Advent Calendar 15th December 2011: Public baths part 4 – scampering urchins

We’re already on the 15th of December, so we’ll skip a chapter where Michael Davidson associates with the Bloomsbury people in 1920s London. Instead, we’re going to Oxford. It’s now 1927 and Davidson has just turned 30. We read from page 148 (chapter 10) in The World, the Flesh and Myself:

My principal memories of Oxford are summer ones: of Long Bridges, sylvan and sunlit, the ‘town’ bathing place along the tow-path from Folly Bridge, where bare wet bodies dived and darted and Robert Dundas of Christ Church, that massive and renowned don, lay on the grass like a contemplative walrus and appraised the scampering urchins around him.

Dundas was one of those Oxford ‘characters’ famous for foibles and idiosyncracies; and famous for his curt, downright remarks uttered in the jerky, high-pitched contralto that was made to be mimicked. One day, when Wystan Auden was up at the House, Dundas sent for him. ‘Oh, Auden –’ the great man snapped. ‘I wanted to tell you – I can’t be your tutor any longer. You see, I’m in love with you –. Good morning!’

Once, when I was with him at Long Bridges, lying beside parallel bars that had just been installed, he roused himself from his Olympian lethargy to say: ‘I presented this gymnastic apparatus to the municipality’; and added curtly, gazing up from ground level at the naked acrobatics going on above: ‘Very good investment, don’t you think?’

For as long as civic memory went back, men and boys at the ‘town’ bathing places …

To be continued tomorrow!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *