Confessions of a Window Cleaner

BOOK: Confessions of a Window Cleaner
Timothy Lea

When I look back on it, I was very green when I became a window cleaner. Eager for experience but making less headway than a marshmallow on a pin table.

Still, the customers were kind and some of them leant over backwards to be helpful.

It’s amazing what you can learn in the right hands …

I even got better at cleaning windows.


In which Timmy is introduced to the charms of the window cleaning profession and sets out to prove to Sid, his sceptical brother-in-law, that he knows how to conduct himself with women. This intention resulting in a very embarrassing incident on Clapham Common

In which we meet Timmy’s mum and dad; also sister Rosie through whose wiles Sid is persuaded to take Timmy into the business. Sid shows Timmy the ropes and introduces him to one of his more responsive customers with whom our hero spends an instructive afternoon

In which Timmy sallies forth on his own and meets a lady called Dorothy, who is bored and lonely

In which Timmy has a lot on his hands when he does a job for the animal-loving Mrs. Chorlwood and takes tea with the eccentric Mrs. Armstrong

In which Timmy offers some advice on how to succeed with women and meets Sandy, a girl of mature tastes and advanced ideas. Also, her friend Amanda with whom he shares a striking experience

In which Timmy finds a girlfriend, Elizabeth, at the Palais and has a confusing experience with Mrs. Villiers’ maid—and her mistress

In which Timmy’s style is cramped by a girl called Brenda with surprising consequences. And in which Elizabeth unexpectedly succumbs to our hero’s charms

In which Timmy meets an acrobatic dancer called Sonia who is forced to go to unusual lengths in order to secure a platform for her talents

In which Timmy attempts to repair a rift between a girl called Elvie and her friend, with results only a little less disturbing than those arising when he responds to the advances of Carla, an amorous Italian with an identity problem

In which Timmy meets Mrs. Evans during a convivial evening at the local, and finds that her predilection for cleanliness has some remarkable inconsistencies

In which Timmy decides the time has come to settle down and enjoys a last fling at an unusual party given by Sandy—an evening which has a number of unexpected consequences


How did it all start?


When I was young and in want of cash (which was all the time) I used to trudge round to the local labour exchange during holidays from school and university to sign on for any job that was going – mason’s mate, loader for Speedy Prompt Delivery, part-time postman, etc.

During our tea and fag breaks (‘Have a go and have a blow’ was the motto) my fellow workers would regale me with stories of the Second World War: ‘Very clean people, the Germans’, or of throwing Irishmen through pub windows (men who had apparently crossed the Irish sea in hard times and were prepared to work for less than the locals). This was interesting, but what really stuck in my mind were the recurring stories of the ‘mate’ or the ‘brother-in-law’. The stories about these men (rarely about the speaker himself) were about being seduced, to put it genteelly, whilst on the job by (it always seemed to be) ‘a posh bird’:


‘Oeu-euh. Would you care for a cup of tea?’

‘And he was up her like a rat up a drainpipe’


These stories were prolific. Even one of the – to my eyes – singularly uncharismatic workers had apparently been invited to indulge in carnal capers after a glass of lemonade one hot summer afternoon near Guildford.

Of course, these stories could all have been make-believe or urban myth, but I couldn’t help thinking, with all this repetition, surely there must be something in them?

When writing the series, it seemed unrealistic and undemocratic that Timmy’s naive charms should only appeal to upper class women, so I quickly widened his demographic and put him in situations where any attractive member of the fairer sex might cross his path.

The books were always fun to write and never more so than when they involved Timmy’s family: his Mum, his Dad (prone to nicking weird objects from the lost property office where he worked), his sister Rosie and, perhaps most importantly, his conniving, would be entrepreneur, brother-in-law Sidney Noggett. Sidney was Timmy’s eminence greasy, a disciple of Thatcherism before it had been invented.

Whatever the truth concerning Timothy Lea’s origins, twenty-seven ‘Confessions’ books and four movies suggest that an awful lot of people share my fascination with the character and his adventures. I am grateful to each and every one of them.


Christopher Wood aka Timothy Lea


The window cleaning lark first begins to appeal to me one evening when I am up at the pub with my brother-in-law. It is on Clapham Common and we are sitting on a bench outside, watching the sun go down and this big bird with the white silk blouse on. It is a bit small – the blouse I mean – and rides up from her waist so you can see her two tone flesh and the top of her knickers.

She has been in the sun, that is for sure. She has dyed hair, too much lipstick and a diabolical eyebrow pencil beauty spot that dates her a bit, but if she is going down hill I can think of a few blokes who wouldn’t mind waiting for her at the bottom – me included.

“Sup up,” says Sid. “You’re supposed to drink it, not pour it all over your balls. You’re right out of practice, aren’t you?”

I nod and correct the angle of my glass. Sid is right. I am straight out of reform school, ‘for the holidays’, my poxy father says, and there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for elbow bending – or lapping up birds like Silk Blouse. She has a black bra underneath it which I think is a bit of a liberty. Sid looks at her as if it is an effort to keep from yawning. “I’ve had her,” he says, switching his gaze to his finger nails. Very neat they are, too. Say what you like about Sid – and most people say plenty – but he keeps himself in good nick.

