DERNIER MOT - WALLPAPER
I'd never done any decorating before we moved to France, let alone DIY. But from Day One I was determined to learn. I couldn't see it was that difficult, and I set to enthusiastically. My first self-appointed Herculean Task was to remove all the whitewash from the kitchen walls and I set to with the palette knife. Why not? There aren't any Decorating Police, I told myself.
The reason why not soon became clear. The palette knife gave up the ghost and replacing it was more expensive than the cost of a scraper. I bought a scraper. A nice bendy one with a wooden handle. It did the job very well and I was soon proudly slapping vinyl mat onto the bare plaster.
"What about THAT?" enquired the Senior Partner, gazing at a large hole in the kitchen chimney breast. "Spatula job?"
"Don't think so," I said airily painting all round it. "I have one I prepared earlier. Just take a sheet of A4 like so, place carefully on wet paint so it covers hole and then splodge more paint on top of it. Voilà!"
"I give it six months before it peels off."
Personally I was counting on slightly less than that, so I was amazed to note as the winter crawled past that my paint job held fast. Encouraged and ignoring barracking from Certain Quarters, I redoubled my efforts, stuffing cracks with loo paper, painting over all sorts of lumps and bumps and papering over anything really hideous.
I even got going with the potatoes, hacking them in half and carving them into shapes which I used as stampers to create friezes around doors and windows. "So much cheaper than buying that printed stuff," I said breezily.
The scoffing could be heard for miles. No-one was convinced - but with a background in theatre I reckoned that if it looked all right no-one would ever notice that it was all a big cheat.
I sprayed the sooty iron fireplace with Hammerite, stuffed aluminium foil into the gaps around the chimney pipe from the wood-burning stove, and screwed things into place with my potato peeler.
I went draft-hunting - wandering round the house on windy nights with a candle tracking down the source of the chilly blasts of cold air and squirting builders' mastic into them... sometimes even going as far as to peel the wallpaper back, squirt and then push the wallpaper back into position over the top of the mastic.
Little by little the house got cleaner, warmer and more colourful. No-one ever noticed my bizarre short-cuts. The Decorating Police never arrived. I was pleased. Very pleased. So pleased that when an architect friend arrived and asked to see round the house I was thrilled to give him a guided tour.
He inspected the whole house carefully, mumbling to himself about "good spaces" and "attractive ceilings" and "potential". I was so thrilled, I missed the significance of that last word.
"I wanted it to look like we'd always been here," I explained proudly. "As it had never been done up."
"Oh I should say you've achieved that," he said. "But you know, you could probably raise a loan on the place now. I mean, prices have gone up and I'd say you could get quite a good interest rate and that way you'd have some cash to spare."
"Oh you mean to buy the paddock, next door? I said brightly. "Well..."
"No, I was thinking that if you raised a loan on the place, you could get it decorated," he said.
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