The Window Salesman
Peter Paine loved windows. He always had. Meandering home as a school boy he wove different routes through the sprawling mock tudor semis and terraces of his home town. The houses had been built in the 1920s and 30s. Originally they must have been uniformly boring but generations of home owners had added their touches mostly to windows and doors. The small lawned or paved front gardens held little interest to a window enthusiast. Blistering bottle green painted windows were a sure sign of old widowhood. Sparkling white paint work denoted the keen DIY enthusiast. The creeping tide of PVC front windows did not suit these houses. The wide gleaming frames took the houses out of character. They invariably denoted prosperous middle age usually with a shining Ford in the front drive.
Peter’s parents lived in one of a pair of semis that must have been top of the range as they had stained glass fan lights. They were the only ones in their road. These made Peter proud of his house. When giving directions he would describe his house as the first one on the right with stained glass windows rather than the house number.
At the back his father had replaced the rotting timber windows with double glazed white PVC. The small sacrifice of light was a small price to pay for the draught free windows that never suffered from condensation. From the outside they did look a bit slab like but were not out of place on the unadorned back. His sisters had the bedroom at the back. He enjoyed the feel of these windows but his sisters did not like him in their space. If he was caught there he would be chased out usually with a clip in the ear and complaints to their mother.
Peter had the tiny bedroom at the front of the house. As a sickly child he had spent a lot of time in this room. Days were spent watching the colours and shadows move round the room with the sun. When the shadow of the window fell on the corner of his bed he knew to the minute that he would hear the sound of his mother’s key in the door. She would come running up stairs to see him.
“How are you Peter? What’s your day been like?” she would smile. Peter always replied that he had a really good day watching the patterns from the window.
Sometimes she would bring him a window catalogue. In those days they were mostly for ready made timber windows. He would pour through them studying and comparing casement with sash and different types of primary and secondary glazing. PVC windows were sold by men in suits with big watches. Catalogues would let the public chose windows without the aid of a commission led salesman which would never do.
“This can’t be healthy” thought his mother. He should be playing football and coming home all blood and mud. At least he was not out at night with these awful roving gangs.
Peter’s frequent absences from school blighted any academic aspirations. He left to become a window cleaner which is what he rely wanted to do anyway. He washed and polished with such gusto that even the old hands were impressed. However he did not have a head for heights which was a handicap in his chosen vocation.
Appreciating his better qualities, his boss assigned him to cleaning shop windows in the smart part of town. The displays of the boutiques held little interest for a junior window cleaner. Behind them stood dummies in bizarre poses or there were a few carefully selected shoes set out on glass shelves. However the shop windows were of great variety, nearly all old and there were a couple of curved windows. These were awkward to wash but very rewarding. The reflections in these made a different world.
The window displays were cut off from the shop by rear screens. These separated the activity within from the world outside. Peter felt proper windows needed to work both ways. As a relief Peter would look up and admire the uneven rows of windows in the flats above. Each had their own character preserved by a conservation order.
The day came when his firm lost the contract for that street. Peter had spent so much time gleaming up the windows that they were losing money and then they were undercut by a national firm. Peter was moved to washing windows for the local supermarkets. The facades were dull rectangles and the windows were coloured panels. Peter was miserable. He decided on a bold career move and started as a glazier. After a week his hands were so cut and bandaged that he could hardly move his fingers. Not unkindly, his boss suggested he may not be completely suited to handling glass.
He went for interview to one of the local double glazing firms. A rounded figure in suit trousers and red braces came bounding in to reception “John Small, at your service. Call me Mr John. Small Windows – small but perfectly formed.” he beamed.
Peter really liked that slogan and said “That is a neat expression.” The two warmed to each other. Let me take you round said Mr John putting his arm round Peter’s shoulder. They went in to the workshop at the back where rows of gleaming PVC and aluminium windows stood on racks. He waved at a man operating a mitring machine. That is my brother Paul. He is in charge of the workshop. My other brother George fits the windows. He looked round and waved at a lazy cat lying in the middle of the assembly table. “…and this is Ringo” said Mr John turning to look straight at Peter.
“That is a strange name for a cat” said Peter.
“Don’t you get it John, Paul, George and Ringo – the Beatles?” said Mr John.
“Sorry, that was before my time” said Peter. He later found out that the previous cat had been called Ringo as had the one before.
Mr John started Peter working in the fabrication shop. He cheerfully fetched and carried the PVC and aluminium sections, and Mr Paul showed him the basic operations of the machines.
