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Thursday, 28 May 2009

For Tom

In 'Methods of Paint Distribution', the by now classic Chapter 3 of my book " "Spatter Marks: Design or Perspective? A Post-structuralist guide to painting", the Circular Revolutionary Motion is not mentioned. Similarly, in Chapter 6, the paradigm setting 'Stilettos or Ladders? Recognised Methods of Elevation in Ceiling Painting', the Revolving Chair Ladder is not referred to as a height gaining device. Nevertheless, a combination of these techniques means that I have now distributed paint round most of our kitchen. Some of it, on the walls. It is all Tom's fault.

I am painting the kitchen at Large Mansions, last step before I can begin installing the bamboo, and as usual, I am impatient. I am also, as described in, a terrible, but terribly enthusiastic painter. I have one last high corner to reach and the job is done. I glance around for elevatory devices - the ladder, just in the hallway is far too far away for me to bother walking the six feet necessary to claim it, and I would have to move the table to climb on that. Inspiration hits. Right in front of me is one of our heavy oak office chairs. It is on castors, the height is adjustable, but the seat does revolve. While I do consider the possibility of it revolving for the briefest of seconds, I conclude that if quick enough, I can hop onto it, splatter the paint where I need it and be off before the ubiquitous and supervisory cat notices. I load up my paint brush, and with tin in hand, hop onto the chair, which immediately simultaneously spins and starts rolling away from where I want to paint. I overreach, increasing the speed of both revolution and transverse motion, and, rather inevitably I suppose, end up on the floor in a puddle of paint. There are great big streaks of excess paint all over my previously painted wall, and absolutely none at all where I had intended.

It is, I reflect, a truly Tom moment, and I can imagine it happening to him and recounting the story, with typical self-depreciation, hardly getting to the end before bursting into laughter. In fact, the last time I saw Tom, it was also paint related, which is why, particularly, I am thinking of him today. We were painting my house in Nova Scotia, getting it ready for sale in the summer of 2007. Tom had agreed to help me - someone he hardly knew- paint my house in getting it ready for sale. What he had'nt told me was that he was as bad a painter as I was. But I needed help because I could only be there a week, and as far as Tom was concerned, I was a friend in need, so Tom dropped his plans for the week to help me out. We were, as a paint team, Laurel and Hardyesque in our incompetence. We would paint a wall, then both promptly lean against it half an hour later while having a tea break, peeling all the paint off. The week I was there, the house, empty of furniture echoed every time Tom burst into laughter, which was often. Tom did the cutting in on the ceiling, but because we didnt have a ladder high enough for him to reach, he was overstretching and the line he produced looked like, as he put it, a drunken spider had painted it. After more laughter at how stupid we'd been, we swapped, with him at five foot something painting the low bits and me, at six foot something painting the high bits.

We got the house painted in the end, but dropping Tom back home after the last day's work does not end our story. This is because we sold the Nova Scotia house, moved to England and bought Large Mansions, thereby embarking on nine months of renovations. In the process, we've met loads of brilliant people - Cheap Steve, Pete the Plumber, JJ, Jerry, Andy, Daz the Brickie, and had hundreds of madcap adventures- from dismantling Concretia, to building a pond, from plumbing mishaps and back to painting - exactly the type of slapstick silliness and absurdity that would tickle Tom, and all this laughter, all the fun we've had, all the fun we're going to have, all of it would not have been possible of Tom had not helped me paint, because by selling that house, we bought this one.

It is a cliche, but we are all connected, and its another cliche that there are too many "if onlys.." when someone dies. I hardly knew Tom, but he is, if only he ever realised it, responsible for the fact that I could take my cats for a walk this morning down our lane. He would have found that (ie taking the cats for a walk), very funny, as well. There's no melodrama, or false sentimentality here, the fact is we are all connected. We all affect other people in ways we cannot even begin to count. I didnt know Tom very well, but when I heard this week that he had killed himself my own "if only.." was to wonder that if only Tom had realised how connected we are, how valued he was, how his going would affect his friends, how important he was, how he had helped make people happy an ocean away, then maybe he could have got something out of that, and maybe he would have changed his mind.

I talk to RHB and we agree with Joey Mac that we'll have a "Tom Night" when Joe and Anna visit in a few weeks. We'll tell our tales of Tom ( I only have one so I'll have to repeat myself - no change there then), drink and laugh and listen to some Zappa (or whatever the Hell it was on the CD's he brought when we were painting in NS - it was too far out for me, but we played it loud and proud anyway, air guitars and all). But it wont end after a few drinks, we're connected - there will always be a little bit of that diminutive, kind, eccentric, interested kid in the fabric, not only of this building but in the one in Nova Scotia, and the place in Toronto where Joe and Anna live, and in a hundred other places, and a thousand people that Tom, being Tom, would never have presumed he had touched. But he did.


JoeyMac said...

Beautiful story Martin. Can I have your permission to post it on Facebook, or somewhere that Tom's other friends can read? I think you and Tom have been two of my favourite story tellers, which makes me appreciate this post all the more.

MJN said...

You're right, Tom was a great story teller. One of the things that set him apart was that unlike so many of us, he was never cruel - he saw absurdity and strangeness, and the beauty of all that, but as often as not, the punchline of his jokes involved him falling over, or walking into walls or kissing the wrong girl. Of course, feel free to do whatever you want with this story.

JoeyMac said...

I don't remember him ever complaining about kissing the wrong girl... ;) But he is the owner of my two favourite pick up lines.
-So you've had your nose broken too?
-Every time I vibrate, I think of you.