Thursday, 8 September 2011
It's that time of year again.
Yes, the chimney sweep came this morning to sweep the multi-fuel stove chimney. Soot is so fine that it creeps everywhere, even though our sweep is very careful. So it meant emptying the room of all ornaments, putting down dustsheets and then, afterwards, giving everywhere a thorough clean. All done now and it feels good (apart from the twinges in my back). And there is black on all the dusters and cloths to prove it!
I remember having the sweep when we were children. No such things as sweep with a vacuum cleaner in those days, so there really was soot everywhere - soot which my father gathered up and put into a heap in the garden to 'weather' ready for putting round the plants.
Whenever the sweep comes I am always reminded of my first Sunday School prize, which was Charles Kingsley's "The Water Babies" which has as its hero Tom - the chimney sweep boy.
I read up a little about Kingsley this morning. He is a largely forgotten author here now but was quite famous in his day (1819 - 1875) but such an enigma of a man.He was son of a vicar and became one himself before becoming Professor of Modern History at Cambridge and Canon of Chester and Westminster. Yet he was a terrible racist.
As far as Tom in Water Babies is concerned - then Kingsley certainly championed the cause of the working man and was appalled at working conditions. It is hard to believe now that not so very long ago children were sent up chimneys to clean them out. Tom of course goes into the stream to clean himself afterwards and becomes a water baby, meeting all kinds of characters like Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by.
Even when I came up here to live in 1987, local country people did not pay anyone to sweep their chimney. A favourite method was to stuff a bag of straw or an old rubber wellington boot up the chimney and set fire to it. Another method was to drop a holly bough tied to a piece of rope down the chimney and pull it back and forth. Can you imagine the mess? Discussing this with the farmer at lunch time he says that some people would push a goose up the chimney, it would fly towards the light and dislodge the soot on its way up. I think we had better draw a veil over that method, sufficient to say that if the goose had any sense it would fly off and find somewhere else to live.