2 May, 2021

Bland, boring and Boris …

Ah, the memories!  

Those following the news in Britain will probably know that at the moment our Prime Minister is being investigated by three different official organisations.  Why?  Because allegedly up to £200,000 has been spent on redecorating and refurbishing the apartment where he and his fiancée live, above 11 Downing Street.  Where the money came from is the question. And why it doesn’t seem to have been declared in accordance with the regulations. Could be serious. Could be trivial. Apparently Boris is furious.

So the DP memory bank got to work.  Have I ever been really really angry over home decorations?  Well yes.  Just once.

It was 1975, the first property I’d ever owned, in Exmouth, a Devon town on the river Exe.  It was a tiny terraced house about 150 years old with two small bedrooms upstairs, a small living room and kitchen downstairs and a small extension with a toilet and bath.  An uncle had bought one nearby for £4,000 and he encouraged me to buy mine at about the same price.  It needed a lot of refurb, which he and my parents said they would do because I was working abroad.

I was so excited. A year earlier I’d started working in Libya, in the oil camp in the desert which readers will know from early blog posts.  It was the first time I’d ever been able to save money, after leaving university with nothing and then doing volunteer work in the Sudan. Four thousand pounds was a challenge but I made it.  On Uncle R’s recommendation I bought it without even seeing it – huge nervousness for a 27-year-old, but when I next got back on leave and went to have a look, what pride and joy!  My first home.  

Some problems, including the fact that every winter the damp came a couple of feet up the walls, the house seemingly being built on the bare earth. The neighbours reassured us however.  “We’re all the same”, they said. “It’s been doing it for 150 years so don’t worry about it!”.  Well OK, that was comforting in a way.  So Uncle R and my parents got to work, and I went back to the Sahara on the 42 days work/21 days leave schedule, and 42 days later came back to UK when they showed me what they’d done.  It was definitely habitable. Plumbing and electrics worked and there was some furniture. Just needed painting. I was so excited. 

The parents said they’d do the painting.  This was the time when magnolia, the colour, was considered by many to be restrained, refined, neutral, able to blend with any decor, eminently suitable in any room, basically safe. And by me, bland and boring. That’s what they had at home and that’s what they recommended for the little house. Alright, said I, that will do for downstairs, but the two bedrooms will be different. One will be bright green, the other deep purple. I got a colour chart and showed them the exact shades. 

Well, why not?  I was 27, it was my first home, I wanted something different, something with my own mark on it, a funky pad for funky times.  Oh boy, I was so excited. 

So, off to the oil camp for 42 days, and then the next leave, home to see the folks and view the finished house, my dream place.

You’ll be ahead of me, and you’ll be asking why I’ve stretched this out so long.  Well, it was just to set the scene.  You guessed it.  

Proudly I was shown the downstairs living room, kitchen and bathroom, all smart in magnolia.  Hesitantly I was taken upstairs to see the two bedrooms, both gleaming in …. magnolia.  They said they just couldn’t bear to do the green and purple and they were sure I wouldn’t mind.  

I was livid. Fantasy and dreams shattered. Inwardly seething. They never knew. All my life I’ve found it almost impossible to lose my temper openly, so I said I was a bit disappointed.  Disappointed?  Furious!  

Ah well. Time passes. I’ve recovered from the shock. 

This little memory and story emerged from the Boris predicament.  His anger concerns money and transparency and investigations.  Mine was through being deprived of my oh-so-stylish offbeat decor.  Very different.  But I have to find something to trigger a blog post.

8 Comments

  1. Sounds like you had the same taste as my brother Stephen in the 70’s David. I can remember around 74/75 his bedroom at our family home being painted in vivid shades of bright green and purple and that was in the same room!

    Reply
  2. I remember the craze for what was called ‘wet look paint’ and I decided to paint an old double bed we had acquired in wet look purple! I thought it was amazing ( you will remember David my somewhat subdued taste in later years). Anyway as I basked In my artistic ability my parents came down to Guildford from Scotland to stay and when shown to their room I thought my Mum was about to have a heart attack and Dad calmly said , ‘ maybe a hotel nearby?’

    Reply
  3. We bought a small 4 bedroom terrace house in Carlisle for £4000 in 1971(and sold it for £7000 two years later. Our pride and joy was the room we decorated with a dark brown very decorative wall paper called ‘Dolores’ – it was gorgeous! It’s just no good getting others to do these things: if you wanty something done properly, do it yourself!

    Reply
  4. David, I think you have started a ball rolling! I think we can all come up with similar memories of experiments with colours, which may not have impressed our parents.
    I painted my teenage bedroom purple on the walls, and most of the furniture in bright egg yolk yellow! Horrendous to think about it now, but I loved it. When I moved to my present cottage many years ago, there was a fad for chocolate brown walls. So I duly painted the bathroom and ceiling in dark brown. With white towels, I thought I was so chic!
    Incidentally when I stripped the wallpaper in the bedroom from the previous owners, there were two walls painted black, so maybe my chocolate brown wasn’t so bad after all.

    Reply
  5. I remember many years ago l was staying at my brother Michael’s holiday home at Landrum Bay and went into Exmouth with my mother and we met Auntie Lucy and auntie Ivy and we went back to your home in Exmouth and uncle Wal was there. A lovely memory.

    Reply
  6. 14 year old KMC painted a very large eye on the white wall of my bedroom. It was about 5 feet across and was in various colours none of which would be found in the human eye. Being an adopted only- child I got away with it!! My parents were the best of sports!!

    Reply
  7. Dave, we loved your little house!! You very kindly lent it to us for our first holiday with baby,Christopher. We loved the fact that it was close to the sea. He loved the television, something we didn’t possess! The only problem was the milkman who called on his float every morning at five and woke Chris. We were usually on the beach soon after six!
    Happy memories. Another memory is Uncle Ron and the gold taps!
    Maybe another story?! xx

    Reply
  8. Ach, that Janet beat me to it… Yes, your Exmouth house and street are some of my earliest memories (poss from subsequent year!) V exciting telly, downstairs bathroom, coin metre, etc 🙂
    And re paint, well, some decades after the 70s, in our first non rented house (which you came to), Marie and I painted the bedroom from a weak purple to uber vibrant green! Hadn’t heard of the wet paint look – will have to investigate…

    Reply

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