For those of you who chose to wallpaper their rooms, with your walls all prepped, ceiling painted and all woodwork glossed (see HOME DECORATING Part 1) you are now ready to wallpaper.
With wallpaper, there are a few things to bear in mind even before you choose your paper. For instance many patterned papers have a repeat in the pattern which ranges from between 6 inches up to a huge 30 inches. Obviously the larger the repeat the less lengths of paper you will get out of a roll. A paper with a repeat of 18 inches will generally give you 3 drops of paper on an eight foot high wall and as most papers come in a width of around 21 inches, we now have a means of estimating how many rolls of paper we would require to decorate a room.
Say for example that your room was 10 foot x 8 foot. That would give us 2 walls at 120 inches width and 2 walls at 96 inches. So 120 + 120 + 96 + 96 = 432 inches in total. Divide that by the width of a roll = 20.57 or 21 roll widths. Then if we get 3 drops to a roll our 21 widths would equal 21 divided by 3 = 7 rolls required.
Knowing now what our requirements are it must be stressed that it is always best to get all you need in one go and to be extra safe, maybe an extra roll too. It is always better to get this in one go because all wallpapers are printed in batches and sometimes colour differences occur between different batches. It is for this reason that wallpaper is packed with a batch number on the wrapper. When you buy your paper, ensure these batch numbers are all the same.
So anyway, now we have got our wallpaper let’s get it hung and for that we will need wallpaper paste. Although Solvite is the market leader in this field, you might find that many decorators steer clear of it. This is because despite of its adhesion qualities, when hanging the paper any paste residues between adjacent drops tend to leave a shiny finish on the paper (flashing). For that reason alone we would recommend LAP wallpaper adhesive which whilst being readily available is a little harder to find in the DIY sheds.
Most people when papering would generally cut a length and hang it immediately and then go onto the next length. A decorator does it somewhat differently. Without the need for measures, he would take his first roll and roll it out down the wall giving himself probably 5 or 6 inches spare. He will cut this drop to length plus his excess and lay it flat on his paste table leaving a big fold in the middle so that both ends would remain fully supported by the table. Next he would roll out his next length adjacent to the first at the same time matching the pattern and by doing so he knows where to cut the paper with enough length to cover the wall with the pattern correctly joined. Repeating the procedure through the whole of the paper, he now has even lengths of paper to finish the job.
With all his paper cut into lengths, our decorator lays all the paper, pattern side down on his paste bench and proceeds to paste 4 or five sheets. This gives the paste time to soak into the paper which in turn makes the paper a little more workable. The decorator will also pay more attention to the paper edges while pasting because it is generally at the seams that the paper will later lift.
Now with 5 sheets of pasted paper at the ready our decorator will paste the wall slightly wider than the roll width, where he wants to lay his first drop. He will then roughly lay the paper out onto the wall and check that it is running true with a plumb line running down the side of it. If the paper isn’t true, he will slide it on the wall (the reason for pasting the wall) until it is perfect when he will proceed to properly hang the paper by brushing it level and then it’s time for drop number two.
Now because the wall was pasted wider than the width of the first piece of paper there should be enough spare paste on the wall for our boy to slide his next piece into position and when it’s there he flats it out fully and runs his paste brush up behind the edge where the next sheet will go and flats it out again. Can you see what he’s doing? He has prepared the way forward for his next drop by pasting that edge as whilst doing it, he was also lubricating the wall for the next drop to be slid into place on. This process is repeated for the full five drops that he had pre-pasted and when he has all five lengths hung, he returns to the first length to trim the tops and bottoms of the paper giving it a proper fit between the pre painted ceiling and skirtings. After trimming all five lengths he is ready to go again with another five lengths.
And by doing it this way he has minimised the use of ladders, brushes and scissors in a less stop, start, stop, start manner. He has double pasted all his paper edges ensuring a better adhesion and has not had the need to mark either the walls or the paper to hang it, minimising any potential black lines. But above all else, he has saved time.
So that’s the way to do it, but there are a couple of other things worth noting before we begin which are: We walk into a room through the doorway and that is generally how we view the room. From the doorway, within. With this in mind, and the fact that our enemy broad daylight usually enters the room from the opposite direction, our decorator accounts for this by working in an order to counter any adverse effects this may cause. He will start near the window side of the room and paper back towards the doorway to minimise the shadows caused by any overlapping in his papers. He will also work his way round a room so that any mismatch in the paper hanging will occur in the corner above the door where it is less likely to be noticed. Or in a corner of a bay window where he knows that some form of furniture will conceal it.
Another thing worthy of note is that the professional decorator will always cut his paper into an internal corner and use the off-cut to continue his perfectly matched paper round the corner. He does this because he knows that no walls on this planet are perfectly true and to just spread his paper around a corner will almost always lead to the leading edge for the next drop will be shaped like a banana, as will the next and the next and the next etc. Likewise, an external corner can do the same so when papering around a chimney breast, our decorator with cover the front first and minimise the margin for error by making his adjustments on the reveals where they can be brought back inline before the next major drop.
When working with heavy duty papers, it is better to paste the walls as well as the paper. It is worthy of note that some of these heavier papers are prone to shrinkage across the width when they are dry. With this in mind some decorators would consider painting the walls a similar colour as the paper prior to hanging it so if the paper should shrink, leaving a slight gap between drops, at least these gaps would not be so noticeable. But the best and proper way to tackle this would be to hang only one or two drops a day, replacing any offending drops as required.
The only other thing to consider is your choice of pattern. Any walls you intend to paper that are not perfectly flat should avoid linear or stripy patterns as they will only exaggerate these pre-existing flaws.
Probably the quickest way to Pimp up your pad would be to decorate and like all other forms of home improvement there are a certain set of procedures to follow to ensure a trouble free and professional finish.
The two main forms of interior decorating are to opt for an all paint finish or the use of wall papers. Depending on your choice, the procedures will vary but in both cases the first step remains the same and of prime importance to the end result. This is the art of surface preparation.
Virtually any surface to be decorated should be flat and free from grease and dust. Never be tempted to skimp on this important stage as it will later assist you in completing the job. This will in most cases require a quick light sanding to the walls and ceiling, the application of fillers to any obvious cracks and a light sanding to all woodwork (skirting and architraves etc). A quick tip here based on our own experiences is to use a powder based unmixed filler by Tetrian rather than any of the available Polyfillas as it doesn’t dry as hard and is therefore a lot easier to sand flat afterwards.
