Recently in a shop I saw a typed notice fixed to the inside of the till which read "The next customer could be the Mystery Shopper". And so, like the old lottery adverts with the big finger pointing to an unsuspecting member of the public with the words "It could be You", I arrived at the church of the Holy Trinity Sloane Square with a bubble wrapped parcel under my arm. The church was full to the brim with glorious people come to watch a number of new members of the congregation be baptised and others be confirmed. The bishop was there (like policemen getting younger, this Bishop looked barely older than my 15 year old) and the patron the Earl and Countess Cadogan. Had they all but known it, I was the Mystery Artist. Had they all but guessed, one of them was the recipient of the Mystery Commission.
I took my seat with the best of the glorious people, Alan by my side. At a given point, I was to collect my painting from behind a pillar and go to the front of the church and wait for my cue. The church is utterly beautiful, the light falls through the newly restored stained glass windows covering everything and everybody inside with patches of bright colourful light. The lines of the church are elegant and strong, making your eyes and spirit travel heavenwards. A wonderful display of flowers surrounded the altar, in all the right colours and shapes, adding to the atmosphere of effortless taste and style.
Shortly before my cue, as we sang great Christian Hymns led by an exceptional choir and organ, our voices ringing out into Sloane Square in glorious and loud harmony, the man behind me suddenly fell on top of me. My first thought was They hate the painting, I've been assassinated. Then I realised that a man with a gun was a better option for assassination, or a phone call before the service asking me not to come would be even more sensible. The man who had landed on top of me hadn't intended it personally, he had just fainted. I was at the end of the pew and was able to help him onto his chair and put his head between his legs, watched with open mouthed astonishment by those around as if this was some kind of double act we did at critical moments in churches all round the land. There is nothing like the unexpected to make people freeze. This mans pew froze and I finally made eye contact with a very nice looking man further along the seat who seemed to own the crumpled bloke in my arms. Sure enough, when no one was looking, the Fainter was Removed and the time for the presentation drew nearer.
So now I waited by the pillar with a large framed painting in my arms. My lovely friend and rector of the church, Rob, made the announcement that there was a break in the proceedings, and would the Earl and Countess Cadogan step forward, please. Rob thanked them for their generosity in restoring all the stained glass windows in the church and he had commissioned an artist to paint them a thanksgiving painting. At this point I skipped out from behind the pillar and joined the group. The Earl I think, was used to all manner of strange presentations, had become immune to people popping out from behind pillars and giving him portraits of himself, his wife and Jesus, with toblerones, dogs, fishing rods and racing colours and massive stained glass windows in the background. However, he was gracious and didn't fix me with a glassy stare and say And Who Are You? His wife, the very elegant and beautiful Lady Cadogan, who was in on the surprise and provided me with photos and information, clasped her hands together and cried It is Wonderful and kissed me on both cheeks. The Earl, large and possibly not quite sure what he had been presented with, then gave me kisses on my cheeks too. After the kisses and jolly moments, we all went back to our seats and sat down; and it was over. Except for the photo shoot outside when the Earl held my Hand and I thought he was a lovely man. I will say for the record, that Lady Cadogan is very very elegant and kind. I thought she was beautiful.
So now, the Earl is saying to the Countess "Darling, did we dream all that? Did a lady in pink lipstick pop out from behind a pillar and give us a painting?" And the Countess will reply "Mmmm yes. I do recall an artist coming here and taking some photos ...Oh! (here the Countess gives an elegant start) Here is the painting. It is real then. And why is there a Toblerone on the Altar? More tea dear?"
And Here It Is. It is acrylic on paper and about 24"x 24". What fun.
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