I haven’t measured the the acreage of wall in the cottage covered in damp, grubby, peeling white woodchip. I really don’t want to. All I need to know is that it has to be removed. All of it. By me.
Woodchip, for those of you too young to be familiar with this interior design abomination, is an ugly, off-white lumpy wallpaper, textured with small splinters of wood, giving it the overall appearance of solid porridge. It was cheap, plentiful, good at covering up dodgy plastering and therefore very popular in the thrifty 1970s. Even the upbeat estate agent, when she first showed me around, referred to it as ‘donkeys’ breakfast’.
Most people who applied it to their walls back in the day, then painted over it with white emulsion, doubtless to minimise the porridge effect, but without any thought for the person who would one day have to remove it.
Hard to say which is worse, really – the bits of wall that are so damp, the paper comes off with no more than a slight tug and a hard stare, or the places where walls are dry and the woodchip remains stubbornly bonded, relinquishing its grip in only the tiniest of fragments after interminable water spraying and scraping. By contrast, the skin on my knuckles is proving remarkably easy to remove.
All that said, though, I have to admit to entering a subtly altered state as I become engrossed in the task.
There is certainly endless repetition, yet the slight changes of emphasis and direction become mesmerising after an hour or so. I lose myself in an ever-shifting geography – whitish coastlines and islands on a pink-grey plaster sea. I find myself rejoicing as an island finally vanishes, Atlantis-like; fascinated by the appearance of a new landscape of bays and inlets as another coast is formed.
It becomes a fractal world of my own creation.