I hadn’t seen him for one and a half years and he was as familiar as ever. He had two hours solid work with three chimneys, doing them all from inside the house, not from the roof as on the continent. My children were fascinated watching him at work – they had never seen it – and as a special treat, on having reached the top of the chimney, he sent them outside to see his brush appear – it came up with a jerk, disappeared and then up once more, like somebody raising his hat.
While he was working in the living room I heard his family were all well and one of his daughters was getting married soon. He didn’t seem to mind becoming a father-in-law. I asked him about his holidays and surprized him by remembering that he had been to Jersey. He went elsewhere this year, he said, but wasn’t sure whether he would go there again. Portugal in fact. Having never been to this country, I was eager to hear more. “It was far too hot,” he said and shook his head. They had been for a fortnight in June, and all their tan was gone now, he said with a little regret. What did he do all day, I wondered. He said he wasn’t a “beach man”. He got up early in the morning, went for a walk, found himself a drink or two and something to eat, wasn’t too specific on what he did for the rest of the day – time seemed to pass – didn’t mention his family were with him – got changed in the evening and went for a meal and a few more drinks. Did people speak English? They certainly did in the shops, I hear, and whenever they wanted money out of one. However, when in trouble, one had a terrible job to make them understand. He had brought three brand-new tee-shirts with him, from M&S actually, washed them through before putting them on and hung them out on the line. Next thing he knew: they were gone. He had to report this to the police so that he could claim on his insurance. The police just wouldn’t understand; but he didn’t give up and must have managed to impress them in the end. In fact eventually they did understand English. He shook his head thinking about all the trouble. He even knew who had taken his property. Children! He wondered whether they were trained for that sort of thing, because they came back to see if there was more! However, he discovered them in time and frightened them off by shaking his fist. His insurance still hasn’t paid up. I comforted him by telling him about my adventures with Swissair.
He passed on to the next chimney after having had a cup of tea, and couldn’t make his brush come out at the top because there was a little owl in the way. As he was starting on the Rayburn he remembered I was making bread last time he called. However, he had forgotten why he helped me taking it out of the oven. I told him. “O yes, a broken wrist, that’s what it was,” he smiled. He had his second cup of tea and told me what happened to him last week while working in a house in Jeena. A boy, fifteen years or so, home from boarding school, gave him coffee which tasted vile. He was sure it had been salted instead of sugared and refused to drink it. He didn’t see what the boy did with it, chuck it down the drain or what. He was offered a second cup which still tasted unpleasant, perhaps a little less salt in it, but he appeared to have recovered while waiting. “Lousy boy,“ he said, “something to talk about when he’s back at school!”. He didn’t seem to think much to boarding schools.
I noticed he wore a mask for some of the work. He didn’t use to, he said, but does now when he’s “on top of it” – whatever he meant by that – supposed to be better for you.
The children liked him. Casual, something funny, something to laugh. He asked them had they enjoyed their holidays. Our youngest daughter gave him a glowing “yes”. He charged a modest sum for his services and left us. “See you next year.” He always brings his own vacuum cleaner. After he had gone, my kitchen looked cleaner than before.