The chains of office and the light at the end of the tunnel #narrowboat #england

After the encoldinations followed by unexpected heat-ups of the previous few days, today too dawned on the “oh gosh, where are one’s slippers” side of 49-°F by some significant margin, and then morphed into the high 71+°Fs with undue haste. The sky has been blue, the turds have been bittering – I mean, the birds have been twittering, and there has been so much boat traffic that I wondered if there had been government orders, and people brought in by coach.

Naturally, I decided to sweep the Cardinal’s stove flue.


I am fortunate with the Cardinal in that his stove flue is straight up and down, no kinks, no bends. Several techniques may therefor be employed to good effect.

The first of these are “The Chains of Office”.


I string two mooring chains together, lower them down the flue pipe and rattle them around for half an hour, avec mucho gusto. It is important when rattling chains to remember to keep shouting “whoo whoo whoo oooh whoo”, just in case anyone walks past on the towpath. That way, you can explain that the dog is afraid of ghosts and you’re just being mean.

The next step is the “Toothbrush from Hell”.

My wire-brush always looks the worse for wear after he’s been Duct Taped to an old boat-hook pole and scrubbed back and forth, up and down. I doubt that I’d look any better myself after similar treatment.


The pole is none too chuffed about it either, but it must be done.


Then I tape a trusty old plastic scrubbing brush to the pole and put on the polish with a final broggle out.

The last step is to go inside, put a sheet of white paper at the bottom of the flue, then go back outside and peer down again with Mr Torch. The white paper lets me check that all is open and clean and free-from right down to the stove end.

I didn’t photograph the indoors half of the process.


I ought to have mentioned earlier that it is import – v.important – to make sure that the stove is closed up before beginning this job. Other wise you have to vacuum the whole 57′ boat out…

All of the stuff that is broggled out falls, under the tender loving care of Mr Gravity, into the stove. It is then a matter of letting everything settle before cleaning out the stove. The last job is to clean the glass before bunging back the internals.

Job done. Sighs of satisfaction. Sighs is not important [Confucius].

Hopefully Mr Stove – especially with the nice, new chimney pot and coolie hat that I bought him recently – will feel as though he’s just sucked his way through a whole bag of Halls Metho-lyptus.


So, what else did I get done today? Well, I opened up and cleaned out a couple of the roof-vents, and then re-sealed them with gloop. I know how to live. Actually, with a coal-fired stove aboard, vents are an important part of living.

With weather such as todays I really ought to have been doing the washing, but there are limits to even a domestic god’s godliness is next to I’ll do that tomorrowness, or something. Maybe the day after that. 😉

Has been busy, relatively, here today. I got invaded first thing by the most enormous black moth – we are talking 8cm wingspan here and a body that you’d have to roast at 200°C for three hours. My catching glass barely covered it. I needed a damned good sit-down after that. Bloody Nature!

The fuel boat, Halsall, came past again, having delivered up to Ellesmere Port and back. They spent a happy couple of hours getting back-ache, reloading at the Calveley Services wharf just along. I would have helped, but I’m not a nice person.

Mr Sunshine brought loads of other boaters out, and the Anglo-Welsh Bats Out Of Hell hireboats are beginning to sweep past from just up by Bunbury. Must. Begin. Holiday. Quickly… No. Time. To. Lose…


I hope that they have fun. I’m sure that they will.

Not as much fun as I had though, cleaning out the chimney.

Even after scrubbing them my fingers look as though I have been picking bogies out of a Welsh coal-miner’s nose for a week.

It’s a lousy, rotten job, but someone has to do it.

You’ll never guess what’s for din-dins.

I’ll give you a clue. I made it yesterday and there’s enough to last me into tomorrow. It owes a lot to a town called “Madras” and I’ll be having it with basmati rice and a tall glass of cold water.

By ‘eck, and eckythump.

Ought to be reet warm for a while now that t’stove is in ready-to-go mode.


Ian H.


  1. Ah, my father I hear used to be a chimney cleaner, although I think they may have been industrial ones. I do remember as a little girl he had one of those chimney brushes you see in Mary Poppins, it had extension rods to the handle that you screwed in and shoved up the chimbley one after the other – now that was an image I had forgotten of him (I don’t have many) thank you for prompting it. Hats off to your ingenuity of head attachments and I loved the chain rattling – you are indeed most resourceful!

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    1. A chimney sweep – now, seriously, there was a real job. Nothing digital or faux about that job! When first I swept yonder Cardinal’s flue I used a narrowboat version of one of those proper brushes (shorter and to fit a 4″ flue) – damned thing got stuck! Chucked it away and have always used cobbled-up tools since! Someone, somewhere, must have developed an electric brush for the purpose… what was the name of that company that used to flog from glossy catalogues and home delivery, twelve variations on grape-peelers, Tupperware for frog’s legs, that sort of thing?


  2. Huh, that is nothing – yesterday I rearranged my book cupboard! It took me five hours. I do have some space in there now.

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    1. Space is only half of the problem, you need time too – space-time is required around books, space-time and a comfortable chair. Space-time, a comfortable chair and a decanter of good sherry. Space-time, a comfortable chair, a decanter of sherry and a tin of Fig Rolls, that’s what you need for books. Oh – and an open fire in winter, and for all other seasons, open French windows with curtains fluttering in the breeze. Can’t get by on just space, damn it! 😉

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    2. The thought of having a cupboard in which to keep books Toffeeapple! I’m beyond that unless it’s the size of a spare bedroom. My bookcases are lodebearing now and all my rooms seem to get smaller. Have to admire anyone who is a keeper of books!

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      1. The cupboard, Pat is only part of the jigsaw; there are various book-cases as well as the landing. The garage, too, of course and then the hall. And the studio and my bedroom and the wardrobe. I shan’t go on. You like to keep a book or two yourself, do you?

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  3. Could you not have found a spare towpath urchin, obviously not a well-nourished one, to climb down the flue for you . After a cold night huddled under a waxed. torn canvas sheet I would expect one to be grateful for the work, well warmth, anyway. Charles kingsley will be most chagrinned.

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    1. We haven’t had decent urchins in England since the war. They disappeared with rationing and never came back even when you had the coupons. I was tempted to bung a cat or two down there to get the worst of the soot out. No cats though. I think that they went wherever the urchins went.

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  4. Well. You are inspiring me to get on with the chores. it’s nice to feel satisfied that a thing that needed doing has been done. I think I will do the doing now.

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