Saturday, 5 May 2018

All About Wallpaper

Saturday blog #175 is all about wallpaper. Wow....can life get any more exciting?

I used to have a work colleague of Scottish descent who was fond of saying, in all sorts of contexts: "There are two types of people in the world..." e.g. those who are always happy to stand a round of drinks and those who never put their hand in their pocket; or those who can handle a car and those who should never be allowed behind a wheel. His was a binary perspective and he was clearly suited to working in I.T.

I might steal from his view of the world for a moment and say: there are two types of people - those who enjoy decorating and those who detest it; or even: there are two types of decorators - those who remove all the old paper and paint before redecorating and those who just slap another layer on top of the one(s) already there.

Does anyone remember the old comic song 'Father Papered The Parlour'? I think it originated in Edwardian Music Hall some time before the First World War but has been reinvented several times since. It runs to (far too) many verses but it begins:

   Our parlour wanted papering
   And Pa says it was a waste
   To call the paper-hangers in
   And so he made some paste
   He got some rolls of paper
   A ladder and a brush
   And with me Mother's nightgown on
   At it he made a rush

   When Father papered the parlour
   You couldn't see Pa for paste
   Dabbing it here and dabbing it there
   There was paste and paper everywhere
   Mother was stuck to the ceiling
   And the kids were stuck to the floor
   You never saw such a bloomin' family
   So stuck up before...

and so on through a catalogue of errors, my favourite of which as a kid was:

   The pattern was 'blue roses'
   With its leaves red, white and brown
   He'd stuck it wrong way up
   And now we all walk upside down
   And when he trimmed the edging
   Off the paper with the shears
   The cat got underneath it
   And Dad cut off both its ears

Do people even have parlours anymore?

I must say when it comes to paper-hanging, I'm a strip it back, fill the cracks, sand it down, prep it properly and repaper it carefully kind of guy. It takes longer but it looks better and - equally important - it feels better having done a proper job of it. And yes, I enjoy decorating...which is just as well, because I've been working on three rooms in parallel over the last month (not all in my own house).

When I was researching for that Oscar Wilde blog a couple of weeks ago I came across a quote of his regarding wallpaper. As he lay destitute and close to the end in a dingy Parisian hotel room, Oscar, ever the aesthete, with typical gallows humour is reputed to have said: "This wallpaper will be the death of me. One of us will have to go." The wallpaper outlived him.

This is the point where the blog takes a more serious turn - wallpaper as literal and metaphorical litmus. I'm very conscious of the fact that I have choice in the matter of whether to decorate my dwelling-space or not, and if I do, to deck it out according to my/our taste. Wilde was  not so fortunate. Nor are the millions who live in rented or temporary accommodation over whose interior d├ęcor they either have no say or cannot afford the luxury of spending scant funds on such niceties. They have to coexist with their wallpaper, love it or loathe it; and loathe it they often do. If they won't just ignore it (as background whose familiarity makes it almost unnoticed) then it can assume oppressive proportions, symbolic of their disenfranchised status.

Poor Oscar was a case in point, but a far more compelling illustration can be found in the novella 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by a contemporary of Wilde's, the American proto-feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her gothic vignette was published in 1892. If you've been watching the TV adaptation of 'The Woman In White' and have found the treatment of women in that story disturbing, Gilman's account - based on her own experience - of powerless entrapment, isolation and the gradual slide of an intelligent woman into madness in a room of yellow wallpaper is both brilliantly conveyed and deeply harrowing. (Available in all good book shops.)

Wallpaper as domestic archaeology - peeling to reveal
I prefer walls to be papered, even if that is with embossed paper designed to be painted over. I like the added texture and variety that wallpaper provides, in contrast to flat, painted walls. (I guess there are two types of people in the world....)

It seems that I've been hanging wallpaper since I was in my late teens, everything from woodchip via paisley flock and William Morris prints to the chic wallpapers that adorn the house on the strand today. Of course, the fact that many rooms are rarely true (most corner angles are never 90 degrees, many ceiling lines and skirting lines are not parallel)  can be annoying; as can the tendency of some papers to stretch, shrink or tear. The only facet I really struggle with is papering a ceiling. It can be done (and has been) by one person wielding a couple of long-handled brooms and swearing copiously, but it is easier with two pairs of hands. On the whole I think I do a decent job of it and shan't be calling the paper-hangers in any time soon.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the May Bank Holiday and keep hanging in there, S ;-)
Reactions:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece, Mr R. Disappointed there was no poem from you.

Steve Rowland said...

I did start to write one, with a stubby pencil on a plastered wall, but I wasn't happy with it so I papered over it! The muse will not be rushed :-)

Anonymous said...

I once stood in the paste bucket by mistake. Not a good move!

Matt West said...

Another great blog, buddy. Make sure you leave time for the fun stuff.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating blog.

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining Steve.