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Saturday, 19 January 2013

I Have Much To Thank God For.

Both in the church I used to attend in Bracknell and in the present one I now attend in Ascot, I have made friends with, have spoken and associated with graduates of both genders who hold down professional careers. Although I would never ask what their income would be, as such a question would go against the culture and etiquette of our nation, there is really no need for me to ask anyway. It's obvious that their incomes are, and has always been, much higher than mine.

They also have a greater degree of security. With both a high standard of education and work experience to go with it, if the business they are working for goes under, chances are high that they can walk into another job and continue as if nothing has happened. Ditto if the company they work for is bought and taken over by another. Such an employee is likely to keep his post.

A university graduate has, or used to have, much of the world open to him after leaving college, or at least that's how it was in previous generations, including my own post-war baby boom generation. One can choose where to live and work. If a guy fresh out of college wishes to pursue further education or profession Down Under, for example, or even in the States, there would have been opportunities open to him. Then there is, in addition, the Gap Year, where students spend several months gaining experience in a far-away land, often in teaching or engaged in further studies.

By contrast, I'm a self-employed domestic window cleaner. Meaning that I specialise in private homes rather than on commercial premises. There is nothing wrong with such a line of work, as this involves running my own business and offering a service to my clients, which I have done for the last 32 years. But, and yes, unfortunately, there is a "but" - in such a class-conscious country, such an occupation is often looked down upon, giving me a rather low evaluation as a person.

And that hurts. And if I was invited to a party, chances are, and yes, it has happened - that I would feel reserved, hoping that no posh sounding guest ask what I do for a living. Especially when I was single and some young female was eyeing me up. To this day, I am often looked down with disdain, believe it or not, more likely by the daughters of clients who were out when I called. Why teenage girls tend to feel this way towards a window cleaner, I find rather baffling. Maybe I have that gullible "I'm easy to be taken advantage of" kind of expression, or my unusual "foreign" accent whenever I say something. However, I can see a strong connection between this and the catastrophic experience I had in Israel in 1994, described in my last blog, Travels: Rotten Luck? - where one female volunteer led others to turn against me for being "just" a manual worker, Italian, and with a misunderstanding that I was against equality for women (which wasn't true - I have always believed in equality.) In the latter case, I should add, the misunderstanding may have arisen from her belief, false or not, that in Italy the male still dominate.

But to run a domestic window cleaning business involves loyalty and commitment on my part, and trust and loyalty on the client's side. The day-to-day British weather plays an important role. If it's wet, whether I can work or not depends on how it rains. A gentle to moderate rainfall without any wind, I can work and get away with it. But even in such a situation, there are clients who would look out over my shoulder while I'm at the door and say something like, Not today, thankyou. It's not worth having my windows done. Come back next month. If up to three clients answer in such a manner, in a week there is a significant drop of income. And weekly and monthly living expenses remain unchanged. A stormy day with blustery weather (wind driven rain) would cause me to remain at home, as with a layer of snow and ice. Days lost equal loss of earnings. Then there is the housing market. A client sell up and moves away, and the new occupants are not interested in having their windows cleaned. Many younger residents see a window cleaner as some kind of adversity, thanks to the likes of the Media, such as a series of BBC programmes bearing the title Rogue Traders. Also ditto with the death of a client, and in my area there are quite a number of senior citizens, one couple in their nineties, another in their late eighties, while several are already widowed.

Indeed, such a business is like living on a knife edge, or precariously on a cliff edge. I could be jobless within weeks. And the word precarious would not be out of place with a number of homes with which the architect had a seeming grudge against tradesmen. Some of these windows I clean are difficult to reach, and it takes only the ladder to move slightly and I would fall. This has happened a few times, each incident resulting in hospital treatment. One accident occurred in 1997 which not only put me in hospital for five days but also resulted in remaining incapacitated for the next two months. I was very fortunate that I wasn't paralysed from the neck down. It could have easily happened.

