Tiffy and the Mermaid
“I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”
‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield
Tales of mermaids have been around for centuries, and form a large part of seafaring lore, especially round the coastal areas of Britain. Their sighting was thought to be a bad omen, foretelling storms and rough seas. There are numerous folk tales describing their interaction with humans.
Although most tales describe sea dwelling mermaids they were not restricted to the sea, and there are several examples of mermaids haunting rivers and deep pools. The creek at Skippool, near the old port town of Poulton, and Marton Mere – the black pool from which the resort town of Blackpool was named – are two such locations, and people would gather and gaze from the reedy banks in search of a sighting of the Mermaid of Marton Mere. It is possible that the term mermaid was used to describe a wider range of supernatural water creatures. Historically there has been belief in part-fish and part-human creatures for thousands of years. The first reference to these creatures is in the form of the god Oannes, who was the lord of the waters worshiped at the beginning of civilisation in ancient Babylon. There are several other fishtailed gods, but the classic mermaid known in Britain, is more likely derived from Celtic legend, folklore and local sea lore, in places where people were in contact with the sea as part of everyday life. There have been several actual recorded sightings of mermaids over the last few hundred years, even into the 20th century, especially in places where the old beliefs die hard. Although these sightings strain credulity they may be related to the same mechanisms that cause people to see ghosts, black dogs etc.
Six swans swinging overhead across the steel grey sky of the cold October morning gabbled loudly to warn us of the approaching rain and wind that followed in their wake.
Rain fell heavily, blasted in from the swollen storm-tossed sea. The wreck of the Abana lay close by, just metres away from where the Riverdance foundered and was stranded on the beach – the remains of both vessels clearly visible so close to the shoreline where they met their fate in the ships’ graveyard that is the Fylde coast.
On 2nd of October 1929, the Belgian trawler ‘Commandant Bultinck’ lost her bearings in a storm of hail, rain, thunder and lightning and in a gale of 60 miles an hour the vessel went aground off Rossall. Most of the crew were rescued and saved by the boys from the famous old school. The trawler’s young deckhand, Pierre Luyens, tried to swim ashore but he struggled in vain through the foaming waves.
Sarah, Queen of the Mermaids, caught Pierre and carried him round to the shelter of the river bank where she tried to revive him. She nursed him for the rest of the month and even though she used all her Mermaid powers of magic she was unable to save Pierre. His body was found on Preesall Beach on 1st November 1929 by some villagers who reported their grisly find to the local constabulary.
Pierre is buried in Fleetwood cemetery and a girl from the town placed flowers upon his grave. The young lass grew into an old lady and throughout her life she went regularly to take fresh flowers and say a few words so that all would remember the tragic death of the young Belgian deckhand, Pierre Luyens. And then she died and no-one was left to place flowers on his grave; so the story of Sarah the Mermaid Queen was lost in the mists of time.
That was once upon a time; but this happened just last week and so now here is another tale of Tiffy’s adventures into the world of magic, myth and legend where things are not always quite what they seem!
It was just an ordinary day. Rain poured down all morning and it was round about lunchtime when the sky cleared so Grandad set off with Tiffy rather later than usual for a wander along the river bank. If they had gone out earlier in the morning they would never have seen her, so what happened next was by sheer chance and very good luck.
The air was really clear after the rainfall, and the birds were singing overhead as the quiet gentle lapping of the rising tide swept along beside the riverside path and golden shafts of sunlight kissed the waves and spread across the water. Tiffy was laughing loudly as she jumped and splashed in the puddles on the path. A golden dragonfly flew around her shoulders.
They stopped for a while in the orchard beside the old hall as Grandad showed Tiffy the damson fruits hanging in profusion from the gnarled ancient trees. Then, as they walked further along the path, the rain began to fall heavily once again so they took shelter under the great spreading branches and huge green leaves of a chestnut tree until the shower had passed.
It is often possible to hear things before you actually see them and now they both heard the sound of a girl singing a song of the sea.
Gazing out from under the tree, Grandad was on the lookout for unicorns and more golden dragonflies and Painted Lady butterflies, but even he could never have imagined what he saw next. Holding Tiffy’s hand, he told her to stay very quiet and to listen and look.
Right there, sitting on a rock just a few metres out into the river was a real live mermaid. She sang quietly as she combed her long wet hair with a silver comb, her hazel coloured eyes with flecks of green flashing brightly in the watery sunshine as she watched her own reflection in the water lapping around her glistening tail.
“What is that, Grandad?” asked Tiffy.
“Shush, Tiffy”, replied Grandad. “Just stand here very still and very quietly for a few minutes and watch. That is a mermaid. I have read about them in books and seen them in films but I’ve never ever seen a real live mermaid before. Perhaps she has come to say hello to you.”
The mermaid stopped singing and looked across to the river bank where she saw Tiffy and Grandad on the path. She waved at them and with a glittering splash and one swish of her tail she swam over join them.
“Hello, you must be Tiffy”, said the mermaid. “I have heard some magical stories about you as I have travelled across the seas. My name is Sarah and I am Queen of the Mermaids.”
“Yes, I am Tiffy and I do seem to have had some magical adventures. I am very pleased to meet you, but how do you know my name?”
“Oh, about a year ago, I heard that your Grandad was carrying out some research into the shipwreck of the ‘Commandant Bultinck’ and the tragic death of young Pierre Luyens. I really really tried to save Pierre but I couldn’t. Not even my mermaid magic could save him.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Tiffy. “But where have you been and what have you been doing since that tragedy?”
“Come with me”, replied Sarah.
So Tiffy and Grandad followed Sarah to her secret place beside the creek. The floor of the cave was covered with brightly coloured sweet scented Samphire, Sea Asters and Sea Lavender which grew along the river bank.
Sarah explained that she was so upset after losing Pierre she just had to go away and hide for a while and hoped to build up her magic mermaid powers again. At first she wanted to go as far away as possible but then the call of the wild Fylde coast became too strong and she knew she had to come home once more.
She had been to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean Sea; she had seen a dolphin smile and even passed the Pyramids along the River Nile.
On her way back to England’s shores she had stopped for a rest on the rocky inlet of Beacon Cove where she swam with Aunt Agatha below the red cliffs just around the headland and out of sight of the tourists in Torquay.
Sarah was not quite ready to meet people again yet, so she made her way to Marton Mere where she stayed for some months, enjoying the calm waters and listening to the voices of the people who went there to walk around the lake and watch the birds and the wildlife.
Then she decided the time was right to return to the river and she found the cave beside the creek.
Taking her morning swim in the rain she explained to Tiffy and Grandad that she had not expected to see anyone out and about because “no-one actually walks in the rain”. But Grandad does walk in the rain sometimes and Tiffy loves to splash in the puddles.
It had been a fantastic day for Tiffy and her Grandad, and I think Sarah had enjoyed it too. But then it was time for them to part, Sarah swam in the pool. Grandad had to take Tiffy home to her Mum and Dad and Sarah had more places to see and things to do.
As a young girl at school, Sarah had often dreamed of becoming Queen of the Mermaids and she now knew what a busy life it is being the Mermaid Queen.
Halfway up Down Hill, Tiffy and Grandad stopped and looked back to see the clear pool but Sarah was no longer there. At the edge of the day, when only an echo can remember her name, who knows, the mermaid may return to our riverbank?
© RM 17/08/2009