In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

The Inequality Engine

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

Swimming-BathsFiona Pitt-Kethley
Close
Close

In Acton, the Public Baths’ attendant
was not the lifeguard type you might expect.
You’d see his fishy, chlorinated eyes
above the doors. He’d got it to an art –
parading past the cubicles, checking
the locks still worked, peering at ground level
for extra pairs of feet.

A serious few entered with a low dive,
thrusting forward, their heads in wrinkled caps,
their bodies smeared with Vaseline. The rest
were there to touch. Strangers, shrunken in trunks,
would push you in, splash you, hold you under
until you nearly drowned – just wholesome fun.
Swimmers, whose only small talk’s sadists’ tales
of cocks sucked down the deep end’s outlet hole
(their owners had the choice – lose it or drown)
and razors stuck in water-chutes that carved
girl divers neatly into halves and filled
the pool with blood, staining it for all time,
you’d see them leaving, gripping damp towels,
red-rimmed as syphilitics from the Baths’
cocktail of pee.

My school’s pool was politer. We had to
empty our bladders first (whether we could
or not), and march through anti-verruca stuff.
On Open Days the fathers could be seen
training expensive cine-cameras
on older girls emerging from the water,
wet straggles of pubic hair across their thighs,
missing the moment when their scrawnier kids
came first in Crawl. Our aquamarine swimsuits,
old-fashioned but not decent, had hooks and straps
which slipped when water-logged, or came undone
one side, leaving a breast exposed.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences