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Open Features: Sid's Swimming Pool

...When we’d finished the painting, the owner took us for a stroll down his large garden and pointed out where he thought of having a swimming pool. Then George put on quite a performance. He paced out the area, narrowed his eyes, surveyed the lie of the land, puffed on his skinny roll-up and nodded sagely, just as if he knew what he was about...

Are George and Sid about to get involved in something beyond their competence?

Jacqueline Fines recounts another true tale.

George and I both lived in pokey little houses in the back streets of Fulham. We both had aspirations, and both were short of cash. But George had the idea that, since he knew about building and decorating and I was strong and willing, we could form a partnership and earn good money in our spare time.

Spare time? What spare time? We both had full time jobs and young families. Well, George said, since we both worked nightshifts, why not simply make do with less sleep and work in the daytime as well? This seemed reasonable. So it wasn’t long before George and Sidney went marching through the streets to their first job, whipping in and out of pedestrians and traffic, carrying buckets and brushes and joined at the shoulder by a ladder.

We started with various small jobs and my paperhanging and painting skills improved rapidly. Then we got a bigger job, removing wartime blackout paint from the windows of a big old factory near Paddington Station. As I straddled the window sills and leaned out into space I was very aware of the railway tracks below. But we worked away diligently with brushes and rags and spirits-of-salts. The factory owner was so impressed with our hard work ( and our cheapness) that he took us home to his big house near the river in Barnes. We painted the outside of it for him.

When we’d finished the painting, the owner took us for a stroll down his large garden and pointed out where he thought of having a swimming pool. Then George put on quite a performance. He paced out the area, narrowed his eyes, surveyed the lie of the land, puffed on his skinny roll-up and nodded sagely, just as if he knew what he was about. Then he offered a ridiculously small estimate for the job. Not long after we returned to Barnes with our shovels to desecrate some rose beds and a chunk of lawn.

In the first flush of enthusiasm, our employer helped us out with the digging. His wife, his mother-in-law, the housekeeper, and the housekeeper's husband also took a turn with a spade. Even their dog did his bit. But the topsoil gave way to serious clay and then it was all down to George and me.

The pool had to measure twenty feet by twelve. That may not sound like a very big pool to you but it felt like the Grand Canyon to me. I did wonder, as I rammed the spade down into yet another solid layer of good old London clay, if stone breaking might not be easier. When we'd done a four-hour stint we'd go home, stretch out for a few hours sleep, grab some sandwiches and go to work.

But at last our two-man excavation was done, including the trenches for plumbing, and we were able get on with building and backfilling the walls of the pool. We worked our way through thousands of bricks. George was Chief Bricky - fast and efficient. I was Slump Man, mixing the cement to George’s specified consistency.

For some reason which I can no longer recall, I had to mix the cement out on the front drive of the house. Then I would load a wheelbarrow, hurtle with it down the garden at the rear then stagger up a ramp so as to tip the load into our hole. Mix the stuff, shovel the stuff, wheel the stuff and tip. Over and over again. When George was going well he didn’t like to be kept waiting and I would get up quite a speed to keep him supplied. Occasionally, I'd get up too much momentum and not just the cement but the wheelbarrow too shot over the edge and down into the pit.

At last the concrete base was laid and the walls were built and rendered, so George and I could tackle the tiles. Thousands of six inch bathroom tiles. Our employer got them. We didn't ask where they came from; we bedded them in and butted them up. Before long our big pit looked almost like a pool.

George fitted pumps and filters. I don’t know where he learned to do that - possibly from someone in the pub – but he looked competent. We installed steps and handrails and I personally laid a very eye-catching red concrete surround.

The day of judgement came. We let in some water, enough to puddle the bottom. Then paddling depth. All right. The water crept up the sides and it filled the pool.... And everything worked. No nasty gurgling sounds. No tiles detaching themselves and floating up to the surface. We were impressed. Our employer was very pleased too and so was his wife. She emerged in her swimsuit and adopted a diving pose at the deep end so her husband could take a nice photograph. She didn’t actually dive in. That would have been foolish; the water was only four feet deep.

Then finally, an even bigger moment - we got paid. George got £20 10s and I got £17. So we strutted off home to impress our wives with all our wealth. And money apart, it had been satisfying to make a very big mess and to dig a very big hole in someone else’s garden. When we'd slapped the money on the table we had a few hours sleep because, really, we were feeling quite tired.


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