But despite these risks and customer setbacks, I press on, fully trusting in the Lord to sustain me. In fact, whenever I arrive home from a full day's work, there is that feeling of bliss when I see my wife Alex walk in from the kitchen with a sumptious meal while I put away the day's earnings. I am grateful to God for enabling me to steward over such responsibility. Just as important, being self-employed has been, and still is, a builder of character. It has helped me to develop politeness and courtesy, qualities I had lacked in my younger days. Trust has developed among clients and I have even provided a shoulder to cry on, in one case literally, in others as a listening board for their sorrows, especially when a couple splits. It is a learning curve, which can be tough at times, to bring to the realisation to see others as better than myself.

Trusting in the Lord is immensely important in a job like this. This dependency covers for protection when at a precarious situation, for an adequate income to cover all regular expenses, for good customer relations and for keeping the clientele numbers up to an acceptable level. It also covers the "silly season" during the summer when many head for the airport. Really, often I have sat down and thought hard. Would I swap all this for working in an office?

During the early days of the business, I would have uttered a resounding "YES!" I would picture myself dressed in suit and tie while taking my place at the desk, especially if the weather outside is awful. To be looked upon and treated as equal by both work colleagues and church members, to be invited to countless house parties, maybe given assignments abroad, with flights and hotel accommodation paid for by the company, and to be looked upon with respect by both men and women. Gosh, how I wished I had done much better at school!

The grass always looks greener on the other side. Newspapers have reported about the sheer ennui experienced by many office staff who, while driving to work in the morning and getting caught in traffic, having a crushing desire to head for the airport and buying a ticket for the next 'plane out. I read about cranky bosses, malicious gossip among colleagues, office affairs and unfaithfulness to one's own spouse, long hours, tediousness - and I have wondered if it would have been worth it all, as I lay down the tools and pull out the lunch pack and sit and watch the rays of sunshine filter through the tree tops. I don't have a boss to tell me when it's time to start, when to eat, whether he lets me go to the loo, and when I can go home. Instead, if I want to call it a day at three in the afternoon, I just pack my stuff away and go home. More common during the bitter-cold winter days. The same with holidays. True, any time not working means the loss of income. But neither do I need to jostle for priority when to take time off. Therefore I have concluded that I would not swap my window cleaning business for a desk job, even if one was offered.

- Unless it involves travel. Travel. One of my passions. I have written enough blogs already on this topic, so there is not much more to say here. But even in this area of my life, God has blessed me richly, and I'll give him the glory. One of the abilities God has given me is the will to travel solo. One striking example of this was way back in 1976, when I flew out alone to backpack Israel. In those days I was an employee at a precision engineering factory shop floor, making ball-bearing races (the two rings which in between the ball bearings roll). When I returned three weeks later, I was an icon, not just by my shop-floor colleagues, but also among the office staff upstairs as well. In 1978 I was called "brave" after backpacking the USA alone, and again in 1995 by an air stewardess on a flight to New York. But these people did not account for the mistakes made as a fledgling backpacker in the early 1970s, described in one of my earlier blogs, Travels: Failed First Time? Try Again - published November 25th, 2012. As with window cleaning, travel was also a huge learning curve.

Looking back at all these things, I realise that God has blessed me richly. Not only with eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, but in "earthly" things as well. But it also looks to me that the true idea behind these blessings is to learn to depend on God, to trust him in his goodness, and to do good to one another, especially Christian believers. Romans chapter eight is probably one of my favourite passages in the Bible. Verse 28 reads:

And  we know that all things work together for those who love God, to them who are called according to his purpose...

And verses 38-39 concludes with:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Now that is something to ponder over when I'm up on the ladders while a chilly breeze blows.


  1. I Corinthians 1:26-29 states, "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. You are blessed that God has chosen you. Many of those who leave you feeling inferior are not his. Great article.

  2. Thanks for that post Frank. Without God, it would all be meaningless; with God, everything has a purpose and reason.

  3. Hey Frank, This is an excellent post. A real encouragement to always look to God our provider. Keep 'em coming!! Dave

  4. Hi Frank,
    I am glad that you have come to the conclusion that you would not swap your window cleaning for a desk top, that speaks of contentment. Why anyone would worry about snobbery or nastiness beats me, I would just be glad that the same spirits were not in me. You are very fortunate that you have travelled so much and are able to share your travels on your blog, I love reading about them and I love the diversity of all the different bloggers. God is no respecter of persons and yet He is higher than all.