‘Whatever do you mean?’ said Hubert staring at his uncle as if he’d gone batty. His uncle Fred had just fished another of those obscure words from his bucketful of jargon.
‘Why don’t you use plain English uncle?’ retorted Hubert, ‘Antitheses, he attempted to repeat, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Well, two sides of a coin if you like,’ replied his uncle, ‘you see Karl Marx once said that for me to own this house, people like you have to carry on working.’
‘Did he?’ snapped Hubert, ‘well I don’t suppose this Marx fellow happened to mention were I might find a job did he?’
‘I know it must be difficult lad,’ replied his uncle leaning back and closing his eyes, ‘see, it was different in my day, the local paper was full of adverts for all sorts of jobs.
Just then Hubert’s mum came round from next door,
‘Morning Fred, is he botherin’ you again?’ she said, as she handed her son a letter that had just arrived, ‘I bet it’s another of those job applications telling you how sorry they are they can’t take you on.’
‘Well done mum,’ replied Hubert, ‘I’m glad somebody still has faith in me. Anyhow, you’re wrong! It’s a letter from my old boss at Brierly’s.’
‘Oh him!’ interrupted mum, ‘he was a nasty bit of work, I never did like him. What does he want now?’
‘He’s only offering me a partnership in his new business, would you believe!’ blurted Hubert.
‘What? Brierly’s concrete castings?’ replied Fred sitting up in surprise.
‘No!’ Snapped Hubert impatiently, ‘nothing to do with garden gnomes. I told you that went bust last year. A company called Reflective Surfaces Limited.’
‘Crikey that sounds technical lad,’ replied his uncle. ‘What do they make then?’
‘Nothing,’ said Hubert ‘they clean windows.’
‘Window cleaners’ blurted his mum, ‘but you’ve been to college!’
‘That’s right mum, and I may well be going back, because Reflective Surfaces Limited has just won the contract to clean the windows of that new college tower block.’
‘Thirty five stories!’ gasped his uncle. ‘You’re going to need a hell of a long ladder.’
‘They don’t use ladders. He’s invented a new system. So it can all be done just standing on the ground. It says so here,’ Hubert went on excitedly, ‘and he wants me to pioneer it.’
‘Well I hope he’s thought it through this time.’ said his mum. ‘those exploding pixie things of his caused more trouble than enough. Poor mister Crosby still jumps out of his skin every time somebody slams a door.’
‘Mum, I’ve told you before they weren’t supposed to explode, just light the lantern. Anyhow he says that he’s taken out a patent, so it must be alright.’
‘Sounds as though he’ll be making you a director then?’ queried his uncle.
‘Well first of all he wants me to be his technical assistant, just until the orders start coming in. It’s all written down in this letter. He’s arranged to have the machine delivered to the college on Monday morning so I can begin the trials.’
This appealed to Hubert, he wouldn’t have to get up too early because the college was just down the road and his girl friend Mavis was studying there to become a professional tattoo artist.
It was warm and sunny when Hubert arrived at the college the following Monday, wearing the yellow overalls that Brierly had left outside his front door with a note saying, make sure they lick the rubber sticker before applying it to the glass, see you soon, Mr Brierly.
Hubert soon noticed the big wooden crate with Reflective Surfaces scribbled across it, and quickly unpacked what he considered to be a classy looking machine.
It had a large round water tank with several dials and switches fixed to it and various other items all mounted on a trolley that could easily be wheeled around.
Hubert found the instruction book that Brierly said would be inside, and seemed surprised to discover a bow and arrow and a large coil of thin wire taped to the top of the water pump.
His first thought was that Mister Brierly had picked up one of his kid’s toys by mistake, but as he read on he realized that the bow was part of this innovative new method,
It seemed that the first thing he had to do was to shoot an arrow through an open window on the top floor of the building.
All that was then required, was for one of the staff to stick the rubber sucker onto the glass, allowing the plastic pulley with the wire attached to dangle outside.
The window cleaner can now, the instructions went on to say, simply haul the manifold spray brush up the side of the building spraying the windows with warm soapy water as it goes up, and cold clean water as it comes down, thereby thoroughly cleaning a whole strip of windows in one sweep.
Hubert leaned back against the wall shaking his head in amazement, what a wonderful thing; trust Brierly to come up with such a money spinning invention.
He was wondering where to plug the pump into the power supply, but soon discovered that clever old Brierly had thought of everything, the machine was operated from a car battery, and what’s more Brierly had even filled the water tank, saving him the problem of asking the caretaker where the tap was.
After turning on the switches, and attaching the spray tube and cleaning brush to the wire, Hubert was almost ready. All he had to do now was shoot the rubber plunger through a window, and ask someone to lick it and stick it onto the glass.
To be doubly sure he licked the plunger himself, before taking careful aim, and shooting the arrow at one of the half open windows on the very top floor.
Unfortunately at that very moment Percy Gudgin the art teacher popped his head out for a smoke, and began shrieking like a scalded cat as the plunger struck him and stuck like a barnacle to his nose.
Convinced he’d just been attacked by some huge spider with a web as thick as a boot lace that had just escaped from the biology room on the floor below, he snatched wildly at the wire dangling across his face, violently ripping the cleaning brush from the tube and propelling it through the window behind him, leaving the students gazing in horror as he rushed like a maniac around the desks pursued by some hairy black alien.
Howls of laughter soon followed as the brush got jammed in the door, snatching the plunger from Percy’s head as he sprinted off down the corridor.
