Wallpaper to die for

TASTE is a funny thing.

I don’t mean as in taste buds, although that’s funny, too. Did you know Americans universally hate vegemite? They react to it like dingoes to dog bait.

But no, I mean taste as in music, paintings, wallpaper, coffee tables and toilet roll holders. I have been visiting friends — friends, mark you — who have just bought a new house. Actually it’s an old house, but it’s new to them. As friends we have much in common: grey hair, cars, debts, children. But, I have discovered, not taste.

I thought so at first. They invited us round to see the new/old home. And they did so with much amusement. They wanted us to see the décor, left behind (I’m not surprised) by previous owners.

It was hideous.

The motif was fishnets, with little glass floats hanging from them. Not in the ocean, nor even decorating an old shed on the beach. Just hanging. Glass floats (orange) and squares of rope that would have let a dolphin through (environmentally friendly at least) printed on a wasabi-green background.

It papered the walls from skirting board to ceiling rose. It gave you the feeling you were in a kilo of mackerel about to discover what it’s like to be battered.

We didn’t see the whole house because we were in a hurry, but we saw enough. We all had a good laugh and then we left.

And I was left wondering how it can be that there is someone out there with taste so wildly different they might have come from Mars.

It’s not as if there is not a lot of choice. I could have understood fishnet wallpaper if the alternative was, say, skull wallpaper. But the world has more wallpaper than there are mossies to squash on it.

So we must assume that someone, some couple probably, pored for days over wallpaper catalogues until, finally, with all the clarity of a cloudless dawn, they saw it.

She turned to him as he pored fruitlessly through another catalogue and she said: “Oh look, darling; look at this one!”

And he wasn’t sick!

He looked at it and said, with grudging admiration: “Oh, well done.” And, perhaps, with just a shade of concern said: “How much is it?” in a voice which suggested that, having found the Golden Fleece, they didn’t want to lose it through an accident of price.

I doubt price was a problem. You haven’t seen it but I can guarantee you could have papered the entire tax office block in Stanley Street with it for the price of a beer.

I dined out on this story for a couple of weeks until I began to feel I might have softened the horror of it, so I went back to reaffirm its hideousness.

Yes… it was still hideous. Our friends laughed with us anew as we shared a drink in their new/old lounge room.

It, too, was an exercise in studied ghastliness, even it was, to be fair, of a different kind.

Walking into this room was like walking into a fairy floss machine. The walls were papered in fairies! Hundreds of Tinkerbelles smiling sweetly from groves of indeterminable undergrowth with their wings and wands in pink and violet soft focus.

It was like having a seven-year-old’s birthday cake smeared on the walls; as if someone had taken the worst of juvenile fantasies, the worst in colour coordination, the worst in fatuous sentimentality and turned it into a temple to bad taste, and I said so.

My friends looked at each other, and then at me, wondering if I was joking, which I was not, as they could plainly see.

And they said: “We’ve, er… we’ve just decorated this room.”