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Saturday, 23 July 2011

A window cleaner's curse

I had a window cleaner once. A real window cleaner who carried his own ladder and bucket, and climbed said ladder at what ever the angle or height of the house. He also whistled so you could choose not to be in, or draw the curtains hurriedly depending on circumstances. In every sense, this man was a paragon, and more - a bibliophile.

One summer’s day, squeezed between two rosebushes, he accosted me like an ancient mariner in search of an albatross:

“Tell me your favourite book of all time.”

“I don’t have a favourite book of all time.”

“Well then, tell me one you’d recommend to me – one I would like to read.”

“It depends on what kind of books you enjoy.” I was floundering, and still holding the bucket of fresh water he’d initially requested. He ignored my outstretched arm, the water dripping strategically over his shoes.

“Complex fantasy with a Victorian feel,” he said.

This was no ordinary window cleaner – but my answer was swift. ‘Gormenghast,’ I said, ‘by Mervyn Peak.’ He made me spell it, but didn’t write it down.

“Now I’ll recommend a book to you.” His finger touched me on the chest with conviction and zeal. He could have been saving my soul.

I smiled, caught in a book-trap I hadn’t seen coming.

“You must read ‘Barnaby Rudge.’” His eyes burned into mine. “You must read ‘Barnaby Rudge.’”

“Dickens, eh,” I said, as one bibliophile to another.

And the strange thing is that I did read Barnaby Rudge and lost myself in a vast, sprawling, chaotic and evocative world. The bugger was right. But I’ll leave it there in case any of you fears the ancient mariner’s curse might be infectious.

But whether he read Gormenghast or not, I never found out. I asked him once and he just tapped his nose and winked, like window cleaners do. I still live in hope that one day he might accost another householder with the same artfully designed trap and proclaim the merits of ‘Gormenghast’.


Regan Walsh said...

A lovely little tidbit, Mike. I had a window cleaner once too. It was at work not at home. I have to clean those myself. But my window cleaner at work did like to talk. (When he was on my side of the window) He never recommended any good books though. Too bad.

Mike Keyton said...

You've been warned, Regan. If I ever bump into my old window cleaner again, I'll tell him there's someone over the pond who's never read Barnaby Rudge :)

Claudia Del Balso said...

Hi Mike,
Is this story true? If it is, it's amazing. It sounds like an excerpt of a play (unless you have written one). In any case, I loved this anecdote.

Mike Keyton said...

Thanks, Claudia. Yes, it's absolutely true.

jackie b central texas said...

How cool, almost like having a chimney sweep come by to clean out the bats and then finding out he loves Dickens... Never hear of Barnaby Rudge, probably will never read the book and as my windows at home are all low hanging never hire a window cleaner either... More is the pity, might find out there was an interesting person using the bucket and squeegee!

Mike Keyton said...

Hi Jackie, Barnaby Rudge is worth the effort - which is more to be said for cleaning windows :)

Shirley Wells said...

Love it!

I have a real window cleaner and he's marvelous. He's a Burnley FC fan so we tend to talk football but I'm going to ask him what his favourite book is...

Mike Keyton said...

could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship :)

Groves Window Cleaning said...

Great post :)

Mike Keyton said...

Hello Groves Window Cleaning and thank you. And you have a great looking site. Are your employees also bibliophiles : )