Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

When you're involved in any home improvement project, you quickly learn that some people are unhelpful, some rather more helpful and some astonishingly helpful, so much so that you stand back in awe and wait for a drum roll, a trumpet fanfare, and a shaft of light to shine down upon them from the heavens.

When you're involved in any home improvement project, you quickly learn that some people are unhelpful, some rather more helpful and some astonishingly helpful, so much so that you stand back in awe and wait for a drum roll, a trumpet fanfare, and a shaft of light to shine down upon them from the heavens.

As part of our loft extension, we've had a new window put into the gable on the left-hand side of our house. The gable is rendered and painted cream, so where the new window had been put in, it needed to be touched up. The easiest thing was to repaint the whole gable, but there was just one problem.There was no clue as to which particular colour the previous owners had used. I had scoured the garage and the now-transformed attic, but couldn't find a single old paint tin that might give away the name or even the brand.

I didn't want to repaint the entire house. So I started seeking advice. Friends and family pursed their lips and said I'd never be able to match it, and even if I did find out what the original paint colour was, the old paintwork would look dirty against the new.

The builders were more optimistic. They pointed out that, because the front gable was at right angles to the side wall, it would be impossible to tell if it was a slightly different colour. I'd probably find when I went to Homebase (they said) that there was only one cream masonry paint anyway. Still in helpful mode, they gave me a little piece of painted render - about the size of a £2 coin - to take with me.

I arrived at Homebase, just off the Wandsworth Bridge roundabout, to find that I had about 15 different cream masonry paints to choose from. It was then that I was lucky enough to encounter Mr Stephen Swann. I don't know whether Mr Swann's expertise extends to other areas of DIY, such as plumbing or carpentry, but when it comes to paint, he is a guru of gloss, an Einstein of emulsion.

When I first spotted him, he had a queue of disciples following him up and down the paint aisles. I use the word disciples because there is something a bit Messiah-like about him, with his long, dark hair and benign, patient expression. I nipped smartly to the end of the queue and listened as he explained to one customer why you could use water-based eggshell over emulsion, but not emulsion over gloss and so on.

When it came to my turn, I produced my square-inch of render. "Hmm," said Mr Swann. "Looks like Sandtex Cornish Cream to me." Blimey . It looked like a piece of old rubble to me. "But if you want something a bit cheaper," he added, "you could try Homebase Buttermilk." Could I? "Oh yes, but if you want to be sure, let me find you a sample pot to take home," said my saviour, rummaging on a shelf.

Our gable is now painted in Homebase Buttermilk. It looks perfect. Since that day, I have consulted Mr Swann on other projects, such as how to deal with new plaster and any amount of wood-stripping, crack-filling and stain-masking. On one of my visits, I noticed that the Wandsworth branch of Homebase has a noticeboard by the entrance that lists staff commendations.

For example, Ahmed Ullah has received the Recognition Award for Putting Customers First. Taya Sekoni has an award for Making A Difference. Charles Conyers is recognised for Succeeding Through Teamwork. My boy, Stephen Swann, is up there too, with a Silver Award for Outstanding Customer Services. There's only one other silver award, given to a woman called Linda Stevens for Outstanding Team Work.

It's easy to dismiss this as meaningless window-dressing, dreamed up by human resources or the marketing director. But I shall think twice about jeering at a Homebase Staff Recognition Award again. After all, if what I regard as excellent customer service wins only a silver award, what do you have to do to get a gold? Give the customers a foot massage? Provide them with a picnic hamper while they browse in the gardening section? Throw a cocktail party while you explain how to work a gas barbecue?

Now, which one is Linda Stevens...?

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