When the phone rang, I was busy painting my blue front door. I picked up and immediately regretted it. It was an old friend, Andrew, a local DJ who had done me a large favour a few months ago. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew that he was calling it in.
“I wouldn’t normally ask,” he said, “but I’m in a real bind, I need to go see my father, he’s had a fall. I need you to cover for me on tonight’s show,” he said.
“What? I’ve never done anything like that, what do I know about running a radio show?”
“Don’t worry, I only have a few listeners,” he replied, “and I’ve written down everything I was going to talk about tonight. The playlist is already set and programmed in, you just have to hit the play button each time.”
He made it sound so easy that I had to agree but, as the time approached, my nerves increased. By the time I was sat in his seat with the big microphone suspended in front of me, my palms were sweating and my heart was beating out of my chest.
The last time I was this nervous was the opening night of my own art exhibition. A local gallery owner had set it up but it was a disaster. He was poor at promoting his exhibitions, but he charged the artists and the visitors, so he was winning either way. I did manage to sell a few of paintings not only to my mother and sister, they clearly felt sorry for me, but also to an art collector. Unfortunately he never returned to collect them.
Andrew’s radio producer came in and I was snapped back into reality, she was calm and professional and put me at my ease, she showed me where all of the buttons were and she helped me through the opening few minutes.
I made a few mistakes but soon started to enjoy myself, his choice of music was relaxing and the phone-ins were fun, mostly. I loved talking to people about current affairs and I soon realised that I didn’t even have to know about the subject, other people could provide both sides of the arguments.
Later in the show, Andrew had added a lifestyle section. This one was about baking, something that I knew very little about. I loved cakes but the process of making one seemed like alchemy to me, so I just read out the instructions for a carrot cake and hoped for the best.
Within a couple of minutes, several calls came in about the recipe. One caller Maria told me that I had made a mistake, reading teaspoons as tablespoons. I’m glad she called, that could have been a disaster for someone, I’m sure.
The radio experience was quite pleasant and enjoyable. Only one irate caller wanted to discuss why his wife had left him and what he should do. I had to cut him short and started to play a record.
I’m sure Andrew will be happy with my stand in. I handed over to the next DJ, thanked the producer and headed out the door. As I left the building, a motorbike pulled up and a young lady climbed off, took her helmet off, releasing her beautiful auburn hair. She smiled at me and I melted. She walked up to me and asked if I was the DJ who had just been on. I replied ‘yes’ “I have something for you,” she said with this wonderful gleam in her eyes. Her smile was contagious as she reached for the box tied to the back of her bike. She opened it gently and presented to me a carrot cake, it was still warm.
‘’We spoke on the phone, my name is Maria. I fell in love with your voice and followed your instructions to the letter. This carrot cake is for you. ‘’
‘’Before or after the correction?’’ I asked. She laughed.
We talked for hours that evening, the conversation just flowed. It turned out that we had so much in common, we both loved good food and she was also an artist – a better one than I am in fact – we fell in love over her carrot cake.
Within a year, the Art Café was born, providing home cooked food, with artwork and memorabilia all over the walls. Our blue door has become kind off famous around here, with tourists photographing it all the time. I’ve forgotten how many artists have painted it.
Returning that favour was the best thing that ever happened to me.
And yes of course, carrot cake is still on the menu.
Story by Neil Smith and Theo Michael