I confess that I have never had a professional relationship with a window cleaner. This isn’t a matter of policy but of pure chance. After all, I live in a barge. Our windows, portholes or whatever, are all at a sensible height. I can clean them all in less than half an hour. Similarly window cleaners rarely seem to hire poets to perform on significant birthdays.
Still I am happy enough to pass the time of day with them as I pass by. Indeed I’ve always enjoyed listening to them singing their traditional window cleaner songs as they work. Strangely these songs became briefly fashionable with Grarrat’s opera, ‘The Window Cleaner.’ It told the tale of a young window cleaner who caught a glimpse of a beautiful maiden as he cleaned a window and fell in love with her. He returned next day but discovered the maiden was only visiting and nobody would tell him where in the city she lived. The opera is his quest to find her.
I rather liked the opera. The fact that most of the singing took place with the singers at the top of ladders had the gratifying effect of reducing the big dance numbers that have rendered many modern operas bloated and inordinately long. Also it must be the only opera where the heroine appears only in the last act. There she sings one of the finest contralto arias I know about her love for her husband and her five children. It is then you realise how long the quest has lasted.
The Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm does need the services of window cleaners. Whilst we can normally get the mendicants to clean those windows easily accessible from the ground, the clerestory windows are a very different matter. When cleaning the insides of the windows attempts were made to swing mendicants across to them on ropes. This has never been an entire success. The dangling mendicant often manifests a distressing habit of using both hands to stop themselves banging into walls and pillars. This inevitably means that they lose their grip on both bucket and wet cloth. Thus you’ve got to lower them to the ground, give them a new bucket and cloth and pull them back up again. All this puts a considerable strain on those pulling on the rope, especially as they often have to dodge falling buckets and similar.
Strangely enough, doing the outside of the clerestory windows was more successful. We rigged up a huge A frame formed from a number of ships’ masts and suspended the mendicant from that. Whilst none of our airborne mendicants successfully cleaned a window, we did at least raise the cost of hiring professional window cleaners. Maljie, armed with a collecting bucket, passed amongst the crowd of passers-by who had gathered to watch the performance. Not only that but she managed to charge rent to the bookie who was running a book on whether we’d put a mendicant through a window rather than merely keep banging them on the wall.
Maljie herself has an entirely positive relationship with window cleaners. Perhaps because of her time spent as a usurer, but she is more than unusually aware of the cash-flow problems small businesses can face. Hence she always pays them promptly. Indeed on one occasion I saw her chasing after a window cleaner who had left without asking to be paid.
Unfortunately the window cleaner, glancing over his shoulder, saw a lady pursuing him and gesturing. At this point his conscience obviously got the better of him because he abandoned ladders, buckets, and cloths and fled. Maljie was left to make her way home carrying the discarded paraphernalia of the window cleaners trade, lest somebody else make off with it.
And at this point I suppose we really ought to look at the other issue people have with window cleaners. Their habit of peering through windows. In all candour it’s a little difficult to see how they can do their job without looking through the window. If it’s a problem, draw the curtains.
Now you would have thought that our mendicants would welcome window cleaners. After all, it’s one less job for the mendicants. At the very least, the presence of the window cleaner means that there is less chance of being dangled from a rope high about a hard stone floor. There again, it could be that it’s only the lighter mendicants who need worry about the dangling. Apparently even the larger mendicants are prone to be embarrassed by a lack of curtaining.
Mind you, even professional window cleaners had problems with the clerestory windows. Doing the outsides was comparatively simple. They used a number of ladders to get up to the top of the roof and then allowed themselves to hang over the edge and wash the windows that way. Inside was more complicated. There are ladders made long enough to reach but they are so long that they sag. So they have to be braced. Erecting and bracing a ladder, cleaning the window, disassembling things, moving them and erecting again, all takes time. This is where Stillitoe Cloudwiller came to the rescue. He is a renowned inventor. Who hasn’t heard of the aquatic tripod or the Cloudwiller Patented Commendable Monocycle?
He designed, and had his artisans build, the first Cloudwiller Patented Extendable Ladder. It was aimed both at window cleaners and also those who needed to rescue people from high places (perhaps because the building was on fire).