So we have filled all the obvious cracks, keyed all our woodwork and had a quick tidy up. What do we do next?
The general rule in all decorating is to start at the top and work down. Let’s imagine for a minute that we break this rule. We papered our walls and now want to paint the ceiling. First off, we now need to be really accurate in painting around the tops of the walls (more effort), the paint we use for the ceiling splashes over the walls and ruins what we have already done and by taking this route, none of our surfaces have overlapped leading to missed areas and dark lines in internal corners.
The greatest enemy of any decorator is the black line. No matter how good your finish, a black line, be it a crack on an internal corner or a raised overlap in wallpaper will always catch the eye first and spoil the overall effect of our efforts. It is for this reason that a decorator sees his primary objective as the removal of all black lines, cracks and hollowly shadows rather than the blanket coverage of large surfaces.
So let’s get decorating. Starting at the top, the ceiling is our first objective and we have decided to paint it. For that we would usually use an emulsion based paint as it is best suited for this task and it tends to be a lot more flexible than a gloss based paint, therefore it is less prone to cracking later. Our choice of paint doesn’t finish there though; we now have to choose between a matt finish and a silk (shiny) finish. This is a choice down to the individual but again, experience tells us that shiny finishes tend to exaggerate any flaws in what should be a flattish surface. Please bear this in mind.
Painting can now commence. When painting any large areas we generally opt for two main tools to complete the job, brushes and rollers, although paint pads or other options are available. The weak points in any large area are the edges as our eyes are naturally drawn to the extremes rather than the bulk. It is for this reason that we ‘cut in’ the edges with a brush as it tends to carry a lot more paint and can be better used in corner situations. So now for the scary bit, let’s cut in our ceiling.
Using our brush, we paint round the edges coming into the ceiling by about 5 or six inches enabling our roller to stop short of the corners whilst ensuring a good covering. Flood all the corners where the ceiling meets the walls and don’t be afraid of coming down the walls by as much as two inches. Emulsion paint has excellent filling qualities and its liberal use in the corners will help ensure that any hairline cracks will disappear and no black lines will be visible when we are done, a much better job all-round.
If you have a papered ceiling, it will do no harm in running along the joints with your brush whilst cutting in. Again it will help fill any cracks along these joints and should you be unfortunate enough to have a papered ceiling where the paper is coming away, you can normally re-fix the paper at the same time by tearing back the paper, flooding the back of it and painting the paper back into place. The more paint we use here, the better. All we have to do now is cut in the lighting and the objective here is to paint away from the light fitting sufficiently enough to allow your roller to cover the bulk without touching the light. Have a damp cloth at the ready here so if you do touch the fitting with your paint you can clean it off immediately. And that’s the cutting in finished.
With all the edges cut in, it’s time to hit the bulk and for that we use a roller. Our roller choice is dependent on the texture of the ceiling. Generally speaking, the more texture we have, the thicker the pile on the roller. Another rule here is that the thicker the pile on the roller, the more textured the effect of the paint finish. We are talking orange peel here not mountains and the differences are somewhat negligible.
When rolling a paint surface, there are a few rules to bear in mind. Firstly, keep the roller wet. The more paint we use the better the finish. Don’t try to finish the whole ceiling with just one loading of the roller, it just won’t happen. Regularly refresh the paint on your roller. Then keep your pressure even when rolling. The harder you press, the more your roller will spit. Likewise the faster you roll the more it will spit. Work in an orderly fashion starting at A and progressing to B where B is a completed ceiling but whilst being methodical, don’t be too regimented in your coverage as again, a straight line draws the eye and a too regimented application will lead to a tram lines effect in the finish. It is better to apply the paint in one direction then go back over it in a perpendicular direction and finally use broad streaks to feather in the coverage. The other and probably the most important rule is to do the whole area in one hit keeping the whole area wet at once as this always gives a better finish than doing two separate halves with an obvious join in the middle.
One completed ceiling later, we do it all again. It is impossible to get a perfectly even and solid finish with just one coat. There will be misses and believe me, they will show. Look at it this way, our first coat merely seals in the existing surface with all its aged dirt, nicotine and dust. Let’s face it; if it wasn’t dirty it wouldn’t have needed painting anyway. Our second coat is the decoration then. Its purpose is to bulk up the coverage, cover any misses and consolidate the finished effect. There’s no getting away from it, so knuckle down and get it done.
It is also worth mentioning here that the best time to do any kind of painting is during daylight. It is only then that you can see the finished effect to all its glory and the lighting is at its most unforgiving which means it will show up more easily any flaws in your work. If it looks right in daylight, it will never look any worse. This cannot be said about artificial lighting though because it is always a lot more directional in the way it projects.
And there we have a completed ceiling. The two hardest parts of our decorating job are now completed and the rest is plain sailing by comparison.
So we have prepped our surfaces and painted our ceilings, where do we go from here? Following our general rule of thumb of starting at the top and working down, it seems that the walls should be next but that will depend upon what we intend to do with them.
If we intend to wallpaper, then the walls will come last believe it or not. In this case we should now turn our attentions to the woodwork. If we have still got our emulsion brush at the ready, it is a good idea to run around the tops of the shirting boards with our emulsion, deliberately flooding and thereby filling any cracks (black lines) where the skirting meets the plaster of the walls and at the same time priming any bare wood as unlike an emulsion paint, gloss paint will be absorbed by rather than covered with the gloss if left bare. Then we can leave it to dry.
Once dried, the woodwork can then be finished off with the ubiquitous one coat of undercoat and 2 coats of gloss with a light sanding and removal of dust between dried coats. Again our arch rival the black line is lurking in the background so don’t be afraid to run your paint up the walls a little to alleviate this foe and the painted plaster surface will later assist with the wallpaper’s adhesion.
If we intend to paint our walls however, then the walls are the next place to go. Ensuring that the ceiling is fully dried we are ready to proceed with the walls tackling each wall individually. Starting at the top we must carefully cut in the wall but because we ran our ceiling paint two inches into the wall previously, our wall covering paint glides more easily on the fresh paint below it making it a lot easier to attain our straight line in the corner between wall and ceiling. How good is that?
