Dragged myself through the last few days with a horrible cough – and now it appears the Aga has come out in sympathy.
It’s a long standing family joke that my good humour (or not) is weirdly linked to the cantankerous old coal fired range which heats our house and hot water. When it’s low I’m miserable, not least because I can’t get the dinner cooked. Burning bright red coals and a rising thermostat lifts my spirits and I’m flipping pancakes on the hot stove top and drying washing on the strings overhead with happy efficiency.
If further evidence of this alliance were needed surely this week provides it. Plagued with a cough and blocked nose I have been snuffling into tissues and spitting out phlegm to ease a rattling chest. The Aga meanwhile has been belching out smoke and choking on coal dust. Every morning it has needed coaxing into life, by riddling out the ashes, spoon feeding it coal and leaving the vents wide open. It’s apparently reluctant to start the day, just as I have been loathed to get out of bed.
We sit side by side wheezing and spluttering like two old crones and I decided something has to be done.
We used to get a man in to service the Aga but in recent years we have taken the task on ourselves. We have brushes and rods now too and can sweep the chimney. It’s a dirty horrible job and I hate it, especially as I have to squeeze right into the inglenook and hold the end of the flue pipe while my husband rams the brushes up the chimney. We hang a bed sheet over the fireplace in a futile attempt to stop the dust and dirt escaping into the rest of the kitchen and shout at each other through the veil.
“I can’t get it up,” he splutters from under the sheet.
“Push harder,” I call back, enjoying the innuendo. He grunts and strains, the flue is thick with soot and the brush won’t budge. Eventually with sheer brute force he forces it a little further and it’s my time to moan, with the effort of holding the flue in place to stop it moving and dislodging the chimney pot at the top.
There has not been this much grunting, gasping and sweating in our marriage for quite some time.
We continue our efforts. With each almighty shove a shower of back coal dust cascades down the flue and onto me. Despite wearing overalls, I am soon smeared with soot, like a C19th chimney sweep. It’s a dirty weekend alright but not in the sense we meant when we were younger.
“Yes, yes” we both pant in sweaty unison when the brush hits the metal chimney cap at the top with a dull thud, signalling the task is complete.
After an age clearing up the dust in the house, putting the Aga back together and wiping everything down we head towards the bath – at least the water should be warm now.
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All the best,
Mum in the Woods