Advent Calendar 13th December 2011: Public baths part 3 – first encounter with the Thought Police

London in 1922. Michael Davidson is 25 years old and frequents the city’s bath houses. In addition to them, “a strip of the Serpentine in Hyde Park had been insulated by tradition and a surprisingly unprudish Board of Works for the bathing of ‘males only’.” Davidson notes that “there was a wonderful lot of juvenile nudity there”. That’s where the following passage takes place – page 121 (the beginning of chapter eight) in The World, the Flesh and Myself:

On this day, which was to leave a permanent bruise of private shame, I had taken my bathing-drawers and, aware of the notice ‘bathers only’, was sitting on the grass wondering how chilly the breeze blowing from the Marble Arch might be – besides, I had lent my slip to a boy who was shyer than most about going in with nothing on.

All at once the delicious scene was harshly shivered: I was being astonishingly spoken to by a policeman, being ordered to ‘go along’ with him out of the bathing enclave; I was in the hands of the Law.

By not instantly undressing and plunging into the water, by dallying on the bank fully clad, I’d broken a Parks Regulation – that was all; yet walking under police escort, I felt that each of those staring eyes was boring into my secret mind, that every man and boy discerned that I was ‘like that’, that I was being arrested for thinking illegal thoughts. I became parched with shame and humiliation – all my privacies, I thought, were lying bare.

This was rubbish, existing only in my own mind; yet it left me through life with a pursuing anxiety: a furtive, backward-glancing, collar-turned-up sensation of being watched by a special branch of Orwell’s Thought Police.

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