A very personal Journey

Its been twelve months since I’ve wrote a personal blog. I have a few decorating-related draft articles that will eventually make an appearance on the site, but here I’d like to expand upon my personal journey that began in 2016.

Following on from my ordeal of December 2017, and my subsequent recovery during January 2018, my new pacemaker was working well. It was more advanced than its predecessor and the hospital could even monitor my progress by the magic of the interweb.

I was back at work in February, ready to tackle a few interesting projects, including a ten foot by twelve foot digital mural installation. More on that in another post, though; the most important point here is that things were going well.

My daughter began looking at universities in July, and it was just before one of these visits that I noticed my pacemaker scar appeared to have a little hole in it. Conveniently, as the University visit happened to be Newcastle, I thought I might just be able to pop into the hospital to get it checked.

So, as my daughter was in a taster lecture session, we called the pacemaker consultant who, thanks to my colourful medical history, we reached instantly. We explained the situation and, although he was very sympathetic, he said all appointments had been taken that day and asked if I could come back the following week. We agreed, promising to send a picture of my scar so the the consultant could see it.

Ten minutes after emailing the hospital a picture of my right collarbone, the phone rang. The consultant’s secretary was on the other end, asking me to be in the hospital within the next two hours. After our daughter had seen everything she needed to, we headed over to Newcastle’s cardiology wing for an appointment with two consultants. Right away they broke the news that my body had rejected the pacemaker and it would have to be removed again. To say it was a shock was an understatement.

I was then told to contact the hospital immediately if I saw the silver of the pacemaker appearing through my skin. We returned home, and I cautiously continued working. I think the physical aspects of the job accelerated my pacemakers escape.

Approximately four weeks later, on Sunday night, I sent a message to the hospital informing them that the pacemaker was clearly visible. On Monday morning, I received a telephone call, asking me to be in Newcastle hospital for 4pm.

So again we set of to Newcastle, with a hotel booked for my wife. Both of us were clueless as to how long I’d stay on this occasion. The surgeon spoke with me that night and said I was due in theater the following morning for my pacemaker removal operation.

Once I came around from the anesthetic, I expected to find a temporary pacemaker on my neck as had happened previously. To my surprise, I had nothing. It wasn’t long until the surgeon visited again and informed me the device had been removed successfully, and no infection was present. He then said something which really surprised me considering my last twelve months of hospital visits: I was being allowed to return home the following day.

They wanted to give my body time to recover, and they were not planning on fitting another pacemaker as my body was managing by itself. Again I was shocked. Since then, I’ve done some research and found that, in some cases (especially for those with a long history of cardiac conditions), a heart can partly “rewire” or repair itself if the fault is electrical rather than mechanical.

So that’s where we are at present. I’ve been released back into the wild, un- tethered from any devices or medication. Yes, I will get regular check-ups, and probably at some point in the future they will need to think of a way to give my heart a bit of support. Technology is also moving forward, so who knows what I may end up with.

Work is still progressing. All through these years I’ve even resorted to arranging jobs from my hospital bed, in an effort to maintain what my business does best; upholding a high standard of customer service and delivering quality professional decorating.

Thanks to my family as always, and to Mark who carries on regardless on the occasions I’ve had to disappear from the tools.

Government views apprentices…part 2

After my previous post about the misguided organisation, wanting to encourage apprentices by thanking teachers, I thought I try and explain my reasoning behind it.

I have quite a bit of respect for teachers theses days, its not an easy job and they have varied difficulties to deal with, often problem pupils, pressure to meet grading targets and restructuring of learning to name a few.

So I do understand that actually encouraging a pupil towards the lower end of the job market probably is not highest priority in their mind.

Yes I said it, manual trades have generally been associated with the lower end of the job market. although if I may quote my own father here “you’ll never make a fortune working with your hands, but you should be able to make a reasonable living”

Strangely enough once again it all returns back to the correct training, lets think about this shall we. A higher percentage of school leavers attend a university or higher education course after leaving school than ever before. Many of these stay on these graduate courses for up to five years and amass over £35,000 of student debts.

