Taking the plunge… ROALD DAHL's Dip In the Pool

Taking the plunge… but will his ship come in? In ROALD DAHL’s tense tale Dip In the Pool, ocean liner passenger Mr Botibol has gambled his entire savings on the ship’s estimated mileage – but a disastrous change in the weather has left him facing ruin…

There was no point in pretending that he had the slightest chance of winning the pool now – not unless the goddam ship started to go backwards. 

They’d have to put her in reverse and go full speed astern and keep right on going if he was to have any chance of winning it now.

Well, maybe he should ask the captain to do just that. Offer him 10 per cent of the profits. Offer him more if he wanted it. Mr Botibol started to giggle. 

Then very suddenly he stopped, his eyes and mouth both opening wide in a kind of shocked surprise.

For it was at this moment that the idea came. 

It hit him hard and quick, and he jumped up from his bed, terribly excited, ran over to the porthole and looked out again.

Well, he thought, why not? Why ever not? The sea was calm and he wouldn’t have any trouble keeping afloat until they picked him up. 

Illustration by David Young for Dip In The Pool, written by acclaimed author Roald Dahl  

He had a vague feeling that someone had done this thing before, but that didn’t prevent him from doing it again. The ship would have to stop and lower a boat, and the boat would have to go back maybe half a mile to get him, and then it would have to return to the ship and be hoisted back on board.

It would take at least an hour, the whole thing. An hour was about 30 miles. It would knock 30 miles off the day’s run. That would do it. ‘Low field’ would be sure to win it then.

Just so long as he made certain someone saw him falling over; but that would be simple to arrange. And he’d better wear light clothes, something easy to swim in. Sports clothes, that was it.

He would dress as though he were going up to play some deck tennis – just a shirt and a pair of shorts and tennis shoes. And leave his watch behind. What was the time? Nine fifteen. The sooner the better, then. Do it now and get it over with. Have to do it soon, because the time limit was midday.

Mr Botibol was both frightened and excited when he stepped out on to the sun deck in his sports clothes. His small body was wide at the hips, tapering upward to extremely narrow sloping shoulders, so that it resembled, in shape at any rate, a bollard. His white skinny legs were covered with black hairs, and he came cautiously out on deck, treading softly in his tennis shoes. Nervously he looked around him.

There was only one other person in sight, an elderly woman with very thick ankles and immense buttocks, who was leaning over the rail staring at the sea. She was wearing a coat of Persian lamb and the collar was turned up so Mr Botibol couldn’t see her face.

He stood still, examining her carefully from a distance. Yes, he told himself, she would probably do. She would probably give the alarm just as quickly as anyone else. But wait one minute, take your time, William Botibol, take your time. Remember what you told yourself a few minutes ago in the cabin when you were changing? You remember that?

British writer Roald Dahl in December 1971, author of multiple children’s books like The BFG

The thought of leaping off a ship into the ocean a thousand miles from the nearest land had made Mr Botibol – a cautious man at the best of times – unusually advertent. He was by no means satisfied yet that this woman he saw before him was absolutely certain to give the alarm when he made his jump.

In his opinion there were two possible reasons why she might fail him. Firstly, she might be deaf and blind. It was not very probable, but on the other hand it might be so, and why take a chance? All he had to do was check it by talking to her for a moment beforehand.

Secondly – and this will demonstrate how suspicious the mind of a man can become when it is working through self-preservation and fear – secondly, it had occurred to him that the woman might herself be the owner of one of the high numbers in the pool and as such would have a sound financial reason for not wishing to stop the ship.

Mr Botibol recalled that people had killed their fellows for far less than $6,000. It was happening every day in the newspapers. So why take a chance on that either? Check on it first. Be sure of your facts. Find out about it by a little polite conversation. Then, provided that the woman appeared also to be a pleasant, kindly human being, the thing was a cinch and he could leap overboard with a light heart.

Mr Botibol advanced casually towards the woman and took up a position beside her, leaning on the rail. ‘Hullo,’ he said pleasantly.

She turned and smiled at him, a surprisingly lovely, almost a beautiful smile, although the face itself was very plain. ‘Hullo,’ she answered him.

Check, Mr Botibol told himself, on the first question. She is neither blind nor deaf. ‘Tell me,’ he said, coming straight to the point, ‘what did you think of the auction last night?’

‘Auction?’ she asked, frowning. ‘Auction? What auction?’

‘You know, that silly old thing they have in the lounge after dinner, selling numbers on the ship’s daily run. I just wondered what you thought about it.’

