Thursday, November 09, 2023

Uncle Ralph - Paper-hanger

As previously blogged, Ralph lost his right arm just above the elbow in an industrial accident. Interior decorator was not the obvious career switch for a man under those circumstances but so he chose. It turned out to be a felicitous decision.

He lived in Queen's Club Gardens, Baron's Court, London as did most of his clients. The estate was built in the late 19th century when an entrepreneurial developer, William Gibbs acquired the land for his most ambitious project comprising 33 blocks with 548 flats, 3 staff flats and an office set around central communal gardens and two tennis courts, inspired by the new Queen's Sports Club which had opened in the 1880s. [1]. 

As a sitting tenant, he was given the option to buy his flat for a measly £10k (year unknown). He was uncertain whether he should do it, while the rest of the family screamed at him, do it! He did. Given the current prices of the property, that was a prudent move.

Ralph was never out of work. With that many flats word of mouth recommendation meant that it was like decorating the Forth Bridge; there was always another flat queuing up for his services.

I had to ask how he hung wallpaper. Apparently he pasted the paper, concertinaed it, balanced it on his head, went up the ladder, head-butted the wall with the end piece, used the stump to hold it in place and his good arm to position the drop as it unfolded.

I called upon Ralph to redecorate a bedroom when I lived in South Wimbledon. My main bedroom had had part of the room stolen to extend the original cupboard-sized bathroom on the landing and make it a decent size. The previous owners who did that also installed a second door from the bedroom so it could be used as an en-suite. 

As a result the false wall was missing coving along the ceiling (this was a late Victorian terraced house). I used a local company who specialised in replacement plasterwork to take an impression and extrude a new section to match, then fit. The room then needed re-decorating so I called in Ralph. 

He did an excellent job then performed a piece of magic. The new door to the bathroom was a modern flat one unlike all the other original Victorian panel doors. So he stuck four rectangles of beading to the door to fake the impression of panels. A simple trick but amazingly effective.

He had some t-shirts printed with the legend “One Armed Paper Hanger” one of which I acquired. One time I walked into a pub in Richmond, the barman looked at me and asked, "How is Ralph?"

At one point Ralph was in the running to be a movie extra in a pirate movie. In the days before CGI movie makers relied on practical effects. The proposal was that he would wear a papier-mâché arm filled with fake blood. Then in the fight scene his fake arm would be hacked off. Sadly it never came to pass. 

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