In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne


Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

Swimming-BathsFiona Pitt-Kethley

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.

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