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Robert: The Fastest Wallpaper Hanger in the World

16 October 2017

Robert attends our Welcome Group here at Birmingham St Mary’s and you can read what he thinks about coming to the Hospice by clicking on his first story here. Here is part 2 and this is all about how he became the fastest wallpaper hanger in the world and how he loves to get stuck into creative projects…

I’ve got arthritis pretty much all over, my hands hurt, so do my ankles and I’ve got two titanium steel knees. I’ve had a triple bypass, and I have a pacemaker and a defibrillator. I’ve suffered greatly with depression, and I have cancer of the lung whilst being in stage 2 of heart failure.

I used to love gardening but I can no longer do it because I have 3 discs and a twisted spine, I’ve got spondylitis, which needs a big, big operation but the consultant at the hospital said I couldn’t do it as I’d die on the operating table because of my heart, so I take morphene.

Coming to Birmingham St Mary’s

I started to come here [Day Hospice] and I really do enjoy my days here. I did the 12-week therapeutic programme and after finishing that, I joined the Welcome Group and I’ve been coming here for 6 weeks and I’d come all the time if I could. I sit in the crafts section, I don’t ask for much, and I do a spot of colouring. Jacqueline [another Welcome Grouper] lives quite close to me, so her husband brings us one week and my wife brings us the next week.

I enjoy colouring and I build models. With my little colouring book and this medium sized one, I’m going to make a collage, cutting them all out to make one big picture.

I got into colouring about 12 months ago, I was sitting down at home and my son, who’s a ward manager, bought me a book and some colouring pens, and said, “Have a go at this Dad, it might stimulate your mind a bit,” and it’s amazing how it does.

Whatever I do now, it’s all about stimulating my mind, if I got Alzheimer’s I wouldn’t be able to do anything, so I’m trying to keep my mind active.

Making Models

With my models, I made a Titanic one which was 3 foot 6. I’ve always had a fascination with the Titanic, so I decided I’d build it, and it took me 2 and a half years. I thought everyone makes models of the Titanic, painted the same way, so I decided to make the ghost of the Titanic, spraying it with matte paint, semi-gloss and gloss paint to give it that white shadowy effect . I added a little set of Christmas fairy lights inside, which help to give it a little glow, along with two little cheap spotlights that go underneath and it looks magnificent. I wrote a little poem about her, put it in a frame and placed it alongside.

For the past 20 odd years, I’ve been going to a place called Combat Stress in Newport, Shropshire.  They support Veterans, and some times I’ve gone up for there 3 times a year for 2 weeks at a time but I’ve stepped aside now. There are all these boys coming back from Afghanistan and they’re in a bad state, where I was when I first went to Combat Stress and that’s when I first started making models, and I really enjoyed it. So I gave the Titanic model to them and they raffled it off nationally and made quite a bit of money off it. I don’t know where she lives now but she’s somewhere in the country.

I’m now doing a yacht and when I finish it, I’m going to give it to the Hospice and they can do what they like with it. It’s made of match sticks and based a bit on a French yacht, the sails and rigging are French but the rest is my own design. I’ve been working on it for the last 5 months but there’s not much to see apart from the deck, a bit of the sides, the hand rails and a bit of the cabins, that’s all there is as it’s such a slow process, using the match sticks individually. I’ve used about 2,000 already. There was also one time that I struggled to get my hands on some match sticks, they were in short supply, I don’t know why!

Everything on this yacht I will have made from match sticks, the capstans, the wheel, everything. To make a little door for a cabin takes quite a lot of work. You can buy all this stuff from the hobby shop but I won’t do it, I want to be able to say, “I made it, all the windows, all the portholes, everything.”

I’ve also put 4 or 5 ships in bottles and when people see them, they all go, “You’ve cut the bottle to put it in” but I haven’t, they’ve all gone through the neck. With a narrowboat I made, I had to cut it into strips, so they could fit down the neck of the bottle. I’ve made special tools I can use inside the bottle to manoeuvre it about. So I put one piece in after the other with a slow-setting glue on it, squeezing them together gently but it takes a very long time, waiting for the glue to dry. If any of the lines of where it’s been cut are visible, I have to fill it up and paint it over whilst it’s in the bottle, so no one can see it.

Entering the Guiness Book of Records

In 1978, I appeared in the Guiness Book of Records and on television a few times. I was the fastest wallpaper hanger in the world; previous to that, there was a man on TV that did 20 rolls in 4 hours and I said to my wife, “I could beat that”, so I did it to raise funds for a computer for my son’s school. The challenge took place along the corridor in the school and I ended up doing 38 and a half rolls in 4 hours, with it all matching up.

The papers got hold of it and some of the local television shows, and a few days later, I got a phone call from a lady saying that she was Esther Rantzen’s secretary, I said, “Josephine [Robert’s wife],  pack it up!”, and put the phone down because we’re always playing tricks on each other. The phone went again and I said “Josephine, I’m too busy for this” and put the phone down again. But a bit later, just to check, I phoned my wife to ask, “Have you been phoning me, playing me up?”, she said “No! I’ve been in the garden” and I said, “Oh blimey, it must be real then.” Anyway, the phone went again and it was Esther Rantzen’s show and I said, “I do apologise,” and they explained and asked if I wanted to go on their programme, That’s Life, and do a demonstration.

So I went to the BBC in London where they’d set it up for me to race a few other men. I’d bought a lovely new set of white overalls and when I went into the studio they said, “Oh you can’t come on television like that,” I said, “Like what? This is brand new!”. They wanted me in overalls with paint on it, one that I used, so they cancelled the filming for that day and I came back another day in my own old overalls and apron but you could see it was ten times better on the telly.

That wasn’t the only time I was on TV though, around 20 years ago, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around to see Anneka Rice. She said, “I hear you’re the world champion of wallpapering and we’re doing something down the road, would you like to take part in it?”

Well about a mile up the road, they were doing a hostel for young homeless mothers on Challenge Anneka, so I went up and I did a couple of rooms for them whilst being interviewed.

I’ve never set the world on fire but I’ve had some fun and I have a wife I love and two sons I’m intensely proud of.

It’s been wonderful to hear all of these stories and we can’t wait to see the finished yacht Robert! It’s a pleasure to have you as part of our Welcome Group at our Day Hospice here at Birmingham St Mary’s.

If you’d like to find out more about the services we offer here at Birmingham St Mary’s including our Day Hospice, please click here.