Monday, 11 May 2009


I used to swim at the public baths, with its completely unisex changing facilities; separate men’s and women’s showers, obviously, but apart from that, just a great prairie of slam-door cubicles. Now I use the pool at the local gym, and the men and women change communally, but in total seclusion from each other. These are some of the things I see men do, when amongst men only:

* use the puny hairdryers to dry all body areas. Under the arms; between the toes; across the hairy chests and backs. One massive regular pulls open the waistband of his briefs, sticks the nozzle of the dryer right in there, and wiggles it around a bit as a sort of finishing flourish.

* preen, epically and unselfconsciously. This really surprised me, and I think I’m quite vain. I get mesmerised watching all the dudes make imperceptible changes to their very short, gelled hairdos before the mirrors. Quite a few arrive, get half undressed, and then just stand there for ages looking gormlessly at their muscles, or their nipples, or whatever, I don’t know.

* make noises in the showers. They’re not communal here; it’s a series of individual cubicles with opaque curtains arranged around the sides of a square room. You walk in and look about for a free one, and you hear these strange, mournful sounds. People forgetting themselves and letting go in a tiny semi-private space, I suppose. Deep sighs, little whimpers, low moans. Sometimes it sounds as if you might pull back a curtain to see what’s wrong and find a beautiful, dying foal under the shower instead of a lonely, nude man wringing out his swimming trunks.


  1. Which public baths did you use? I used to use the Prince Regent, before joining my gym (David Lloyd, which I pay a subscription to and rarely visit). My preference at the PR was to use the cubicles. My reserve wasn't shared by Steve Bell from the Guardian who would stride into the middle of the "gents only" public area and fling his clothes off without a moment's hesitation. Admittedly nakedness wasn't a significant issue for him as he had a body so matted with hair that he could be more modestly covered while in the nude than a less simian person might be while dressed in a three-piece suit.

  2. I used to go to the King Alfred, but it was getting so miserable I had to stop. Shame on the Council!

  3. Blimey, I remember when the King Alfred was a salt water pool! I used to visit the old North Road Baths as a kid (swam for the team) and that was unheated. Now that was an experience in winter!

    And shame on the Council ... not for anything particular, but just for being a bit crap about most things!