Saturday, April 16, 2011
The chimney-sweep's book
One of the things that is de rigeur when you have an open fire, tile fire or slow combustion heating system is that the flue must be cleared of the build-up of soot and gunk that accumulates over a winter or two. The smoke goes up the chimney, hits the cold air, and before long the flue can be heavily encrusted with tar and soot.
Heat can build up in the flue and you have a chimney fire. The hot unburnt particles and tar catch alight and your house can burn down.
Therefore, keeping the flue clean is rather sensible. Mind you, we do get very high quality wood so we can risk a bit longer than normal between cleans.
Many people do it themselves, if they have the right gear. As there’s not a ghost of a chance I could get on the roof these days, and Tracey and Christian are as keen on heights as they are on bungee jumping, a professional flue cleaner is a wise option.
Ours is great. He’s a little gnomish man with sparse teeth and a cheery disposition. Though he might well be 70, he can jump up on the roof like a somewhat limpy teenager (though more carefully, I’ll wager, as he knows how easy it is to fall off a sharply angled roof.) He doesn’t take long, does a thorough job, and everything is spic and span when he leaves.
It’s Friday, a beautiful sunny day. Yesterday. He ambles in at 9 am on the dot, and does the job in about half an hour or so.
‘It was nearly closed over at the top,’ he says to Tracey. ‘Frost,’ he adds, ‘the chimney-sweep’s best friend. It makes me a fortune.’ He grins through the gaps in his teeth.
‘It was drawing badly,’ says Tracey, ‘even with a good westerly wind.’
‘It’ll go like the clappers now,’ he responds. An appropriate analogy, I think. ‘Want to buy my book?’
Yes, you read right. Tracey heard right. Why shouldn’t a chimney-sweep have written a book?
‘I came out from England as a kid,’ he says, holding up a medium sized soft cover book. ‘From Kent. I've been here ever since.’
‘I was born in Ramsgate,’ says Tracey, flipping through the pages and reading a few sentences. To her, it looks just like the sort of stories I’m writing here, now, on this blog. ‘Yes, I want a copy. Do you sell many?’
Tracey’s never backward about asking such questions.
‘All the time. A lot of people buy it. I set up a stall at the Sunday markets too. I’m working on a novel now.’ He goes to his truck and brings in a smart satchel, opens it, and inside is what looks like the galley proofs of a book, neatly comb-bound. ‘It should be out soon.’
I love the surprises that life can bring. Not that there’s any reason in the world why your local 70 year old chimney-sweep shouldn’t write a very entertaining set of recollections, or a good novel – he’s got a life’s experience behind him and if he can spin a yarn, what’s to stop him?
It’s just that somehow you don’t quite expect it on a beautiful autumn morning, just after he’s swept your flue.