Once we have cut in the top, coming down by at least 5 inches to prevent our roller touching our newly painted ceiling we can now continue down the sides and across the skirtings and architraves again flood filling as we go to kill those black lines. Bish bash bosh, just slap it on. The top was the only part requiring any degree of accuracy. Any next coatings will clean up the rest. Again, if we are painting over wallpaper (Anaglypta for example), feel free to run up the joints whilst cutting in and re-stick any loose seams by first painting behind them then over them as we did with the loose ceiling paper.
Any sockets or light switches on this wall? The best way to tackle these is to first unscrew them and gently pull them away from the wall but only sufficiently enough to paint behind their edges coming away from them enough for your roller to miss them (remember the damp cloth?) and our cutting in is done again. Take it all just one wall at a time remembering that we are endeavouring to keep the whole surface we are working on wet as we complete the wall’s coverage. Then get rolling employing the same tactics as we did earlier on, on the ceiling.
If all the walls are the same colour you can proceed from one wall to the next adjacent wall in turn all the way around the room and when you have completed your first lap of the room, remember our two coats rule and set off again not forgetting your best friend, natural daylight.
If however your walls are different shades, it is always good practice to complete the lighter walls first, moving on to the darkest shades last. Then, having gone twice round the entire room our walls are now complete and it’s looking good. Put the kettle on.
When all the walls and window reveals are dry it is just the woodwork to go to finish our room but before we do that, how about putting all the sockets and switches back together again? Having done that, we can now undercoat the woodwork. One coat will do for this as the worst areas have already had a liberal coating of emulsion with its wonderful filling qualities whilst cutting in the walls.
Other than the cutting in of the walls where they meet the ceiling, the glossing procedures are the only precision parts of the whole decorating process and where it is possible to do this without the aid of masking tapes and safety nets, it might be beneficial to use them depending on your levels of competence. Other than that you will need patience and plenty of time for drying between coats as a better finish is achieved by giving the woodwork surfaces a light sanding between the undercoat and two top gloss coats.
When glossing it is good practice to apply the paint sparingly and in direction of the grain of the wood being painted as this helps eliminate the possibility of paint runs. Start near the door and work methodically around the room till you return to the starting point and then go round again looking for paint runs and work them away.
During the whole decorating process, the most important tools you will ever use are your eyes. Take time to step back and peruse what you are doing. Your eyes are the key to your room’s success as it is those very eyes that will later be the judge of all your efforts. Other than the time it takes to dry, if your room was a fully painted room it is now finished. Congratulations.
Unlike most children of his age, Jamie was a child with a very active and fruitful imagination. He wasn't a child you could just plonk in front of the telly. He could literally spend hours alone and still not have enough time to fulfil his self inspired playtimes. Aged just seven, he was always inquisitive about almost anything and everything around him. Constantly he would dissemble his toys to find out all about their inner workings. And such was the level of his thorough investigations; very few of them would ever survive.
Many a time in the early days, after most of his so called 'experiments', he would have to call on his dad to help put things back together again, but lately, he was progressing smoothly towards the point of a new found self sufficiency. His 'operations', were becoming more and more successful, leaving his father now somewhat redundant in the 'massacre' clearing up business.
It all really started, when he was about five and he would tear the limbs off his sister's dolls. From there he progressed through most of his cars, games, models and the occasional torch or transistor radio. The inner workings of nearly all of his possessions were often a lot more fascinating and desirable to Jamie than the perceived use of the toys he was deliberately breaking apart.
Brimming with an unrivalled level of confidence, he would become quite ritualistic and even animated whilst dissecting his toys. Especially so, if there was an audience at hand to watch him. And such was the level of his enthusiasm for what he was doing, many a time his sister Kylie would sit totally mesmerised, as she watched him in his labours.
Jamie didn't really get on with his sister very well, after all, he thought, she was a girl and therefore very different from him and most other boys for that matter. Girls were never the same as boys, they wore different clothes, and did different things and Jamie just couldn't understand why. It constantly bugged him and he needed to know the answer to this, the largest of life's irregularities. But for the time being, he was still happy to have her just tag along. He was happy to entertain her in his makeshift laboratory, by way of his highly important, life and death operations.
It was on a mid-June afternoon, when Jamie and Kylie were once again playing in full 'operation mode'. Jamie talking his way through his every move as Kylie just lay motionless by his side, her eyes fixed in a permanent gaze. Jamie had his doctor's hat on again that day and as standard procedure always dictated; arms and legs were once again being removed. This patient was well and truly broken before he had even started, and Jamie was convinced that after a thorough examination of his, he could definitely fix it. Next, off came the head. It was hard but the end justified the means. The eyes were pulled from their sockets. And the ears were broken away.
Everything seemed to be in order so far, so Jamie next turned his attention to the body. He had a rough idea of what went on in a body, so he set about looking for a heart. Again, it was a lot harder for Jamie than he first thought it would be. Most of his previous patients had hollow bodies, not this one though, it was stuffed to the hilt with all sorts, but he persevered with it and after a short while, his patient lay fully broken down into its component parts. Fully committed in his actions, Jamie knew that to fix things properly, all he had to do was just break everything down and re-assemble the component parts together again. It worked every other time, and he was more than sure that this time wouldn't be any different.
Mum would be so proud of him and his fixing abilities, he thought to himself, as he began to assemble all the different pieces back together. Things once again, were a little different on this operation, as the bits didn't just simply push back like on his other toys. But his practical learning was sufficient enough for him to know the answer, this time he would have to glue them together. Still, undeterred by this change in standard working procedure, he set to with his father's woodworking adhesive. He began applying liberal coatings of the glue to all of the adjoining surfaces, and pressing the different parts together as neatly as he could. Even now his contagious commentary was still fluent and somewhat animated.
"This bit goes with that bit," and "that piece goes there," he would happily proclaim as he firmly pressed all the pieces together. The glue wasn't drying anywhere near fast enough for his liking, so just like he had watched his dad do from time to time, he further wrapped the joints with duct tape to help them set correctly. Through all of this, Kylie still remained silent, her eyes still firmly fixed on Jamie and seemingly, his every move.
It took Jamie a lot longer to re-assemble today's patient than it normally would, he struggled quite considerably with it. But it wasn't too much longer before everything was back in its proper place and no remaining spare parts were left over. Not much later, amidst a mass of still fluid glue and silver duct tape, his patient now lay in recovery. Jamie was really pleased with his latest operation and with it now finished and being a complete success, he called his parents to come see and offer their approval. Minutes later, the expectant couple had arrived smiling. Anticipating having to make a right big fuss over their son's latest trivial success, neither of them truly expected what they were about to see.