“Oh yes,” I say. “You and who else?”

“I don’t know about that, do I?” he says. “But I know I have. Why, don’t you believe me?”

“If you want to put it like that – no?” I say. I mean, she is with two blokes who look sharp as tin tacks and have a white Jag to prove it. I can’t see our Sidney with her legs up against the dashboard of his mini van.

“Hang on,” he says. “I’ll show you.”

Before I can say anything he picks up my glass and slides off towards the bar. The bird hasn’t noticed him up till then, but when she does I begin to believe Sid might be right. She half smiles and shoots a quick glance at one of the blokes she’s with. You can see she doesn’t quite know what to do. Sid is a gent because he nods to her ever so politely like she was his Sunday school teacher and carries right on into the pub. I can’t help it, I’m impressed. Seeing Sid must have done something to her, for her fag goes out and she starts tugging her blouse down and smiling slightly out of time with the conversation she’s supposed to be part of; as if there’s something on her mind. I look at Sid through new eyes when he comes out of the pub. He’s quite a good-looking fellow, I suppose. Not tall, but with very broad shoulders and narrow hips. Looks a bit like one of those poufdah ballet dancers you see on the telly before you turn over to the wrestling. I know my sister thinks his arsehole plays ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ every time he farts.

“Try and keep this one inside you,” he says, handing me a pint. “You look as if you’ve pissed yourself. I’m ashamed to be seen with you.”

He runs his fingers through his hair, kneading in every wave – Sid has lovely hair, even my mum remarks on it – and gives Silk Blouse a big smile as she glances at him. She blushes and turns away double quick. Sid shakes his head and stares out over the common towards the pond where the kids and the middle-aged wankers sail their model boats. It’s as if he doesn’t want to be the cause of any embarrassment to her. Very thoughtful.

“Well?” he says. “You saw that?”

“Yes,” I say. “She looked pretty twitched up. Who are those blokes she’s with?”

“I don’t know. Her husband travels, I believe. I expect she gets a bit lonely in the evenings.”

“How did you meet her?”

“On the job, how else?”

“What, window cleaning?”

“I haven’t got any other jobs, have I?”

I’m registering surprise because Sid and Rosie, my sister, have been married for three months and Rosie is already great, too great if you ask my mother, with child, which everybody in the family, and even a few of the neighbours, are prepared to accept as Sid’s. What’s more, Sid has only been cleaning windows since they came back from their honeymoon, which is what they called the weekend they spent at Brighton where one of Sid’s friends was supposed to have a boarding house. In fact, they never found a trace of the friend and spent two nights trying to sleep rough at Butlins before they were thrown out. I missed the wedding because I was being reformed at the time and heard all about it, and the honeymoon, from Rosie, who could not be accused of exaggeration because she was bonkers about Sid and would burst into tears every time Dad said he was a ponce.

“What about my sister?” I say, feeling I’d better show a bit of family loyalty.

“She’s getting all she can handle,” says Sid. “You haven’t heard her complaining, have you?”

This is true. I’ve heard my old man complaining about the row they make but not a squeak out of Rosie. In fact, Rosie doesn’t make much noise of any kind. This evening we’ve left her at home in front of the telly, knitting some woolly horror for ‘her Sid’ and I know she’ll be in exactly the same position when we get back, with her head jutting towards the screen and just a few more rows of puce to show for it. She and Sid have been living with us since the wedding and show every sign of continuing to do so until they find ‘the right place’ as Sid puts it. Dad says that Sid’s idea of the right place is the one he seems to be finding every night and he can hardly expect his daughter to be a contortionist as well as a wife. Mum tells him not to be dirty, though she doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. She just knows Dad.

“Anyhow, I’m doing it for her, aren’t I?”

I give him my ‘pull the other one’ look.

“Oh, you can act all disapproving, but you’ve no idea what it’s like. I’m trying to build up a business, aren’t I? Half of these birds don’t just want their windows cleaned. You say no dice and they swear blind you did it anyway. I’ve been told that. Straight up, I have. One terrible old bag, she blackmailed me, said if I didn’t give her what she wanted, she’d start screaming the place down. What could I do? You soon get the message. Put yourself in my position.”

I steal a quick glance at Silk Blouse and wish I could.

“You want to keep them happy, don’t you, because you want the work; and you’re only human, aren’t you? When a bit of stuff like that starts offering to squeeze out your chamois, you don’t start retracting your ladder, do you?”

“I suppose not,” I say. “But is it really like that? I mean, you hear all those stories about milkmen, but I never believe half of it.”

“I don’t know about milkmen,” says Sid. “But you wouldn’t coco some of the things that have happened to me, and I haven’t been in the business four months. I won’t start to tell you, because you wouldn’t credit it. I think maybe it’s because you look more athletic cleaning windows. You might laugh but sometimes I feel I’m almost hypnotising them when I sweep the old squeegee backwards and forwards. I always wear a T shirt or white nylon – that’s favourite because when it gets wet they can see your nipples. Press up against the window and give ’em a smile occasionally. You can see their hands shaking as they put the kettle on.”

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