It is a well known fact that if you Google the symptoms of the common cold, in less than three clicks you will become convinced that you are dying of leprosy. Still, most of us prefer this method of self-diagnosis than the more traditional visit to the GP. After all, what does a medical professional who has trained for more than a decade know that we can't learn from SmokyMonkey47 on a Yahoo forum?
We had just under a week to go until we left for Birmingham where we'd be exhibiting at the Autumn Fair. We had ended up with a stand that was much larger than we were expecting but we had settled upon a plan: we were going to build a retro cinema complete with theatre seats and light boxes. However, when a quick calculation told us that seven light boxes would set us back about a million pounds, we realised we'd have to build them ourselves. Jack set about educating himself in all areas of light box construction. This was no mean feat. He essentially had to give himself an introduction into basic wiring, learn how to construct battery packs that would last for nine hours a day, investigate the reflective properties of various materials and conduct experiments into the different forms of strip lighting. He then had to source his materials whilst keeping to a strict budget before putting his new-found expertise into practise by actually building the light boxes. Everything was going splendidly well. Extraordinarily well. Too well perhaps...
He was on the final stretch. The light boxes were nearly complete; all that remained was to insert the perspex fronts into the wooden frames. Unfortunately the budget didn't allow for lasers and so Jack had been forced to cut the wood by hand. This inevitably meant that here and there the measurements were out by a millimetre or two and the perspex sheets didn't always fit perfectly. No problem, he sanded them down a bit and in they went. The completed light boxes totally blew me away. They were incredible. I couldn't believe what he had achieved not to mention the fact that he had such a short space of time in which to do it and such a meagre budget. Later that evening we were sat down to dinner revelling in his achievement when it occurred to him that he had underestimated the size of the job and had neglected to wear a mask during the sanding of the perspex. Suddenly he felt a tightness in his lungs. He reached for his phone and turned to the wisdom of the internet. He emerged about ten minutes later with the verdict... lung lesions.
Jack's face turned an ashen shade of pale. The lesions were rapidly spreading across his mind even though I was fairly certain that they were not present on his lungs. Unless he was actively snorting the perspex shavings from the floor, it seemed unlikely that 30 minutes of mild sanding could do so much damage. The mind, however, is a powerful weapon and Jack's lungs were tightening with every breath. But then a stranger known only as 'Keith' came to the rescue. Once upon a time, Keith had waded into an online discussion about the dangers of inhaling perspex. According to his expert opinion, it would take thirty years or more of repeated exposure to cause any lasting damage. Yes Keith, you little legend! "Keith sounds like he knows what he's on about," I suggested. Luckily, Jack trusted Keith too. The colour returned to his face and his lungs relaxed a little although he noticed that they did still hurt if he took a really deep breath whilst bending over to touch his toes. I remarked that he probably didn't have enough experience of deep breathing in that position to know whether that was the case before the perspex encounter. He agreed and went to sleep. It saddens me to think that Keith will never know how he touched our lives that evening. (I should probably mention that we in no way encourage you to trust Keith over a fully qualified medical professional. Jack may have got lucky this time but if you fear you may have inhaled perspex, please ignore Keith and head straight for the nearest hospital.)
Fortunately Jack's lungs survived the night and he awoke feeling slightly better. He decided it was better to be safe than sorry, however, and spent the morning googling 'what to do if you've inhaled perspex'. The result was that he would spend the day 'airing out' his lungs which meant no contact with any potentially harmful substances. This in turn meant that I would be left to refurbish the theatre seats... alone and unsupervised. Jack had prepared the paints and given me the strict instructions that I was to use them sparingly because that was all we had. I set down an old sheet on the deck and got to work. Everything was going well, I was about to tackle my third and final seat. I looked into the green paint pot and was impressed with how conservative I had been - I still had half a pot left! Jack would be pleased. I reached over for the seat but I had misjudged its weight and hadn't put enough force into lifting it. It dropped back on to the deck and I fell backwards knocking over the paint pot which emptied its contents all over the sheet. As I scrambled to rescue it I kicked over the other paint pot which I had left carelessly open at the edge of the deck. Now I had two separate, brightly coloured paints fleeing from the containers that had held them captive. To make matters worse, the sheet that I had put down was made of cotton and was doing absolutely nothing to protect the deck below from the paint tsunami that I had caused. Thank god Jack was busy airing out his lungs and not able to witness the situation.
Suddenly his words of warning echoed in my head: use the paint sparingly, that's all we have. Oh shit. I looked from the unpainted third chair to the paint that was seeping through the sheet and I sprang into action. I used my hands to gather up the paint and transfer it directly to the chair, rubbing it in as I went. I then picked up the sheet and applied it directly to the chair, begging the paint to transfer from the first surface to the second. Twenty minutes later and by some miracle all of the chairs were covered in paint. So too, however, was the sheet, the deck, most of the plants and my entire self. If Jack saw the state of things his lungs would get all the airing they'd ever need. I rolled up the sheet and stuffed it into the shed before attacking the deck with a sponge and some warm water. I had just about straightened things up when Jack appeared in the garden.
He looked at me and I could tell he was about to ask why I was green before he thought better of it and turned his attention to the theatre seats. I watched in anticipation as he inspected them carefully. He seemed satisfied. Phew. As he turned to go back into the house he spotted a small splodge of paint no more than an inch in diameter. "Dominique!! You've got paint ALL OVER the deck!!" "Don't worry," I mumbled to myself, "It washes off." He eyed me suspiciously before disappearing indoors. I sat contemplating my green limbs and congratulating myself on disguising the disaster when I spotted a warning on the back of the paint can: TOXIC! Avoid all contact with skin! Immediately my arms began to itch and burn. I reached for my phone and began typing into Google. Only Keith could save me now. (To be continued...)