Nearly as soon as she entered the room, Jamie's mother screamed, "Kylie!" as she broke down hysterically.
"What have you done to my daughter?" She yelled at Jamie as she looked down at the taped up, bloody corpse laid out on the table in front of her. "Get away from me!" she shouted to Jamie as she rushed to her daughter's side.
His father following closely behind, quickly took in the whole chaotic scenery around him. Looking first at his wife, then the remains of what used to be his daughter Kylie, he questioningly stared at his boy through water burdened eyes. Tearfully Jamie looked towards his father.
"But I fixed her daddy. She was broke and I mended her for you." He wept.
Have you ever thought how important music is to you? Stop telling lies now, of course you haven't. Most people don't think about it at all until it’s too late and they're on Radio 4’s 'Desert Island Discs' and Natasha Kaplinski is sitting there asking "How important is music to you?" Whereupon they suddenly realise that music is even more important than clean underwear, and without a regular supply of both they'd be sucking their shoelaces for some form of solace.
Well, you'll be delighted to hear that scientists have recently been able to measure exactly, just how important music is to the human brain with accuracy of seven decimal places and minus seven decibels. And the startling answer is directly quoted as: "Quite a lot."
We know that the brain responds to music in a very basic and primitive fashion, and that this response begins at a very early stage in our development. It starts some considerable time before we are born, often as early as the second Friday in the month before. It was knowledge of this important fact that inspired the work of the famous French obstetrician Le Boyer.
As you may or may not know, Le Boyer pioneered a new technique of obstetrics in which babies are delivered in a dimly lit delivery room to the accompaniment of soft and soothing background music. Imagine that for a moment if you will, dimmed lighting and soft background music. Isn't that what got the mothers to be, pregnant in the first place? Anyway, this is all meant to prepare the baby for its future life by giving it the idea that the world is a soft and gentle and truly wonderful place, though personally I reckon it gives the baby the mistaken idea it is being born in a supermarket during a power cut. Which I suppose is as good a preparation for future life as any other. Trendy followers of the Le Boyer school of thought point out that the soft music allows the baby to lose any inherent anxiety and aggression, and I presume that the dim lighting allows the obstetrician to put the clamp on his thumb instead of the umbilical cord.
In fact, using sophisticated electronic recording devices, doctors have been able to monitor babies' reactions inside the womb to different kinds of music. It appears that they like Vivaldi best of all, very closely followed by the likes of Eminem. Now I don't want to be a wet flannel (although no delivery suite is complete without one) but I do wonder just how important those first few hours of life really are. Opponents of Le Boyer’s theories have pointed out that Jewish babies are ritually circumcised a few days later – a ceremony that, even if performed in dim lights and with soft music, is certainly not going to give this baby the impression of being in a supermarket during a power cut. (Although I suppose it depends where you do your shopping.) Furthermore, there may well be long term effects caused by this kind of behavioural manipulation. Recent surveys suggest that the widespread application of the Le Boyer technique to circumcision has now produced an entire generation of accountants that get severe pains in their private parts whenever they hear Vivaldi on the radio. And I’m sure we all know someone like that, don’t we?
Well, now that we have established that music is of fundamental importance to the human brain, perhaps we can go on to examine why that should be so. The answer is all to do with the way that the brain is arranged. Basically the brain is divided into bits called lobes. This arrangement has evolved over many millions of years because Mother Nature has found it to be the best layout for aspirin commercials. At the front of the brain, for instance, are the frontal lobes. These are assumed responsible, roughly speaking, for inhibiting aggression and a few other undesirable behaviour traits. Thus the frontal lobes stop us from swearing, cheating at cards and spitting in busses, and help us to obey the Highway Code and pay our TV Licence fees. The frontal lobes are congenitally absent in all Frenchmen, apparently, so rumour has it.
In a similar way, neurologists have discovered other bits of the brain that are in charge of text messaging, pencil sucking, tax dodging and industrial relations. Recently however, a new bit was discovered deep inside the mid-brain. (Sorry ladies, it wasn’t the sling-back synapse, however, Brantano are still having a sale.) It is tucked under the rhinencephalon, bordering on the amygdaloid nucleus and half an inch nor-nor-east of the thalamus. It consists of a group of nerve cells that are responsible for our response to music, and has been called by neurophysiologists ‘the music centre’ because it comes complete with Dolby 5.1 surround-sound and free headphones.
Using state of the art, and somewhat highly complicated immunocytochemical autoflourescent preparations, the scientists have identified a group of specialised cells that respond to the foxtrot and other classical music. There are other cells that respond to opera, the rumba and most South American rhythms (excluding the cha-cha which is situated somewhere in the cerebellum). In another part of the area, there are cells secreting a chemical known as 2’ 4’ diphenylhydramino-butyrate-biryani, which causes the owner to do the Funky Chicken and the Mashed Potato. In most people of the modern world, this area is now shrunken and atrophied, but it has been seen to re-emerge in 30 to 40 year old fathers - Especially during wedding receptions.
It is therefore no surprise at all, that music plays such a fundamentally important role in our lives, even when we’re not on ‘Desert Island Discs’; and it seems obvious now, that our particular preferences are dictated by the music we heard when we were in the womb, or shortly after our emergence. This makes it doubly disappointing that I am so useless and tasteless (according to the youngsters around me), when it comes to music; but of one thing I am certain – they must have been playing ‘Twisted Sister’ while they were circumcising me!
Yes! Tonight's gonna be the night, the 48 year old George now thought to himself as he snapped the locks closed on his briefcase. That was the week’s business all concluded and all that remained, was for him to find a hotel for the night, courtesy of his company's expense account, He was only 140 miles from home and could have easily made the trip back, if he had so desired. But tonight of all nights, he didn't desire in the least. All week he had been working Coventry, painstakingly trudging every high street and back alley. Selling to local businesses and while he was away from home, he was determined he was going to make the most of it.
Everything had already been planned out in his mind, and now, all his wildest dreams and fantasies were just hours from finally being realised. He found a quiet and homely looking hotel, situated just on the eastern border of the city. He booked himself a double room and proceeded up the stairway to deposit his belongings on his new bed. Leaving his stuff still packed, he wandered back down to the hotel restaurant and fed himself up in preparation for the night ahead. He feasted like a king from the full, a la carte menu.
