Tom Cruise.  A puddle of white appeared on the carpet in front of the stairs where my son sat hob-nobbing with Mario and Luigi.

‘Oh fu-aaah …’ I said, putting down the ladder carefully and quickly, somehow editing my instinctive reaction with concern for the eight-year-old on the stairs.  So instead I went with, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no …’

I grabbed the closest thing I could find that I thought might magically sop up the widening spill.  But it turns out a handkerchief only has a finite absorption threshold.

My son looked up from his console and thought about what he saw in front of him.  He finally decided, with understated precision, that he would offer some insight to his flustered, sweating, ‘no-no-no’-ing dad.

‘That’s going to leave a stain,’ he said.

I’d never smacked my son before.  He’d never done anything to wind me up that tightly.  But for the first time in my life I had to dig deep to find the necessary restraint.  After all, it wasn’t his fault.

‘Yes,’ I said calmly.  ‘Yes it is.’

The client was very sympathetic to my panicking explanation when I finally got her on the phone.  I found a quote for the cost of the damage and she and her husband agreed to take that amount from my final payment.  I was lucky.  They could have stubbornly insisted on not paying me at all.

Time of your life, huh kid?

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