Picton Road Baths

Two Sarges'
dressed in white dung's and wellies
beat with long bamboo
a path from each side of the shallow end
towards the Deep.

Synchronised they moved in slow procession
behind the threshing mob
herding their young shoal to the edge
and then begins the game of 'duck the pole'
but the Sarges' are far too adept
and with a flick of their wrist
none succeed.

Knock-kneed girls in torn bathing caps
shiver in peeling cubicles
clutching rough worn towels.
On the flaking balcony
kids start to rip at their clothes shrieking
"you've had your twenty minutes!"

Hoisted out by hand the bravest and the last
scurry to get dressed.
Old clothes clinging to damp bodies
rush to shove a penny in the brylcreem machine
squeezing the copper a fraction at a time,
to get the very last drop.

Girls who moments ago had been turning cartwheels in the water
(much to the delight of boys wearing rubber-tight goggles,)
or depth-charging their mates, legs wriggling the air,
leave head-down demure little ladies,
whilst the Sarges lace the bath,
now mirror flat calm,
with handfuls of powdered Chlorine
to save it from turning completely yellow
and at twenty past three
on the Victorian clock, behind rust-green diving boards,
they let the mayhem start all over again.

By Louise Castle