It might be a famous idiom for something mind-numbingly dull, but imagine if when people asked you what you did for a living, your honest response was: “I watch paint dry.”
One person doesn’t have to imagine. Matthew Risbridger’s job is not quite that simple and, one hopes, not quite that boring, but as the man who monitors the paint for London Underground’s yellow lines, a large part of his job entails, well, watching paint dry.
Anybody who has been on London’s Tube, has probably been instructed to “Mind the gap” and “Please stand behind the yellow line”. This is all part of Transport for London’s (TFL) public service, with one job in particular in charge of monitoring those famous yellow lines.
The role first made headlines back in 2006, when a man named Keith Jackson was unearthed as AquaTec Coatings’ technical manager. Based in Wrexham, North Wales, it was his job to supply TFL with paint and make sure it was dry before the underground reopened for the morning rush.
For more than 30 years, assessing the drying time of industrial paint has been part of Mr Jackson’s working life.
“People do laugh and find it amusing when I tell them what I do,” Jackson told the Evening Standard. “It could be described as the most boring job in the world, but it is a very important one…We supply paint to a variety of industries and for our customers it is very important that they can cover their products with paint that dries quickly.”
Jackson was quick to query anyone who thought the job was boring all the time. “Watching paint dry sounds quite easy,” he revealed, “but it can be stressful at times…I put the paint on pieces of cardboard and literally time how long they take to dry with a stopwatch. The quickest paint we produce is ready to walk on in less than 30 minutes. Once we have done that the paints then go through a whole host of other tests, such as accelerated weather testing, when they are sprayed with salt water to see how they fare.”
Back in Jackson’s heyday, the Tube service would close between 3am and 5am, however nowadays, the opening of the Night Tube ensures that some lines stay open all 24 hours. It means Ridsbridger isn’t afforded quite the same amount of time as Jackson was, and his paint concoction has to dry even quicker in the difficult conditions.
“Underground, the humidity is much higher,” Ridsbridger told MyLondon. “And water evaporates slower in higher humidity – depending on the paint, it normally dries 20 [to] 30% slower underground.”
Anyone trivializing the job could have a word with Anthony Kershaw, who was Jackson’s boss when he first made the news. “Every so often he’ll touch his finger on each one and see if they are wet to the touch or dry…It sounds very boring but it is very important. If our paint didn’t dry quickly we wouldn’t have any customers.”