When I’m Cleaning Windows

What’s in a name?

I grew up in an age when names were different.  Some seem ludicrously naive these days, like my aunt Puss. Everyone called her Puss. Couldn’t imagine that these days. Her given name was Kathleen, or Katherine, I’m not sure now, so I’m guessing that when she was young, she was Kat or Kitty and hence, Puss? Who knows? 

I also had an uncle Chuck.  I never thought anything of it, that was his name.  Of course, his name was actually Charles, and I guess there must have been some kind of popular American influence going on and Chuck he became. He often referred to his son John as Johnny, maybe that went with the zeitgeist too.  

Incidentally, Johnny became a minor local celebrity as a square dance caller when that craze came over from the States in the mid-fifties – that must have pleased Chuck.

Now, my cousin Alan was inexplicably known as Fid. No idea why, but he was Fid to all of us. His brother was Mo and that was much easier – his proper name was Maurice so at least that was understandable. There were Franks and Jims and Kaths and even a Nellie and a Syb, but the real star of my story is my uncle Perce, pronounced purse.

Percy Winders

He was very particular, it was never Percy, but Perce, and Perce was a window cleaner. A straight up and down, Brylcreemed, South West London, Windercleaner.

Now as a lad, Uncle Perce had talked his way into becoming a dispatch rider during the war – he falsely claimed that he could almost make a motorbike talk, but fortunately the army told him to forget all that because he had to learn the army way!   Lucky really because he hadn’t got a clue. That was Perce all over. Not that he was in any way dodgy, he was just easy going and up for pretty much anything legal.   He just fancied becoming a dispatch rider.  That was until he rode over a land mine in Egypt and got blown up and over a couple of trucks that he had just overtaken.

Well, the upshot was that he had one leg a fair bit shorter than the other, and he spent the rest of his life with a significant limp.  I was impressed as a kid because it never seemed to bother him much.  It seemed in those days that people just got on with it.

Anyway. when he was demobbed, he decided that he was ideally suited for climbing up and down ladders – I mean, what else would a bloke with a gammy leg do?  He got himself a set of window cleaning kit, an old push bike and a strange sidecar contraption that the ladders were strapped onto.   I grew up seeing him unevenly  pedalling up the road with one leg pointing outwards to compensate for the shortness of the other one, with a set of ladders gently swooping up and down alongside him on his sidecar, with his bucket and “shammys” tied on the side.  It was a ramshackle affair. He was still doing this donkey’s years later, long after I sadly lost touch with him.  He was a bit of an institution around Balham where he operated.  

Lovely Jubbly

I suppose my next window cleaning contact of any significance was in Hither Green, when a bloke knocked on the door of our house and asked if we wanted our windows cleaned. Now, to be fair, he did look a bit iffy, and in need of a drink, but we had dirty windows and he seemed keen.

 “Go on mate, let me have a go and if you don’t like it you don’t have to pay me”, sort of thing.  What did we have to lose apart from perhaps our possessions?  Got to give people a chance, haven’t you?

Anyway, we agreed a price and after saying “Lovely Jubbly” a few times he disappeared, returning a bit later with a ladder, bucket and cloths and set to.   He made a pretty good job of the windows and then insisted on giving us a knock down price because we had a Labour Party poster in the window.  We paid him and after a few more “Lovely Jubblys”, he went on his way promising to return every month.  Well, the weeks went by and he didn’t show, and we gave up on him. Then, suddenly he turned up. No explanation.

“Come to do yer windows”. “Alright?”

“Lovely Jubbly”.

We adapted to his way of working and accepted that this was a demand economy. When he needed some cash, his life demanded that he called round and cleaned our windows.

He did this off and on for quite a while until, a bit like an old tom cat, one day he went off, dropping “Lovely Jubblys” like Hail Marys at a Catholic Convocation, and we never saw him again.  I guess we always thought he might show up, so we didn’t get a replacement, which meant that I had to clean the bloody windows.

It’s true to say that he always seemed a little sinister and I wonder what became of him.

Squeaky clean

So, it was down to me, and when it came to cleaning windows, I developed a technique that always ended up with me standing on tiptoe on a first-floor window ledge with my nose hard up against the window I was trying to clean. It wasn’t just the window cleaning cloth that was squeaking, I can tell you.

