The Day the Sweep Came

I REMEMBER the days when my mother would call in the chimney sweep. Always it was emphasised that she needed first call of the day, but nevertheless he was always late.

The living room would have to be stripped of all the ornaments, pictures, curtains and carpets. We’d wait in the cold, empty room until he arrived, entirely grey – greasy grey clothes, grey cap, grey hands and face. He covered the entire fireplace with sacks, with just one hole in the centre sufficient to take a circular brush of long stiff bristles. This was attached to a long rod, and other rods would be screwed into this as the whole was forced up the chimney. It took considerable force and energy to push the brush ever upwards, through two floors of the house, and the tall chimneypot.

It was my job to run outside and report the sighting of the brush. Mother had to be sure that the brush had travelled the whole distance before handing over the half-crown. Bags of soot were taken away by the sweep, but the smell hung heavily in the air and a black film covered everything. Then began a massive clean-up. Curtains, ornaments… everything had to be washed. There were no vacuum cleaners nor instant polish. It was all elbow grease. That done, Mum would hasten down the street to help her mother, who would have been second on the sweep’s list for the day. Then both women had the pleasure of lighting their fires and exclaiming how well they were ‘drawing’.

Strangely, I cannot recall the parlour ever getting the same treatment, although a fire was rarely lit in that room. I slept in a room above there and it, too, had a fireplace, albeit much smaller. When I was ill a glowing coal would be carried from the living room fire and soon a merry fire would be burning in the little grate. I cannot remember it ever smoking because the chimney was not swept, only the comforting glow and shadows cast on the ceiling.

Sweeps were said to bring good luck to any bride if kissed as she left the church. I cannot imagine any bride wanting a sooty sweep anywhere near her gleaming white dress!

When my mother was a child her bed would be warmed by a copper warming pan. I still have it, now hanging in my dining room, and from time to time an inquisitive ‘Kiwi’ will ask me what it is.

I, too, call a sweep from time to time, but how different it all is today. He arrives with a vacuum cleaner and charges a great deal more for much less effort, and there’s no longer the excitement of ‘waiting for the brush’.

Thank you all for the pleasure your magazine brings.

Mrs. Jean Ball.

Orewa, New Zealand