Thursday, 10 December 2015

Gainful Employment

What should a birding blogger blog about? If there is frequent birding we have the option of a million posts of the 'I went here and saw this' variety. But unless the blogger is the Fair Isle warden, hands up who wants that? Very few I'll bet. Personally I like a blog to to be a little window into someone else's world, and I mean that in the broadest sense. Not just a list of day to day events, I want to know what the blogger thinks, what motivates him or her, and so on. Ultimately it's not just the shared interest that draws me to certain blogs, but also the person. I kind of hope that NQS readers might feel similarly. In fact, they must do, because they certainly aren't reading this stuff for a daily dose of vicarious birding thrills!

So, in keeping with the above, here's a little glimpse into my world...

The reason there's been so little birdy content on NQS lately is because I am having to work. When I got back from Scilly in mid-October it started to rain, and didn't stop for at least six weeks. My job is weather dependant, so this meant I couldn't work. Now that we are finally getting the odd dry day I am compelled to earn money. I have earned money ever since I dropped out of university aged 19. My employment history is pretty unremarkable, but does include a 23 year spell with Kodak Ltd in Harrow. Most of those years involved shift work, which sometimes came in dead useful for birding, in that I could often be out and about midweek when most of my birding mates were in the office. Much grippage! On the other hand, shift work occasionally provoked in me a rather pathetic desperation. Take October 1987...
  • 12-hour night shift.
  • Huge drive to East Prawle in Devon.
  • Use the approximately five minutes then at my disposal to search for a Black-and-White Warbler.
  • Dip.
  • Huge drive back to Harrow.
  • 12-hour night shift.
  • Crawl home and die.
Anyway, in late 2002 I grabbed a redundancy opportunity with both hands, retreated to Seaton, Devon and began a new career as a window cleaner. I built a round, initially by canvassing, and soon had a good number of customers whom I visited every month, six weeks, two months or whatever they wanted. With window cleaning you don't have all your eggs in one basket, so if someone moves, dies or drops you, or if you take a dislike to a customer, losing them is no big deal. And anyway, the next new customer is never far away. I have never advertised and my van is not sign-written, yet still I find myself having to turn away potential new jobs. I sometimes wonder, do the unemployed know about window cleaning? Because there's heaps of work going begging! Yes, you need to be reasonably fit, but not much else is required. I do it the old-fashioned way, off ladders, but even here only a modest head for heights is necessary; I go up to first floor, max. And not on any old ladders. No, no! Mine are special window cleaner's ladders...

One of my ladders in action today
I have two like this (3.5m and 4.5m) and a diddy one of about 7ft. They are brilliant. More expensive than yer builder's type, but a thousand times safer for window cleaning, You can see how versatile they are in the pic...

Hmmm...as I take a step back and dispassionately look at this post so far, I am slightly disturbed to realise that I actually posed my ladder today. And photographed it. And that I appear to be bigging up window cleaning as a career choice. NQS blog material is spiralling downwards into the realm of barrel-bottom scrapings. Aagh!

Better talk about birds then. Window cleaning is great for birds. I once saw a Hoopoe actually from my ladder. Yes, that one in the pic. I've also had Red Kite and Yellow-browed Warbler. But my most exciting work bird was the Axe patch's first Montagu's Harrier, which flew past me as I got out of the van. My customer must have been a bit confused to see me leap back in and squeal off down the road in pursuit...

18 comments:

  1. Surprised to see you using those long ladders for your job. Before retiring 9 years ago I was a manager involved with claims, insurance and H & Safety. I seem to recall that the use of ladders over a certain height for window cleaning was stopped because of the risk of falls, working above 3 metres required the use of fall arrest systems and so window cleaners all started using telescopic poles through which the water flowed and that's still the case where I live. Have things reverted back then?

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    1. Derek, many (most?) window cleaners I know have moved to the water-fed pole systems, but thankfully ladders are still a viable (and legal!) option in many situations. I have no plans to change, but will admit that I do like bungalows.

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  2. Gav, perhaps your next post could be about the ratio of cleaner/water to get the best results; how do you transport the water or do you rely upon your customer for that; force of wind before you abort ladder climbing; how to approach houses that are on a slope; best squugee make; is it wise to chamois off the window? There you are, enough subject matter to keep you going well into 2016!

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    1. Steve, I realise these are burning questions that need answering, but for the sake of what is left of this blog's integrity I promise never to do so!

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  3. Gav, I once saw a window cleaner on a ladder cleaning windows on what must have been the 3rd or 4th floor of an office block. He was miles up, and also prepared to reach out.
    Not sure what the insurance status of the self employed is. I've got 3rd party. Apart from that, should my garden gear get me, I'm on my own.
    I've been doing gardens for a decade now, and like you find no need to advertise. Just being seen is enough.

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    1. Ric, I'm pleased to say that my head for heights is pretty feeble and therefore acts as a useful safety valve. The scenario you describe there sounds crazy to me!
      I have 2 million quid's worth of public liability insurance, so if I were careless enough to drop onto a customer's Porsche I'm covered!

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  4. One thing I will say about the telescopic pole style of window cleaning, it may be safer but it in no way leaves the window as clean as Gavin's way of doing it.

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    1. So I hear! The hands-on style is certainly preferred by many customers.

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  5. Gavin, is your spell at Kodak why you were able to fish at Water End? I loved that small pool, the Hemel Kodak club fishery, whilst I was in their employment (1978-85) - my first 20lbs pike and double figure carp were captured from that venue - happy days! - Dyl

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    1. Exactly right Dyl, I could fish it as a member of the Kodak AC. If I remember correctly there was some arrangement between Harrow and Hemel. I worked for Kodak from Feb '79 and was fishing Water End by June that year. Had a great time in the early 90s catching carp off the top - even in March! I must admit, I wouldn't have expected it to produce a 20lb pike!

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  6. Gavin,
    As you are into alternative blogging subjects, read my latest.
    www.lettersfromsheppey.blogspot.com

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  7. Happy to say I was able to help you out on some of those -usually Monday- excursions where we got a bird; remember the Sora? which may have been mischievousness enough to have got itself found on the Sunday.
    As least you were able to grab some sleep while on the return journey as the passenger rather than behind the wheel.

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    1. Remember it well Ric! What a great little car that XR2 was; I was always grateful to be a passenger in it. Think I even drove it once or twice...?

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    2. Was it a red one? I seem to remember Rich having a car like that at Wilstone? Dyl

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    3. Ric'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was a sort of silvery blue /grey colour.

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  8. Can't believe you wrote a post about window cleaning & never mentioned squeegees! Or are they unprofessional? I only wash the windows at Galley Towers when the salt gets too thick to see through them!

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    1. Didn't want to get too technical, but yes, squeegees of various sizes are essential items of kit!
      Your window clarity regime is risky for a birder - several weeks of salt may cost you fly-by house ticks!

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