Leaving the restaurant, he ordered a couple of bottles of bubbly for his room and returning to his room shortly afterwards, George took a small, laminated business card out of his jacket pocket and copied the number into the keypad on the telephone by the side of the super-king size bed. There were four rings...
"Angel Escorts," said the cheery female voice.
George coughed to clear his throat. "Erm ... hello there, I'm at the Victory Hotel and was wondering if you could send someone my way," he enquired shyly. He had now fully committed himself to his actions and gaining strength from this new found conviction, he continued rather awkwardly, "someone er ... playful, if you know what I mean."
"Certainly sir, we have three girls currently available in your area this evening. There's Chrissy, she's 32 with a voluptuous 38-30-36 figure, and she’s five foot four with long dark hair and hazel eyes. Or then there's Heather, 22, blue eyes, short blond hair, outgoing personality, five foot two and a figure of 36-26-34. Or we also have Jasmine, our oriental for the evening sir..."
Without any hesitation at all, George had opted for Heather. He loved blondes and Heather was a name he had grown to love over the years. The formalities of payment were dispensed with, and the woman on the phone ended with a cheerful, "Ok sir, Heather will be with you in about half an hour, Enjoy your evening sir,"
Putting down the receiver, George walked over to the mini bar and poured himself a drink. He just had time to take a shower and order up a bouquet of flowers before his sweetly anticipated guest would arrive. He jumped up from the bed and set to.
Returning from the shower, he towelled his short gaunt body dry, combed his receding hairline back into fashion and liberally splashed himself with a cheap and bitter smelling aftershave. Knowing what was to be on the cards, he thought to himself, there's not much point in getting dressed, and covered his ageing frame with no more than a white, terry-towelling bath robe.
A knock on the door brought forth the champagne and flowers he had previously ordered. The waiter entered and set up the flowers on a table alongside the bed and passed the champagne to George. George tipped the waiter and retreated back into his room with the two bottles. He opened one, poured himself a glass and lay over the bed in anticipation of the next person to come knocking. During his wait, he let his mind wander, thinking about the night's pleasures to come...
Smiling to himself, he imagined his new playmate Heather, her warm inviting body, wrapped with a taut, tight skin sporting her ample, but firm young breasts. The erotic dance she would perform, showcasing her pert bottom and long slender legs, to set the evening's mood. The hours they would later spend together, arms and legs all entwined in a knot of eternal oral and carnal ecstasy. Then, lying spent in each other's arms afterwards, each taking turns at coming back for more and more and more. Tonight was going to be the night alright, oh yes, he reaffirmed to himself, as he replenished his glass.
It was twenty five minutes gone now; he had just five more minutes to wait. He re-focussed his attention on his mystery date for a while longer. Idealising a shapely, demure face with piercing blue eyes and beneath, a perky little button nose, and plump pouting lips, framing her pearly white and perfectly formed teeth. Imagining every item of clothing she would be wearing as she walked through his door and fantasising over the fun they would both have, as he slowly undressed her, kissing every inch of her wanton body as he released her from the bondage of her attire. He imagined running his hands up and down her trembling, but wielding torso. Exploring each and every nook and cranny he could find, those only accessible to the touch of real lovers.
There was an abrupt knocking at the door, shaking George instantly from his daydreams...
He immediately jumped to attention and walked quickly over to greet his very welcome visitor.
"Mr Martin? Mr George Martin? It's me... Heather," came a familiar sounding voice from behind the door.
"One minute please," George replied as he quickly adjusted the belt on his robe. "I'm coming."
"Not yet I hope!" She giggled, trying to make light of any awkwardness there might have been. He stood, trembling somewhat nervously at the door, took a large intake of breath, forced a smile and reached for the handle. Pulling the door slowly open towards him, his eyes widened to take in the full beauty of the evening's well chosen playmate ... and then...
"Dad?" the girl cried out.
"Heather?" exclaimed George simultaneously, to his daughter.
The two of them just stood there. Both instantly racked with an instant guilt, red faced and not knowing where to look or what to say. Time stood still for an eternity between them as they both fought for an excuse for the predicament they had both landed themselves in. The only ‘fucks’ in that room tonight, would be the ones whispered under their breath.
Norman, a quiet, stoic and religious man of 68 years, was married to Betty. Retired early at 48 through ill health and having been pensioned off from his job in the post office, Norman had no option but to stay home with his wife.
“You need to be doing this. – Have you done that? – When will this be done?” were all a part of the routine barrage that Norman would undergo from his other half on a daily basis.
“That lady, from down the road, her at 42, you know the one,” Was Betty’s daily theme for her gossiping. “I asked her how her hubby was, thinking he was ill as he hadn’t been to the last few council meetings,” she went on. “She thought I was wrong but I soon corrected her, I told her that the young councillor Jane Marks hadn’t been there either. We thought she must be ill too. You know the one with the pretty face and the long legs that go right to her ...” Betty stopped in mid sentence as two and two finally made five, “Oh my God, they’re having an affair!” Going on and on and on with herself, her mouth would never stop and Norman, with the patience of a saint would take it all in his stride.
Plodding on regardless, for 39 years now he had stood by Betty, never complaining or taking umbrage at what she was saying. Very rarely had he ever argued with her. Nor for that matter had he ever gotten a word in edgeways.
“Sometimes Norman, I feel like I am talking to a brick wall,” she would say. “I don’t seem to be getting through to you,” or “talk to myself” were all stock phrases for Betty as Norman would grunt by way of answering her ramblings. On the few rare occasions where Norman was actually able to spark a conversation, Betty would always interject and steer the subject matter to that of her own choosing.
Day in, day out Betty’s mouth would be reeling ten to the dozen as Norman just stood by. It never seemed to get to him, just in one ear and out through the other. What, why, where, when, who and how? Was all he would ever get from her. Question after question interjected with a few bold statements and a huge amount of gossip. Small talk was a thing of the past as the speed of Betty’s tongue grew faster and faster and faster.
And that’s how it always was, for the long suffering Norman. Amazed at Betty's ability to multi-task, in as far as breathing and talking so much at the same time was concerned. He was continually receiving a regular dose of meaningless banter, a diatribe of useless information interspersed with many questions, instructions and the occasional insult to boot. Only at night did the constant prattling stop, but it was only to be replaced by a snoring akin to the roars of a lion. The life of Norman was far from a quiet one.