If these students are lucky once they leave university they will land a junior position in the profession they have studied so hard to enter, only then with work, determination and a little good fortune will they rise up the wages ladder.

So let me get this straight, during the three or more university years many students do not earn anything, then they need to start somewhere to begin getting a wage, which over the next five to 10 years will grow

Hmmmm lets compare, say average school leaver who becomes an apprentice painter and decorator. Leaves school and attends a college course to gain manual skills, usually after failing entrance criteria for plumbing or electrical courses, get steered towards painter and decorating, if they are lucky they also get a placement with an actual firm.

At current rates of apprentice pay in 2018 anyone under 18 years old or a 19 year old in their first year will get  a minimum of £7500 / year, providing they gain experience and improve skills over the next few years that should rise so by the time they are actually proficient,  they should be on a reasonable wage not too dissimilar to someone having gone through university starting out in a junior position in a company if they are lucky. So food for thought perhaps.

I am also happy to report locally at least there is a move towards bringing tradespeople into schools to mentor pupils on their future prospects, hopefully it might open their minds than if done correctly manual labour can be rewarding.

I’m trying to educate away from the grey economy, where jobs often get carried out to a low standard for below minimum wage. We really do need to build value into all our manual trades, both as skills not to be lost and to ensure once these skills have been learned professionally they are rewarded with the correct rates of pay.

The life and times of an old decorator intro

Yes I don’t think my Dad would mind now if I called him an old decorator. Often we chat about how things were during his apprenticeship and how over the years painting and decorating is continually evolving. I’m going to share some of his stories via our website.

Hope you find them entertaining.

With that in mind here’s one from his days of an apprentice. As a young lad occasionally he would be driven about by his boss doing menial tasks. On the particular day in question they were dropping off some scaffolding for the sign-writer “Ozzy” to do a name board on a shop at the lower end of town.

The scaffolding consisted of a couple of trestles and a couple of planks, placed neatly in-front of the job by the keen young Victor at 8 am in the morning. They drove past the job on two other occasions at 9.15 am and at 10.50 am,  the scaffold had not be moved and there was no sign of “Ozzy”. The boss had an idea where “Ozzy” would be but Dad hadn’t.

At 12.15 pm they drove past the job once more, the sign had been written completely, the scaffolding was laying back down in a pile and once again the elusive “Ozzy” had disappeared. As the young Victor put the scaffold back in the van he asked what was going on.

Apparently like many of his peers in those days “Ozzy” needed the pubs to open to gain a little of the dutch courage, prior being able to write the sign.

Government see apprenticeships..! Part 1

To explain this article I feel I must explain, those of you that actually read my little blog, (Thank you mum!) will know I’m never politically motivated, although below is an exchange of emails from a group who did catch the other side of me a little in 2016 as in my humble opinion they had missed the point completely. Yes its taken me till now to put part one of this out here due to my various sabbaticals.

I may be totally wrong and am happy to be corrected if i am but I feel their approach to an apprenticeship shortage was not going to be helped by this idea. However I am pleased to also report locally at least schools are starting to arrange better careers days and involving all aspects of future employers to chat to the young adults allowing them to at least make sensible decisions about their future

The emails I received are in bold, my reply’s are in normal text …


Thank you for taking the time to read this and for supporting Apprenticeships. Endorsed by the Minister and in partnership with The National Apprenticeship Service and The Good Careers Guide (GCG), with whom we work closely, GCG are trialling a campaign in the first two months of 2016 to see if saying Thank You to schools and teachers increases their interest in putting more students forward for apprenticeships.

Full details are at: https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/careers/apprenticeships

They would be delighted if you felt able to ask your current apprentices, or those who have recently completed an apprenticeship with you, to join in. If you have any queries at all, please do get in touch with The Good Careers Guide at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or on xxx xxxx xxxx.

Dear ….

