Few people would consider Kingston upon Thames to be a haven for the criminal element, but in recent months a spate of drive-by wallpaperings has resulted in several high profile businesses and public buildings being seriously redecorated. The first of these shocking incidents was recorded last February, when workers at the public library arrived one morning to find that the building had been done over in thick regency stripe during the night. Empty packets of wallpaper paste were found strewn about the romantic fiction section, smoothing brushes were discovered dispersed throughout the biographies and a book of samples had been incorrectly filed in Science and Nature.
Attacks have since increased in both number and ferocity, with flock wallpaper and coving being amongst the most disturbing material found at crime scenes. Frighteningly, there appears to be no pattern to the choice of targets: council offices, leisure centres, banks and supermarkets have all come under attack from these desperately delinquent decorators. On one occasion they even managed to clad an ice cream van in woodchip, without waking the driver who was napping in the front.
It's worrying. Especially since the villains are now targeting private homes. One of the most recent victims was Mr Ken Pump, whose house was redecorated one Sunday morning, while he was down at the corner shop buying a newspaper and a packet of blackcurrant flavoured Lockets. We asked him whom he thought was responsible.
"Bastards!" he told us, bluntly. "Bastards - that's who's responsible! If I ever get hold of 'em, I'll give 'em a redecorating they'll never forget. I'd only just done this place up: all pastel colours, it was. You know, not poofy or anything, just sort of tasteful. Then I get home to find the living room's been done out in this horrible purple flock paper, the kitchen's been painted shitty brown and the bathroom's full of Muppets."
Muppets? We asked Mr Pump to explain.
"Muppets! Muppets! Bleeding Muppets!" he cried. "There's pictures of 'em all over the wallpaper - Gonzo, Kermit and Fozzie the frigging Bear! I'm sorry, but I just can't relax with all that nonsense going on. Have you ever tried to take a dump with Miss Piggy watching you? It's no joke. Muppets, ha! Well, I ask you, what kind of sicko could do something like that?"
What kind of sicko, indeed? We spoke to Detective Inspector Raymond Plank, currently in charge of the police investigation. Did he, we wondered, have any clue as to who might be behind these attacks? Did he, in fact, have much of a clue about anything? Did he, for instance, know what his own name was? Thankfully, the DI was surprisingly erudite, for a copper.
"I like cheese," he told us. We nodded and said that we liked cheese as well, but we would be grateful if he could tell us more about the wallpapering incidents. "Oh yes, well we're pretty sure that this villain is not acting alone," he explained. "After all, he's going to need someone to hold the ladder. Actually, this mania for illegal decorating is far more prevalent than you might think."
The DI swooned at this point and looked like he might fall, until he caught himself at the last minute. We guessed that his uncharacteristic use of the word 'prevalent' had momentarily disorientated him.
"You see, there's a whole culture of redecorating amongst the youth of the area," he continued, slowly regaining his composure. "There are a number of gangs operating here, each trying to out wallpaper their rivals."
That being the case, we wondered how this craze had managed to get such a firm hold on the youth of the region. Detective Inspector Plank had an answer for us.
"It's all down to the media," he told us. "TV feeds 'em a constant diet of DIY makeover shows and lifestyle programmes. It's bound to warp their freaky little minds. They see all these poncey designers in their frilly shirts and frock coats, banging on about 'daringly exotic colour schemes' and 'exciting new fabrics' and, inevitably, they want to get in on the act themselves. The tragedy is that it's such a waste. These kids spend all their time and effort twatting about with wallpaper, scatter cushions and curtains, when they could be out learning a proper trade, such as operating lathes, driving cranes or making cheese."
We realised that if we wanted to find out more we would have to talk to the gang leaders themselves. It wasn't difficult to make contact. After hanging around outside a hardware store for about half an hour, we soon spotted a shady looking youth emerging with several rolls of backing paper tucked beneath his coat. He was suspicious at first, but was eventually persuaded to take us back to meet the rest of his gang.
The 'Woodchippers' hang out in a fusty wooden shed on the edge of an overrun allotment. Or rather, that's what it appears to be from the outside. Inside it is pleasingly decorated in an interesting fusion of modern and traditional Italian styles - all gleaming bare surfaces and intricate tiling. It really shouldn't work, but it's surprisingly pleasing on the eye.
We were introduced to the gang's leader: a pallid, slightly-built youth with a wonky nose and a bum-fluff moustache. This, we were told, with an uncomfortable amount of misplaced reverence, was 'The Paster'. We were not allowed to know his real name, in order to preserve his anonymity, although we noted that everyone else seemed to call him Colin.
The Paster had begun his career in criminality by breaking into cars, knocking off policemen's helmets and beating up charity collection boxes in the shape of cartoon characters. It wasn't long before he got bitten by the decorating bug. At first he was a loner. Armed with just a roll of Anaglypta, a three-inch brush and a tin of gloss paint, he would terrorise the neighbourhood. Then he crossed paths with The Woodchippers and challenged their then leader to a 'paste-off'. A brutal and messy confrontation ended with Colin taking over the gang and his opponent being carried off in an ambulance, impaled on the business end of a snub-nosed smoothing brush.
Colin shrugs as he recounts his history, and remains firmly unrepentant. He sees himself as an artist and feels he should be free to express himself as such. And if that means defiling some poor innocent victim's front room with a wipe free, vinyl-backed floral print, then so be it.
So who are these decorating desperados? Vandals? Ruffians? Criminal nutjobs? Or are they actually delicate, cultivated aesthetes with an eye for detail and a laudable appreciation of the merits of juxtaposing bold colours with intricate and ornate stylings? The police place them firmly in the former category, and fiercely execute their recently granted power to stop and search anyone they suspect of carrying a roll of decorative border. But perhaps we're taking the wrong approach? Perhaps with encouragement, patience and understanding we may yet discover, in our midst, the next generation of TV design experts, style pundits and home makeover specialists?
...Actually, now I come to think of it, either way you slice it, it's a terrible prospect.
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11 December 2013: Scotland Yard's Most Wanted
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