Mr John’s office opened in to the workshop. He always answered all the phone calls in to the firm as he said it gave a personal touch. The phone would ring and he would hear Mr John energetically answering “Hello, Small Windows. Small but perfectly formed.” This would happen ten or a dozen times a day. Peter had wondered why everyone in the workshop wore ear defenders but no other safety equipment. After a day he realised why and on his second day he got a pair from the store.
Peter’s enthusiasm for his work made him liked by his colleagues but he was as inept with the cutting and welding machines as he was with handling glass. Mr Paul feared for Peter’s safety with machines but he needed someone who could do more than fetch and carry. The Small brothers arranged for Peter to join Mr George fitting windows. However Peter’s lack of head for heights was a handicap here as well. He was also a menace with a silicone gun. Mr George had to take off all of Peter’s wobbly beading and redo the work himself.
Mr George who was the senior brother and founder of the business took Peter aside and said “Those who can do, do. Those who can’t do, sell.” So Peter became a window salesman.
Alex Smart was Mr John’s man in the field. He was a very experience salesman. He had started as a car salesman and had moved on to sell encyclopaedias, brushes, endowment policies, 25 year guaranteed wall coatings and more recently windows. He had been with Biggar Windows for a few months but left under mysterious circumstances. Alex and Peter shared a small office.
Alex was not impressed by Peter’s young earnestness. “You couldn’t sell water in the middle of the desert.” He sneered at Peter.
“Sorry Mr Smart why would anyone want to buy water? We have tap loads at home free.” Peter only got a snort in reply.
Peter would always give his customers an honest opinion which was not a strong point in selling. Alex Smart would tell any householder, when he got his foot in the door, that their windows were no good, usually implying there was some deep technical reason why they were really iffy that the householder would not be able to grasp. As a reserve he also had a good sob story about educating his children though he was unmarried. However he delivered a steady order book which kept him in favour, though Mr John would have been appalled if he had known how the results were achieved. By the time the company had lost their reputation Alex Smart would have moved on to selling something else.
Peter’s order book was patchy at best. After a few weeks Mr Paul took him aside to council him. Peter was told they could only really keep one salesman for the firm and Alex was delivering the goods. All the brothers really liked Peter and his honest enthusiasm but business is business.
Peter was worried and depressed. Whereas most men would head for the pub and oblivion, Peter walked the streets for window therapy. Lost in his thoughts his feet took him to the older part of town where Victorian artisan cottages stretched in rows. He wandered along the streets. Cars round here were generally older than his home area but with an occasional flash car denoting a middle class break up. If he lost his job what would he do next? How could he continue working with windows? His eyes stayed on automatic glancing at left and right, up and down and subconsciously cataloguing the facades of the little houses. Suddenly he was stopped in his tracks and he became aware of his surroundings. On the opposite side of the road were the most beautiful windows he had ever seen.
The houses he had been passing had varying windows as their owners had responded to the ravages of time. This house had sliding sash timber windows as the original would have but they were spanking new and beautifully made. He crossed the road and stood transfixed in front of the house. All he could manage was a “Wow!”
“Hello, you all right then,” came a voice from the little garden. A woman was kneeling by the little flower bed, fork in hand. She wore an old blue pullover, jeans and a woolly hat. She wore pink marigold gloves. Peter liked femininity in a woman.
“Sorry I startled you. I was just admiring your windows. They are just so right for the house and beautifully made.”
The woman regarded the earnest young man looking over the wall. His lanky frame was covered by a cheap suit, his whitish shirt was rumpled and he wore a red tie slightly askew. She liked to study people. “Thank you for the compliment. They are new and done by the very best. Don’t you people usually go around in two’s?” she asked.
“Oh, I am not a Jehovah’s witness” said Peter. He had that look about him and people often made that mistake. He was never sure whether he was treated worse or better being a double glazing salesman. “I just love windows. I also sell double glazing” he said giving her a card.
“Small Windows. Small but perfectly formed” she read out.
“Its amusing first time you hear it” said Peter, “but after a while it loses its lustre” as he remembered his days with the ear defenders. They had been black and he had always wanted a red pair.
“Are you here to give me the hard selling pitch to replace my nice sash windows? Because I am not interested.” She looked him in the eye.
“Oh no” said Peter shocked “These are just such perfect windows. Nothing I could sell could come anywhere near these.”
Honesty startled her. She lived in a world where sincerity was in short measure. “Would you mind if I had a closer look at these?” continued Peter his eyes bright with enthusiasm.