She shook her head, and again she smiled, a sweet and pleasant smile that had in it perhaps the trace of an apology.

‘I’m very lazy,’ she said. ‘I always go to bed early. I have my dinner in bed. It’s so restful to have dinner in bed.’

Mr Botibol smiled back at her and began to edge away. ‘Got to go and get my exercise now,’ he said. ‘Never miss my exercise in the morning. It was nice seeing you. Very nice seeing you… He retreated about ten paces, and the woman let him go without looking around.

Everything was now in order. The sea was calm, he was lightly dressed for swimming, there were almost certainly no man-eating sharks in this part of the Atlantic, and there was this pleasant, kindly old woman to give the alarm.

It was a question now only of whether the ship would be delayed long enough to swing the balance in his favour. Almost certainly it would.

In any event, he could do a little to help in that direction himself. He could make a few difficulties about getting hauled up into the lifeboat. Swim around a bit, back away from them surreptitiously as they tried to come up close to fish him out. Every minute, every second gained would help him win.

He began to move forward again to the rail, but now a new fear assailed him. Would he get caught in the propeller? He had heard about that happening to persons falling off the sides of big ships. But then, he wasn’t going to fall, he was going to jump, and that was a very different thing. Provided he jumped out far enough, he would be sure to clear the propeller.

Mr Botibol advanced slowly to a position at the rail about 20 yards away from the woman. She wasn’t looking at him now. So much the better. He didn’t want her watching him as he jumped off.

So long as no one was watching he would be able to say afterwards that he had slipped and fallen by accident.

He peered over the side of the ship. It was a long, long drop. Come to think of it now, he might easily hurt himself badly if he hit the water flat. Wasn’t there someone who once split his stomach open that way, doing a belly flop from a high dive? He must jump straight and land feet first. Go in like a knife. Yes, sir.

The water seemed cold and deep and grey and it made him shiver to look at it. But it was now or never. Be a man, William Botibol, be a man. All right then… now… here goes…

He climbed up on to the wide wooden toprail, stood there poised, balancing for three terrifying seconds, then he leaped – he leaped up and out as far as he could go and at the same time he shouted, ‘Help!’

‘Help! Help! ‘ he shouted as he fell. Then he hit the water and went under.

When the first shout for help sounded, the woman who was leaning on the rail started up and gave a little jump of surprise. She looked around quickly and saw sailing past her through the air this small man dressed in white shorts and tennis shoes, spread-eagled and shouting as he went.

For a moment she looked as though she weren’t quite sure what she ought to do: throw a life belt, run away and give the alarm, or simply turn and yell. She drew back a pace from the rail and swung half round facing up to the bridge, and for this brief moment she remained motionless, tense, undecided.

Then almost at once she seemed to relax, and she leaned forward far over the rail, staring at the water, where it was turbulent in the ship’s wake.

Soon a tiny round black head appeared in the foam, an arm was raised about it, once, twice, vigorously waving, and a small faraway voice was heard calling something that was difficult to understand. The woman leaned still farther over the rail, trying to keep the little bobbing black speck in sight, but soon, so very soon, it was such a long way away that she couldn’t even be sure it was there at all.

After a while another woman came out on deck. This one was bony and angular, and she wore horn-rimmed spectacles. She spotted the first woman and walked over to her, treading the deck in the deliberate, military fashion of all spinsters.

‘So there you are,’ she said.

The woman with the fat ankles turned and looked at her, but said nothing.

‘I’ve been searching for you,’ the bony one continued. ‘Searching all over.’

‘It’s very odd,’ the woman with the fat ankles said. ‘A man dived overboard just now, with his clothes on.’


‘Oh yes. He said he wanted to get some exercise and he dived in and didn’t even bother to take his clothes off.’

‘You better come down now,’ the bony woman said. Her mouth had suddenly become firm, her whole face sharp and alert, and she spoke less kindly than before.

‘And don’t you ever go wandering about on deck alone like this again. You know quite well you’re meant to wait for me.’

‘Yes, Maggie,’ the woman with the fat ankles answered, and again she smiled, a tender, trusting smile, and she took the hand of the other one and allowed herself to be led away across the deck.

‘Such a nice man,’ she said. ‘He waved to me.’

DIP IN THE POOL was first published in 1952 and is taken from Madness: Fear And Unreason by Roald Dahl, published by Penguin at £8.99 and also available in ebook and audiobook. © The Roald Dahl Story Company Ltd.

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