Thursday, 7 February 2008

Hearth of Darkness

Today some nice men came and knocked on our door. They were a double act in overalls, like a French version of the Chuckle Brothers, and as they presented some officious-looking pieces of paper, I could think of no excuse (in French) not to let them in. It turns out they were here for the annual chimney and gas pipe inspection, which, they explained, is legally required of all tenants. "It’s very important Madame," said the fat chatty one. "If not … BOOM!!!" he shouted, smiling broadly as he mimed a fatal gas explosion. Convinced, I let them in and pointed out the fireplace whilst frantically trying the Maitre's work number on my mobile. I hoped he might know whether this really was necessary, or at least be able to talk to them on the phone and put them off until he could be here.

I watched the silent-sidekick as he levered pole after pole up into the chimney shaft, while the Maitre's number rang and rang to no avail. As I hung up, a rush of air brought a tonne of soot down and out into the sitting room, coating every surface and the face of the fat sweep. Thank god we haven’t got any furniture. "You see Madame!" he said, blinking, " It hasn’t been done in a very long time." After cups of tea all round and much gesturing and hoovering (and emptying of the carbon monoxide filter in the kitchen) Laurel and Hardy have left me to finish mopping up. I just hope I can do a convincing enough impression of that "Boom!!!" when the Maitre comes home to find I've given away 150 euros and turned our flat into the set of Mary Poppins.