This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
It was going to the dentist that started it. Sitting in the waiting room I leafed through dog-eared glossy magazines while trying to shut out the sound of the drill in the next room. I was looking at other people’s homes; homes that had carpets, chairs, pictures, curtains and all the other things that we take for granted as being part of everyday life.
My 1900 terraced house is not like that. Where there should be a chair there’s a bag of plaster, a workbench stands in for a table, the kettle balances precariously on an upturned bucket while the awfulness of the mugs used for tea defies description.
I know it’s no different to any other building site but it’s been like it for a very long time. As I lay gripping the arms of the dentist’s chair until my knuckles were white, I made the decision that it was time to start preparing for interior decoration by removing the existing wallpaper.
“You’ll need a decent steam stripper,” remarked Dave, my builder, as, with a deft arm movement, he peeled away an enormous patch of old wallpaper without any apparent difficulty. “They’re easy to use, you shouldn’t have any problems.”
Dave has decided he needs a weekend off to placate “the misses” who never sees him so, to keep me happy, he’s “got a mate to fix me up with a stripper for a couple of days”.
Anyone happening to overhear this tantalising remark might have been envious but I’m now staring at a disappointing tangle of hose, cable and associated equipment lying on the floor of the front room.
My initial impression is that every component is totally incompatible with the next. Water dribbles in small rivers across the floor from the end of the hose as I struggle to make the thing work. But, like a dragon woken from a long sleep, it finally hisses forth an unpleasant cloud of stale steam. In confident mood I don my goggles and gloves and set out to strip the front room in time for a satisfying mid morning tea break.
It’s now midday. My goggles and gloves have long since been discarded – the first steamed up, the second became unbearably clammy – while, pressed against the wall, the stripper is huffing, puffing and gurgling furiously. I’m increasingly convinced that the decorators of the past were determined that their work should never be destroyed. To make matters worse, a layer of gloss paint covers the wallpaper’s surface.
In frustration I give an extra vicious scrape and quite suddenly I have something in my eye. I squint, I close one and then the other, I roll them. In my distracted state, the stripper suddenly gushes hot steam into my crotch so that I bend forward and become entangled in its hose. Reeling backwards with my eyes partially closed I end up on the floor crawling along the power cable until I’m able to wrench the plug from its socket.
I drive to the hospital dangerously with one eye closed and the other watering. The eye specialist is unimpressed by my story and, with a sigh, clamps my head in a device that looks as though it’s been designed for torture. He tells me to relax. Instantly I tense but, with a quick flick across my eyeball, he successfully removes a fleck of paint and I have the blissful feeling of being able to see again.
Like a naughty child I am told to go and sit in the waiting room while some eye drops are prepared. On the table is a pile of dog-eared glossy magazines. Instinctively I reach out my hand.