Wednesday, April 04, 2007


There's nothing like basking in front of a real fire. And I'm enjoying nothing like basking in front of a real fire. Instead, I'm basking in front of... a giant hole in my living room.

My house is trashed, my confidence shot to pieces, and I'm a couple of thousand pounds worse off. It's like being in a relationship.

The idea seemed so simple. In 2002 I used the fireplace in my flat. And filled the flat upstairs with smoke, nearly finishing off a six year-old girl. Turns out, there was a crack in the chimney, and Camden (my landlord) said I'd need a lining before I could use the fire again.

Fair enough, I said. Quite, said Camden. We'll be repairing your block in a few months, why don't we do it then?

Five Years Later. It's now early 2007, and Camden finally start repairing my block. Only I've got to find my own chimney contractor, make arrangements with the site management company, and with the scaffolding company.

This turns out to be complicated, and even involves slipping cash-stuffed envelopes into pockets.

However, today is the day. My builders (Ben and Nick) turn up. Sadly, they're not hunky, but they are very good at their job. I make them tea, and slink off to do some work in the bedroom.

At which point, they ask me if I know how the fireplace comes apart. Then why it doesn't come out. Then if I'd mind, as the fireplace doesn't come out, if they instead demolish the wall above it. It's at this point they discover my fireplace doesn't have a lintel. Apparently, this is bad. It means the whole wall is about to slide down.

They send me off to Travis Perkins to buy one. It turns out to be a very heavy lump of concrete. It takes me a while to carry it the mile back to the flat. By which time they've realised they don't need a lintel after all. I find them in the cafe. Smoking philosophically.

"Scaffolding's wrong," says Ben. Nick nods. "You'll have to sort that," says Ben.

"Cracking view of that waitress," says Nick, smoking while eating a sausage.

I go and see the scaffolders. They aren't pretty either. But they do agree to move their planks slightly.

By the time I've done this, Ben has more bad news. The top of the chimney is covered in a thick concrete and steel slab. He is looking at me as though it is my fault.

He climbs up to chop through the concrete. It all gives way rather easily. So easily that it shoots down the chimney, bringing with it a large amount of soot which fills the living room. Nick sits blinking on the couch, looking like a panda. He lights a cigarette sadly. "I'm a security guard at weekends," he says quietly.

I look at my living room's black walls. All they're missing is a bloody pentagram.

Ben starts to put the lining in. This involves feeding 8 metres of steel vacuum cleaner pipe down from the chimney stack to my fireplace. Only it gets stuck.

"That's never happened before," says Ben.

"Never happened," agrees Nick. He eats the last of the jaffa cakes.

Apparently, and uniquely, my chimney narrows. It's blocked slightly on the next floor above.

"Best thing is to pop into the flat upstairs, knock a hole in their wall and clear the obstruction," says Ben, grabbing a chisel.

I knock on the door of the flat upstairs. A timid woman answers it. We explain that we'd like to look at her chimney.

She shows us into the living room - and points to where the fireplace would have been. "I have no chimney," she says.

One of her daughters is lying on the sofa, coughing. The other is on a cross-trainer. Eating Matchmakers.

"Yes love," bellows Ben, "You have got a chimney. It's just bricked up. What we need to do is knock a hole in your wall and -"

"NO!" the poor woman is horrified. We leave the flat.

"Can you ask her again?" suggests Nick.

I am too depressed to speak. Ben is sat, leaning out of the window, using his hard hat as an ashtray. Actually, it's my hard hat. I took it from a skip years ago, and painted it silver for a fancy dress party. Ben forgot his. Anyway.

"It's not the worst that Ben's had, is it?" says Nick. "No. That was when he swept a chimney, and found it was blocked. The flat above had built a wardrobe in the chimney. Lady didn't know whether to call her lawyer or light a fire."

"You know," says Ben, "There's one thing that might just work. It's desperate, but... worth a try."

So, dear reader, I have purchased a cannon ball. Next week, Ben is going to drop it down my chimney. I can't wait to see the postman's face when he delivers it.


Anonymous said...

James, sorry, but this is fantastic. I'm still waiting for Bernard Cribbins to come in and sing a chorus or two though...

badman said...

Cowboys. But you know that already, don't you? And I don't mean Brokeback Mountain.

These guys are clueless. Sack them. Now.