As a professional tradesman of a long standing family business and an occasional employer of apprentices I felt perhaps I needed to share some of my experiences. Over time we have had good apprentices from schools and these have either progressed in the trade or found after gaining a qualification in Painting and decorating they choose another career path.

Over the last eight years however I have noticed a decline. Any student with a modicum of intelligence is pushed to strive towards an academic profession whether they want one or not, some want to use their intelligence for practical skills but are discouraged.

Sadly this often leads to various manual trades in construction or the motor industry being left with a poor selection of students who don’t really want to conform to society for one reason or another, hence attempting to teach them anything is a fruitless task. Not saying they are all bad but we have struggled with a percentage of young adults lately that have been given no perception what real life working entails. I speak too many of my peers throughout the Country and also various other trades during the course of my year and they are all saying similar things.

It’s well reported in trade publications and now in the press that there is going to be a serious skill shortage in the coming years as many college training courses are inadequate and expectations of school leavers entering many trades are well below what is required to fill vacancies.

I’m sure some schools and colleges try their best, but many don’t as there is so much pressure put on them to achieve certain pass rates to meet government targets some students simply get left behind, or worse they attend the alternative education centers set up for disruptive pupils.

Somewhere we need a program potential school leavers do come into contact with real trade’s people to discuss what is expected in the real world, they need to be aware that early on the wages will not be great but it will only be through hard work, determination and perseverance that their skills will grow and be rewarded in any reputable business. In time with the correct guidance they may be able to start up their own business.

Sadly today our youth are exposed to the world of z list celebrity, who are thrust into the limelight for their fifteen minute of fame, hence often believe real life can be get rich quick without talent, skills or hard work. I am the one who usually bursts that bubble, government courses for trades people have become a farce dropping from 5 years to 3 years down in some cases to just 12 months, most trades can’t be correctly learned in under 3 years, that’s why many young people come out of school, into skills centres or technical colleges to learn a trade and set up businesses directly after, failing within their first 2 years of business due to lack of experience.

I realise this set out to be a positive post but after personal experiences and having spoken to many other decorators over the weekend at an event it appears somewhere we are failing both our youth and our future of having any properly skilled trade’s persons. If we are not going to become a nation of handy – men, we need to do something now to stop the decline. I am extremely passionate about my trade having had my skill passed down through the generations. If I can help please get back in touch.

Kind regards


Dear Sean,

Quite. That’s been the direction for decades and it’s not going to be easy to change things – though we noticed Nicky Morgan saying some sensible things recently. Change, if we can make it happen, will be slow and made of many small steps.

The way we are trying to change things is to go for the teachers. No-one much says thank you to teachers after they have left school, but they respond to a good thank-you as well as the rest of us. We think that if we can get your apprentices to say nice things to them, they will want to repeat the experience by sending more of their charges in your direction. In any event, we think that it is worth a try.

As an idea for getting the access you talk about, you might arrange a team to redecorate a classroom for free over the holidays or half term on the condition that every child in that class worked with you for at least a day? The community contributing to the school, Schools are thin on cash and likely to stay so – I’d be optimistic about finding a school that would agree. They could take part in the planning beforehand – lots of teaching opportunities there – and have a day working with and talking to a skilled craftsman. As long as you don’t sell it as a careers fair, or let them loose on the electrics!


Dear R

Thank you for your reply, and it’s quite true things have not changed for some many years. Sadly I haven’t been following what Nicky Morgan has been saying, I know she is the Secretary of State for education but that’s about it. Any changes have got to be made from the offset in schools the perception towards learning a trade has to change.

I actually work for a couple of teachers who taught me, and some of the latest generation, on the whole the children do appreciate them. Smaller children or pupils often thank teachers personally or give gifts as them progress through the school life. While older pupils may not realise at that moment in time, but do so in the future and in an area such as ours often have opportunities to meet their teachers as they go about normal life.

Personally again I feel the government needs to value teachers instead of constant pressure of inspections and rearranging how examinations are marked just to juggle figures. Then let the teachers get on with leading our children towards their futures, not what bureaucrats expect.

