Monday is my day of rest and catch up the zzz’s day. The weekend is always busy so I try and stay in bed as long as possible. Even if I wake up, I refuse to get up. I try to fall asleep again because the coming week will have studio and early swim starts, late nights and lots of sessions, French lessons and trips to the sea to talk with the mermaids and the mermen. They are fascinating these sea-dwelling half humans, half fish. They say they were once all fish and evolved into hybrid creatures because they didn’t want to leave the sea. Others evolved from the sea and into humans proper shedding their tails over millennia. In the afternoons you can see them in the bay frolicking. Haha, I love that word, but it is exactly what they are doing, dancing in the sea. They ride the waves and dip down under the water like seals or seabirds and appear in another part of the ocean. They can breathe both underwater and on land but need to be kept wet and in olden times the circus in Penzance had an agreement with one old merman who allowed himself to be paraded in front of the humans in exchange for a ban on the hunting of his kind. He lived for 200 years and when he died in 1908, the landlubbers encouraged the seafarers to hunt them all down and now they are almost extinct – or are they?
Only some of us can see them, it’s decided by how you think. I’ve been seeing them for years all over the world. The mythology surrounding them and comparing them to unicorns, fairies and leprechauns is an accepted untruth. The difference being that they are of the sea. This vast unexplored expanse has many secrets and the merfolk are one of them. You may remember the story of the coelacanth, thought to be extinct for 65 million years until a fisherman, Captain Hendrik Goosen, caught one in his net in 1938 at the mouth of the Chalumna River on the East Cape of South Africa. They called in Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer who was the curator at the East London museum in South Africa.
She busily worked on collecting rocks, feathers, shells, and the like for her museum, and made her desire to see unusual specimens known to fishermen. On 22 December 1938, she received a telephone call that such a fish had been brought in. She went to the docks to inspect the catch of Captain Hendrik Goosen. “I picked away at the layers of slime to reveal the most beautiful fish I had ever seen,” she said. “It was five feet (150 cm) long, a pale mauvy blue with faint flecks of whitish spots; it had an iridescent silver-blue-green sheen all over. It was covered in hard scales, and it had four limb-like fins and a strange puppy dog tail.
She hauled the fish to her museum in a taxi and tried to find it in her books without success. Eager to preserve the fish and, having no facilities at the museum, Courtenay-Latimer took it to the morgue, which refused to assist her. She tried to contact J. L. B. Smith, a friend who taught at Rhodes University, to help her identify it, but he was away. Courtenay-Latimer reluctantly sent it to a taxidermist to skin and gut it.
When Smith finally arrived on 16 February 1939, he instantly recognised the fish as a coelacanth. “There was not a shadow of a doubt”, he said. “It could have been one of those creatures of 200 million years ago come alive again”. Smith would give it the scientific name Latimeria chalumnae after his friend and the Chalumna River, where it was found. It would be fourteen more years before another was brought in.
Music today comes from the new album by Catherine Anne Davies and Bernard Butler, In Memory Of My Feelings. Davies is known for her band The Anchoress and Butler for his time in Suede as well as his work with David McAlmont and Duffy and a whole lot more. It sounds something like PJ Harvey meets Tori Amos with Butler playing guitar. Get it quick if you like it, it seems to be selling out and early pressings come with a free 7-inch single.