The original version was comparatively simple, but after some thought Stillitoe believed it could be improved. It struck him that both groups of possible users would have water about. So he decided to make the ladder extend hydraulically. So rather than brute strength pushing and pulling the ladder, he fitted a water reservoir. Then he got one of those pumps with two pistons and a swinging handle. You know the sort of thing, you and I would stand opposite each other both grasping the handle. When I pressed down, my side would drop, pushing down my piston and raising yours. Then you would press down, pushing down your piston and raising mine. Thus and so, we would pump the water.
He decided to try his new improved version with us. I can understand his thinking. We have plenty of high windows that need washing, and plenty of mendicants who can work the pump.
The problem arose because of the natural antipathy our mendicants have for window cleaners. They pumped with unnatural enthusiasm. The ladder extended perfectly, even with two window cleaners standing on the platform. But Stillitoe had overlooked one minor detail. The hose the window cleaner had to use had a fine nozzle. After all you don’t need vast amounts of water. This meant that the pressure in the system built up until finally the seals ruptured. This sprayed the two window cleaners with water as their platform dropped slowly down to the ground.
Lesser men would have been deterred, but Stillitoe wanted to try steam. He felt a small steam engine would be more controllable than mendicants. It was with some misgivings that the incumbent allowed the steam version to be tested at the shrine. When I saw the new version, I could see that lessons had been learned. Instead of heavy canvas piping for the water, Stillitoe was using brass tubes capable of taking more pressure. When they saw it, the window cleaners were not entirely comfortable with the idea of going up in the platform. Stillitoe arranged a ‘trial run.’ We put several sandbags in the platform and Stillitoe started the steam pump. Apparently you had to let the pressure of steam build up a little before releasing the catch to allow the ladder to extend. I suspect Stillitoe was too engrossed in explaining the system and thus released the catch a little late. As it was his contraption managed to send the platform up at such a speed that it, the sandbags, and the top half of the ladder, were fired over the shrine and landed in the courtyard beyond.
Still, it must be said that his basic version was perfectly useful. It was eminently practical, safe and reliable. It was well built by competent craftsmen and looked like it would stand a lot of hard usage. Unfortunately it was somewhat expensive. Still our incumbent suggested at the Conclave of the Combined Hierarchs and their staffs that the Order purchased one and it could go from shrine to shrine. Thus the cost per shrine would be very low. This was agreed and one was purchased.
It was then that the theological objections starting to be raised. Apparently in some shrines the windows, often of stained glass, were considered to be venerated icons. On the rare occasions that they had been cleaned in the past, they were cleaned by the most senior cleric present. At other shrines, some of the windows could only be cleaned by having the contraption set up in the sacred space reserved for the ordained.
The conclave discussed the matter and pronounced. The use of the extendable ladder would be considered to be a religious festival. Whilst it was perfectly acceptable for laity and mendicants to do the heaving and straining, the lead must be taken by the most senior clergy present. The actual washing of the windows could only be done by somebody who had been ordained.
When we got news of this decision, Maljie and Laxey studied the canons of the order. Finally they discovered, among the deliberations of a conclave held several centuries previously, that, “In times of discord, if there is no ordained person available, the temple wardens may temporarily elevate a person of good standing to fulfil the duties of an ordinand.”
Obviously there are those who might quibble that being of good standing means more than just wearing sensible shoes. Maljie and Laxey have a place for those who quibble. It is on the platform of an extendable ladder.
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As a reviewer commented “
Maljie and Tallis start by taking action to protect their incumbent from being involuntarily removed from her post in order to serve the ambitions of Battass Droom. They then have to go on to protect each other from being elected Patriarch, which is, by definition, a job best done by somebody who does NOT want the appointment.
The efforts to achieve their aims become steadily more and more tortuous, including an attempt to delay a key meeting by employing such diverse methods as elaborate food poisoning and a trebuchet with an unusual payload, a race against time involving a one way balloon ride and having, temporarily, two Patriarchs (or are they non-Patriarchs?) with too much time on their hands.
Along the way, Jim takes delight in lampooning bureaucracy and its devotees, with some jaw-dropping moments that challenge the way things work. What would be non sequiturs anywhere else are hilariously believable in Port Naain and make you consider “real life” in a new light.
Do NOT read this book anywhere that full volume belly laughs are not socially acceptable.”
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