With regards to working with schools as you mention, this is all very well for the bigger firms, who have apprentices basically as cheap labour. I naturally have interacted with both the local schools and the local college trying to help out where I can, with various projects. Even despite arranging several trade shows for my local college and speaking to many possible apprentices during the course of the day it was very apparent they were not there due to a teacher guiding them, unfortunately many were just there as a last ditch attempt. Even some obviously didn’t want to be there.

So returning to teachers, they have to push many of the pupils to gain highest marks to benefit the school, trade or manual jobs are deemed as beneath an educated person, hence the shortage of skilled workers from pupils than might have decided to follow a manual career, but persuaded to reach higher.

I do not wish just to train the basics to the next generation, I’ll leave that to the substandard colleges and the contracting firms who gain cheap labour but don’t really progress skills. Being only a tiny family firm, we only have one apprentice at any given time and we endeavour to teach them all aspects. Sadly mainly because from school they haven’t been inspired that this may be a worthwhile profession we are always fighting a losing battle.

Your sentiments are a thoughtful gesture but think personally a little misguided as I know many of the apprentices we have tried over the last few years, didn’t appear to gain much out of school, had a poor rapport with the teachers and if I’m honest now regret not paying attention in school so they may have perhaps had better opportunities, at that young age looking at the bigger picture is difficult. One question I ask any apprentices I interview is where you see yourself in five years time. For a sixteen or even eighteen year old it’s a difficult one as many don’t think past next week, again due to how they are educated.

I hope you can tell this is something I am passionate about and trying to work with a major manufacturer to change perception of our trade in particular. As I mentioned your sentiments are valid just perhaps need to broaden your gaze, look at those who left school ten years ago that have made a successful career.

Kind regards


Renovating a church door

original church door

church door completed

church door during preparation



On the left you see the original Church door, it was in a bit of a sorry state as its many old coatings weren’t adhering correctly due to previous poor preparation!

Mark my right hand man set about the transformation task, there was only one real course of action to bring this old door back to life, he first removed all previous coatings manually, it was an arduous task using paint stripper, glass and sharp scraper blades. Using a blow torch wasn’t an option as our plan was to end up with a door we could stain, hence couldn’t risk scorch marks. After eight hours work the door had been fully stripped. abraded and cleaned as in the middle picture.

Finally to create the correct look we ended up hand mixing stains to get the right colour before finishing with wood oil and then highlighting the ironwork with black.

Now it looks like a Church door should do.

Vertically challenged, painted lines!

painted vertical lines

My customer had seen this effect in a design magazine and wanted it recreated on her living room wall. So after stripping the existing wallpaper off and preparing the surface to accept a lining paper as a base.

I was only too happy to oblige, firstly I needed apply a base coat of the grey emulsion to all the dry lining paper, then I had to measure the wall and divide it equally, which in my opinion gave the best look, striking lines vertically and painting the other two colours as seen. #interiordesign #featurewalls #decorating #painting

#askapainter Can I paint my furniture

When painting my furniture, like anything most surfaces can be painted, the key is always good preparation and the use of the correct products. I’m sorry I’m not a fan of the “shabby chic” look in my opinion its just a poor excuse to half paint something and get away with it when it wears off quickly.

Yes I’m aware that done correctly, with a base colour, followed contrasting top colour systematically “worn back” to create the desired effect you can seal the whole thing in with either a wax coat or simply varnish, but it still doesn’t impress me sorry.

We have done several items of furniture over the years both for customers and some more adventurous items for Ideal home shows or Grand Design live exhibitions, the process is basically the same. Wash of any contaminates, abrade surface to remove defects, old runs or sags wont look good on your newly painted chair legs.

Do any minor repairs, tighten legs or table tops fill any minor holes or cracks that have appeared with age. At this point it depends on the item your painting, some may require a good adhesion promoting primer to allow your paint to adhere properly. If its a factory finished item or laminated surface I would recommend this certainly.

