Photo courtesy of Red Productions / ITV
There are many fabulous creatures in Buxton Museum, think ice-age teeth and the skull of an... “OMG, what IS that?” Every exhibit tells a story but for me, the one that caught my eye was ‘The Little Mermaid’, the freaky, fake-news curio made of skin, hair and molluscs.
It set me thinking, what would a real mermaid look like? In today’s modern world? Turns out there are lots of them. Not real ones, obviously, just women who like to wear tails and hey, why not? I met some fabulous synchronised swimmers from the Peak District and it was a privilege to swim with them, albeit badly.
I then discovered the world of the ‘Professional Mermaid’. The woman in the photo is Anita Jasso, a free-diver who can hold her breath for 5 minutes. I’m going to say that again, so you can truly appreciate how impressive that is, she can hold her breath for 5 minutes.
The photos show Anita in the TV series ‘Butterfly’ starring Anna Friel. The kid in the picture is me, in spirit, looking on in wonder. The series was about the work of the Mermaid charity, who deal with transgender issues.
I asked Anita when she first ‘grew’ a tail. Apparently, she was diving in Egypt and swam through an arch. She looked up and high above, was the silhouette of a mermaid. Anita’s first thought was, “I’m hallucinating”, which can happen in the deep. Later, she discovered it was just someone testing out a new fin but the ‘Wow’, Anita experienced has stayed with her to this day. Anita now runs her runs her school, Inspire Freediving, where she shares the joy of the deep.
What strikes me about Anita is her intelligence. She’s an Advanced Radiographer – looks through people by day and water by night – and it’s that fluent knowledge that sets her apart. She’s acutely aware of what happens to her body, at every stage of descent, as she dives down to the cold, dark place where mere mortals black out. I think its phenomenal. Like watching humans evolve.
It’s a fabulous thing to be a mermaid, but let’s play Devils Advocate, what's the point? Sure, it ‘takes your breath away’, in all sorts of ways, and I’d defy anyone not to be moved by the magic But what is it FOR? Why dress up? To look pretty? To court our attention? Is that all there is, in today's Me Too society?
The answer is NO and then some. Anita Jasso does not swim in those shallows. As a passionate advocate of marine conservation, she uses her formidable skills to highlight the issue of plastics in our ocean. With her rock-solid, free-diving core, she embodies female empowerment and brings a pin-sharp intellect to a rapidly growing ‘sport’ that has yet to define its identity. Trailblazing the way, she defines the contradiction of a warm human being who thrives in a very cold place – the tough, dangerous and ultimately sublime world of world-class, deep-sea diving. Now that is cool.
As part of this project, I am writing a story about the Buxton Mermaid. As a thank you to Anita, I offered to name one of my characters after her. She chose the ‘Bad Girl’, which is cool all over again. Then she swam off into the deep.
I’m not knocking people who like the more, how can I put this? …lilac style of mermaid. The Little Mermaid is great for kids and we could all do with a bit more sparkle (as long as it’s not polluting the ocean) but the exhibit in Buxton Museum? Let’s just say, it ain’t pretty. As a person who celebrates diversity, I love that little artefact!
Huge thanks to Anita Jasso for welcoming me into her world.