Every morning was the same during those long winters. Dark outside, warm and sleepy under the duvet. I would poke my foot out from under the covers to test the temperature and immediately withdraw it. Getting out of bed was unthinkable.
My mum always tried to hurry me along and her words would grow increasingly urgent as the minutes ticked by.
“Come on, time to get up. You don’t want to be late.”
“Come on Henry. Get up. Now!”
Slowly, reluctantly, as if the world was against me, I would slide out of bed and go straight to the bathroom. I filled the sink and stood motionless, gazing at nothing, with my hands in the steaming water.
The car was always icy when we tried to leave. My mum would scrape at the windscreen furiously whilst I sat in the passenger seat and tried to disappear into my coat.
We drove quickly out of our village along the main road until we hit the morning traffic. Classic FM would be on the radio. An endless string of recognisable but unidentifiable music. I could see my mum glancing at the clock on the dashboard as we inched forward in the long line of shivering cars. Clouds of exhaust fumes lingered in the cold air.
When the departure time for the school bus seemed perilously close, my mum would grow impatient at the traffic and sometimes swear at a car if it did something wrong or moved too slowly. I learnt a good deal of my first swear words in the car on those rushed winter mornings.
It reminds me of when we went on holiday with some family friends. Their teenage daughter, a mischievous soul, taught me and my sister how to swear with our middle fingers. We had one of those cars with seats in the boot that faced backwards and she would sit with one of us and show us how to ‘give the finger’ to the car behind. She went on to become a teacher. Clearly she had a knack for imparting wisdom to curious young minds.
When my mother and I arrived at the bus stop, usually with ten minutes to spare despite the panic, we stayed sat in the now-roasting car and listened to the news bulletins, traffic updates and adverts of Classic FM, interrupted every now and again by a piece of classical music. I always wanted them to play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Partly because each section actually sounds like the season it portrays, but mainly because I knew the name of it back then.
My favourite mornings were when I could watch the window cleaner. He was often working on the shopfronts by the bus stop, usually the Woolworths. I was transfixed by his quick and precise movements and the way he swirled soap across the glass to make a beautiful pattern. And once the window was covered in soap he would swap the brush for a scraper and run it along the window in neat rows. First side to side from top to bottom, like a snake slithering down, and then he’d go around the edge to catch any residue.
Even now I’ll stop to watch someone cleaning windows. I’m drawn in by that transformation from dirty to messy as soap is smeared over a cloudy window pane. And then feel relieved when the soap is scraped off and a perfectly clear slab of glass is unveiled.
It’s like getting sweaty as you sunbathe on a beach. Sweat beads on your skin and mingles with the suncream to create a gloopy mess. And you lie there for as long as possible to get as sweaty and gross as you can bear. And then, finally, you stand up and plunge into the fresh cold sea. The sweat and suncream run off your skin like an oil spill and you watch the greasy slicks disappear under a foamy wave. And you feel purified. That’s how a window cleaner makes me feel.
So I would sit in the car on those cold winter mornings, dulcet tones of Classic FM in the background, waiting for the bus to come and watching the window cleaner purify the front of Woolworths.