Oh you push the damper in, and you pull the damper out...
and the smoke goes up the chimney just the same...
and as far I was concerned, aged 4, that was the end of the story. The damper was a do-nothing lever in the throat of the chimney of the living room fire. It was supposed to help the smoke to go up the chimney but it didn't work. You hooked the poker into it and pulled it or pushed it as much as you liked. It made a grating noise and sometimes shed a load of soot. The smoke didn't care either way. It was just part of the house, and Dad had his song about it:
Oh you push the damper in
And you pull the damper out
And the smoke goes up the chimney just the same.
Glory, glory hallelujah*
The smoke goes up the chimney just the same.
*(this was Dad's version. The correct words are:
Star of the morning, shining on the cookhouse door.
The damper truth
What I didn't know, of course, was that the damper was working just fine, but had nothing at all to do with controlling the smoke flow up the chimney. I found out its real purpose one day when Mum got up early to light the fire. This was always a great performance, carrying coal from the bunker or, if the bunker was empty, from the coal cellar, building a little pyramid of coals in the grate, with a fire-lighter in the middle. I liked the fire-lighters. They lived in a cardboard box in the coal bunker and smelled, well, of fire-lighters, nothing else. Lighting the exposed end of the fire-lighter with a match. Helping the process with twists of yesterday's newspaper, sometimes holding the 'blower', a square sheet of black metal with a handle, in front of the fire to encourage kindling. Odd that something that technically is a sucker should be called a blower, but we didn't worry about such niceties.
On this particular morning, the fire lit easily. Mum added a few more coals, hooked the poker onto the damper, pushed it in, then went to the kitchen to start making breakfast. Deciding the smoke needed a little help, I pulled the damper out again before settling down to the serious business of drawing ghosts with a white crayon.
After breakfast was eaten and cleared away, Mum went off to have a bath, but was back two minutes later to play with the damper.
''I was sure I pushed the damper in but I must have forgotten. The water's stone cold!"
I decided it was best to say nothing, but that night I asked Dad what the damper was really for, and was treated to my first lesson in plumbing and the wonders of the back boiler, the heat flow from fire to water controlled, of course, by the humble damper!