Mermaids, sirens of the sea with breasts and fishtails, are creatures of folklore and myth, and may not be a typical sight on a bank holiday. But earlier this month, while landlubbers celebrated the platinum jubilee, a shoal of mermaids washed up on England’s southern shores.
On 2 June, hundreds of people gathered in Plymouth’s Tinside Lido to take part in an attempt to break the world record of the largest gathering of people dressed as merfolk. Mostly women, but also men and children, wore novelty fish tails and shell bikinis to hold a pose for five minutes, while stewards dressed as pirates kept a weather eye. Organiser, Pauline Barker (known as Pauline Mermaid), counted 377 attendees; the previous record was 300. She’s now awaiting official recognition from the Guinness Book of Records.
This unlikely maritime meet-up was more than just scaly steampunk. All over the UK, a growing number of mostly women are adopting a “mersona” donning half-fish costumes to splash about in the waves. And for some, dressing as a mermaid has been a lifeline. One of the 377 attendees was the famous Plymouth Mayflower Mermaid. But when I first met her, in her “civilian clothes”, volunteering at the Whitleigh Big Local community hub, she introduced herself as Becky Allen.
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