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In his latest Ward's World column, John Ward recalls an encounter with a chimney sweep...

An advert for a chimney sweep caught my eye recently which made me smile although as I saw this in the current run-up to Halloween, it brought back memories of ‘scary, spooky things’, a ‘happening’ or so it seemed at the time.

Some years ago the local tyre company I worked for also supplied vehicle batteries but being small we also cared about our customers as one lady rang us to say the battery on her car was dead, not going, lifeless but she went further as she suggested it was (I quote here) “as dead as a cuckoo’s act of flatulence” or words to that effect then she described the vehicle so we knew two battery types were possible to fit it.

So I loaded the two possible batteries in the van, then headed off to a little village a few miles away to get to the lady – Mrs Burgess – in distress to hopefully sort her “cuckoo problem” out although she said she “would put the kettle on as soon as I arrived” but I said just giving me her name would suffice rather than dress up for the occasion.

Columnist John Ward (52494534)
Columnist John Ward (52494534)

The address was quite easy to find but I straight away recognized her as being one of our customers as she had been in at various times for tyres etc although I had perhaps personally served her once I thought but regardless, I got the car bonnet open to look at the battery then started to install a new one as she yelled out the kettle was indeed on for a cup of tea.

Next she came out with two cups of tea on a tray just as I was trying the ignition and hey presto, the engine burst into life so give or take the odd cuckoo or two, her own inspired diagnosis was correct plus in this case was very much on the button but you had to turn the ignition key first on that model.

We were both into slooping of tea mode as something quite unexpected happened: a lady came dashing up to Mrs B, who recognized her as one of her neighbours from around the corner, then asked if she/we could help as her chimney sweep had disappeared, completely gone, vanished as well, not a trace – he was there one moment, gone the next.

She was partly confused with a dab of the hystericals thrown in, as she said the last she saw of him was climbing up his ladder to go on the roof as she went indoors but after about half an hour, realised she had not seen anything of him since plus his cup of coffee had gone cold.

To break the silence I asked if it was possible he was a victim of alien abduction to get the flow of conversation going or more to the point, possible ideas going as to his vanishing or rather where he had gone or got to.

I also suggested, lightly, was it possibly a case of kidnapping to which Mrs Neighbour from around the corner looked at me, then said with narrowed eyes: “Now would you want to kidnap somebody looking that filthy? – I mean it would mess your car seats up to start with, good and proper plus I didn’t hear a car or any vehicle anyway,” then added she and her husband lived in the back of the house anyway but his ladder was still in the front against the wall.

I said as his ladder was still there pointed to the possibility that he would be coming back, from wherever he had gone, or if kidnapped at least the kidnappers didn’t have a roof rack on their vehicle otherwise they would have taken that as well as a sort of matching set – like one sweep, one ladder.

I could visualise the ransom note arriving with their demands plus the first few rungs of the ladder in the post to show they meant business plus to prove they had him.

The lady with the missing chimney sweep then said that the last she saw of him was going up his ladder, with a big brush with what looked like a ball thing on the bottom of it, towards her chimney then she went inside, then nothing as he failed to come back in for his coffee.

Next up, being “not one to be an alarmist you understand” she told us, did we realise what the time of the year was – I said I was happy to the nearest hour rather than something on an annual basis to which she said the following weekend was Halloween.

Mrs B and I looked at each other then back at (now) ‘Halloween Hilda’ who was starting to look slightly lost for ideas in the chimney sweep disappearance department as Mrs B asked if she was suggesting this was some sort of up-market ‘trick or treat’ idea for adults that had gone wrong.

Mrs H-H said she was only passing an opinion or an observation as you can’t be too careful as she had seen some of those late night horror films on the telly so “you never really know, now do you?” to which I asked if her chimney sweep looked anything like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee who starred in assorted films of that kind.

She said he looked just like a chimney sweep but if he was there, she could show us exactly what he looked like which I must admit that idea came as something of a complete surprise all things considered.

I then uttered a master stroke (well, I thought so) as I asked if she had rung the police to report the matter to which her reply was priceless: “What’s the point? – they wouldn’t know what he looked like anyway, and covered in soot” which sort of summed it up really.

Friend Tony often asks how I get to meet these wonderful barmpots but I always respond with the same reply: I don’t go looking for them although in this instance I can honestly say I drove to them this time, complete with two batteries for this momentous occasion.

Next up from around the corner came somebody looking much like a chimney sweep as lo and behold, it was Mrs H-H’s missing model himself but looking slightly worse for wear as he explained that once he got on her roof, he looked across to see somebody in trouble a few doors down as it looked like a shed had collapsed on the person inside as his arm was just about visible waggling about.

So he went down the ladder sharpish, couldn’t find Mrs H-H to explain so he went straight round to help the person get out of the debris and that was where he had been – no kidnap plot, no Halloween horror as he was just helping an elderly gent out of the remains of his shed that had collapsed as Mrs H-H said it was “perfectly understandable with nobody jumping to any wild conclusions”.

I often wondered afterwards who wrote her stuff.



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