Somehow, beyond all means of reasonable explanation, Norman managed to die peacefully in his sleep one night. This, whilst coming as a complete shock for Betty, gave her quite a lot to talk about for weeks, despite her lack of an audience.
And as there was no indication of Norman being anywhere close to dying the night he passed away, his body was taken away for an autopsy. The coroners were thorough in their examinations but were unable to decide on the cause for Norman’s untimely death. The autopsy report concluded that he had died solely from natural causes and everything seemed to be in perfect order. But there was one small thing.
It appears that Norman had been deaf from birth, a well hidden but disturbing fact that had knocked Betty for six. And needless to say, for one reason or another, Betty didn’t really speak much at all after that.
Sitting on my throne in the undisturbed sanctuary of our bathroom the other night, a new train of thought railroaded its way through my ever over-active mind. How do you get to be memorable it pondered? Who were all the extraordinary people whose sayings and aphorisms cram the pages of dictionaries of quotations? Were they supermen? Were they geniuses from whose lips even the most idle of chatter fell in pure crystal form, gathering symmetry, brilliance and momentum on the way down? Were they hell! More likely, they spent most of their time being just plain and ordinary folks – just like you and me – trudging around worrying about their water rates and anniversary presents and constipation. But – unlike you and me – they luckily once said something really bright, realised its potential and went out and flogged it like mad. Compare and contrast the average conversationalist who fills an awkward gap at a party with, “I said something really memorable last Thursday at the Lowry – damned if I can remember what it was now.”
Of course memorability does depend, to a certain extent, on who you are and what you do. For instance, if its dark and I say “Let there be light!” at best somebody will turn on the light and forget that I ever asked them. If on the other hand, I had just created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and had looked upon my works and had seen that they were good, then people would take a lot more notice of what I said. Or if not, at least my writings would attract a lot more attention than they do at present.
As a case in point, take Archimedes. As I am sure you will recall, he was an Ancient Greek (yes another one) who invented O-level physics, and who also said, “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” Thus anticipating the wishes of the Ayatollah Khomeini by a good two and a half thousand years. I think that Archimedes’ greatest achievement was to make up a quote so rock solid that it could travel intact down the hundred and fifty generations from the sack of the city of Syracuse to the ink-stained hands of the typesetters of the cheap edition of ‘Physics Can Be Fun.’ I am sure that he had to work hard at it though. It’s not the sort of remark that would survive long if just dropped casually into the conversation over an after dinner mint and an amphora of coffee. You’ll realise what Archimedes was up against when you recall that during the Watergate affair, President Nixon was recorded as saying to a henchman, “Get on with the cover up”, and that this was reported for a limited posterity of two months as “I’ve got no plans for a cover up.” Likewise with Clinton’s “I didn’t have sexual relations” saga, “It was cock-a-leaky soup all over her dress.” Taking into account this kind of short term distortion, I estimate that the entire recorded history of mankind has all the reliability of a chain gang of myopic lip-readers muttering “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.”
There is no doubt then that Archimedes must have bust a gut in order to protect that sentence of his from similar degradation and distortion. He would not have been able to trust even the most reputable contemporary journalists such as Thycydides (author of ‘The Athenian Disaster In Sicily’) and Herodotus (of Reuter’s). Even they would probably report it as ‘Archimedes To Start New World Movement’ or possibly ‘Give Me A Long Leave Says Pacifist Archimedes’. In which case he would have gone down as the inventor of the conscientious objector, and the Archimedes Screw would have meant something completely different.
To be certain that history was going to get him right, he must have covered all the angles. He must have spent all his free afternoons hanging around the agora (market-place), making sure that all and sundry heard him say it. “Hi there! I’m Archimedes – hey, listen, give me a lever long enough...” He may even have given concerts. Much as today the young folk flock to Hyde Park to hear Punk groups like The Kitchen Units play songs like ‘Sod Everything’, so the Ancient Greeks must have pressed up against the earthworks of the winter quarters when the word got round that Archimedes was coming on to do the ‘lever’ number in the second half. He probably saturated Syracuse with it. (This is Syracuse in Sicily, by the way. At that time, Syracuse, New York, was occupied by wild, half-dressed savages. As indeed it is to this very day.) The whole town would have been buzzing with it after a few weeks. Children would be humming it in the streets. It would be scribbled on lavatory walls, carved on pencil boxes, etched on breast-plates, taught to parrots and tattooed onto slaves.
And so, when the Romans moved in on little Syracuse, bringing with them the benefits of paved roads, colonial governments and nouns ending in –um, Archimedes’ little sentence survived the death of his city. It passed through the Dark Ages in Latin and via the East in Persian and then Arabic, through the Renaissance in what the Florentines flattered themselves was Italian, and finally through the cack-handed printers and boss-eyed proof readers of the Caxton Press Ltd., his saying sailed, still intact into the O-level syllabus, where it now nestles against other perpetual truths about the squaw on the Potomac, and E=MCC.
It all makes me wonder if any of my little off the cuff witticisms will ever make the grade. I came out with some real beauties last week, but unfortunately my official biographer was actually non-existent. So they remain to this day, unrecorded. In order to redress this lack of foresight on my part, I’m thinking of having a party when I’ll be saying all these remarks again. Come along if you are free. Any time until about 2018 will do. And don’t worry about bringing a bottle either, just bring some indestructible paper and indelible ink. And of course, let’s not forget, a lever long enough and a place to stand.
One of the more gratifying aspects of any minor illness is the mood that overtakes one (i.e. me) in convalescence. A short while ago I developed a rather fascinating set of assorted symptoms. As a matter of fact it wasn't really too bad at all, but a secretary who overheard me listing the physical manifestations of my condition over the phone to a rheumatologist asked me how, with so many things going wrong, I was still alive and paying national insurance. As it was, I felt alright apart from being somewhat tender to light pressure over every bony prominence and half of the fleshy ones.
Anyway, I looked sick enough to make most of my family think that I was rather ill (thanks June), and, being the sort of chap I am, I just gritted my teeth, stiffened my famous upper lip and forced myself to play for all the sympathy I could get. Anything to avoid doing the washing up. All of which goes to explain why, as we close in on the Ides of March, I found myself convalescing in my lovely provincial villa in the mountains high above Ski Rossendale.