This DIY approach continued after we left London because we moved into a house where it all became relatively easy to do from the inside.  So that was another five years of window servitude for me, but at least it would have got through a Health and Safety check.

Then we moved again, and this time things had to be different! Access to anything other than the ground floor windows was a bit tricky, so, when a team of window men came calling, we leapt at the opportunity.

They cleaned the windows of all the houses in the terrace – or all that were willing to pay for it, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

That reduced the squeaky cleaning cloth moments and worked reasonably well for quite a while.

They had it all organised, one man to splash water all over the place, another to stand on your best plants, a third to actually wash the centre of each windowpane, and occasionally, someone to clean the bits around the edges.  Oh, I almost forgot, two of the guys doubled up – no, not in fits of laughter, but as collection agents and they took the cash, often for this round and the last time “because you weren’t in when we called”, and sometimes ticked your name off in their little book.

After a while, this all became too much for them and they sold the round on to another team who tried to do the same thing but clearly couldn’t make it pay.

Their cunning answer was to stealthily reduce the number of windows they cleaned without actually mentioning the fact.  Things eventually came to a head when I realised that they were only cleaning the windows that I could easily clean myself!

When challenged, they belligerently explained that the others were a bit tricky and would cost more. Did I expect them to risk life and limb?  I suggested that they should go forth and multiply their trade elsewhere.  They went off in a huff, only to reappear within half an hour with another deal that they had negotiated to my neighbour’s satisfaction – was I interested now?  By then I had really made my mind up. I was pretty unimpressed with them, their attitude and their window cleaning skills, so our panes joined the ranks of the great unwashed.

That meant it was back to nasty moments on first floor window ledges for me!   I was getting too old for this.  My replacement hips really objected to being folded up in ways that allowed me to climb out of the windows in the first place, and I cleaned in fear of being stranded like a helpless cat unable to get back in, waiting for some hapless fireman to rescue me. 

Suffice it to say that our windows did not get the ministrations their social standing deserved, and they were only cleaned when the balance of shame outweighed the balance of risk.

It was with some relief, slightly misplaced I might add, that I faced our latest move to an apartment.   There were huge windows but there was a window cleaner who did the other apartments, using one of those long pole contraptions. 

However, we should have checked the ointment, because it had clearly been left out for the flies.

Completely up the pole

Our flat was the only one on the top floor and our man’s pole didn’t quite reach. It nearly did, which meant he could almost clean our windows.  He could make them wet; he could clean bits of them, but tops, bottoms and edges were a bit trickier.  

His technique consists mainly of mobile phone calls with window cleaning as a lucrative sideline.  He calls to say he is not coming when you are not expecting him; he calls to say he may be coming, or he may not; he calls to say he is coming; he calls to say he has been; sometimes he calls to say he has not been. Sometimes he even shows up to clean the windows.

Then he calls to ask how they are. 

In addition to this, he like nature, abhors a vacuum, so he repeats everything at least twice.  This does make dealing with him a bit tedious, I say a bit tedious.

Because of the height of our windows he needs to stand on some steps that I leave outside in our bin store. He knows where they are, he has access to them, but he usually rings either to ask me to get them out, or to tell me not to bother because he knows where they are, and he can get them out himself.

He also struggles a bit with the idea that what goes up is likely to come down again. As  a consequence of this, he has been known to have to return to re-clean our downstairs neighbour’s windows because he cleaned them before cleaning ours.  Apparently, he was unaware that the dirt from cleaning ours would leave streaks on theirs….

Needless to say, he explained this at some length over the phone….twice.

All that aside, we still have one set of windows that we can’t get access to. They were designed in such a way as to be unreachable from the inside and can’t be got at safely from the outside either.

This is presently stretching my ingenuity. I can do a halfway decent job using cloths on sticks, poles, wipers, scrapers, sprays, scourers and so on, but it seems that magnetic gizmos might be the only way to go. Early attempts have failed dismally with my cleaning devices disappearing en route on a slow boat from China,  but we’ll keep on trying.   

Where is George Formby when you need him? Probably standing by a  lamppost on the corner of a street somewhere, instead of cleaning windows!

Hmm, just had one final thought – I wonder if there are any window cleaning drones? Now that might be fun!

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