Batman, Ironman, Captain Kirk, and The Tracy family. These are some of the finest heroes that I can recall from my childhood. They are all strong individuals who would all give their lives in the name of triumph. Whether they were trying to stop The Joker from general frolicking, or attempting to prevent the Klingons from laying siege to a planet full of men in pyjamas, I marveled at their courage and selflessness.
Sadly, none of these characters are real, despite what Fathers for Justice would have you believe. So to get our hero fix in the real world we have to turn the television off and go in search. Obviously the first stop is Google. There are hundreds of examples of so-called have-a-go-heroes out there on public record to enjoy: man saves boy from burning car, man saves boy from burning building, man saves burning building from fire. But for all the heroism and altruism, none of these examples quite capture the imagination.
As you all know I have recently moved to Abu Dhabi where, nestled between all the roads and palm trees, are hundreds upon hundreds of buildings; “So what? Every city in the world has buildings” I hear you cry. And true enough. Abu Dhabi shares much in common with cities such as Dubai, London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo…the list is endless. The one common feature among them all is that a lot of the buildings are jolly high and made completely out of glass.
One of the fundamental features of glass is that it is transparent. It is intended for dual purpose; so that the occupants can see out, and so that light can get in. However, glass must be maintained, it must be cleaned regularly. Having dirty windows is akin to having poor personal hygiene; people will judge. In older cities, such as London, this is not such a big issue (minus the Shard, or the Gherkin, or One Canada Square, or that concave one that sets bicycle seats on fire). Firstly, it rains a lot, and secondly, older buildings are made of bricks and stone, and windows are generally very accessible. By comparison anyway.
Today I walked from Marina Square on Al Reem Island to the Sun Tower about one kilometer away. While on my saunter I found myself gazing at all the mad buildings either occupied, or in the process of going up. Upon staring at the Shams Towers I stopped to sagely stroke my chin and nod my head appreciatively.
I then noticed atop the roof, under the massive vanity parapet, that there were half a dozen men all standing on the edge looking down. This building is 400 metres high, that is half the height of the Burj Khalifa. There, standing halfway to heaven, were six men all wiring themselves into harnesses and about to make a true leap of faith; they were the window cleaners (cue The A-Team theme).
When I still lived at home in London, we used to have a window cleaner who would come round in a Ford Escort panel van with a step ladder and a squeegee. He’d prop his ladder against the guttering and get to work, and within 6-8 weeks he’d be done. He would charge more if my sisters window on the second floor needed doing, since that exceeded his desired height. What a pansy.
Obviously, this is not the first time I have seen window cleaners in the UAE. Why, I have seen the lunatics that spend their days swinging around Burj Khalifa like a maypole before. But in essence – forget the sheer height of it for a minute – it is a simple design and relatively easy to clean. Shams Tower is slightly different, as you can see in the picture. When cleaning the parapet you are literally dangling like a worm on a hook, and I kid you not, all the money in the world would not convince me to give it a go myself. I’d rather vote for the Labour party.
The UAE’s two major cities are just mazes of glass towers, and cleaning the windows is an industry in itself. You couldn’t just ask any old Tom, Dick, or Harry to strap in and jump overboard armed with nothing other than a chamois leather and a bottle of Windex. Surely these hardy souls must be trained at the Royal Institute of F****** High-up Windows by only the most chisel jawed of professionals.
But where are things going? Architecture is becoming more and more ambitious, and inherently the windows are becoming harder and harder to clean, I mean just look at that weird twisty tower on Al Sufouh Road in Dubai. How the hell are they going to clean that?
Yes, for real heroes you need look no further than your nearest skyscraper. They are braver than you, me, or any fictional character that you can imagine. Even Ironman needed weapons and armour. No, the window cleaners of the UAE are armed with nothing but a bucket and squeegee, with their only protection from a harness failure and subsequent terrifying demise being a simple 25 Dirham hard hat.
Quite what that will do to protect them I don’t know, but then again I’m not the hero, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they could fly.