I’ve been learning to plaster at a local Further Education college. That’s plaster as in walls, not as in broken bones. Once a week I join a bunch of other middle-aged (mainly) DIY enthusiasts for a session with an experienced tradesman. We listen to his instructions, watch his demonstration and marvel at his speed and skill. Then we try and ignore his looks of disappointment as he observes us inexpertly apply plaster to mini-rooms, getting covered in the stuff in the process. Boy, is it hard work. I sleep well on those nights. It’s like packing a day of a cycling holiday into three hours. If nothing else, it’s improved my fitness and stamina.
At first, I thought I’d never get the hang of it. It just required too much skill and was too exhausting. As you’d expect, it’s mainly men on the course and all but the youngest of them were also complaining about aches and pains by the end of the first session. It’s not just the actual application of the plaster that is tiring, it’s all the mixing and humping it about on shovels too. But, like most physical activities, it gets easier the more you do of it.
I find I spend a lot of time gritting my teeth and thinking, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, while I try to achieve the perfect, plumb-true, even thickness, smooth, burnished finish to my wall.
I don’t harbour illusions about being in any way comparable to a professional plasterer, but I’m a lot better than I was at the start and I now know the proper way to do things. I would never have attempted anything other than a small patch with a one-coat plaster before, and it would have had to be covered up with lining paper and wallpaper afterwards. But now I feel I could tackle a small wall, floor to ceiling, and I know I can achieve a finish that is at least as good as the 100-year-old plaster on the walls of this house.
All I need to hone my skills is some walls to practise on, preferably in someone else’s house. And a decent plasterer’s trowel, ideally one that someone has already broken in. I just hope I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learnt by the time I need it. But that probably won’t be long, because the plaster in this house has a nasty habit of coming away with the wallpaper. Redecorating is like playing Russian roulette.