It was a hot day. The fairground rides were playing their merry tune, the neighbouring hot dog stand was doing a roaring trade and so was I. My face painting stand was well located, right on one of the major paths through the park and had I had been painting now for almost 5 hours. I had underestimated the temperature today and was slowly cooking on the inside as I was wearing too many clothes. I really needed a break.
The problem was that the queue for my stand never got any shorter. As I painted one, another would arrive. It is a well-known dilemma for professional face painters. I had to decide how to close the line so that I could recharge my batteries within the next half an hour. I counted how many kids were already waiting. Yes, if I made sure that no more joined the queue I could get a 15 minute break and still have enough energy to get me through the last couple of hours. I noted which adult was standing with the last child (they are easier to spot in a crowd). I decided I would inform the next adult who arrived with a child, that before I paint them I was going to take a break. I would suggest, that if they would like to go and find some shade, get a drink maybe and relax for half an hour instead of waiting in the queue I would promise to paint them first when I started back after my break. No need to hang around in the heat, and they’d get VIP treatment when they returned. What could possibly go wrong?
It could be that my brain was overheated, or it was just a poor strategy from the start, but you can probably guess what happened next.
I continued to paint whilst keeping an eye out for newcomers. Low and behold a new parent arrived. I walked to the back of the queue, thanked the parent for waiting in line and politely informed them I was about to take a break and would they like to come back in half an hour? The mother looked shocked and said, ‘So my son isn’t going to get painted?’. Yes, he’ll get painted, I calmly reassured, just in half an hour as soon as I got back from my break. I promise he’ll be the first to be painted on my return.
An aggressive shout came from the other side of my set-up. ‘He was already in the queue. You have to paint him!’ I took a look at who was yelling at me. It was an older woman who looked strangely familiar. She was glaring at me and was shaking her head as if I was possibly the stupidest person she had ever had the displeasure to set eyes on. The smell of hotdogs suddenly made me feel quite queasy. Then it clicked. This older lady who was now looking after a baby in a pram had herself been standing at the back of the queue. I turned back to the end of the line and took a closer look. Sure enough there was the same child, now looking pretty upset, standing with his mother rather than his grandmother.
I apologised profusely to all parties, explained my error and reassured everyone that, of course, he would be painted before the break. Calm reigned once more.
15 minutes later the boy was sat in my chair ready to be painted. I made a huge fuss of him, spared no effort adding as much detail as I could on the dinosaur design he had asked for and chatted to him as I worked. He seemed pretty happy at the end of his experience. I was relieved all was forgiven and that I had survived these last few minutes with some dignity intact.
As the boy was admiring himself in my mirror his grandma approached me. Ready for the stiff-upper-lip approach that might be required on my part during our next interaction, I was hardly able to keep a look of surprise off my face as she thanked me whole heartedly for painting her grandson. Could she take my card, she asked, as she would love to book me for their next birthday party! Flattered, though a little beyond it, I said it would be my pleasure, and I looked forward to hearing from her, when we could discuss details about what she needed.
5 minutes later I was lying on the grass in the shade of a tree watching the odd cloud float by. Every queue, I mused, does indeed have a silver lining.