Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Calling the chimney experts

Bullfighting was not high on the list of skills I asked about when looking for a building firm to restore our house. And Bob, the head of the chosen outfit, might never have taken on the job had he known he would be needing a red cape before it was done.

Bob is a smallish balding fellow with twinkling blue eyes and a habit of greeting any disaster, big or small, the same way. He sucks his teeth for a moment or two then lets out a determined sigh of ‘Right then, let’s see what we can do.’ Until now, he has mastered every crisis.

The main chimneystack was the problem this time. Somehow it had ended up looking like a tube of sherbet after we had it re-rendered to repair centuries of rotting brickwork. When I rang our architect to ask how to tone down the yellow, he recommended the traditional cows’ muck and live yoghurt treatment. ‘Know any friendly cows, Bob?’ I asked the builder, passing on the bad news.

Turns out he already had his eye on a plentiful source of cowpats in a field beside the lane. So the next day, he stopped his truck, pulled out his bucket and spade, strode to the middle of the field and began scooping only then did he notice the monstrous beast with horns and flaming nostrils closing on him fast. But, typical Bob, he did not leave that field without snatching a horde of fresh treasure.

Once he had smeared this all over the chimney, the dun-coloured result was perfect. Superficially at least. The real problem with both the main chimneys, however, is that they are cracked internally and need lining, a job for specialist sub-contractors. The top local firm couldn’t come for five weeks (five of the coldest weeks in memory), and when they did arrive and climbed the specially erected scaffold to inspect the flue, they huffed that the scaffold was not quite high enough.

Another week went by before the chimney people returned and scaled the now-enlarged scaffold. Their visit lasted all of a quarter of an hour. This time they announced the diameter of the flue was bigger than they had realised, so they would have to order a different spun steel liner and, of course, we would have to wait another week. The icicles inside the house grew longer.

At last, they appeared and fitted the liners to both chimneys. A blast of celestial trumpets echoed across the county. Surely it was now safe to light a fire? No, the pantomime had another act to run. The chimney people had forgotten to bring a vital piece of cowl to join the liner to the fireplace below. They will have to come back a third time.

Even then, the epic will not have ended. When the chimneypots were put back, somehow a large chunk of render on the central chimney was cracked and fell off. Our builders are going to have to apply fresh render round the rim. More cow muck will be needed to make it tone in. Bob and the bull are destined to meet again.