|Kyle Graham gives a Kew office window a sparkling view.|
Reliable window washers a godsend in the booming service industry: To the scantily clad woman who ran in panic to the bathroom last week – window cleaner Kyle Graham, hanging on a rope at the time, wasn't trying to grab a picture with his camera phone. He was just taking a call.
And by the way, there was a notice in your mailbox saying he'd be working that day ... so, keep your eyes peeled next time. "When we're doing apartment blocks we put up notices a few days before, but people don't notice that stuff," says Graham, who has been doing rope access work for three years – and has subsequently learnt a great deal about people.
|Kyle Graham the window washer plies his trade in Kew.|
"You sort of see into their lives: what books they're reading, what movies they're watching, how their bedrooms are super messy and piled with their junk, and the rest of the house is tidy, how they're sitting there in the morning in their underwear, that kind of stuff."
On one occasion, when Graham had long hair and a beard and looked much like Jesus, he descended to a window where a woman was kneeling in front of a cross and praying. "I don't know if I gave her a religious experience, but I sure gave her a fright," he says.
The other people routinely startled into action by sudden appearance of Graham are lazy office workers. "You see them on Facebook or the phone and it's obvious they're just slacking off. Once they see me they immediately get back to work."
As a species, the window washer – much like the pool man and gardener – has been the source of much ribald humour for, like, ever. They are, of course, people just doing a job – more of them with the growth in the service industry, the cultural blow-out of middle-class brunch and outsourcing of old fashioned weekend chores, and reality television's almost moral elevation of the home beautiful.
Cameron MacSween started cleaning windows 33 years ago as a teenager. Those were the days of the four-storey ladders (since banned) and a little anxiety when the ladder slipped a little or sunk in to the grass and threatened to tilt backwards. MacSween experienced the latter while cleaning at Xavier College one day and may explain why he tried another line of work for a while, before founding Cam's Window Cleaning 17 years ago.
Competition has grown with opportunity, and the technical demands of high-rise work, the advent of different grades of glass, and Occupational Health and Safety guidelines has turned a bucket-and-squeegee game into more of a trade. "There are now maybe 15 high-rise companies, 20 or 30 general window washing companies, and maybe 10 of them are mainstream ... then you've got your sole traders doing domestic work, down to your pensioners who get out and clean the local shops."
It's taken MacSween a long time to establish a reliable team who actually take an interest in their work – no-shows were once epidemic – and aren't prone to falling off ladders. He tells the story of an elderly Greek worker who resisted all gentle hints of retirement, no matter him falling into swimming pools and crashing the company car three times in a month. "In the end, I had to say that was enough."
While the new-world seriousness has taken over a game that once suffered too many cowboys, a saucy side lives on. MacSween long ago put a slab of beer on offer to any of the workers who might get "picked up" on the job. However, an outbreak of professionalism has meant the slab has gone unclaimed.
Graham, the Jesus-like rope man who works for MacSween, was recently confronted with a woman holding a phone number against the pane. He wasn't sure if it was a joke, a referral to a girlfriend or what. "I didn't follow it up."
There remains, however, the legend of a window cleaner called Peter Perfect. "He was a very good-looking bloke, worked out, had a good physique – and he knew it," says MacSween. "He sort of dressed to show himself off. We got a lot of requests from the ladies for Peter Perfect. He's now in another line of work."