Wednesday, 11 June 2014


“In fact, the fairies had turned him into a water-baby'. Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies.

I have long been infatuated with mermaids; those mysterious sea-sirens with tumbling tresses and bared breasts, fascinated by the juncture where smooth skin morphs into iridescent scales. As a little girl I proudly announced my intention to become a mermaid when I grew up, spending hours constructing fish tails to cover my boring old legs. I was at once enthralled and baffled by the bittersweet tale of the Little Mermaid, unable to understand why Ariel would ever leave the ocean for a man. I wanted to reverse the story and plunge once and for all into the embrace of the sea, where I could live in a coral garden with friendly fish as my companions. And now to my delight Poseidon has sent an enchantment from the depths of the ocean and turned Felix into a water baby. This should not come as much of a surprise; he had already swum in many
seas, rivers and pools while encased in the interior waters of my womb. The unborn Felix had floated happily in the warm turquoise bays of Rhodes. Been pummeled by the bracing Cornish surf. Jumped into the greeny-ochre rivers of Suffolk and swum the gunmetal grey sea at Brighton. Not to mention endured a thousand laps of my local pools and lidos. And now my baby has discovered swimming and taken to it like the proverbial duck. 

The transformation to water baby has been slow burning. Recently we fulfilled a longstanding dream and hired a former fisherman’s cottage in St Ives for the weekend. Along with some old friends we spent several days on the beaches of this beautiful
peninsula; taking briny strolls, basking in the warm May sunshine, watching dogs bathing and barking on 'Dog Beach' and of course swimming and surfing in the cold blue waves. One day I spent hours on the beach with Felix, dipping his tiny toes in the shallows and running laughing from the breaking waves. His blue eyes widened as he took in the barreling surf that pounded the creamy sand, snuggling deeper into my lap as the sea-spray misted his face. Later the wind rocked him to a blissful sleep in his pram while we flew our kite high in the cornflower sky. The spell had been cast. 

On our return I started taking Felix to our local paddliong pool. Our first encounter was not a success; shocked by the chill of the sparkling water Felix screamed his disapproval, howling when I tried to dip him in. I tried another tack, hoisting him into the centre of the pool where a mosaic fountain splashes.
Immediately he started to tremble with excitement as he watched the other children splash amongst the spray. He gasped as the water covered his legs, then giggled and strained to get back in, chubby arms reaching for the jets that eluded his eager hands. Water is a mysterious element with qualities that even scientists fail to understand, let alone a little boy who cannot fathom why the tickling jets he reaches for cannot be grasped. 

On a glorious cloudless day we set off to Brighton to meet friends, converging on the stony beach like pilgrims at a holy site. It was a perfect beach day, warm and windless, and the sea lay calm and azure and inviting. I wasted no time in slathering Felix and myself in sunscreen and donning our swimsuits, and then the three of us, daddy mummy and baby headed down to the shore.
Tentative at first we took turns dipping his legs into the surf. He gazed out transfixed as tiny white capped waves wobbled towards him, gasping as the chilly water met his sun-warmed skin. Slowly but surely we dunked him deeper and deeper until a larger wave caught daddy by surprise and soaked them both. ‘Hahaha’ he giggled, blinking his eyes in surprise as the seawater stung them for the first time, but there were no tears. I cradled him in my arms, letting the sea-swell gently rock us. He looked out to the horizon, blue eyes reflecting blue sea, a smile playing on his lips. 

"I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living." Anaïs Nin.

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