Let me be clear on this, gentle reader: when I say “whitewash” I am not referring to the cricketing term from South Asia. I do not mean “whitewash” as an Americans would say “sweep” — in the sense of “winning every match in the series.” (Or, “game” as the Americans say, who call batsmen “batters,” and bowlers “pitchers,” and who knows what else?) Nothing of this kind do I mean, patient reader; no metaphorical use at all. When I say “whitewash” I mean it literally. I know the word “literally” is abused in the media, and by everyone whose speech is formed there; but I mean “literally” literally here. And don’t play the innocent with me. For surely you know what I really mean by “whitewash,” don’t you? … I mean, slaked lime and chalk!

Not the citrus “lime” (that is also delicious both raw and in many culinary applications), but the inorganic slaked lime — the builders’ lime, the pickling lime, calcium hydroxide. Or, in saturated solution, limewater, or “milk of lime.” I want to avoid any kind of ambiguity.

And quite frankly, it is not something to which I have ever been opposed.

As a child in Lahore, I was physically addicted to it. I would run my finger down a freshly whitewashed wall, then lick my finger. It was delicious. Sometimes I would put my tongue directly to the wall. Told, more than once by my mother, that this was a disgusting habit, I did in time give it up. But first, sinful child that I was, I’d do it when she wasn’t looking.

Many children do this, truth be told. It is because they aren’t fed enough pickles. So that where whitewash isn’t commonly used, you will find them ingesting mortar or plaster. Or sniffing through the household cleansers for what they crave. In Asia, they may graduate to betel (slaked lime in the mixture, with the nut, and the leaves), though I warn against this myself, for it can interfere with tobacco smoking, and stain teeth and mouth a Dracula red. Better to stick with the hookah.

I have no idea what the nutritionists say (or rather I do, but on principle, ignore them) — slaked lime is obviously an important constituent in a well-balanced diet. And of course it has its various agricultural and environmental uses, as an inexpensive alkali.

It was my understanding (also, when a child, self-apprenticed to the gardener at Nedous Hotel in Lahore), that this explains the Subcontinental practice of whitewashing the lower trunks of trees (with a smart red band at the top). It keeps the boring insects off; it helps the birds spot the ones who didn’t get the message; it protects the exposed bark from the scalding sun; it helps prevent collisions with elephants at night. Muncie, as this gardener was named, gave me twenty more reasons to paint a tree trunk white, but I seem to have forgotten the rest.

Often we forget the reasons. Yet we should carry on all the same. It is important to follow traditions blindly.

Nothing so discourages ticks and fleas, beetles and grubs — without killing everything else in the bargain. Nothing fixes an over-acid soil like a bag of slaked lime. And by the neurotics of “climate change,” be it noted, that slaked lime scrubs carbon dioxide from water. Keep dumping it in your California, Olympic-length swimming pools, and all your fears of global warming will, eventually, abate.

But there is something about slaked lime with chalk, that appeals most to the young gourmand. They go together like peanut butter and strawberry jam. How vividly I remember!

Visually, too, there is a delicious effect when this chalk white is employed in buildings. It cannot be faked by other ingredients, which make the surface look sticky, like paint. Here is instead a mysterious dry powdery white with the transparency of a watercolour pigment, yet the covering opacity, when layered, of a “Chinese white” (made from zinc). Ivory whites, and other bone whites, are what we look for, instinctively, in line, tile, and skeletal structure — equally free of that unpleasant oiliness. But in extended flat or rolling surfaces, the heart is lifted by this fine chalk mist, over greys and browns; or as the purifier of a broad range of greens and yellows.

For interior walls, however, I strongly recommend hard plaster, applied with trowels, by skilled human hands. The texture allows depth, as a skin; and over time, with successive scrubbings, the patina of a plain, hard plaster deepens more and more. The eye rests upon, then reads it, like a mural that has faded almost away.

Interior light plays upon such walls, and the sunlight through open doors and windows is in love with them, and combines by infinitely complex reflexion to pick out every beauty in the colourings of grained wood and fabric, bringing to the stillness of the room, a dance. No paint can reproduce this effect, and no, no latex paint either, off which the light only bounces like a ball.

If we are going to recover Christendom, we must not be lazy. Among the myriad other tasks, we must put our minds to the uses of slaked lime.