Wednesday, 27 July 2011
There I was visiting an old aunt in the countryside the other day. She lives in a lovely cottage in a small secluded village where everyone knows everyone else. It’s not a big house, two up and two down as they call it in old parlance, meaning that apart from the bathroom and toilet she has two bedrooms upstairs, and a living and dining room downstairs. Not forgetting the kitchen, of course.
She made me a nice pot of tea and biscuits and we sat by the open fire reminiscing about the past and how different life was then.
Whilst chatting with her I noticed that the smoke from the log fire tended, every now and then, to blow back into the room rather than flow gently up the chimney. A typical sign of a blockage somewhere in the chimney, I thought.
As it was the weekend, it would be almost impossible to get the services of a chimney sweep. You know the kind, a Dick Van Dyke sort of fellow like in the film Mary Poppins. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen such a fellow ever; especially now that most people live in air-conditioned and centrally-heated buildings. Not much call for chimney sweeps most of the time, let alone weekends.
Being a kind sort of fellow, as I usually remind myself, I tried to sort things out for my old aunt.
I went outside to see if there was smoke coming out of the chimney and noticed, quite visibly, bits of twigs and straw like pieces on top of the chimney. It was obvious that a big bird had attempted to build a nest there.
This can be easily removed, I thought, as I put the ladder against the wall and climbed up quite confidently. Once up top, my confidence began to wane.
How do I get to the chimney, which was situated some distance from the edge of the house? In the center of the roof, in fact!
I eased myself gently onto the roof, stood up gingerly, and attempted to walk very slowly and extremely carefully towards the apex of the roof to reach the chimney.
I looked down and saw my aunt standing there, Rosary in hand.
There are times, believe me, when a Rosary does not inspire much confidence; and this was such a moment. All I needed is a priest and an undertaker standing there beside her to drain any remaining ounce of courage still lurking within me.
I smiled at her and moved on ever so slowly until I reached the chimney.
I reached for the offending debris in order to remove it from the opening and … dash it all … it slid gently down the chimney.
I grasped the chimney tightly with both arms hugging it for dear life as I almost lost my footing.
What do I do now? Do I leave the straw there and climb down, having made a bad situation worse? Or do I manly continue with my mission to help an aunt in distress?
What if I reached inside the chimney and try to grab the straw out?
I courageously stood up straight, still holding tight to the chimney, and slowly let go of my right arm and reached down the chimney.
Can’t find a thing … a little deeper … yes, I can feel the bits of straw … reach in a bit more.
Panic! I’m stuck. I can’t pull my arm out. Help somebody!
“Are you OK?” I hear auntie calling. She can’t see me from where she’s standing, so she crosses the road to see me stuck there up her chimney.
“I’ll call for help!” she shouts as she vanishes away. I wish she hadn’t. A crowd is now beginning to gather; mostly her well-meaning neighbors and other villagers.
“What’s he doing up there?” I hear one of them say.
“Poor fellow is threatening to jump and end it all!” replies and elderly man, “Can’t blame him, the economic situation being what it is. If I had the energy I’d go up and join him”.
“I’m not suicidal …” I think to myself, “but I’ll soon be if I don’t get out of this embarrassing situation. I wish I hadn’t had that second cup of tea!”
To make matters worse it starts to rain. Not much … just a drizzle, which is enough to make me wet and cold.
The onlookers are not deterred however. They bring out their umbrellas and stand there on the opposite side of the road looking at me. My aunt is not amongst them. Where is she? No doubt inside the house making tea and serving biscuits to her new found friends. She’s never been so popular until now.
I’m getting desperate now. The tea inside me and the rain outside me combine to nudge nature into action. I’ve really got to go … can’t hold it any more!
What’s this I hear? A siren from a distance, getting louder as a fire engine is seen coming down the hill.
Minutes later they extend their mechanical ladder which slowly edges ever closer to me with a fireman standing on the platform at the end.
He gently wriggles my arm around and somehow manages to set me free.
As the ladder platform gently lowers me to terra firma I rush into the house for the toilet to the sound of applause from the welcoming crowd.
So … what have I learnt from this experience? Two things really!
First, when I got home that evening and re-played the event over in my mind, my thoughts turned to those people who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof so that Jesus may heal him.
What Faith they must have had. It’s obvious this was not their house, yet, they felt confident enough to climb on the flat roof with their friend, take away the tiles or whatever it was that covered the roof, and lower the sick man through the gaping hole regardless of any trouble they may get into with the house owner.
Sometimes we’re too tired and ill to even pray, let alone muster enough Faith that the Good Lord will help us. It’s at times like these that we have to rely on the Faith of others praying for us and believing that God listens to all prayers, including those made on our behalf.
The second thing I’ve learnt from my roof experience is that it is just impossible for Father Christmas to get down the chimney and leave presents for children everywhere. There isn’t enough room inside a chimney for your arm, never mind a well-rounded jolly old man carrying a sack full of toys. Perhaps he gets in through an open window or by tampering with the door locks!