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The Sweep

posted Aug 7, 2016, 4:16 PM by J Norton
I grew up on North London, and still recollect many of the things I saw in my childhood many years ago, which I try to explain to my grandchildren...who think I am very odd as I have been to lots of places and seen many things way beyond the comprehension of eight-year-olds. They, like most children, have seen the film Mary Poppins, so are familiar with the concept of the chimney sweep in the form of Dick van Dyke, but they were amazed to find that sweeps actually still existed in my childhood.

The arrival of the sweep was long expected, and greatly dreaded, at least by me because they were so black and grimy. It required a week's cleaning in a day to get rid of the horrid black dust. Coal fires were the only fuel available at the time, and poor quality coal, too, in the aftermath of WWII. Imagine today's children going to bed dressed in more clothes than they wore in the day because the only fire was in the living room!

A visit to various Aunties who lived further into London - one living not far from Marble Arch, and the other in Paddington - gave a nosy five-year-old glimpses of much of city life, there wasn't much that could be see from 226 bus, and accepted as normal, in the chaos about us.

I was especially fascinated by the bomb sites we passed, so much part of everyday life in the fifties as to be unremarkable. They were the forbidden playgrounds of my brothers, and later the one near us was cleared so that one year we had a huge bonfire on it for Guy Fawkes night.

A vision still echoes in my mind of being on top of the bus and seeing the remaining wall on a third attic floor of a house, where a cracked mirror still hung on flowery paper, seven years later, with a towel, ragged and grey by that time, midst London smogs. We left before all they sites were finally cleared - off to green field and rural Hertfordshire. 

Isn't memory a wonderful thing, called back in a moment from a very long time ago, but with one still for the foreseeable anyway?