THE MERMAID AS… STORY

It is a very intimate thing, hearing someone read. A ‘live’ audiobook that goes straight through your ear and into your brain. And your heart. This cosy art form is one of life’s quiet pleasures.

Next Friday, a wonderful young actress called Sarah Day will be reading my story and you’re welcome to come along. It’s free.

D E E P is a dark, urban fairy ‘tail’ about a boy from Buxton who falls in a pool then discovers that someone is down there. Or some ‘thing’. With scenes set in our own museum as well as Blake Mere pool, it’s Buxton but not as we know it.

It starts at 6pm prompt on May 31st, free but you do need to book as places are limited. Just click on the link below.

Part of the half.fish festival, supported by Arts Council England.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/d-e-e-p-tickets-61732433370?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

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half.fish

half.fish

In the olden days, when you bought a potato, you ate it.

Today, even the humble potato comes pre-loaded with a barrage of questions, Do you want to follow your potato on Twitter?  Join its mailing list? Download its App? Know where it was sourced? Would you like to send us your own potato portrait or spud-based creation?’

We live in a noisy world, where every man, woman and vegetable is clamouring for our attention. Every brand of potato has its own digital portfolio. So, let me ask you a different type of question: in such a chaotic cacophony…

How can a quiet voice be heard? 

The trick is, not to compete. Most of us aren’t cheesy salesman, Ted-talkers or attention-seeking celebrities. We’re regular people, with polite, quiet voices but that doesn’t mean we’re nothing to say. On the contrary, we are fascinated by life because we’re neck-deep in it. We know everyday life isn’t a fairy story, it’s a clumsy complex conundrum that throws up the myriad of challenges that we wrestle every day.

But once in a while, if we’re lucky, life reveals something so full of wonder that it can take our breath away. For me, one of those moments was seeing The Buxton Mermaid, a quirky little artefact in the local museum. It’s an astonishing piece, cobbled together from wire, hair, bone, molluscs and fish. It is so bizarre that it inspired me to create a story, a play and a festival. Click on this link to find out more…

The Buxton Mermaid website

The Buxton Mermaid has a quiet voice but an authentic one. It reveals something deep that’s impossible to quantify but I like that. It’s intriguing.

And my final question? What am I saying here? In my own quiet voice? Look at this! Isn’t it cool? Look at that bit there, hold it up to the light and see how it shimmers. Here’s a film and a photo, a story and play. Let’s look at them together. In life and online.

We always look to America to provide us with super-heroes and they do it very well – but tucked away in the Boyd Dawkins room of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is a super-hero of our own:

Half-woman, half-fish.

Look up Half Dot Fish.

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Part of the BM125 celebrations with support from Arts Council England. The Mermaid Festival runs from 30th May to 1st June at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum and the Green Man Gallery. The short story, D E E P, read by Sarah Day will premiere at the Green Man Gallery on March 31st. The event is free but booking, via the museum, is essential.

THE MERMAID AS… SHOW

It’s a difficult thing to capture a mermaid, on camera. The qualities that define them are as slippery as the bottom half of a fish. They’re fast, mercurial and fictitious, so the only time you get to see one for real is in your head. In movies, they’re sanitised, in pageants, they’re objectified and in myth, they’re really scary. So, it was with some trepidation that I photographed professional mermaids Anita and Maša for my Buxton Mermaid project. What type of creatures would they be?

I like the shot of Maša’s hair, wild and backlit as if it’s on fire. It looks like she’s at a rock concert. There’s a feral quality about her character that feels authentic – a smart, savage force of nature who is beguiling but watch out, she could drag you down to the deep.

The other image I like is the black and white one, the diagonal shot of Anita, descending into the ink. There’s an ‘other-worldly’ vibe ]that’s a wee bit scary. I don’t know if you’ve seen the mermaid exhibit at Buxton Museum but if you could sum her up in two syllables, ‘scary’ would be correct.

But the main feeling I came away with was one of joy. There is something magical about watching intelligent, articulate women spin and glide through the blue. It’s dance, it’s circus, it’s a Coney Island show. And yes, I know, it’s a woman dressed up but for one fleeting moment, it’s a mermaid. Flash and there’s the proof.

THE MERMAID AS… REALITY

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There are many fabulous creatures in Buxton Museum, think ice-age teeth and the skull of an, “OMG, what IS that?” Every exhibit tells a story but for me, the one that caught my eye was ‘The Little Mermaid’, a freaky, fake-news curio made of fish skin and hair.

It set me thinking, what would a real mermaid look like? In today’s modern world?Turns out there are lots of them. Not real ones, obviously, just women who like to wear tails and hey, why not?  I met some fabulous synchronised swimmers from the Peak District and it was a privilege to swim with them, albeit badly.

I then discovered the world of the ‘Professional Mermaid’. The woman in the photo is Anita Jasso, a free-diver who can hold her breath for 5 minutes. I’m going to say that again, so you can truly appreciate how impressive that is, she can hold her breath for 5 minutes. The photos show Anita in the TV series ‘Butterfly’ starring Anna Friel. The kid in the picture is me, in spirit, looking on in wonder.

I asked Anita when she first ‘grew’ a tail. Apparently, she was diving in Egypt and swam through an arch. She looked up and high above, was the silhouette of a mermaid. Anita’s first thought was, “I’m hallucinating”, which can happen in the deep. Later, she discovered it was just someone testing out a new fin – but the ‘Wow’, Anita experienced has stayed with her to this day.

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What strikes me about Anita, is her intelligence. She’s an Advanced Radiographer – looks through people by day and water by night – and it’s that fluent knowledge that sets her apart. She’s acutely aware of what happens to her body, at every stage of descent, as she dives down to the cold, dark place where mere mortals black out. It is phenomenal. Like watching humans evolve.

It’s a fabulous thing to be a mermaid, but let’s play Devils Advocate, what is the point? Sure, it ‘takes your breath away’, in all sorts of ways and I’d defy anyone not to be moved by the magic BUT what is it FOR? Why dress up? To look pretty? To court our attention? Is that it?

The answer is NO and then some. Anita Jasso does not swim in those shallows. As a passionate advocate of marine conservation, she uses her formidable skills to highlight the issue of plastics in our ocean. With her rock-solid, free-diving core, she embodies female empowerment and brings a pin-sharp intellect to a rapidly growing ‘sport’ that has yet to define its identity. Trailblazing the way, she defines the contradiction of a warm human being who thrives in a very cold place – the tough, dangerous and ultimately sublime world of world-class, deep-sea diving. Now that is cool.

As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, I am writing a story about the Buxton Mermaid. As a thank you to Anita,  I offered to name one of my characters after her. She chose the ‘Bad Girl’, which is cool all over again. Then she swam off into the deep.

I’m not knocking people who like the more, how can I put this? …lilac style of mermaid. The Little Mermaid is great for kids and we could all do with a bit more sparkle (as long as it’s not polluting the ocean) but the exhibit in Buxton Museum? Let’s just say, it ain’t pretty. As a person who celebrates diversity, I love that. I find myself in the strange situation of having a schoolboy crush on a skull-faced woman, whose bottom half is a fish. Brilliant!

Photos courtesy of Red Productions / ITV

The Buxton Mermaid is free to see at the wonderful Buxton Museum.