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’.