These articles (published only on this website) are written by me about various aspects of Christian life. I was fortunate to work as both an employed and freelance journalist for many years: as a reporter and Faith News Correspondent for the Sussex Express; contributor for Good News evangelistic newspaper and other Christian publications; and I was a copy editor for Newsquest. The purpose of these articles is to explore the realities of living as an alien and pilgrim (1 Peter 2:11) on planet Earth, following Jesus as He leads us home to Himself in Heaven.
A personal tribute to my freelance client James Hughes (aka James the Sweep) from Southborough, Kent, who died on January 18 2022
By Chris Eyte (copy writer for the James the Sweep brand from 2014 to 2022)
The rain is falling softly and the drops look like water sprites, lit up by a lamppost in the darkness. It’s early evening in Autumn and I’ve just come out of Worthing Library. My wife is at home with our baby. She’s pregnant with our second child. I’ve just spent the entire afternoon thumbing through the pages of the ‘Friday Ad’ publication and emailing every single business listed. More than 100 of them. I am very tired and fed up. This is the life of the freelance writer – not so glamorous! I sigh inwardly and reflect for the umpteenth time that day on my hard luck finding work. It seems so impossible.
And then my mobile phone buzzes. I look at the screen curiously and it’s an unknown number.
“Hello?”I ask cautiously, trying my best to sound professional in some sense.
A cheerful man’s voice booms back at me as I blink in the rainfall underneath the street light.
“I got your email about writing services and I don’t normally reply to those types of messages. But I thought I’d take a chance on you. I’m James, I’m a chimney sweep in Tunbridge Wells…”
Chimney sweep? My mind instantly conjures Ol’ Bert stepping in time with Mary Poppins. How can I write for a chimney sweep? I don’t know anything about the mythically dark world of rooftops and flues, woodburners and brushes. I feel out of my depth.
Even so, James signs me up to give him copy writing support. He doesn’t even give me a trial run – it’s a mark of the prevalent honour in this man, that he simply trusts me. In the time that follows, this sweep from Kent introduces me to a new horizon: writing for a profession that protects lives. A trade that also has an incredibly long history stretching back centuries, to Roman times. I know that because one of my first tasks, given by James, was to write the entire history of chimney sweeping. That was soon followed by another project: research every single chimney sweep in the world (literally as many as I could find and from any country) and write notes on his or her public marketing.
And so began my professional friendship with James Hughes, aka James the Sweep, aka THE Master Chimney Sweep for Tunbridge Wells. Some eight years later, I’ve written and rewritten his website countless times, posted more than 170 blogs, created even more social media posts and fulfilled random assignments; ranging from writing a decorator’s website (“he’s a mate of mine”), to writing for a stove fitter (“he’s another mate of mine”) to other sweeps, chimney companies… a trade association. My work ballooned, all thanks to recommendations fired by James. I found myself editing a student’s thesis (yes, a bit random), writing a forthright letter about parking issues to the local council and researching flue liners. It’s truly extraordinary how much work I’ve received as a result of James ‘taking a chance’ on me.
And that’s why I want to pay a public tribute to him, now that he has passed away. James once promised me that he would keep giving me work ‘always, to the day I die’. He was a man of his word. He did just that. My family wouldn’t have survived without his generosity and regular employment. And he knew that. I am an awful business man (the antithesis of James) and I’ve always struggled to get an income. James looked after us. It’s as simple as that: giving me work even in the pandemic, paying promptly and always asking after my family’s welfare.
When others didn’t really take notice of my pretence to be a writer – James did. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there have been times when no other people on planet Earth, apart from my family, have taken the notion of me writing professionally with any seriousness. But James always approved of my content.
That was James in a nutshell, or rather in a sweep of a brush. He saw the best in people and would always help in his own unique, chirpy way, with a focus on keeping customers safe ‘from risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and chimney fires’. He was proud of the fact that he kept his chimney sweeping prices low for a considerable amount of time. Many customers were like old friends. He was one of those rare people who really do have the best interests of others at heart.
And there were his catchphrases, which I will never forget: ‘Hey ho – make hay whilst the Sun shines’ (a phrase used during the ‘busy’ winter season, when he’d express the reality of working hard when the work was there because less people wanted chimneys swept in the summer). Or: ‘We’ll let the Indians know’ (I was never sure who the ‘Indians’ were except they were people who helped with the website backlinks). ‘Https not http’ (James was very interested in search ranking and passionate about website perfection) and ‘I was talking to this fellow the other day…’ (James talked to a lot of people – that’s how he built such a solid customer base!).
I only met James in person twice – otherwise it was very long chats on the phone (minimum one-hour for any call. James had a lot to say!). The first time we met up was to go through his website content, in a cafe in West Sussex. I remember James appearing on the other side of the road, darkly dressed and serious in demeanor. There was the touch of a likeable rogue about him and he was interested in asking me about my wife and kids. Later on, I saw the extrovert side of James when I met him again, three years later, at a trade show. He was the life and soul of the party, famous for winning at the show’s annual raffle by buying dozens of tickets!
It would be a mistake though to flippantly dismiss the fun side of James – beneath the Ol’ Bert chatter and sanguine grin, his soot-coloured eyes glowed astutely with an acute business intelligence whenever he plied his trade. Another of his freelance contractors once told me that James was the most professional businessman that he knew. This is a contractor with big clients. It was an accurate assessment.
I shall miss talking on the phone with James. It wasn’t just about business – he could spin plenty of entertaining, truthful yarns about his life experience: his previous job as a prison guard (he loved seeing the guards and convicts play football), helping in the 2003 Tsunami, diving, visits to the dentist, travel experiences… a colourful man who led a colourful life.
There is a big gap now for those who knew him, now that he is gone. I cherish his memory, thank God for his support of myself and my family and… what else is there to say except this as an appropriate salutation, echoing the calling of the Victorian chimney sweeps, when they arrived on a street, shouting to householders for trade:-