published 'The Banshee' 1993
It is the devil's own job to find window-cleaners, these days. There was once a time they were climbing on top of each other for your custom. But, now, nobody wants to lug round a retractable ladder, a bucket of soapy sloshy water and a prime cut of chamois leather. The ones you do see are usually teetering in precarious cradles hanging against godawful office blocks, wielding contraptions that look like car windscreen wipers and staring in at mindless clerks who have nothing better to do than stare back.
That is, until Mr Jones-Bishop came knocking on my door, looking for business. A well-spoken gentleman in his mid-fifties, at a guess, dressed methodically in navy blue dungarees and flat cap. He was obviously supplementing an income kindly granted him by the Government.
“Yes, I’ve been after one of you for ages. How much? And how regularly will you come?”
“How about ten bob for the whole house?”
I hadn’t heard the expression ‘ten bob’ for several years. Used to be a brown note, I recalled. But fifty pee seemed far too low. I didn’t question it, however — no point, I supposed, in preventing others from diddling themselves. No point at all.
“Well yes, that’s fine.”
He surveyed my semi-detached with a professional air. I assumed he had secured the business for the whole street.
“You’ll come once a month, then?”
“Once a week would be better all round.”
I nodded, non-commitally. He did come once a week. And a fine job he made of it, too. My windows sparkled even on dull days. I could see my face in them from both sides — not that I was in the habit of peering into my own house from the garden.
There was one irritating, if not disturbing fact, however. Mr Jones-Bishop did tend to be almost too attentive. I supposed it was because he thought that was the best way of obtaining a brew-up at my hands. But there is a thin borderline between attentiveness and sheer snoopiness. And many a time I caught him peering through the window of the master bedroom, hand in a salute of shade above his eyes, always it seemed at the very moment I was getting up....or going back to bed.
I doubted he could see me as well as I could see him, however. That was the saving grace.
It was only when he started turning up on a daily basis did I refer the subject to the communal street gossip. My neighbours (with whom I had only rare meetings), needless to say, were not short of a tongue or two. No holds barred, in fact, when a shot-gun wedding was afoot or when curtains seemed to be closed too often in a particular semi.
“What window-cleaner?” was the general response. In fact, my incessant questioning on this subject must have caused me to be the butt of a scandal or two. So, in the end, I gave up and determined to present Mr Jones-Bishop with the facts of the case.
Thus, when I heard the clatter of his ladder; the tell-tale phlutt of its padded top as it was tilted againist the bedroom window, followed by the gently screech screech of his suddy leather upon the glass, I knew he was on the job... .despite the curtains being closed. I vowed to await the characteristic click of my letterbox and the plop of his invoice on the bristly doormat.....and then abruptly open the front door.
“Why have you been victimising me? Mooning in at me all hours of the day?” But could I bring myself to say it? Could I even muster sufficient courage to open the door?
Imagine my surprise when I did and discovered him standing there, flanked by two of my neighbours with cocked shot-guns.
I immediately thought that Mr Jones-Bishop must have taken a shine to me.