Spring cleaning… do I have to?

As it’s the vernal equinox, and I guess the first day of spring, and as I seem to have neglected housework in favour of writing maybe I should properly think about doing a traditional spring clean. The inner child in me whines ‘do I have to?’… and yes maybe I do, because our house really is lacking a bit of love and attention. I actually don’t remember my mum having a session of spring cleaning, she just did the housework as far as I recall, but maybe she did and just didn’t make a fuss of it!

Consulting Ruth Drew’s ‘The Happy Housewife’, I find pages and pages of helpful hints and instructions… ‘with spring cleaning on the map, it is necessary to sit down with a pencil and make a proper plan of campaign. it pays hand over fist, especially if you have other things to do beside housework…‘ Well, yes, I do have other things to do!

Luckily one of the first things Ruth suggests is that you ‘don’t try to do too much in a rush,’ and suggests its spread over several weeks – would several months be ok, Ruth?

She mentions chimney sweeps and clutter, comfortable shoes and handcream and of course, a dust-preserving handkerchief tied round the head! … and then has paragraphs on specific areas of spring clean need:

  • cupboards, selves and drawers
  • paintwork, carpets and rugs, upholstery and floors
  • turning out rooms, cornices, alabaster, glass, plastic, parchment, silk, rayon, nylon, paper buckram
  • general points including lampshades and lamps
  • curtains – brocades and damasks, chintz – both permanently and non-permanently glazed, cottons, Holland blinds, muslin and lace, net, rayon, terylene, velvet, washable velveteens and chenilles and similar

Don’t want to be a copy-cat

I was going to write about that strange thing which happens, typified by the saying ‘I waited two hours for a bus and then two came along at once’ One example I was going to use was yesterday; my husband was reading out something from the newspaper and mentioned someone called Tyrrell… we knew someone with that name, but that wasn’t the thing, the thing was I looked back to what i had been reading and the first word I saw was ‘Tyrrell’.

I had a provisional title for what I was going to write, ‘and then two came along at once’; I thought I’d check out the saying about the buses, and see how long it had been used and if a similar thing had been said before there were buses… “I don’t know, I wait all day for a stage-coach and then two come along at once...”

So I find, not one but two pieces with my title already out there, plus several others with a similar title… oh well… And I can’t find where the saying first originated.

The second ‘two came along at once’ thing which happened was that yesterday I blogged about chimney-sweeping, as we were having our chimney swept. When it happened at home when we were children, it was so exciting! The sweep himself, with his skin covered with soot, the smell of the soot, the brush poking out of the chimney, and then the sweep departing (I think on a bicycle – unless I’m mis-remembering that) with the bag of soot… It was so exciting! Many of the stories I read as  a child, including ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley, featured children who were sent up chimneys…

So having had a visit from the sweep, having written about chimney sweeping, I open the newspaper and there is an article about modern-day chimney sweeps. Apparently, skilled trades like chimney sweeping are being taken up by people who want to escape the pressures of other jobs; the sweep in the article had been a teacher who gave up to become a house-dad and didn’t want to go back into school. He got talking to someone who had been high up in management but had left to become a sweep… so the ex-teacher, ex-house-dad did the same.

Here is a link to the article, if you want to read more!


…and if you’re intersted in buses and their frequency, have a look here:

Two Come Along at Once

Chimney sweeps

We’re having our chimney swept today; we don’t have a ‘real’ fire, but a gas one which still gives off deposits as the fuel burns. We had the fire serviced recently and the gasman switched it off and said we needed our chimney swept because there was  not a proper through draft – which of course could be really dangerous. We didn’t expect there to be much soot but we thought a bird might have dropped something down our chimney, or even died and dropped down the chimney itself. So we rang a sweep and he’s busy downstairs… however, he hasn’t got a load of cane brushes, he isn’t dressed in tales and a top hat, and he is completely clean, not a sooty speck anywhere! He of course is using a sort of vacuum cleaner, and then hoovers up any little mess there might be with a conventional vacuum.

We had fires at home when I was a child, and periodically the chimneys would be swept. There must be some grumpy chimney sweeps, but I’ve only met jolly, cheerful ones. In the days when we had coal fires, everything in the room would be covered with dust cloths and the sweep would be there, fitting his canes together, then poking his brush up the chimney. We would run outside to watch it come poking out of the top, which always seemed so hilarious! What unsophisticated sense of humour we had, how easily made to laugh!

The Romans were the first people to have chimneys as we understand them, but it was over a thousand years before they appeared in castles in Britain, in the late twelfth early thirteenth century. Chimneys in castles would be massive, and there would not be the same problems with blockage as in a small domestic flue these days. Big houses had chimneys, but  ordinary houses didn’t really have chimneys for another three hundred years.

The need for cleaning and sweeping chimneys was obvious, and the idea of pushing a brush up and collecting the soot as it fell became common. Brushes were on Malacca canes, and the actual brushing bit was made from whale-bone. With many chimneys however, the practice was to send small children, most often boys, but some girls too, to climb up the inside of the chimney, and brush and scrape the soot and tarry deposits. What a cruel nightmare of a job! These poor small children, must have been terrified, sometimes they fell, sometimes they got stuck, sometimes they were asphyxiated; their ‘masters’. They were little more than slaves, bought and sold under the guise of learning the trade. They were poorly treated, often half-starved, and often injured or got trapped and died in the chimneys – which were built to keep a good fire going, not to make it easy for a climber. These children were as young as four years old…

Our chimney sweep is a strapping man in his thirties, and he did no climbing at all, except up a ladder outside to put a grating on the top of the chimney to stop the naughty birds.

The Chimney Sweeper
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”
And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
William Blake