I stood on the veranda (shed roof) in the evening as the sun sank over the nearby valley. It was deserted save for the occasional farm building, the only sign of life being a faint wisp of blue wood-smoke curling lazily from the farmer's nostrils. As I surveyed the scene I felt a deep calm sweep over me. I was aware of a great stillness within me. I was aware of a dissolving of strife and tension. I was aware of falling asleep.
When I gradually became aware of waking up again, the last of the rays of the sun had already gone, leaving nothing but an amorphous orange smudge on the horizon, and my sense of joy and tranquillity in that moment were heightened by that sound most delightful to all who enjoy the valley's countryside, the sound of the womenfolk preparing dinner.
I lit another cigarette and hobbled of my balcony into the sweet smelling back yard. What an evening! What a moment! What an opportunity to step outside the minute to minute sweat and worry of daily living and to commune with nature and to think. Great Thoughts!
Yes, I decided, now I would pause, take stock of the moment, and think Great Thoughts. Yes, I would turn my attention to a few of life’s pithy problems – such as my blueprint for an Ideal Society, a rational basis for humanitarianism, an alternative to imprisonment as punishment, a peace plan for the Middle East, and a few other odds and ends that I hadn't quite got round to last week. Like Red Nose Day and all the issues those comedian chaps have raised.
As I am always eager to share my thoughts and insights with my faithful readers, I thought that I would now reproduce for you the stream of philosophic consciousness that emerged from those moments of contemplation.
'Right, here we are. In the dark, at peace with the world. Just like I always promised myself. So... So... Hmmm... So here we are then. So... what? So what time's supper? Now wait, that's not exactly a philosophical premise, is it? It's not stoic, anyway - epicurean maybe.
'Start again. Start with life. Ah yes, life. Life. Yes, life. Life... and... Time. A Time-Life production. I once took out a subscription to Time magazine: it was extraordinary - every single three year old back issue I had ever read in the dentist’s waiting room was absolutely fascinating and jammed full of interesting stuff, but every single up to date issue that they sent me in a confidential, plain brown wrapper was as boring as old boots. Funny that. Life eh? But then what's so boring about old boots? I've known some fascinating old boots in my time. Even married a couple.
'But don't boots get old suddenly? You can be wearing a pair of boots for a couple of months and think that they look quite smart and then the moment you go into a shoe shop they suddenly look as if they are forty years old and you have done thirty thousand miles in them, most of it on rough terrain while avoiding arrest. Nothing looks as criminal as the things on your feet when you go into a shoe shop. I always get the feeling that the assistant is going to look at my feet, nip round the back of the shop and call Interpol. Yes, it was the shoes that gave the police the first clues to the Burnley embezzlings. Yes if it had not been... GODDAMMIT this isn't anything like a Great Thought. This is dribble. As usual. Start again.
'Well... Hmmm... Well, perhaps I should elaborate my blueprint for an Ideal Society. Yes. Actually my silly uncle Neville (name changed to avoid Albert any embarrassment) once had an Idea for an Ideal Society. My boy, he said to me one Sunday, I think there would be a lot less bloodshed in this world (yes, yes, yes, yes I said) a lot less war and strife (yes, yes, yes) and a lot less vandalism and destruction (yes, yes) if everyone in the world spent three weeks in the Canary Islands, They're so peaceful. (Is that it?).
'Mind you, the daft old twerp had a point there - there might be a real future for a political movement to replace Marxism or Fascism with Package-Tourism. A new world order organised by the upper echelons of Thomas Cook and Co, Ltd, Plc.org. Are you kidding? They couldn't even get the two of us and our luggage from our airport to the wrong hotel. But aha! That maybe exactly the sort of world government we do want for our Ideal Society - Thomas Cook and Co, Ltd, Plc.org regrets to announce that World War Three has been delayed owing to the fact that we can't get more than four soldiers to the same place at any one given time. Hmmm. So much for Society. What’s for supper? HOLD IT. HOLD IT JUST ONE MINUTE. We are not moving from this far from idyllic back yard until we have had at least one Great Thought or moment of insight. Start again.
'A moment to breathe. How often have I asked, even pleaded, for a moment to breathe? Hundreds of times, I've promised myself a moment to breathe... to attune myself to the music of the spheres, to face myself. Well then. Here it is, so go on - face yourself. On the other hand, why bother? Surely one knows exactly how rotten one is in the first place. Deep down in one's heart one would rather face a rhinoceros with haemorrhoids than face oneself. It would probably be prettier anyway. The only people who can actually face themselves are precisely the kind of people that don't need to. Maybe I could take a moment to breathe and go round and face them. So much more pleasant.
'All right, just for the hell of it. What am I doing here? What am I doing at this point, here, on the seventh stone from the sun, at a flash of time between the first amoeba and the last neutron bomb: what am I doing? Well... I'm... I'm... What am I doing? I'm finishing off my cigarette, that's what. Somehow that doesn't sound like a very significant answer. I guess I've just used my moment to breathe as a moment to breathe in. So what of the future? What do I want? Where am I going? I am going... I am going to have my dinner. Yes that is what I want and that is where I am going - to dinner.'
So I went for my dinner. On reflection I realised that I hadn't quite got round to solving the humanitarian question or the problem of the Middle East. Some other time, perhaps. I mean life eh? - It certainly takes some thinking about, doesn't it?
One thing is for sure though; simply thinking about things just never seems to make them happen. You have to act. And whilst wasting my valuable time thinking of all the world's woes, at least I pledged my troth to the sterling work of the guys at comic relief. £57 million, they collected for just one night’s work. That’s £17 million more than last year. Very well done everybody!! And who says we are in recession?
As many of my regular readers may already know, I often turn to the Ancient Greeks and their old mythology for my writing inspiration. Today is to be no different as I sit here with a thundery grey numbness rushing round my aching brain. Yes we are talking hangover city. That place where you're impelled to cry out "Stop the world, I want to get off."
Believe it or not, hangovers were indeed known to the Ancient Greeks. In fact, in certain parts of North London there are many Ancient Greeks who still get them. And yet, it is well known that it was a Greek sage who first coined the pithy epigram 'nothing in excess'; a piece of very sound advice that rings clearly down the ages, and, to this very day, is as soundly ignored and rejected, as it was even then.