He looked harmless and she found him interesting. “No problem” she said. “Have a look on the inside as well if you want.”
Peter’s feet were a blur on the doormat, sending fibres scattering over the doorstep. “Mr John says dirty feet can lose you a sale, not that I am here to sell” he explained. She wiped the small fork on the grass. Carrying it casually in her hand, she followed him in. She was pleased to find so much genuine enthusiasm in anyone.
“Do you live here?” he asked.
“Only when I can, I have a very demanding life. I grew up here and I love just to potter about and unwind.”
“With a house like this I can well understand” replied Peter. “What are your other windows like at the back?”
She led him through “This is my special place,” she said. “It was my room as a child.”
He glanced round the room. It was floral and feminine and not in the modern designer vogue. It reminded him of his sisters’ room, but was done beautifully. There was a pair of sliding sash PVC windows. “Top of the range Best Windows by the look of it” said Peter sliding the sash up and down. “Beautiful action and with low-e coated glass.”
“Glad you like a rival company’s products. Don’t you push your own” she said.
“We do a similar window. All the firms use one or the other basic sections from the extruders. The differences are in the selling, styling and fitting. We use a Blenkinsopp Mark 2 guillotine, but they use a Mark 6 with replaceable cutting jaws. Mr Paul has to sharpen ours every Saturday, during down time.”
“I never knew windows were such a deep subject” she said.
Encouraged Peter was animated with enthusiasm. “Ah look at this” he said poking his head out the window. The woman opened the other window and leaned out. She was smiling but Peter did not notice he was so carried away. “You see how the window is sealed in to the brickwork. The beading is wobbly here and here, and you can see where they have stopped and restarted there. Best’s use fitting subcontractors but Mr George does all ours and he is a perfectionist” said Peter remembering the scolding over his wobbly attempts at silicone beads. “ And beside which the salesmen are all on 35% commission so you are just paying for the smart suits.”
“What about you?” she asked.
Peter stood back into the room and stretched out his arms. “Do I look like I get 35%?”
“Well maybe not. You are certainly the most open and honest salesman I have come across in a long time” she replied.
Peter was embarrassed, “A bit of a handicap in my line I am afraid.” He felt he had intruded enough in to this lady’s life. “Thank you very much for showing me all your windows. It was a great pleasure.”
“Thank you for appreciating my sanctuary” she said. Peter departed feeling the world was a better place already.
A couple of day’s later Peter was called in to Mr John’s office. Mr John looked uncomfortable. “I have been looking at the sales figures and we are not doing so well. I can only keep one salesman in the field. Alex Smart has a good……” The phone rang and cut him off mid sentence. “Small windows. Small but perfectly formed” he said automatically in his usual enthusiastic tone. He jumped to his feet, phone still in hand and said “Yes. Yes. Certainly. Right away.” in response to the muffled voice at the other end.
He sat down and stared in to the distance. “That was Phesse and Chargem, the project managers for that Olwyn Williams. She has bought that big old house on the promontory and is doing it up. Must be costing her millions. George remembers her from school. She was a bit stuck up then, but fair due to her she has taken Hollywood by storm and married in to one of the great acting dynasties, nor has she forgotten her home town. They want us to present for the window contract. My goodness the reporter from Windows Weekly will be there. This is the biggest thing around. Biggars and Bests have been preparing for this for weeks. Their top men will be there with their slickest presentations and strongest after shave too no doubt.”
“Alex” he called. “Gather the samples together we need to make a big presentation.” Alex’s footsteps shuffled along the corridor and he stood uncertainly in the office door. He was half drunk and the rest was hung over. He looked ill. “So that is why Biggar Windows and you parted company.” snapped Mr John. “Peter can you come with me and bring what you can carry.”
They set off in the van as Mr John’s elderly Audi was in for service but barely managed to get to the site on time. Interviews were being held in the big lounge which was still a work in progress. They joined the Biggar and Best teams along one side of the table. “Don’t know why you are here” said Mr Chargem pointing at the newly arrived pair.
Behind them they heard the sound of a door opening. Mr Chargem leapt to his feet, arm still pointing out like some bizarre right wing salute. He quickly dropped it when he realised how he looked. High heels clicked over the uncarpeted floor and there she stood. She was dressed in that casual but gorgeous way that denoted designer chic. Peter stared. The pink marigolds were gone but it was the same woman. She walked over to him and said “Hello Peter, remember me.”

Ken Osbourne

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