Apparently it is quite common for people to develop an allergy to something they are exposed to excessively.
I know of someone who adored strawberries but after years of gorging herself on them every summer (this was in the not too distant past when strawberries were a delicacy reserved for about six weeks each year) she found herself developing a rash to the extent that eventually she ended up looking like a soft fruit herself and now she can’t go near the things. Mother-in-laws are another common example, and while it is often infuriatingly much more difficult to limit exposure to them than to soft fruits, the benefits of cutting down are usually profound and long lasting.
Happily I have not encountered either of these allergies as I don’tmuch care for strawberries (unless they’re blended as part of a Daiquiri) and my mother-in-law lives on another continent.
However, I fear that after years of exposure at the castle, I have developed a severe allergic reaction to something quite different.
I’m told that allergies can manifest themselves in many different ways and all the indications certainly suggest this allergy is real rather than imagined. While these symptoms are attributable to me, research has shown that they are common among others of a similar disposition, particularly in conjunction with crumbling castle custodianship syndrome.
The first is behavioural. At the first suggestion of a makeover I suffer an outbreak of irrational rage. Thankfully episodes are short lived but they can be quite violent, damaging and potentially harmful. These initial outbreaks are followed by a more prolonged bout of chronic procrastination. Symptoms will vary according to each sufferer’s personal circumstances, but for me include illogical reorganisation of bookings to occupy rooms due to be decorated, a sudden and inexplicable loss of all decorating equipment and in extreme cases, self harm such as leaping from the top of a ladder and breaking an ankle. This last symptom has been documented only once but nevertheless resulted in the procrastination stage lasting for three months due to incapacity. More usually, however, if caught early and treated with a strong dose of spousal disapproval, it wears off after about a week. If symptoms persist a holiday is a marvellous cure-all.
Once these early symptoms have passed and supposing, as is invariably the case, that the root cause of the problem still persists, there is usually little alternative to working through the condition. This is known as aversion therapy but brings with it an alarming array of side effects.
These do not all occur simultaneously (which is fortunate as this would surely result in death), and sometimes one or more of them may not present at all.
First, there is a sort of hallucinogenic trance where I become entranced by the wall to be papered. This can result in periods of total immobility which can last for several hours if I am not discovered. The only treatment is a mug of hot tea accompanied by something sweet (custard creams are particularly effective). Note that the consumption of alcohol while actively engaged in any stage of wallpapering is extremely inadvisable as it renders me totally incapacitated and can, in extreme circumstances (particularly at the start of a whole room makeover) either send me right back to a state of irrational rage or intensify the hallucinations convincing me that the job is finished before it has even begun.
If the first dose of tea is not successful further doses may be administered up to a maximum of forty eight in any twenty four hour period. Usually two or three mugs are sufficient (it remains unclear whether it is the effect of excessive caffeine or repeated urination that has the desired effect). Medication should rarely be taken on an empty stomach and tea is no exception. The medicinal qualities of custard creams have already been noted, but the added effectiveness of accompanying cake should not be under-estimated. Once the first drop of wallpaper has been hung, the most severe allergic reactions usually pass.
However, in a typical four walled room, (a scenario sadly lacking in most castles) the hallucinogenic trance often reappears at the end of each wall and for this reason it is vital that the course of tea does not cease. Ongoing symptoms which usually do not subside until the wallpapering is complete include breathlessness, excessive sweating, involuntary huffing and puffing, self mutilation (usually with a sharp craft knife) and a gradual loss of the will to live which becomes more pronounced the bigger the job. These symptoms have no cure but can be significantly alleviated by repeated reassurances from the carer (the tea-bringer) that it is absolutely the best wallpapering they have ever seen. There is no possibility of over-dosing on this particular remedy and it is recommended that this should also form an integral part of the post traumatic recuperation process once the actually allergic reaction has eased. It is universally acknowledged that pointing out any defects such as dodgy pattern matches or overlapping edges invariably has a very detrimental effect on the speed of recovery.
There are further rare complications, the possibility of which need to be borne in mind. These include temporary paralysis at the top of the ladder, sometimes displaying an array of the above symptoms, internalised rage, very difficult to spot, usually brought on by the discovery of a drop of wallpaper cut too short and often closely followed by self mutilation, screaming at the wall or berating the wallpaper with warnings that this is its last chance to cooperate, or else. These psychological symptoms can be alarming to anyone who has not encountered them previously and the best advice is not to panic, but to talk through the issue. Further tea usually helps and stabilisation of blood sugar levels with more cake is recommended.
Eventually, of course, the allergic condition passes, invariably once the cause, ie. the makeover, has been completed. There is often a short but very intense outbreak of uncontrollable euphoria once all the decorating equipment has been safely put away out of sight and this is the one symptom for which tea has no effect whatsoever. The only treatment at this stage is champagne in summer or sloe gin in winter. As both these fruit-based elixirs are clearly bursting with vitamin C, there is currently no medical advice available as to a safe maximum dosage in any twenty four hour period and liberal consumption should be encouraged until the equilibrium of body and mind have been fully restored.
Of course, in the most extreme cases there may be no alternative to seeking professional help. This I have had to do on a couple of occasions when I was simply incapacitated by chronic procrastination. However, calling in the professionals should be seen as very much a last resort since once they have completed the job it is common for the allergy sufferer to spin into an uncontrollable rage over how he could have done a better job for a fraction of the cost. In this event, professional help of a different kind may be the option of last resort.