Living in England, the greys were always easy. Ash Whisper. West Wind. Pebble Beach. Woodsmoke. Travel agents' windows provided her with inspiration for the blues. Aegean Cruise. Caribbean Daydream. Venice Lagoon. And Violet took particular pride in finding interesting names for the muddy, beige-y colours that people usually dismissed at first, but found themselves oddly drawn back to over time. Wicker Basket. Soft Cinnamon. Oatmeal Cookie. Peaceful Thoughts.
What she'd been having a bit of difficulty with were the neon bright (personally, she would have called them garish) colours that seemed to have become popular since programs like Changing Rooms had taken off. It was all about drama, tension, standing out, these days, she'd heard. Once, they'd had one Shocking Pink, one Electric Blue, and one Lime Green in their range and that had sufficed. Now they had ten varieties of each and more besides.
They'd introduced her to her new assistant earlier that day. "Just to help you out, you know, with the new ranges" they fluttered. He looked young enough to be her grandson. Spiked hair, bleached highlights like he'd been in a fight with a Domestos bottle; two rings in one ear, and a third in his lip. He'd got a degree from Dudley Arts College in 'Arts, Media & Design', whatever that was.
She'd started him off on the pinks and he'd come back to her with Frisky Tongue, Tunnel of Love, Barenaked and Nipple. And those were among the more decent ones. The worst thing was, it hadn't even seemed to occur to him that there might be anything shocking in the names, or at least he considered them shocking only in the modern 'good, media-attention-attracting' sense of the word.
He'd left for the day now. In fact, Violet realised, noticing the stillness around her, she was probably the last one in the office. In the old days, she would still have heard the hum of the paint making machines and generators in the factories below, but now the paint making had been outsourced to the other side of the world. It was more efficient, apparently, to send the instructions out to China and have them mix up the paint, can it, label it, and ship it all the way back here again, than it was to make it here and send it five minutes down the road.
Was that what it meant to be old? she wondered. You looked around one day, and the world was no longer yours. It belonged to children who thought so differently from the way you did that it was as if everything had been turned upside down and back to front. As if black was white and white was black, and red was green and green was red, and you wondered who was colour blind – you or them. Suddenly she could see her future stretching out all too clearly. Two, three, maybe five more years of work, her responsibilities getting smaller and smaller until one day there'd be an interview with personnel, and she'd be gently prodded to retire. A small retirement collection; a short speech and some flowers; and a fortnight after she left she'd be utterly forgotten. Was that all her life was going to amount to?
A small spark of rebellion flared in Violet's heart, and, for perhaps the first time in her life, grew into a steady fire of determination. She had a momentary twinge of conscience, and then dismissed it. After all, who would it hurt, really? It might even - she smiled wryly - provide some good, shocking, media-attracting publicity. She went to the office kitchen, brought back a cup of tea, and began.
They came in the next morning to find a short letter of resignation on Violet's desk, and the name of every single paint colour, in the catalogue and on their website, altered.
Below the deep sea-green-blue of Aegean Cruise were printed the words Vibrant Geranium; and Flamenco Red had been relabelled Spring Grass. Yellows were labelled as purples, blues as oranges, pale pinks as deep deep greens. The overall effect was disconcerting, to say the least.
They began relabelling the colours, and dealing with the bemused calls from members of the public. It was only quite a bit later that someone thought to phone China, and by then, because of the time difference, it was already late evening over there and no-one could be reached. When they eventually spoke to the Chinese manager, fourteen hours later, he reported happily that the instructions for the new paint names had indeed been received and immediately implemented, and that he estimated they had already produced around ten thousand pots of paint with the new labels, most of which -- thanks to their efficient new distribution system -- were already on their way to half the DIY stores in Britain.
Violet's assistant secretly admired the whole thing as the most brilliantly original piece of conceptual art he'd ever encountered.