Windows Ten and a Half

The words double glazing and salesman are inseparable, though there was a time when most folk had not heard of double glazing and salesmen had to go door to door selling vacuum cleaners. Perhaps long ago, glazing salesmen went round to castles and peasant huts trying to sell them the advantage of having panes in their windows instead of wooden shutters or pieces of old hessian.

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In Victorian times householders in Scotland tried adding extra panes of glass to keep out the harsh winters, but modern double glazing started in the USA in the 1940s as ‘thermopane’ . Manufacturers began to use a vacuum between the two panes to improve insulation.

In the 1970’s it became popular for the domestic market in Britain and heralded the arrival of the double glazing salesman.

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Meanwhile in Perth, Western Australia windows meant the necessity of fly screens. As new migrants with a new house my father made them himself and instead of closing the door to keep the cold out we children were always being reminded to close the fly screen door.

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When I returned to England in the 1970’s for my working holiday ( the one I’m still on) it was to a country of three day weeks, power cuts and general mayhem. Pommies in Australia were congratulating themselves and vowing never to go back to ‘the cold’. When we left in 1964 fitted carpets were something posh people had, heating was something you lit and bedroom windows were covered in ice in the morning; beautiful patterns created by Jack Frost.

On Christmas morning I found myself in mild weather in the cosy little terraced house of my aunt and uncle. No one was cold, friends and relatives had central heating powered by North Sea Gas, carpet in every room and the cold kept out with double glazing. A popular topic of conversation was patio doors and porches; pretty French windows had been replaced by sliding doors and front doors were sheltered by tiny porches. I vowed never to turn into the sort of person who talked endlessly about porches and patio doors, or for that matter to ever be impoverished with a mortgage.

Not everyone had these home improvements. Our first flat had no heating, condensation running down the bathroom walls and washing  and baby drying in front of the gas fire. But when we bought our first place, a tiny modern flat, our first Christmas was white and we were delighted with the central heating and double glazing.

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When we bought an actual house it was the typical 1930’s  tiny terrace that my parents had left England to escape. It did have that other popular home improvement, an extension across the back of the house, but this space was rendered useless in winter with cold draughts coming through the rattling doors and windows. We took out an impoverishing extension on our mortgage to get the whole house double glazed, but first had to decide which company. We set a record by having eleven companies come round to give a quote. The worst salesman asked if he could smoke (afterwards we asked ourselves why on earth we said yes) and sat there with sweaty armpits. We didn’t choose him.

But sealed double glazed units don’t last forever, if the seal ‘goes’ you can be left with windows that look like it’s always raining. Friends had the original aluminium picture window in their front room and for years you could not see out of it, there was a permanent mist.

Fast forward to the present; this is the longest we have lived in one house and we have gradually done some improvements and window replacements. The most recent being two back bedroom windows, a new porch and the living room window all scheduled to be completed in less than a week. We chose the local company everyone uses who had previously built our little conservatory, a blissful sun trap.

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The two chaps who came out were loud and rude; I wasn’t sure if they were swearing at the windows or each other. When they said there was bad news, the front window was the wrong size, I thought they were joking, they weren’t.

With a holiday coming up and then seven visitors staying, the process has been drawn out. A different chap came out with the new window.

‘Are you on your own?’ we asked.

‘Yes, I’d rather work by myself, you wouldn’t believe some of the blokes I’ve had to work with.’

‘Yes, I think we would…’

He had hardly sipped the cup of coffee we gave him than he realised the windows were still the wrong size!

It has taken a while, but on Saturday at the third attempt we have a good window, nicely finished off by a chap and his son-in-law. Chatting with them we heard the first two blokes have been sacked as they didn’t get on!

We haven’t parted with any money yet, there is still a finishing strip missing from the porch, to be fixed tomorrow… I did suggest we say we can’t pay them as there has been a mistake with the money…

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Lines On The Washing

Winter has the advantage of long dark evenings, but the risk of tripping over on the pavement – if you are nosey and walk with your head turned sideways to see into the windows of homes where they have not closed the curtains. I love seeing choice of colour schemes and furniture, signs of lifestyles; room full of toys, a cello and music stand or a wide screen television hung over the fireplace revealing to the whole street what they are watching.

Being on a train, coach on the motorway or upstairs on a double-decker bus has the extra advantage we can’t be seen spying on the lives of others; peering into their back gardens, watching a farmer walk his cows over a motorway bridge or busy shoppers ignoring a homeless person in a doorway.

When I was 21 and officially on my working holiday, with destination, career path and accommodation vague, I would look down from train or coach windows fascinated, sometimes envious of other people with their real lives. Going to work, pushing prams, shopping, gardening and hanging out the washing; putting washing on the line is one of the few domestic tasks we can observe, from the person leaning over their tiny balcony in a block of flats to a lone cottage on a hill, the wind ready to tear the sheets from their hands.

Hanging the washing up is my favourite domestic task. This is not a discussion about housework and who should do what. Clothes and bedding need to be washed, meals prepared and homes large and small cleaned; somewhere along the line someone has to do it and my favourite job is hanging out the washing. Yes I know towels come out of the tumble drier lovely and fluffy, but it’s hardly a spiritual experience.

When I am in my little garden hanging out the washing this is the real life I observed so long ago. The fact that I am out there means either I’m basking in the sun or being whipped by an exhilarating wind, either way enjoying nature. Looking up at the sky, observing the birds and tidying up the flowers are all part of the experience and an antidote to the internet; though I often grab my phone to take a picture of birds, flowers or clouds to put on Facebook or Instagram.

Of course you will know from books, films and television dramas that secret agents, detectives and important politicians never need to do the washing. But in my novel Brief Encounters of the Third Kind, Susan is a very ordinary woman in an ordinary London suburb. It is when she is in the garden hanging out the washing that something strange happens that will change her life.