…and a brush with the law for Paul Bilton


A postcard arrived announcing that a chimney sweep would be round at 11.00 am the following Tuesday to clean our chimney. As we don't have a chimney, I threw the card in the bin.

But on the Tuesday, a minute or two before 11, the door-bell rang and two men in black stood there, ready for action with coils of steel and brushes over their shoulders. I advised that not only had I not requested their services, but we didn't even have a chimney. They pointed to a small diameter flue in our roof and indicated that was their target.

I explained that it was the outlet for the gas central heating and we already had a contract for servicing the heating system, so we did not need the one-meter long flue pipe sweeping. Our two sooty friends smiled knowingly and said they had the law on their side and all gas flues had to be cleaned and inspected by them every two years. As this was the first contact I had had with any chimney sweep for over 6 years, I asked where they had been. They shrugged their shoulders apologetically and got ready to march in and attack my gas flue. But I had some more questions. Like, what would this cost?

Oddly, although they do this all day every day, they said they had no idea. I certainly was not about to let two Swiss handymen on my property without knowing the cost – law or no law. I had a further question for them: "How much soot is produced when gas is burned in a central heating boiler?" I thought this must have been covered in their long and extensive apprenticeship. Again they had no idea.

Whilst no expert, I do have 20 years' experience of gas heating boilers in the UK and was able to enlighten them that carbon dioxide and water vapour were mainly involved, but definitely not soot. They reverted to the law again, invoking the hallowed name of the Fire Police. After considerable further debate they reluctantly left, clearly disappointed at not having swept my soot-less gas flue.

The next day the local Fire Policeman phoned to inform me that it was indeed the law. The same Fire Police who charged fr35 to inspect the boiler 6 years prior and insisted that the apparatus was serviced regularly. I pointed out that there are some 14 million gas central heating boilers in Britain and none of them was attended to by a chimney sweep. My suggestion that Swiss chimney sweeps should move with the times, like the rest of us have to, and find more useful employment was acknowledged. It was further agreed that if I took the responsibility for anything that happened I could avoid any further visits from the sweep.

My neighbour with the same gas heating and was sent a bill of CHF100 for the sweeps' 15 minutes' work. He doesn't have a garden, so it was just as well they didn't find any soot.