The woman on the other end of the phone sounds vaguely troubled. Frankly I don't blame her
"OK, run me through this again: because we haven't got a clue what you're talking about here"
I take a deep breath and try to think of a good way to explain what I want. It's midday on Wednesday. I'm struggling with my new job, trying to get my head around all manner of pointless trivia about servers and routers and things that go ping occasionally...and in the middle of all this I now have to explain something I've only ever seen once to a woman that I've never met.
"Well...it's sort of like clingfilm" I begin, not entirely sure if it really is, "only it has a circular or oval hole and you stick it onto a piece of canvas before you do your painting and when you pull it off at the end you're left with a circular painting"
"Only...your partner said you'd described it as being like a canvas condom?"
I close my eyes, feel my cheeks going a bit red, wondering if it was really necessary for this private joke to be shared to the whole world and knowing that it's probably the sort of thing I'd've said eventually anyway.
This all started because a relative of mine is having a Significant Birthday this year and in a moment of blind panic as to what to do I had thought "I know: I'll do a painting"
This year is a big year in my family for Significant Birthdays (IE ones with a zero at the end, thus marking the end of a decade of existence) and always keen for an excuse to do a painting I decided to look on the internet and do a painting of some landscape from the area they grew up: a lovely mountain.
And that was when I remembered the woman at the Arts Alive demo day who'd had this...well...I can only describe it as a canvas condom really. Designed to protect the parts that other clingfilms can't reach.
And I thought what would be a good effect would be to use this method of protection, paint the mountain in the circle, pull off the condom (so to speak) and then add a single tree or similar outside of the circle - much as the demonstrator had done...and so I asked my partner to stop off in a photo framing/art shop if she got time and see if she could get me some.
The woman on the phone pauses for a second, trying to make sense of my description, "Just out of interest" she says, "was the person you saw doing this a Bob Ross demonstrator?"
"Yes she was" I say.
Well, I guess that some of you in the USA may have heard of Bob Ross: apparently he was something of a cult TV personality in the states in much the same way that Rolf Harris was/is here: only Ross seems to have been a better marketing man because he has a whole range of paints, books and demonstrators who tour the country like rabbits ready to leap out at unsuspecting artists and shock them with their wet-on-wet technique.
The woman is saying something to my partner about how I will now be forever stuck with the moniker of "Canvas Condom Man" and I realise with a degree of sadness that I have been called worse - but then she proceeds to tell me that she can order what I want: only it doesn't come with the hole already cut, it only comes in two sizes and will take two weeks to arrive.
I realise that I've been stupid to assume that anyone apart from baby product manufacturers would sell condoms with the holes pre-cut and sadly inform the woman that she has just talked herself out of a sale, but that as she has been so helpful I will probably pop in and buy something non-protection related in the near future.
That's the thing about small shop owners - many of them seem so miserable at the thought of selling you their product that you come out wondering how they stay in business. In the world of Global Corporations the small businessman has to offer something else: the personal touch, going the extra mile...making you want to come back again.
Like there used to be a really good art shop about 10 miles away where they used to be really helpful: but the woman hired some Bored Teenagers to run the shop for her: result was that they closed within months and probably never knew why.
So the fact that this woman was willing to talk and joke about Canvas Condoms and talk herself out of a sale if it wasn't what the customer wanted made me that little bit more willing to go back again.
That evening I got home from work and went upstairs to change. That was when I saw my partner's alterior motive for visiting the shop. Lying on the bed is a late Valentine's present, wrapped in stylish paper.
I know what it is straight away.
Inside the painting is a canvas board, surrounded by off-white card and a dark (with flecks) frame.
On the canvas is a painting that I did of Charlie and Willow late last year. The framing looks fantastic and I take it downstairs straight away and hang it on the wall. It looks great.
It's just about the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.