(Big) Society

Now come along gentleman. Let me see those elbows akimbo! I want nice fluid movements. And up, and down, and up, and down, and one, and two, and one... Mr Pleasance, what have we learned about our grip? That's it, grasp the handle firmly, it won't bite! Solid strokes, that's what we need, and solid strokes we shall not have until we master the tools of our trade...

Ah good morning sir, I do apologise, I didn't see you there. Welcome to Fogwell and Co. I'm afraid you've caught us in the midst of one our practice sessions... Oh thank you, yes, it's most kind of you to say so. Well, we don't believe in complacency here. It's what sets us aside from the competition. You don't become the country's foremost painting and decorating firm without constant attention to detail and a dedication to maintaining skills... Thrust! Mr Montgomery, thrust! It's no good dabbing the brush into the paint pot as if you're teasing a kitten with a ball of string. A sense of purpose, man - dive in!

Oh yes, sir, the pursuit of decorating perfection is very much the ethos of our company. Of course, by our exacting standards, these gentlemen you see here today are mere raw recruits. But through our programme of intensive training we will nurture that budding talent until it blooms into the unparalleled craftsmanship that our customers come to expect... Quite right sir, how witty you are to have chanced upon such an original description. They are indeed 'brushing up their skills'.

And you are really rather perceptive in your reference to Sadler's Wells. The whole ensemble does indeed have a balletic quality to it, but it is all very practical, I assure you. Choreographing the movements of the whole team to music means that we can accomplish a more uniform coverage. For a moderately sized room we find that a waltz works best. If it's a rush job we can step it up to a polka, but the results are not as satisfactory... Mr Rumblelow, you're dripping! Have you overloaded your bristles? ...Oh dear, I very much regret that these gentlemen still have a long way to go, but we will get there in the end. Ladder technique, paste mixing, colour matching - by the time we release them into the world they will have mastered it all, along with the legendary Fogwell Flick.

Mr Bovis, bend the knee, man! Fluidity in our movements at all times... What's that sir? The Fogwell Flick? It surprises me that you have to ask. The Flick is the very ultimate in bristle technique, the epitome of brush control. Known only to Fogwell's master craftsmen, it will ensure that every drop of paint will be smoothly applied to your chosen surface, rather than being distributed over your carpet and curtains, as you might expect of lesser contractors... Oh no, no sir. You jest I'm sure. You wouldn't expect us to divulge information like that. As I'm certain you must realise, you are not the first to ask. The Flick has remained our secret ever since it was originated by the great Mr Fogwell himself.

Ah no, sir, you flatter me - I am merely the 'and Co.' Mr Fogwell is, sadly, no longer with us, and greatly missed. It was his vision that painting and decorating should be an art, not merely a function; his realisation that it demands the utmost care and attention. Happily we have many satisfied customers who think likewise... Your footwork, Mr Sexton! Remember what we said: the key to quality lies as much in the gracefulness of the ankle as in the suppleness of the wrist.

...Yes sir, as I was saying, although Mr Fogwell was fortunate to have lived to a ripe old age, it is regrettably some years since he hung up his overalls and shuffled off to that great mixing bucket in the sky. But we continue to uphold the principals that he held so dear. If you look up there, in that glass case above the counter, you will see his brushes... Yes sir, those are the actual brushes with which he practised his legendary art. We display them there as a memento of his skill, and a reminder of the excellence towards which we should all strive.

Oh but sir, I'm forgetting myself. You're a busy man, I'm sure, far too busy to fritter away the hour listening to me expound upon our humble enterprise. How might we possibly assist you? A hallway bedecked in a tasteful tortoiseshell, perhaps? Or a dining room to be finished in a classic burgundy? ...A ballroom, you say? Oh my! No, no, sir, such a commission will present no problem at all. Far from it - indeed, I fear it will bring out the best in us. What's that? Arches? You have no need to worry, no need at all, sir. Our specialists have never been known to be outwitted by such rudimentary obstacles. They are artisans to whom such architectural delights as alcoves and arches present no challenge. You have seen, no doubt, how an expert swordsman is at one with his blade? Well sir, the paintbrush is our weapon of choice and we wield it expertly. No rollers, no sponges, no pads: we find such methods abhorrent, and have always... Mr Mycroft, careful! We have discussed before why it is preferable that the emulsion should be applied to the wall, rather than liberally distributed around the showroom. Although I am sure that our visitor is worthy of being so honoured I doubt very much that he appreciates being decorated in quite the fashion that you have made your forte.

I am so sorry, sir. Oh no, I wouldn't hear of it. Please leave it with us and I will personally see that it is cleaned and pressed. And please be assured that the gentlemen whom you see going through their paces here today have yet to appreciate the damage that can ensue from a wanton twitch of the wrist or a careless bristle. They are a world apart from the peerless craftsmen to whom we shall entrust your commission. Now then, I wonder...

...Ah yes. Now, I admit that I become a little uncomfortable when it comes to matters of money. I can see that you are a man of affairs and have no such reticence, but to an artist like myself it can seem a little... well... vulgar. If I can direct your attention to our brochure you see that our premium rate, 'The Ambassador Service', is a little pricey... Yes, well, vulgarity or not, we all have to make a living. And I can assure you that package will guarantee you the services of the very best craftsmen that money can buy. They will carry out the commission with the absolute minimum of disruption, employ only the choicest materials and produce work of the most remarkable quality. Leonardo himself could not fault their brushwork.

Mr Leonard, you're slouching again! Bad posture is the enemy of perfection... Now then - ah, of course, I can see that this package is, er, not quite in your line, shall we say? In that case, can I suggest 'The Executive Service'? Once again this will secure the services of our master craftsmen, and the very best of materials - quite expensive, I'll agree, but is nonetheless still a fraction of the cost of 'The Ambassador. Naturally you will wonder how we can afford to offer this option. Well, I'll be straight with you sir: once we've cashed your cheque, we exchange our top class team for some of our less experienced workers, who use whatever muck that they can find hanging around in the warehouse. I can honestly say that our customers rarely notice the difference.

No, of course not. I don't blame you sir, and in fact I'm ashamed for even suggesting it. In that case might I propose a third alternative, 'The Big Society Service'? This is our least fiscally demanding package, but nevertheless remains reassuringly expensive. The difference is that in this case we cash your cheque, then give you a threadbare paintbrush and leave you to get on with it. Basically, you appoint us to carry out the task, and we take your money then tell you to do it yourself...

Well, I don't know about that, sir. I mean, 'scam' is such an ugly word... yes... yes... yes, and so are 'con', 'hoax' and indeed 'downright liberty', but... but... but, sir, if you will just let me get a word in for a moment. I think you need to consider the benefits. The scheme creates a climate that empowers you, the customer. It takes responsibility out of the hands of the contractor and gives you complete control of the... Oh sir, really there's no need to... Please won't you reconsider... but... At least take a brochure, and if you change your mind you know where to find us. Oh, your umbrella, sir - mustn't forget that, I believe the forecast is for rain. Good day, sir! Good day!

... Redmond... Mr Redmond, you see that gentleman who just left? Yes, never mind about cleaning your brushes. Yes, I know what I always say, but we will make an exception for now. The gentleman who was just here - I think he could be trouble... Deal with him... Oh, and Redmond! Be discreet...

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