‘Wow!’ shouted one of the students, ‘it’s like the time he found a wasp in his jam doughnut, he almost broke the land speed record then’.
‘Not quite’ quipped one of the girls ‘at least wasps sting, so what’s so scary about a window cleaner’s brush?’
‘Just about everything if you’re a penicuphobic,’ exclaimed clever clogs sitting next to Mavis.
‘If you’re a what?’ blurted Mavis, ‘what the heck’s a penicuphobic, when it’s at home.’
‘Somebody who’s scared of sweeping brushes of course,’ replied clever clogs, ‘I thought everybody knew that!’
However, Mavis had no desire to discuss brushes, or window cleaners for that matter. She just wished Hubert would go away and clean someone else’s windows before he made an even bigger fool of himself.
Quite unaware of Percy’s antics, Hubert was about to shout up and ask for his brush back, when he noticed a loud hammering sound coming from the hot water tank, were the needle on the pressure gauge had moved into the red. Fearing the boiler was in danger of exploding, Hubert immediately opened the spray valve to release the pressure, whereupon the tube without the brush attached rose swiftly into the air and started cavorting about like a long thin snake, snorting great clouds of white steam.
Miss Canister, the principles secretary noticed the tube as she came through the revolving doors of the old block, and stood for several moments gazing at its strange antics, while Hubert raced around in circles desperately trying to capture it. After a while the tube became limp and spongy, slowly flopping to the ground and snaking across the quad like a huge fire cracker. Seeing it edging closer, Miss Canister darted back inside the doors, just as it began spraying clouds of high pressure steam at the glass, forcing the revolving doors to spin faster and faster. Unable to leap out, the unfortunate girl began racing around in circles inside the door, waving excitedly and screaming for help, each time she came into view.
Hearing Miss Canister’s screams the caretaker immediately ran across and rammed a large yard brush into the opening bringing the doors to a shuddering halt. Then, determined to stop this tomfoolery once and for all, he chopped the pipe off the machine with an axe, gasping in amazement as the whole contraption suddenly sprang forward with a tremendous roar, leaping into the air as it bounded away ahead of a huge surge of white steam, and began roaring round and round the quadrangle like a jet propelled sack barrow. Hubert sprinted behind it desperately trying to reach the switch on the boiler, only to see it tip onto two wheels and begin rotating like a giant spinning top, spitting out great gulps of boiling water. Then flopping back onto its wheels the machine briefly paused before once more accelerating away towards a line of parked cars at the far end of the quadrangle leaving a billowing white fog in its wake. A sudden ear splitting crash and the image of a pink Mini with a shattered headlamp, slowly emerged through the haze, as Hubert caught up with the machine and flicked off the switches, while a fountain of soap bubbles oozed from a severed pipe, burying the Mini in a mountain of white foam. However to Hubert’s amazement it was Percy Gudgin who suddenly emerged from the bubbles grabbing him by the collar, and pointing to a massive dent in his bumper. Loud cheering and clapping suddenly erupted from the tower block where the students had hung a huge cartoon of Percy wearing red boxer shorts and a mortarboard being chased by an evil looking flue brush.
‘Watch out for road sweepers Percy’, they were screaming ‘you don’t want another brush with the law’
‘I’ll see you pay for this’ stammered Percy turning bright red and scrambling back into his Mini, ‘and prosecuted’ he shouted through the bubbles, ‘for using a lethal weapon in a public place!’
But before Hubert could explain, or even apologise Percy had slammed the car door and driven off.
The machine had thankfully run out of steam, only managing to gurgle and gulp the odd blob of foam, as the caretaker wheeled it away, insisting on locking it in the tool shed.
‘This thing needs putting well out of harm’s way,’ he grunted,
As it was almost midday, Hubert stood by the canteen waiting for Mavis to take her lunch break; at least she’d understand that all new ideas suffer from teething problems. She may also know if Miss Canister had finally stopped shaking, and more to the point was she still intending to sue Reflective Surfaces Limited for every penny they had, or could the caretaker have been exaggerating? But instead Mavis sent a note saying she didn’t think it sensible to be seen associating with him just at the moment, until the wise cracks like, ‘Fly to the moon with Reflected Surfaces Limited’ and worse. ‘Steam clean and spin dry your secretary in sixty second’ had done the rounds. Not to mention, it went on, how it may affect her career if Percy Gudgin ever discovered that she knew him.
Uncle Fred didn’t bother to ask Hubert how things had gone either; he’d already heard it on the local news at lunch time. ‘Student prank goes badly wrong’ it said, ‘Principle’s secretary still suffering from dizzy spells’. Instead his uncle just kept repeating, ‘I think therefore I am, what a pity other people don’t,’ until Hubert finally told him to stop quoting Shakespeare, and tell him what Mr Brierly had said when he’d phoned earlier, but before he could answer, Hubert’s mum rushed round from next door,
‘However could you Hubert?’ she began, ‘it’s all over the local paper, and him with penicuphobia as well!’
‘Him with what?’ exclaimed Hubert, ‘now I’ve got two of you talking in riddles’
‘Penicuphobia,’ interrupted his uncle, taking on a scholarly pose, and looking rather pleased he had a new word to taunt his nephew with. ‘Someone who’s terrified of sweeping brushes, I thought everybody knew that.’
‘Anyway, what about Mr Brierly,’ Hubert asked.
‘Oh yes, Mr Brierly,’ his uncle replied, ‘he said he’d been called away to a very important meeting.’
‘Important meeting?’ repeated Hubert ‘where?’
‘China, I think he said, and he may be gone for some time.’