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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sweeping statements: " lucky as lucky can be...."

Excellent firewood
He turned up right on cue, the – what do I call him? chimney sweep, I suppose. It sounds so Mary Poppins, and it's nothing like that. But let's stick with it.

   He was on the young side of middle aged, neatly dressed for someone about to engage with tar and soot. He was well-spoken and ready to go.

   I'm not sure why I have this urge to tell stories starting from when Adam and Eve got turfed out of Eden, but I do. Bear with me for the next couple of paragraphs.

   I've been using slow-combustion heaters for nigh on forty years. When we lived in town in 1976, I had one of the very first glass-fronted ones, which they then called a Tile Fire. Maybe they still do.

   I installed a brand-new one in the house on the 25 acre property (that's 10 hectares for you decimal lot), and it worked like a dream for the whole time we were out there.

   There was a similar one here when we moved into this house back in town – a slightly different breed, but they all work basically the same way. They're extremely efficient when used properly, and a very pleasant form of heating.

   When we came to town, it was by good luck that I found a woodman who sold superb quality wood. It wasn't cheap but as the cost of electricity soared, it became highly competitive.

   Tracey became adept at keeping the home fires burning when I got useless at such tasks at the end of 2009.

   Our woodman got crook (for overseas readers, in Australia that means "sick", not that he turned into a criminal) and was no longer able to deliver wood. I was sorry because I had got to know him quite well over the years. And then, wouldn't you know it? Our cheery, spry little old sweep from Uralla who was well past 70 fell off a roof, broke a leg and gave the rooftop climbing game away

   I'd always worried about him. He'd written an autobiography which he flogged to his chimney customers, and it was pretty good; rather like Albert Facey's A Fortunate Life. I figured after his fall he'd better stick to writing. He'd had enough drama for one lifetime, and breaking bones at that age is unwise.  

   We got some local wood. I hasten to add that this wasn't the wood that friends had brought us, but an extra supply, mostly stringybark but with a lot of bark still on. I knew that bark of stringybark smoke was particularly bad for a flue and had always removed it. Think arteriosclerosis of the flue. Emphysema of the firebox. Not good.

   The fire suddenly got worse, by which I mean it was a fire in name only. I should have warned Tracey about bark earlier, but I had other things on my mind. The other night, she opened the glass-panelled door to put wood in, and smoke streamed out. Wisely, she let the fire go out, and consulted fiery friends – that is, ones who owned heaters like ours.

   Hence our joy at getting this very pleasant chimney-sweep, and even better, at a good rate. He was up on the roof in two shakes of a wire brush.

   During cleaning operations, the glass door of the fire was wide open. Once at the chimney top, our new sweeper must have removed the chimney cap and peered down inside.

   He had what's too-often hideously described as a "situation". What we discovered when he came down to get some heavy-duty equipment was that whatever smoke was getting up the chimney was doing so through a hole no bigger than a golfball in diameter. At the exact time he was peering down, we didn't know this detail, but we knew all was not well. 

   The reason we knew it was this. The space below the golf-ball sized hole flaring out downwards into the flue acted as a megaphone. Although he thought he was doing it softly, what he imagined was pretty much under his breath was an amplified stream of choice epithets of the most colourful kind, accurately reflecting his displeasure. Though concerned at the cause, Tracey was chortling at his inventiveness and vocal stamina even, as he imagined it, sotto voce. It was almost capable of extending her substantial vocabulary in the cussing department – words I know well enough but rarely use myself.

   Because I'm a good boy I am. The chimney-sweep wasn't quite such an angel as he seemed when he presented himself at the front door.

   He came down from the roof to get something. I didn't see it – I'm relating the facts second hand from Tracey, who is our chief negotiator with the outside world. Let's face it, the only one. He had no idea that he'd shared his deep and meaningful personal conversation with his client as well.

   "What's up?"

   Very politely, he gave her the above explanation, emphasising the size of the smoke-hole with index finger and thumb, which looked faintly obscene, I imagine. Then he went to his truck to get a hand grenade, a few sticks of gelignite and an air-to-surface tactical nuclear missile suitable for the job in hand. 

   Eventually the task was done, beautifully. Tracey was anxious to pay him extra but he would not hear of it, and she resorted to the artifice of saying she had nothing smaller, so he had to take it. 

   "And don't you go to the truck and try to find change."

   He accepted, finally, and with genuine reluctance. He could hardly take less than his fee after all that trouble, after doing such a good job, and unwittingly providing entertainment as well.

   "I'll bet you felt a bit like swearing when you saw the problem."

And that was less than half what came out!
   "Nahhh," he said airily, "I've seen this sort of thing before."

   It was a sincere lie.

   "As bad as this?"

   "I'm afraid not. Not in the past few years anyway. Just ring or text me tomorrow and let me know how it's going."

   I felt ashamed. I knew that stringybark bark was bad for flues, but hadn't realised we were in Tile Fire heart attack territory.

   One problem though. I've been in front of the fire all evening. 

   It's too hot in here. 

Someone seems to appreciate it.

Note: I wish I could restrict this posting to people outside a 100 km radius of Armidale. This bloke's too good to share with half the town, with entertainment an extra bonus complimentary free gift at no charge as well.


  1. I am green with envy. I have hankered all my life to have had a chimney sweep or at least see one at work a la Dickens. When last I had an open fire as a child my Dad insisted on doing it all in a very sedate and measured way. I am glad yours, at least, reached my expectations! Anne P

    1. Guessing you don't have a fireplace, Anne!

      Sadly, the sweeps of Dickens's era had a miserable life - usually skinny little boys poked down the chimney and forced to work there in appalling conditions, so I much prefer your Dad's option.

  2. You've reminded me - put on the ToDo List: get the chimney swept!
    Oops- too late. The fire is ablaze.
    PS Did your own personal Bert (was that the chap in Mary Poppins?) clean the baffle as well? If, indeed, your firebox has a baffle. That's the heaviest and most awkward job, I find.
    I love your storytelling always including a touch of Eden. xx

    1. The baffle is very easy to clean in this model - he just drops it down by unhooking the front and the whole area is clear to work. No need to remove it. The baffle must be cleaned or the job's not done.

      This sort of heater, like yours, is beautiful design. Gases pass through the firebox twice so are fully burned. An open fireplace may look great, but is terribly inefficient. Most heat and pollutants go up the chimney.

  3. Я из России, зовут Николай крепитесь .Много людей с такой болезнью как у вас проживает у нас в России. Эти люди практически брошены и медициной и родственниками и государством и я завидую вам что о вас заботятся и даже нашлась хорошая женщина которая стала вашей женой.Мне интересны ваши заметки и я как вы пишите не хочу прожигать свою жизнь понапрасну.Дай бог вам как можно долше прожить и радовать нас своими мыслями.

  4. After some 24 years of my wife assking for a wood heater I installed one knowing just how much work was involved as my father in law had never purchased wood and so far neither have we (over eight years now). The 1980's tiled fire is my wood heater purchased second hand as that model was so good. The second thing purchased by my wife was a brand new stainless steel flue cleaner and during the winter every second Sunday morning I'm on the roof running the brush cleaner down the flue. Two things : the chimmey does not smoke regardless of the crappiest wood that is used and the chances of a flue fire is greatly reduced.
    Good Story however and I know how what he is talking about !


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