“’Really Quite a Bit’?” said Mr Singh, a representative of Newham Council.
“Yes,” I said.
Mr Singh sighed.
“If I had a pound for every time I have to see to the consequences of some idiot who turns the yulification dial to ‘Really Quite a Bit’ without considering the consequences, I wouldn’t be considering strike action having regard to my pension rights,” said Mr Singh. “Which I am.”
“I’m sorry. It was the night terrors.”
I had thought it best not to identify Mr Putin as the subject of my night terrors and the possible occupant of my chimney, in case questions of diplomatic immunity arose.
Mr Singh sniffed.
“We’ve tried pulling,” I said. “Quite hard. And I’m afraid that he’s becoming a health and safety issue. He leaks.”
I thought that this was a cunning touch.
“Well, some years ago when I joined the service, I could have dispatched a task force. But the cuts, you see, the Tory cuts!”
He spat meaningfully into a sponsored cuspidor.
“Regretfully,” he said, “I have no longer a task force at my disposition. Have you tried the Fire Brigade?”
“No, I thought it best to consult yourself.”
I know that ‘yourself’ is ungrammatical, but by emphasising his personal role I was trying to flatter him.
“Actually, there’s probably not a lot that the Fire Brigade could do that you couldn’t do yourself with the liberal application of Vaseline.”
“Vaseline! But – can you supply me with such?”
“Fortunately,” said Mr Singh, “I still can. Please fill in this form.”
As we left he said, “Just be careful of the sack.”
I smiled grimly.
A barrel of Vaseline takes some shifting, and it was some hours later that I was rolling it up my street, with Bella at my heels, getting in the way. Aubergine Small had generously agreed to meet me there. It was immediately clear that he had addressed a problem that had been worrying me: how to get the Vaseline up the chimney and surrounding the little dictator. He produced shyly but proudly from about his person something resembling a giant bicycle pump.
Donning rubber gloves, I gave the protruding leg an initial tug. As expected there was a distant groan of ‘Horse Potty!’. Was there a hint of movement? Mr Putin was getting smaller with each succeeding day of no food and drink, after all, although his notoriously pumped-up torso was likely to be a problem given the domestic scale of my fireplace.
“We must be careful not to suffocate him with the Vaseline,” I said to Aubergine Small.
He gave me a look that was pregnant with meaning. It was as if he could speak. ‘Dictators come and dictators go. What matters most is that your chimney is clear and free for Santa this Christmas.’
He searched through his bag and produced a card:
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
He tore off a scrap of paper.
RUSSIA IS ALREADY BECOMING A BIT BALKANISED, IF THIS MORNING’S FT IS ANYTHING TO GO BY
He went at it with a vengeance. Quantities of Vaseline disappeared under pressure up my chimney. Unfortunately some of it came back down mixed with Mr Putin’s leakages. Bella sniffed a couple of dollops in the grate, gave me a pained look and went to lie down in the spare bedroom.
“Mind the kelim.”
You can tell that my mood had changed to one of optimism. I really believed that we might get him out.
And eventually we did. The biggest problem was the second leg, which had got itself caught behind the one that was already protruding. After that the rest followed relatively easily, although Aubergine Small indicated that we should take special care with the head. The torso had not turned out to be the blockage that we had feared. Suddenly, my night terrors flooded back to me. I attracted Aubergine Small’s attention.
“Aubergine Small, I just can’t stand to see the parting: his horrible neat parting. It’s probably got ruffled in my chimney, but I can’t take the chance.”
He smiled affectionately and indicated that I should look the other way; he could manage the last bit. There was a sucking noise and then a thump. He invited me to turn round. Mr Putin, or at any rate someone who looked like him, was collapsed on my kelim with a pair of my underpants on his head hiding his tonsorial arrangements.
“Good work,” I said to Aubergine Small and then turned to the other man. I thought it best to get my retaliation in first.
“What exactly were you doing in my chimney?”
I spoke in German. I believe that he is at his best in that language because of spending his formative years in Dresden clerking for the KGB. However, he didn’t answer.
Aubergine Small put a sign in front of me, where the other man couldn’t see it.
ANY DEMANDS RE UKRAINE?
“No point,” I said. “If it’s really Putin, he’s a liar. He’d say anything. I’ll take a photo though, just in case of future trouble.”
And I have it. The man is smeared with Newham Council’s Vaseline and his own faeces and he has my underpants on his head.
He squelched towards the door, with, I have to admit, surprising dignity.
“Leave my underpants at the door,” I called. “Carpet bagger.”
“Do you think that that was really him?” I said to Aubergine Small when he had gone.
GOODNESS KNOWS. BUT YOUR CHIMNEY IS YOUR OWN AGAIN
“Did you see his parting?”
Aubergine Small indicated yes with a nod. But his face went white at the memory.
“You’re a braver man than I am,” I said.
Then the same thought struck us at the same time.
If the parting was a horror, the contents of the sack were ‘Really Quite a Bit’ horror. Since this is a blog occasionally consulted by the impressionable I will describe them only on the restricted-access section.