My mother felt sure that, despite nigh on thirty years of continuous incompetence, when it came to all things practical, there was really no reason why basic DIY should be beyond me. Perhaps it was the fact that, alongside me would be the Textiliste.
Being the woman she was, my mother promised me two things to set me on my way: one, she would show me how and, two, she would give me a book to refer to. Unlike today’s youthful generation for whom user manuals are about as likely to be read as Apple’s T&Cs, back in the mid 1980s a good how to book was a must. Mum, you see, believed staunchly in DIY. After all why would a broken hand stop you bricklaying…
And so it was that we newly weds bought a near derelict pile in South London with a view to filling our evenings and weekends with that most Yuppie of past times: the doey-uppey. Today’s young folks show off their tattoos or some clip of dolphins making muffins; we showed off our dado rails and anaglypta wallpaper. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that my generation managed to spend most of our national wealth making home ownership for Generation Miffed as likely as a coherent Boris Johnson soundbite.
We were stupidly ambitious. Take out a wall and make a large kitchen-diner. Remove old chimney breasts but keep the fireplaces and reuse them in other rooms. Burn off all the old paint, back to the Victorian wood and paint it from scratch. Wallpaper the main rooms. Put in extra electrical circuits.
Mum encouraged me though she insisted on one thing. Do not do plumbing. Well nothing new anyway. Draining the central heating system and removing a radiator was ok. But putting in something that might flood the place? Not clever.
We learnt a lot. For instance if you’ve laid a new floor – in this case cork tiles – and need to adjust a door so it opens smoothly don’t cut off the top rather than the bottom.
We became very methodical. We would strip off the years of old paper. Ditto the years of paint, no doubt much of it containing enough lead to cover a church roof. Blown areas of plaster would be trimmed and the holes filled. I wasn’t much good at plastering, the newly skimmed wall more redolent of the moon’s surface, but needs must. We couldn’t pay for an expert, but we were prepared to do a lot of sanding to try and get it smooth.
Ah, wallpapering. I’ve learnt that whatever a book or a YouTube video might indicate, you should never ever test your marriage vows by trying to repaper a ceiling together.
‘Hold it up.’ ‘I’m trying too. Why are you taking so long?’ ‘Because you keep dropping your arms.’ ‘That’s because you’re taking so long.’
The first room we papered was the living room, a large irregularly shaped space with a picture rail, a large sash window in a bay and two doors. Start gently. There was a pattern repeat to incorporate into our plans too.
It took us some time to get the first strip straight. Starting in the evening after a long day at work probably didn’t help. By the time we’d set the tone and hung 3 strips to Mrs LP’s satisfaction we were knackered.
’But there’s a bucket full of paste.’
’Mum said put a wet tea towel across the top and it will keep.’
Good tip that one. We adjourned to the kitchen, ate some food, watched some TV and then went looking for the cat who regularly got trapped in one of the yet to be worked on rooms. No sign.
Eventually we found her, asleep on the Tea towel having sunk into the wallpaper paste. She was sticky down one side and it took us another hour of hissing and scratching ( and that was just me) to get her clean and dry.
Maybe that’s why you shouldn’t work with animals or children…
And finally it’s a Pooh Bear moment.
Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…