28 June, in the year of our Lord 2021
Up betimes, after a night in which my eyes itched, and my nose too, for the highness of the pollenne count yesterday. In the morning I with purpose to Gerard Small’s newly malpunctuated ladys wear shoppe, it being my mother’s birthday tomorrow, where I browsed for a gift and selected a small Scarve for her, in Nilon, which is the new Silk, because I think she will find it easy to wash, and not because it was cheaper. At the counter perched the proprieter on a stool, wearing an ancient crested helmet and plain chiffon dress, girded at the waist with a belt. And on his counter sat an owl, stuffed, and beside it on one side rested a discarded spear, and on the other a notebook in which he scribbled anxiosely with a feather quill. He was so engrossed in the task that he did not see me, so I coughed to announce my presence.
‘Oh, Mr. Pipes!’ says he, startled at the sight of me, and jumped up from his stool, just managing to catch Minerva’s owl as it tottered, but not her spear as it clattered to the floor. Thereupon drew he himselfe upright, fixed his focus on the door behind me and took deep breaths. After half a dozen inpiracions and expirations he untensed his shoulders and returned his gaze to me. ‘I am confident that my busyness can provide for all your needs, and assure you I will strive to provide a service second to none. I trust you are well?’
‘I am well apart from an unnatural wakefulnesse that plagues me,’ say I, slightly puzzled at his affect. ‘I am on a Physick that imbues me with an uncommon vitality, so although I breathe more easily I lie awake all night and cannot rest.’
‘Oh!’ says he. ‘I think I had those pills one night at The Octagon. I did not sleep for a week, and then they chucked me out.’
‘Maybe something different,’ say I, at which he turns a raspberry red.
‘The place was spotless when I left, though.’
‘Maybe not, then,’ admit I, recalling the day I jet-washed the patio at five in the morning. ‘Anyway, how is busyness?’
‘Busyness could be better,’ says he, and then adds, as if reciting lines he has struggled to learn, or at least believe in, ‘but that does not mean I am a totally useless person.’ Whereupon, flustered by the immediacy of the process, he rushed to write his thoughts in his notebook, muttering the while under his breath the words he wrote — which, if I did catch them correctly, were, ‘Breath’d deeply to increase sense of control. Did…not…ca-ta-stro-phise.’
‘Every busynesse hath set-up troubles,’ say I, affabubbly — upon which comment slumps he upon his stool, despondant.
‘My only custom since that illiterate sign went up has been half a dozen Scottish dwarfs looking for kilts on the cheap. I did not think to cater for such a height. I am waiting for the sign writer to amend my hyphen, but since the plague tradesmen will do nothing in a hurry!’
‘Tell me about it,’ say I. ‘It was only last week that Davey come to fix my radiater, after telling me in January it would be four or five weeks. I got him to service the boiler at the same time, though. Of Barrie the paynter I have seen naught, although his wife Diane tells me he suffered a sprayn to his ankle in an effort not to trip over the cat, and in a separate Incydent to which I am not privy pulled a muscle in the groyn so he could not climb a ladder.’
‘My finances are making me very anxious again,’ says he, doalful and biting his lower lip, ‘so I am having Cognitive Pull-Yourselfe-Together Therapie. I must trayn my mind to master my Emocions by a process of thinking through my Reactions. I am writing down my negative Thoughts to get in touch with my Core Beliefs. Perhaps it is as well there are no customers, for it is a full time job.’
‘Ah,’ say I, brightly, ‘the Stoicism of the Ancients, re-badged for the modern client. But it is not Therapie you are in need of, Gerard Small. What you are in need of are two small tins of paynte, a step ladder and brushes! Thus shall you put this dissapoyntment behind you and move forwards! Onwards and upwards! Rehyphenated and rejuvenated!’
‘But I will make a mess of it, the handiwork will be undone and the sign for which I have payed spoiled forever!’ wails he, downcast. ‘My busyness will spiral into a great Depression and I will become bankrupt and destitute, a starving wretch searching for morsels in effluent on the fetid banks of the Thames, a shadow consumed by thwarted hopes, a wraith ravaged by the corrosion of self doubt…!’
I put up a hand before things got theatricle. ‘I do not think all of that will happen!’ cry I. And then, hastily: ‘I do not think any of that will happen!’
‘It all seems so much. I have such a lot to cognate,’ sniffs he.
