Four doors down from my childhood home was a cosy foyer inhabited by the Pooles, the happiest couple I have ever known. Tom Poole was a window cleaner, an exemplar of his trade. He had all he needed: a selection of shammy leathers and cloths which he was constantly wringing out into his galvanised bucket, wooden extension ladders that he would stack on his push-cart and the ability to whistle tunes loudly enough to announce to an entire street his trundling arrival. And he had Mrs Poole, above all, he had Mrs Poole.
Mr Poole always looked at Mrs Poole with a joyous, almost febrile, intensity, as a boy I assumed it was because he was a bit mad. I later realized that I was right and that his was a happy madness born of love steeped in desire. This small epiphany took place when I overheard my mother talking to an ex-neighbour (an attractive, leggy woman who used to live at No 3) a couple of decades after our row of houses had been demolished, they both agreed that they had been envious of the way Mrs Poole received such lusty attention from her husband. This surprised me as I had not previously seen the short, almost spherical Mrs Poole in a sexual light. I was certainly attracted to her when I was a boy – any time I called by I would be rewarded with a heavy slab of home-made cake whose secret recipe made my teeth tingle - but the way she folded her arms over the horizontal planes of her bosom had never stirred any carnal longings in my prepubescent psyche. Mr Poole, on the other hand, found her posture so provocative that his brow would glisten and necessitate vigorous dabbing from his shammy.
Besides being the muse of a window cleaner Mrs Poole was also by far the most garrulous person in the row, not that that bothered Tom; he would stand back indifferent to the incessant torrent of gossip, all the while feasting his eyes on the curves – or curve, perfect curve – of his wife who, by the way, was known as “Winnie”. This was not a contraction of Winifred, but of Lavinia. Lavinia, the flame-haired oracle of the Aeneid, Lavinia, a name whose liquid euphony would have had Nabokov ululating in lingual bliss. My mother felt that Lavinia's parents were irresponsible to give her such a name, wasn't it obvious it could be shortened to Lav, outside Lav...
The Pooles had a daughter, Joan, an only child some ten years my senior. Slightly plump she seemed genetically destined to assume the geometric form of her mother, but, to the dismay of shammy-wringers everywhere, this wasn't to be. I know this because years later, when in my late teens, I saw a lithe Joan in a Family Planning Clinic. She was unaccompanied and seemed troubled, not that I cared as I had more pressing concerns; I was there with my girlfriend who had arranged a rendezvous to “go on the pill”, a phrase whose revolutionary promise took me to the brink of cardiac arrest.
I didn't feel at all comfortable in the clinic. I was there only because my girlfriend insisted I be and
I couldn't risk my absence threatening my chances of having an even better time than I was having already. There was a grown up feel to the place, lots of posters evoking responsibility and transmittable diseases and other subjects irrelevant to my needs. I pretended not to notice Joan as she belonged to a childhood I was keen to distance myself from, though no doubt Joan, had she looked up, would have seen little change in the boy who would call by for his cake, the composition of which he was blithely unaware.