‘I bet you’ve seen a few sights.’ I always get that when people find out how I make a living. That or a poor George Formby impression, ‘You should see what I can see.’ It wears thin but I smile and nod non-committedly.
Discretion is vital, you see. If any of my customers thought I‘d said anything about what I’d seen through their windows it would be curtains for me, boom, boom.
I take my job seriously, best job I’ve ever had. I do that new estate by the motorway. New houses are a sure thing; people like to keep things looking spick and span when things are new. It’s Housing Association too, which means the occupants have to keep things looking neat, it’s in their contract, see.
Oh I wouldn’t clean windows round my way. One, no one who knows me would want me peeking through their windows. Two, everyone’s given up on that palaver round here.
So I travel a few miles away from home to the new estate. I’ve adapted my bicycle to take a ladder and a couple of buckets, I pop my chamois in the buckets and Bob’s your uncle, I’m ready for work, simple as that.
You might think that there’d be more of us around, but it not that easy. Some blokes have been in this game for years; it’s territorial, you see. You could be taking your life into your hands if you tried getting business on someone else’s patch. That’s why I struck lucky with being the first one on this new estate. No history, you see.
I’m discrete on the job too. I’ve developed a whistle. I can keep it going for hours, do it easy as breathing now, my missus regularly nudges me in the ribs in the middle of the night, says I’m sleep whistling.
I do it so they know I’m there. The surprising thing is that some of them still don’t seem to care, like I’m a bird on the windowsill or a squirrel up a drainpipe.
I have my dead certs that I can knock for water, they like a chat, which isn’t my style, but I can keep a bit of banter going long enough for a fag break and sometimes I get a cuppa out of it. Lonely I guess; it can be up there.
No shops, a long walk to anything. They come from all over, not just the city but from all over the country and some even further afield. There are a few locals; but I see better than most what they have in common, and what divides them.
The chatters tend to be house proud, no crime; I’m in the cleaning business myself, not averse to a bit of sprucing up. They have the washing on the line at the crack of dawn, paths disinfected against passing pets and wildlife, frothy white nets at the windows and every room spotlessly tidy. Course they want to chat, they’ve got nothing else to do.
There’s that Cheryl, for instance, lovely lady, two lads at school, husband works at Jaguar and she’s part time on Directory Inquiries. More than enough to keep her busy you might think, but she is always out the front, sweeping or deadheading, waiting for someone to walk past so she can pass the time of day.
Takes me moments to do her windows, back and front, swear she’s already done them herself, nothing on the cloth when I wipe over.
She’s a nice lady but I feel sorry for her neighbours, nothing gets past her and she’s always keen to pass her latest findings on, even to me, and I make it clear that I’m not interested.
There are things she doesn’t know though, and I’m not telling her.
I’m not talking buxom babes in bubble-baths, not saucy or sultry, although you do get a little of that every now and again.
No, it’ll be no surprise to you that people are stranger than that.
Like number 12’s back bedroom shrine to Diana. You know, Princess Di, Lady Diana, that one. A whole wall covered in pictures, and I’m talking hundreds maybe thousands and that’s just the backdrop. Diana quilt cover, Diana pillow and cushions, Diana candles, Diana china, there isn’t an object in that room that doesn’t have her image on it. How can you sleep in a room like that? Though when I think about it, I’ve got allsorts in my bedroom, stacks of papers, junk I don’t see anymore. It’s harmless, a matter of taste I suppose.
Number 23’s got a different sort of collection going on; it changes on a monthly basis. Last month it was cigarettes, stacks of them. She might have offered me a pack when I called for payment, but no, even had a fag waggling between her lips as she was counting out the coins. Anyway, it was booze this morning, crates of the stuff, I’m not talking booze cruise here, more, off the back of a lorry. Not my job to judge though.
Then you’ve the metal detector bloke. Now that’s no secret, the whole street sees him going out at every opportunity, all weathers, armed with his device. Trying to get away from his kids I should think. Absolute terrors. Four of them, all knee-high and with teeth. Worse than dogs for biting. Not that their mother believes it. Anyway, it’s like Birmingham museum in their bedroom. Big map with markers on the wall and objects set up all around with labels next to them. It’s a wonder those kiddies haven’t got their mitts on that stuff, the rest of the house is a tip, not judging, inevitable when you’ve got sprogs like that tear-arsing around all day. Must have a lock on the door. Makes you think where his missus goes for a breather, doesn’t I suppose.
Jason lives at number 19, with his mum. I know him, drinks in my pub. He doesn’t know that I do his windows; it’s his mum who deals with that. He’s a right hard-knock, Jason, down the pub he is anyway. I’m thinking that rail of PVC ‘specialist’ clothing is not his mum’s. She couldn’t get into them even if she wore those tight pants my missus squeezes into when she wants to get into clothes that are too small for her. Can’t say I can see Jason in those pointy bras and tight body suits either, but there’s a photograph that looks a lot like him wearing that get up on the wall, doesn’t look half bad mind you.
Then there are those rooms that make you shudder. Not many old people on this estate but they’ve got one upstairs at number 8. I’m guessing she’s old anyway. So thin and frail. There’s a bedside table covered in medicines next to her and she usually has her eyes closed. Once she opened them as I was wiping the windows and she gave a little smile, raised her hand like she wanted to wave at me. Been up there for months.
Like that kid in its cot. Same smile and half wave when I wipe the window. Both of them reaching out like I’m more than a window cleaner. Can’t deal with that. I clean windows and keep my mouth shut. That’s it.
Seeps into your dreams though, that sort of stuff. Ordinary stuff really, just the day to day way people live. Fur on the walls, blood on the floor, all that. Weird though. Pretty weird. Well I don’t talk about it, not much anyway; and I know you won’t say anything.
What’s that? ‘Turned out nice again.’ Yes, nice one.