‘The job is perfecktly feasible with SMART goals,’ say I. ‘Specific, which is that we obliterate the troublesome hyphen; Measurable, which is about two inches; Achievable, which I’ll come back to; Realistic, which it is or I would not be suggesting it; and Time-limited, which means…well, it slightly depends on Achievable.’
‘You will be able to help? You have the wherewithall and skill to paint words and pictures upon a board?’ asks he, brightening a little.
‘Me?’ scoff I in disbelief, as much as if he hath suggested I might spend ninety valuable minutes of my life watching a game of football. ‘No, of course not me! Who do you think I am, René McGritte?’
Whereupon he regarded me with a certain suspicion. ‘So, when you say “Achievable”…?’
‘It will become apparent,’ say I. ‘Trust me.’
And so at five a-clock in the afternoon rolled up to the premices a figure in decoraters garb, compleat with all the gear, viz.: paynte, a long roller, brushes and a step Ladder which he erected outside, to the interest of passers by and the bemusement of staff at The Physicians, idling opposite.
‘You would not believe the trouble I have had getting all this,’ grumbles Mr. M. Jones. ‘First of all I had to go to Quayle and Block at the Exchange for a roller the right size, which upon my return home I found to have a wire along its axis so it would not fit its holder, which obliged me to go back to change it; then I discovered that the holder required a screw-in fitting to slot on to the extension poal, which on my second return they did not have. In the end I went to Screw Fix and — ’
‘Do you really need a roller for such a small task?’ venture I, though with some hesitacion for it is not my field of expertise.
‘I can assure you, it is the way a Professionalle would tackle the job,’ says he. ‘Roller for the big bits, brush for the edges and detail.’
‘Well, you love this kind of thing,’ say I, adding a blandishment ‘— and are so good at it — ’ and bribery ‘ — and afterwards you shall come to mine, where we shall sit in the evening sun and share a rum and violet. Or a pint of snayle water. Your choice.’
‘Very well,’ says Mr. Jones, and proceeds to marshal his assistants. ‘Now, there is a little breeze from the north-west which may prove troublesome, so someone must stabilise the base of my ladder, here — ’ at which Minerva places in position a chunky foot clad in a delicate sandal with little gold wings ‘ — and another must hand me my equipment and paynts, thus — ’ which I feel not beyond my compytence, so voluntear. Mr. M. Jones then frowns.
‘To paint the detail in a manner becoming a Proffesional I must steady my hand by resting my forearm upon a mahl Stick, which I have forgot.’ He casts around for a substitute. ‘Aha!’ says he happily, spying something indoors. He emerges with his improvisacion.
And so before an increasingly sizeable audience which hath gathered to watch, Mr. Jones ascends his ladder equipped for his purpose — in one hand his roller and in the other this final accessory, a soft and suitable rest that he hath skewered up its backside with the tip of Minerva’s spear.
‘That is my stuffed owl!’ wails the Goddess of Wisdom and Commerce.
‘Just support the ladder,’ says Mr. Jones, balancing his roller with difficultie, for he seems not to have enough hands. ‘Now, Pepys, if you could pour a little paynt into that tray — ’
I felt that by now Mr. Jones was playing to the audience, and that all that was lacking was a drum roll. But with all the faffing around it was now the time of day when peaks the pollenne Count, and I felt a little itch begin within my nose, which as Mr. Jones reached precariosely forward I was unable to suppress.
‘What the — ?’
Thus in an instant, ripping the shoppe sign from its bracket in a vain attempt at equilibrium, came Mr. Jones crashing down, narrowly missing the Daughter of Zeus — who, still in his great state of anxiose tension, had at the sound of my great sneeze leapt back a yard leaving the ladder unsupported — but landing upon myself with a panel of splintered wood in his hands, and with the ladders and all the paraphernalia pertayning to the Projeckt on top, which leaves us covered in gold and black paint like two summer wasps squashed by Jackson Pollack. Whereupon there was a great round of truly appreciative applause from our audience, who shouted their helpful encouragements to improve the process next time.
‘Why didn’t you take it down and do it inside?’ came from the urchin across the lane.
‘Call a professionall next time!’ chortles a man with a crutch in overalls, adding, ‘See you Thursday, Mr. Pepys! Moon Shimmer for the bathroom, was it?’
‘Morning Light, Barry,’ growl I through gritted teeth. ‘As I have told you twice.’
As the spectators disperse, Mr. Jones thrusts the broken sign at our unscathed Deity.
‘Reframe that, Athena!’ snaps he.