Then finish with two or three coats of your favorite paint, current trends go towards various chalk paints at the moment such as Annie Sloan or Rustolem. Which these can create a pleasing finish to the eye and occasional touch, if used for higher traffic items I’d recommend a finishing wax on top at least. Or perhaps paint the item in a modern water based eggshell finish which will give you more durability providing your substrate has been prepared correctly.

#furniturepainting #lakedistrict #cumbria

Old Card table

Modern twist

TV Cabinet

Don’t sit there, their still wet

Painted plant stand

Free estimates

Naturally the term Free estimates can be used in many context’s, it could just be a verbal agreement between two people, or a fully written specification itemized and priced to customers requirements.

There is a broad difference in the customer service you may receive. If you accept a free estimate usually verbal or via a text message format, which is woefully cheap I do not imagine much customer service will be given.

From experience these are usually people who price things well below the minimum wage as often its a supplementary form of income, either from their primary job, or more than likely the benefit system. Their expectations in this scenario is usually limited to turning up and applying whatever materials you have spent your spare time sourcing. Sadly more often than not because this is operating within the grey areas, once they have money in their hands they will disappear and if faults occur you’ll have very little comeback.

I am not suggesting that legitimate businesses wont offer estimates via text or messages, but more often than not its backed up with some form of paperwork. The important factor here is to explain why there is a price difference between the two.

Even a lone owner operator trades-person will command a living wage, enough to cover the cost of living, insurances, taxes and minor business expenses. Although that is only half the story, any half decent trades person will advise on best products for the specific job. Most will source the products on your behalf and ensure they are delivered to your job on time.

Admittedly this is viewed as trades persons buying cheaper “trade” products and placing a huge mark up, which once again I can refute as predominately “trade” products are made to a superior quality than retail ones. What I will say is the added value of customer service that is gained from employing a professional trades person far outweighs the minor mark up the trades person would gain on material costs, considering all the work of actually sourcing materials and getting them to your property would eat into your valuable free time it makes sense.

If choosing a trades-person to work in you Home, or premises first point of call is word of mouth or personal recommendation, if a business has built a good reputation over a few years it will wish to maintain it, so repeat customers are a good starting point.

Also do a little research, if your trades-person is visible in your local area, they may have social media presence or a website. Another good research tool is “TrustMark” one of the government endorsed schemes    .

There are various other schemes around where tradesmen have to “bid” to provide quotes, while these schemes still offer a customer voice in terms of feed back, still be wary choosing the cheapest quote via this route and I would always recommend never just choosing solely from that route, without knowing exactly who your getting.

I hope this has enlightened readers that entrusting your home to the cheapest option isn’t always the best as customer service doesn’t usually come as standard at bargain basement prices.

Should I PVA new plaster before painting?

#askapainter.  Many times I have been contacted by customers with newly plastered rooms. In their misguided wisdom they are happy to inform me “oh to save paint I have given the new plaster a coat of PVA”

Sadly despite what many DIY books suggest this is never the correct system. PVA is essentially a bonding coat prior to applying plaster, cement or any two porous surfaces together. I think this fad of applying PVA was imported from our cousins across the pond in USA as they term their emulsion paints as Latex, which gets mistaken for PVA over here .

Best practice for most new or well prepared plaster surfaces being made ready to accept Emulsion paint is to apply a ‘mist coat’ or thinned coat 15% – 25% water of the same Emulsion you’re going to finish with. You can purchase Contract emulsions for new plaster with less Vinyl content to allow the plaster to breathe more, but the process is still the same as you want that first coat to bond with the surface of your wall or ceiling.

Second part of more thoughts

  • At times being self employed can be a roller coaster ride, this last 18 months has been an emotional journey for me in many ways with some real low times and some memorable events as well. Hopefully these little blogs will help others see whatever life throws at us, we can be resilient.

Following on from my previous blogs http://v-wilkinsonandson.co.uk/thoughts/ here is my, fingers crossed, some closure to this current journey then I can get back to posting about decorating things. So after July’s surprise hospitalization once again I was recovering, this time only four to five weeks as instructed and I was soon back on the tools.

