Chimney Sweep

Tim Dowling: I am dealing with my fears and reserving a chimney sweep | Life and elegance

Isit in my office shed while the squirrel in front of me eats the last of the summer tomatoes. He’s sitting on the other side of the glass in the corner of the raised bed, with an expression on his face that says, I thought you wanted to see this.

Beyond the squirrel, a man in a hard hat uses a chainsaw to cut up a linden tree in the alley along the garden wall. In between cuts, my wife yells at him that maybe he could come over to see a tree on our side of the wall.

It is the last corner of the year, a traditional time to get in the mood for the coming winter. This year I gave myself a full 30 days to inspect the summer damage: The rail with which the trash can slide into its trough is locked; the window in the garden door, which had cracked its entire length after slamming in a strong wind; the toilet flush valve on the first floor – pissed off again.

When the 30 days passed, I performed a messy operation on the trash can’s sliding drawer, and for the second time this year, I replaced the toilet’s broken mechanism. It is clear that a more permanent solution is needed. On the flip side, buying a £ 28 flush valve unit annually may be a luxury I can afford.

An hour later the tree man comes by to talk about our cherry tree. I leave my office and wave.

“If I could, I would just reduce it,” says my wife. “But he won’t let me.”

“You would miss it if it was gone,” I say.

“No, I wouldn’t,” she says in a tone that suggests that there are many things she wouldn’t miss.

The tree man offers a third way to save marriage – crowning the tree to reduce its height, let in more light, and maintain its overall shape. But he can’t do it until December.

“December?” says my wife. “I want it to be ready now so I don’t have to rake leaves.”

“We’re very busy,” says the tree man. In fact, they have never been this busy – with the possibility of a second lockdown, people rush to put their immediate surroundings in order.

“He doesn’t,” says my wife, pointing at me again.

“Toilet,” I say, holding up a thumbs up, followed by an index finger. “Container.”

“It’s been like this since the summer,” says the tree man.

“I know,” I say. “Try to get a chimney sweep to call you back.”

“I can imagine that,” says the tree man.

“Imagine you’re not trying so hard,” says my wife.

The truth is, I’m a little scared of chimney sweeps. The whole profession seems to me to be anchored in old superstitions. Their websites boast the latest in imaging equipment, but among the services listed you can often find “Weddings for good luck.” Half in the shade, half in the light.

The last chimney sweep to come into the house was recommended by the wood stove installer. I asked him to sweep a second chimney in the kitchen where the previous owner had installed a much smaller stove.

“We don’t really use it,” I said, “just in case.”

“I’m not going anywhere near it,” he said, looking down.

“Why?” I said. “Is it cursed?”

He didn’t answer. In fact, he cleaned the other chimney and left without saying a word.

Chimney sweep websites also have a magical way of making them appear nearby – “Local Acton Sweep” – even though their mailing address is actually in Kent.

“So far I have only received a brief answer,” I tell my wife that evening. “From a man who said I wasn’t around and recommended someone to join me.”

“Yes?” says my wife.

“A sweep that, like the others, rejects any attempt at contact,” I say.

“It’s her busy time,” she says.

“They all shine in the wedding pictures, but there is something very dark at work here.”

“You’re just trying to make me do it, aren’t you?” She says.

“Of course,” I say. “I don’t even want to be here when they come.”

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