Sunday, August 05, 2012

Do mermaids wear makeup?

click photo to enlarge
A few years ago, when I went to see the famous angel roof in the church of St Wendreda at March in Cambridgeshire, I read in a leaflet that the carved wooden angels were "half life size". It was a description that made me smile and caused me to wonder who it was that first measured an angel and how they did it. But then I thought, perhaps no measurements were taken and there was simply an assumption, based on the descriptions of those who claim to have seen one, that they are the same size as the average person. Thoughts not too dissimilar to these came to mind the other day when I gazed up at a ship's figurehead in the shape of a mermaid that is fixed to the "Golden Galleon" fish and chip shop in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

Now you may wonder at the suitability of a mermaid, a creature that is half woman and half fish, being used to attract diners to a shop that sells a variety of species of fried fish for consumption by whole women and men. However, it wasn't that which initially taxed my brain. No, my first thought was, "Do mermaids wear make-up?" Is red lipstick, I wondered, suitable in a pelagic environment? Just how long can it reasonably last? Is all that sitting about on rocks that we associate with mermaids nothing to do with luring sailors to their doom but actually time spent fixing their make-up?  And what about the camisole top? Surely that is a touch impractical, not to say flimsy in a world of storm-tossed waves, currents, spray, undertow and the rest. One plunge in at the deep end and it would be gone.

But on further reflection I wondered if the figurehead had always been a mermaid. In Britain they are usually seen as sources of bad luck that frequently provoke disaster, and though figurehead mermaids are not unknown, voluptuous maidens seem more common. Change the fish scales for the fabric of a dress and this lady fits the more commonly seen template.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 90mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On