A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

A more adventurous lesson


Wallace was not looking forwards to going to the baths for swimming lessons. But swimming was on the school curriculum and Helen said that it was something he really ought to learn to do even if it wasn’t.

Think about it, Wallace,” she said over tea, “if you’re ever ship-wrecked in the middle of a wild ocean it might mean the difference between life and death, and I learned to swim when I was younger than you.”

And when were you ship-wrecked, mum?”

Don’t be cheeky! It’s a safeguard against that happening rather than something that brings it on! Anyway, it’s on your school timetable and you must go. I’ll get you some new trunks and you’ll love it.”

And that had to be that. Protesting wouldn’t work, he knew that, what with the combined armies of his mum and the school teachers all ranged against him. But at the back of his mind he had a sort of fear of drowning, probably because he’d never been near a great deal of water. There was always the seaside, of course, where they went for a week once a year, but then he only paddled at the very frothy edge of the sea, not far out in it.

The day for the first swimming lesson came along and the boys from his class became a snake making its way through the streets of town, past Templeman Street to a corner he didn’t know existed and where, at the end and tucked out of sight, was the old swimming baths. It had been there apparently since Victorian times and looked it on the outside. But once they were inside they could see that the décor had been upgraded from Victorian dull to art deco bright.

But it wasn’t the way the building was decorated or the chattering of his schoolmates that hit him like a blow in the stomach, but the assistant who was sitting behind a counter, checking off names as they passed by her.

He’d know that face anywhere. He might not have seen much of her recently but like an indelible image on his mind was the face of the girl who’d done as much to help him through his first five years as his mother had: Maureen Rosebush. And just in case he’d forgotten she wore a badge bearing the inscription, ‘Maureen Rosebush’.

When she saw him her eyelids fluttered and she smiled as she found his name on her register.

Good to see you again, Wallace,” she said. And he blushed at the sound of her voice. He knew he was blushing from the flushed feeling that seemed to rise through him and burst out on his face.

Move along then, boy,” shouted the teacher, who hated baths duty because everything educational was out of his hands and in the more capable hands of a swimming instructor-come-lifeguard.

She fancies you,” hissed Innocent Umbago in his ears, “I can tell that she does. You lucky goat!”

She’s my cousin,” stammered Wallace as he tried to organise his thoughts. “I forgot that she worked here, that’s all.”

I still reckon she likes you,” said Umbago, and another boy joined in, “you lucky sod, Wally, having a cousin that looks like that! She’s fantastic, and what big tits!

And at that moment, for the first time in his life, Wallace realised that Maureen, besides being his cousin, was, indeed, an exceptionally pretty girl. And he knew that, deep down, she meant more to him than all the rest of the people in his world put together. And it had didn’t have much to do with that prettiness or her obvious chest, nor the roses in her cheeks or the lights in her eyes, but it had a great deal to do with the girl deep down who had spent so many years with him, playing with him, teaching him sometimes when he was struggling to understand things, and generally being there for him whatever the time and no matter what reason he wanted her to be there. And there was more, of course there was, her pretty smile was part of it, of course it was, and maybe even that chest.

That lesson passed too swiftly, and during it he actually managed to flounder a few strokes from the middle of the bath to the rail round its edge before he had to get out and dry off. Water, he decided, wasn’t as bad as he’d thought it might be and maybe it was a good idea to guard against drowning in a shipwreck by learning to swim. It was something worth considering anyway, rather than battling against it like a silly child.

Well,” asked his mother when he arrived home at the end of the day with his damp trunks and towel in a cloth bag with its draw-string neck, “how did you find the baths?”

Good,” was his monosyllabic reply.

Is that all?” she asked.

I swum a little bit,” he told her, “and it didn’t hurt, I didn’t swallow too much water and I’ll go back next week. And, mum, Maureen was there.”

I was talking to your Auntie Amy only the other day and she told me she worked at the baths,” nodded Helen, “did you manage to say hello to her?”

My mates said she’s pretty,” grinned Wallace, “and she is, isn’t the mum?”

Helen smiled back at him. “Have you only just noticed that?” she asked, “after all, the two of you were inseparable once upon a time but I suppose you were too little to notice who’s pretty and who isn’t. But yes, Maureen is growing up to be a very beautiful young woman and her auntie Amy said she wants to go into a beauty contest.”

What’s one of them?” asked Wallace, “I’ve never heard of such things!”

They’re mostly at the seaside to stop people getting bored,” Helen told him, “when pretty girls put on their prettiest swimming costumes and line up for a panel of men to decide who’s the most beautiful. They get asked questions, too, for the audience to hear, like what’s their favourite pet and what do they most want to do with their lives.”

In their swimming costumes?” asked Wallace, “and not in skirts or dresses?”

It’s their legs,” replied Helen, “some people think a girl isn’t at all pretty if her legs are wrong. I don’t see it myself, but who am I to understand? Your father thought beauty contests were all wrong and that God wouldn’t like them, which made me think that maybe they’re not such a bad idea, really. I mean, a clever girl with good brains can win prizes or loads of money if she writes books, and that’s what she does with her brains, so why can’t a pretty girl with not much upstairs but a captivating smile take advantage of her good looks? It only seems fair to me.”

And dad didn’t approve?” asked Wallace.

He did not! But maybe that’s because, when I met him, I’d just come first in a beauty competition myself and I won ten shillings!”

Mum!” exclaimed Wallace, and then, “I reckon Maureen would win hands down if she entered one,” he said as an afterthought, “because I think she’s the prettiest girl in the whole wide world!”

© Peter Rogerson 06.06.19

© 2019 Peter Rogerson

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Added on June 6, 2019
Last Updated on June 6, 2019
Tags: beauty contest, cousin, baths, lessons, swimming



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..