I was even more determined to make 2017 a special year in many ways, first of all it was my wife and I’s 50th, secondly our son graduated from Glasgow university, our daughter had her prom and the dance school she attends had been invited to dance on Broadway in New York.

Things were going good, daughters prom went well, despite initial reservations I had ordered a new van for work, we attended sons graduation and then I noticed a small lump on my pacemaker scar.

Sadly after several courses of antibiotics, no improvements had occurred even when we went away whilst travelling home from New York unaware to me the lump had actually burst at some point, I only realized  once we were home and went to change my shirt. Misguided treatment by a locum GP didn’t help and once a pacemaker nurse seen me on a regular check up I was admitted immediately back into Carlisle hospital.

Stronger intravenous antibiotics where given and doctors discussed with me the need to remove and replace the pacemaker due to the fact infection can easily travel down its wires to my heart, or infect my blood system. At this point I had not felt ill, I had assumed the infection was only surface based, my wife and family have since told me I was a different person, short tempered, no patience and quite nasty, for which I’m truly sorry.

I was allowed home for a few weeks until appointments were arranged at Freeman’s in Newcastle where my surgery would take place. I’m ashamed to say my temperament didn’t improve, plus I was frightened of going through surgery so soon again afterwards.

Thank heavens for the close family ties we have and good friends I have around me, my wife and family took everything I threw at them and gave me so much support, Mark who has been with me 14 years kept the work going and always remained in touch with bit of light hearted banter to try and boost my grey mood, I am grateful to Riah from the Dulux Select office for her much needed assistance when I was in incapacitated.

I had my first operation, or procedure the day after I was admitted into Freeman’s early December, then I had to wait for blood results to be all clear, after 10 days there was hope the second operation would be following day, only to be told they had ran out of theater time and couldn’t guarantee when time was available over the coming days.

Once again I was at a low point, my wife had spoken to the nurses before she went home that day, early afternoon one of the surgeons came over to chat, he said “you’ll be fairly pee’d of are you?” but promised I was second on the list for Monday 18th December. true to his word on Monday at about 11 am I was sitting on the ward when another of the surgeons appeared and simply said “would you like a new pacemaker?”

My wife was there as I underwent both operations, she stayed over in Newcastle as much as she could, returning home at weekends, she would let me know about messages from friends that had heard about me in hospital and I always felt humbled, I don’t think I could have went through this without her.

I cant explain the feeling I had after the operation, one of the nurses brought toast and tea, my wife was there and I felt a huge weight had been lifted off me. I was told after a few tests I would be discharged the next day. The next day after X-Ray, ECG and Pacemaker checks had been done, we waited for a course of antibiotics to be made up and my son had traveled over to drive us home.

Anything at all like this is emotionally and mentally draining, financially difficult especially if your self employed. I would suggest definitely speaking with your suppliers, explain the situation, pay what you can when you can until you get back on your feet. Yes you can have personal sickness policies and if your lucky money for a rainy day, there is government assistance for being temporary unemployed or off work through illness, although you need to have patience to negotiate through the paperwork and bureaucracy. It might take me a few months to get my business back on level footings, but without being too dramatic at least I’m here to do so.

The most important lessons learnt is no matter what life throws at us, although work is an important part of our lives, don’t let it over shadow the bond between your family, friends and those who you cherish. I’ve said it before I was truly humbled by the support I received, not just from family and local friends but from friends made via my trade from all across the country, customers, suppliers, fellow tradespeople too numerous to mention but they know who they are.

2018 is another big year not only is V. Wilkinson and Son celebrating 50 years in business, but my good lady and I will have been married 25 years also, so I’m now looking forward to getting back to my old-self and continuing delivering Quality Professional Decorating to our customers and maintaining a good work/life balance.

Thank you all

View from Empire State Building

Luke Graduates 2017

Cowper School of Dance, 42nd Street on Broadway NYC 2017

Toyota Proace Van 2017








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