Kindness is an increasingy rare and precious commodity in our times. All too often it is fleeting, tentative and masked behind a vested self-interest. So when I see true kindness I value it, and I witnessed the definition of it this morning, on Porthminster beach in St Ives, Cornwall. I had the pleasure of watching an event so selfless and altruistic that it was humbling, and I feel honoured to have seen it. I saw a mermaid, a real mermaid, swim around a rocky outcrop and greet an excited crowd of admirers. Many of those present were children, some in the know and others to be surprised. Standing behind them were expectant parents and grandparents, hoping to give their children a special memory. As we waited for the appearance I too felt like a child, searching the waves for some sign that she had arrived. When she did arrive, it was wonderful. I met mermaid Ia,the St Ives mermaid.
I arrived early with my family. Three generations of them, in fact. Crucially, with my four year old son and twenty-one month old niece. We had been instructed to ‘come and meet’ our mermaid at the far end of the beach, at a specific time. Groups gathered on the rocks and on the sand, and looked to the sea like loved ones awaiting the return of fisherfolk in a storm. With my adult perceptions, I had spun my son a yarn about how a sea-lady with a fish tail would swim up to the beach and wave hello to him. I had had previously only had Facebook encounters with Ia, and so felt somewhat prepared for what was to come. Taught with expectation of her imminent arrival, I even dove off the rocks myself just to swim in the same waters (I have a lifelong, heartfelt fascination with mermaids). As I clambered back on to dry land, a young spectator, dismayed, said ” I didn’t think the mermaid would be chubby and have a beard, mummy”.
After achingly slow minutes the genuine mermaid emerged from the surf, after performing two stunning tail-arches and a 14 second underwater glide. I was in awe of her dexterity. Without hesitation, I found myself beliving my own eyes. Utterly. Mermaid Ia ploughed and contoured the waves with a vibrantly cobalt\electric blue tail and kelp-like skirt. She is so dignified, and her bosom is embraced by a puce brassiere, skimmed by her long, blonde hair. She is beautiful, with an elegant, vivacious face, and wears sun-reflecting finery around her neck. People crowded in with phones, cameras and tablets, as she calmly rested her palms on the sand.
Now for everyone thinking that this sounds very fun and enjoyable, let me inform you why it is superb. The Cornish sea is cold. COLD. Even in July, it is bone-chillingly, chest-squeezingly shocking. All extremities are numbed by the seductively deceptive blue-green waters, and anything more than a leap and gasping plunge takes a long time to recover from. Mermaid Ia endured over 40 minutes of wave slaps as she had photographs, signed aquatic autographs, waved, smiled and greeted her visitors. Despite being pounded by waves at five second intervals, she maintained a friendly and engaged persona, and even warned young admirers of approaching waves as she herself was submerged mid-sentence. It was phenomenal to watch. I went to say hello, and had the joy of watching my fascinated son reach out and brush Ia’s unnervingly realistic tail. His pupils were dilated and he gazed at her in slack-jawed amazement whilst quivering with delight (we were a foot deep in water at the time). About to leave, I thought I had seen everything, but then the true wonder began.
A shy little girl of about six was led to the front of the crowd, long after many others had waded knee-deep in to the water for photographs. Despite clearly being the retiring type, Ia put her entirely at ease, and then with the help of her sash-bearing mermaid wranglers she presented the birthday girl with a gift. From her own neck, Ia unclasped a silver mermaid pendant, wished the lucky girl a happy birthday and gently gave it to her. I have no idea if this was planned before or had been hastily prepared after she arrived, but it was marvellous. The recipient was thrilled. Before I saw Ia and swam in her waters, I asked if I could write about her. I will do, gladly, and have asked her a few questions to enrich what I have to say. But I feel compelled to write now, immediately, barely twelve hours after seeing her swim. I want people to know about her today. Something very special is happening in St Ives at the moment. Whether you are near or far, I urge you to come and bear witness to it. To her. The siren of St Ives.
© Tom Tide 2016