Some time before ten this morning I heard loud knocking at my door. It was a chimney sweep. Was that lucky? Or is that only for weddings? In fact, I was expecting the chimney sweep, just not for another hour. It was lucky I was up and about and decently dressed and not languishing in a bubble bath or some such decadent activity.
The sweep's previous appointment had been cancelled so he decided to come to our house early. We have been investigating having the coal fire replaced with one of those living flame gas fires. The coal fire had been installed when we moved in here almost thirty years ago, replacing a very decrepit old gas fire. We were young and romantic then. The open fire in the living room went along with the coal burning stove that ran the central heating. It was all very fine while I was a part-time teacher in adult education; I was around often enough during the day to keep an eye on it. Once I went back to full time working, however, it was a real effort, stoking up the stove in the morning to ensure that it would just need shaking and waking by whichever of us got home first at the end of the day. And then there were the occasions when we both were too busy to remember to order the fuel for the next month. Frantic phone calls ensued to get a delivery by the next day, please, please, please!
Eventually the stove's boiler sprang a leak and it proved more expensive to repair it than it had cost in the first place. So we went for the easier, and cheaper, option of having a gas boiler installed to run the central heating. The added bonus was that we gained extra space by getting rid of the coal bunker and making it part of the basement kitchen-dining area. A win-win situation as they say.
But the open fire remained, a last remnant of that old romanticism. Time has gone by and the messiness of cleaning the fireplace, removing the ashes and, once again, making sure that there is fuel, has become a bit of a bind. And so we investigated a gas fire once more, a more modern, more attractive one. The appeal of being able to switch on a nice-looking fire and have instant heat has grown on us. Our eldest granddaughter, who every once in a blue moon helps roll newspaper to make firelighters, is threatening to boycott our house if we follow through with this plan. Mind you she says the same when I talk about replacing the sofa.
She doesn't like change and was rather upset when we cut down the fir tree that used to spread its roots all over the garden, disrupting drains and so on. There were even protests when I repainted the front door a bright blue instead of the old black and white that it used to be. But she got over both these things and will no doubt overcome the trauma of the coal fire disappearing!
So there I was at around ten in the morning, watching the sun come up over the hill (yes, it takes it that long to come up around here at this time of year) with the chimney sweep about to sweep our chimney and assess whether we would need to install a special flue to prevent the spread of noxious gases in the event of purchasing a modern gas fire.
He was most efficient, rolling up the rug in front of the fireplace and putting it to one side, spreading covers over furniture and exposed bits of carpet and even putting plastic overshoes on, just like they do in detective films when they investigate a crime scene. He came equipped with his own high-powered vacuum cleaner and even his sweep's brushes were automated. I must say I was impressed!
I was even more impressed when he scuttled up his ladders to test the chimney and assess whether we would need a flue liner for the proposed fire. He was lucky (there's that sweep thing again - he told me he doesn't do the sweep appearing at a wedding thing though) because the weather had stayed fine. Not long after he had finished all his work and tidied up, the heavens opened once again. Scrambling about on wet roofs, indeed even on dry roofs, is not my idea of fun at all.
Luck ran out though. Our chimney failed its test. We wondered if it was because this is an old house, thrown up, as the sweep said, to provide accommodation for mill workers in the nineteenth century. However, he said that modern houses regularly fare worse.
So there it is: decision time is here.