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The Painting Competition
The Street Painter
The Street Party
Ours was a typical West Country street of neatly decorated, terraced houses. Most of the residents took great pride in maintaining an air of individuality when they decorated their properties. Some houses were all one colour and others were two tone; the raised bricks surrounding the three front windows meticulously picked out in a shade which complimented the main colour. With roofs of shiny black Cornish slate to compliment the paintwork it was certainly a street that had a wealth of character.
The gulls would screech raucously from the chimney pots, a constant reminder of the proximity of the coast and the street always looked bright and cheerful even on a blustery winter’s day when the sea winds were blowing in from the Atlantic. In summer, with a cloudless, blue sky for backdrop it was even brighter. "Not like them grimy little terraces they have up the line," my father used to say. Although he'd never actually been further north than London and based his assumption entirely on what he'd seen on "Coronation Street."
One Summer when my Mother was staying with relatives in London, Dad decided to paint our house battleship grey with red lead as a contrast (as if our neighbours didn't already know he was a painter at Her Majesty's Dockyard). He told Mum over the phone and she promptly went into hysterics threatening never to return home. Of course she relented eventually, but it was as well he didn't mention he'd also used the Dockyard paint inside the house.
"Well, I suppose it does look rather smart," she commented on her return, never one to be liberal with praise for his good intentions. She stood in the middle of the street, surveying Dad's workmanship for a full ten minutes. By that time he'd already received several requests from neighbours to paint their houses too.
It was 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. I remember it well because we had a street party to celebrate. For several weeks beforehand we raised money by holding weekly raffles and competitions. Community spirit was never stronger.
A week before the big day someone came up with the idea of a painting competition: in the middle of a blank sheet of paper was a printed picture of the Queen's head as depicted on a stamp. Each competitor had to fill in the rest of the sheet, creating a picture around it. I knew exactly what I would do and set to work immediately. At nearly 20 years of age I thought I knew everything about everything and viewed my idea as nothing short of brilliant. I'd paint a picture of a country inn called "The Queen's Head" and incorporate the image of the Queen into the inn sign. As it turned out I wasn't too impressed with the end product. The thatch on the inn didn't look right; some of the colours had run and the perspective was all wrong. But never mind, I thought, I could just get a new entry sheet and have another go.
"Only one entry per person," said Mr. Cork the organiser, wagging his finger at me sternly.
"I can't find the first one," I lied.
"All right but you'll 'ave to pay again, me luver, rules is rules." he said in his broad Devon accent.
I reluctantly handed over another fifty pence piece and this time I was determined to do better. But what should I do with my first attempt? I deliberated, after all, I'd paid my entry fee and it would be a shame to rip it up.
My second attempt took ages. I had a book called "Kings and Queens of England" so I painstakingly painted each monarch onto my entry sheet to accompany the Queen's head which was there already. I eventually ended up with a veritable portrait gallery of all the Kings and Queens from Alfred the Great onwards, on just one piece of paper. This is bound to win, I thought, smugly, as I proudly signed my name on the back.
The day of the Queen's Silver Jubilee arrived; the entire country was given a day off work. It was a glorious June day and our street had never looked better with red, white and blue bunting stretching across from one side to the other. Trestle tables laden with party food ran down the entire length of the street. Even the sea gulls seemed happy, surveying us from the roof-tops appearing intrigued by the unusual congregation below, waiting for an opportunity to swoop down on any tasty titbit's which fell from paper plates.
Later came the raffle and the competition judging. Mum was pleased because she'd won a set of Jubilee mugs.
Mr. Cork was giving out the prizes: "And the winner of the painting competition is also from no 28... " he announced.
It's me... it's me! I thought excitedly, springing up from my seat in anticipation of collecting my prize.
"... Mr. Ivor Stanleyforth."
I realised immediately what had happened, "Go on dad, go and collect your prize!" I urged, almost pushing him out of his chair, "You've won the painting competition."
"What paintin' competition?" he asked, completely bewildered, as the entire street began to applaud him.
"Just collect your prize and I'll explain later," I said.
Reluctant to discard my original painting even though I was practically certain it would have no chance of winning, I'd still entered it into the competition, but I'd written Dad's name on the back and as luck would have it, it had won.
"I'm still keepin' the prize money, you crafty beggar," Dad said after I'd explained everything.
But later that evening as we watched the sun slowly sink down between the tall pillars of the Tamar suspension bridge Dad eventually let me have the ten pounds prize money.
"I thought everyone knew I can't paint pictures," he laughed. "I can only paint big things like 'ouses and battleships."
© 2014 Stella Kaye