The earliest record we have of hangovers comes from the Bacchantes, famous priestesses of the god Bacchus. They would hold regular festivals dedicated to the god, patron saint of non-returnable containers, and it was quite traditional that, at these gatherings, the most holy of the priestesses were thought to be those who got absolutely shit-faced and spent the first half of the evening snogging and shagging with their bosses behind the filing cabinets, and the second half alternately dancing and projectile vomiting. It is actually from these 'Bacchanalian' feasts that we get our English phrase 'wife-swapping'.
In his famous book on the Greek historian Herodotus, the Grable scholar N.J. Trivett mentions that his subject was known to have attended several Bacchanalia and recorded, for all posterity, some of the strange elitist ceremonies and drunken rituals of the priestesses, although he never actually managed to get any one of these lofty lovelies back to his place afterwards. Trivett points out that it is in Herodotus' account that we first hear of the custom of dancing all night to the music of stringed instruments (the so called 'Johann Sebastian Bacchanalia'), and that the word for hangover is first introduced. It is interesting to note that in Greek the word for 'hangover' (which is second declension, feminine - and takes the genitive after 'with' and the accusative the morning after that) also has another meaning. It apparently meant, suffering 'a disreputable and immoral fate, worse than death itself’.
Thus when Herodotus mentions one particular priestess, Phrygida, suffering from this condition, it is not certain in which context he was using the word. Or, if both, in which order he used it. But, since neither was curable and the preamble to each made the other more bearable, it probably doesn't matter.
Thus when Herodotus mentions one particular priestess, Phrygida, suffering from this condition, it is not certain in which context he was using the word. Or, if both, in which order he used it. But, since neither was curable and the preamble to each made the other more bearable, it probably doesn't matter.
We next see mention of the hangover in the works of another Ancient Greek, the father of all medicine, Hippocrates. Hippocrates observed the evolution and natural development of the hangover and, after much pleading from his patients, invented the very first cure. He took one cup full of white sand and mixed it with one frond of brown seaweed, stirring the result into one cubit (that's about eight gallons or, after metrification, six gallons, oh all right then, 30 litres) of fresh sea-water in an earthenware gourd, which he then dropped onto the patient's head in a desperate attempt to induce blackout and subsequent unconsciousness. Of course our more modern day pharmacological scientists have taken us way beyond these crude beginnings, and most experts in the metabolic disorders field would now recommend using ordinary tap-water instead of sea-water.
In terms of the balance of the basic forces of life, the hangover is actually caused by dehydration, since alcohol is a relatively potent factor in promoting an increased urinary flow. Although it may nowadays, be an obvious fact of life, this so called diuretic effect of alcohol was not discovered until the second half of the 18th century, just before last orders and closing time to be precise. Even today there are some very strange beliefs about alcohol that have a fervent, albeit minor following. For example, there is said to be a particularly stupid and somewhat in-bred race of men, mostly living in New Jersey, who still firmly believe that the cause of the dehydration is the excess of salt in the olives at the bottom of their martinis. It is however, not possible to talk to these curious men about their beliefs; not if you like your nose the shape it already is, that is.
On a slightly more reassuring note now, recent research into the central nervous system has shown that, during the hangover's dehydration phase, the pressure inside the cells of the brain actually falls by a measurable amount. So when a sufferer states he feels as if his brain is shrivelling up and wrinkling like a ten day old toy balloon, he is absolutely right. In such circumstances it would be reasonable to warn him not to blow his nose too hard in case he comes undone and goes flying round the room backwards with an accompanying obscene 'farting' type noise (much like a ten day old toy balloon would do).
Books on traditional or ‘folk’ medicine recount a large variety of cures for the modern day hangover. Some people like to go to bed with a large vegetable, a pumpkin or a red cabbage for instance. Others prefer to retire with a lemon sole or similar flat fish under the pillow, or a pair of flannelette panties under the mattress. Still more tend to favour vibrators, bondage and rubber-ware, while others just hang around bus depots whistling at sailors. None of these actually relieve a hangover, but they all help to pass the time. After all, this is the naughties isn’t it?.
Since the earliest days of fermented liquors, there has been a belief that a cure for a hangover can be obtained by using ‘one hair of the dog that bit you’. Medically speaking, this is about as sensible as a man who breaks his arm falling down 200 steps trying to repair it by falling down the last thirty again. It would seem judicious to suggest to such patients that if they are able to identify correctly the dog that bit them, they should not trifle with stealing one of his hairs but wait until it is looking the other way and hit it on the head with a shovel. This may not relieve the patient’s hangover, but it will certainly ventilate any pent-up aggression and is also some protection against rabies.
However, there are other sides to the problem, or, as the old Kent saying has it, ‘there is more to a grapefruit than meets the eye’. For, apart from the headache side of things, there is the mouth and stomach side of things, and also the massive marital and domestic upheaval consequent upon all three effects (the so called ‘House of Hangover’). It is generally felt that what is required is something to tickle and stimulate the palate, something to reawaken the taste buds that have been put so swiftly into hibernation. Hence in the smarter London hotels – or at least those of the smarter London hotels in which your researcher got a glimpse of the cocktail bar before being thrown out – many bar tenders serve ‘revivers’ and ‘pick-me-ups’. Generally, there is much use of Angostura bitters, egg yolks, cayenne pepper and, among the more desperate, nitric acid. The idea of stimulation is not, of course, limited to the metropolis, and in certain parts of Cornwall there is still available the legendary ‘Piskie Highball’. This consists of one part orange juice, one part vodka and one part oxtail soup with a live hedgehog swimming in it. It is uncertain whether the palate is meant to be awoken by the swallowing of the whole concoction or whether the patient is simply intended to wait for the hedgehog to develop the hangover.
The sheer number of so-called cures for hangover obviously attests to their utter uselessness, and I conclude that the malady is simply a fact of nature like a hardening of the arteries, fading eyesight with age and ill fitting waistcoats. From my own point of view, however, I must point out I have never had a hangover because I have been tee-total since June 1968, which is when I had a shandy and fell over. Even so, realising that I have been preaching at length on a subject about which I have a minimal knowledge and no personal experience, does not worry me – I am after all a writer. So, as a writer, I would suggest that in order to relieve the pain of hangover, you try reading the rest of my stories aloud, or chanting them, or even singing them. Or if all else fails, paying me for them. Cheers!!
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