Synchro

From a blog about the Rynkneld Syncronised Swimming Club

On Saturday night, I swam with two mermaids and lived to tell the tale.

 

My mission was ‘to bring to life’ an exhibit in Buxton Museum, a doll-like figure made from human hair and the skin of a fish. It ain’t pretty.

I love museums and this one in particular, so was keen to share my enthusiasm. To do that, I had to find a way to relate this ancient artefact to the lives of modern-day people.

Half way through the research, I had a light-bulb moment. It just so happens that there are two real-life mermaids in the Peak District. Their names are Mia and Frankie. Two brilliant girls from the Rykneld Synchronised Swimming squad and guess what? Each one has a tail, albeit made of fabric.

Mia and Frankie kindly agreed to lark about in the water, while I took some photos. A bemused crowd looked on. Now, I’m no swimmer, so have to admit, I was nervous. It has taken me years to float and now I had to sink.

 

After almost choking on the snorkel, I descended into the deep (end) where my camera, and glasses, steamed up. I’d heard that if you put baby oil on the lens it stops it fogging up, so I tried that. Now instead of fog, I had greasy fog and could not see a thing.

I have taken photographs all over the world, from caves to swamps, even half way up the Himalayas, but a hot pool on a cold night? I found that tough. Trying to focus on a moving object, while flapping your legs, maintaining your depth and remembering to breathe proved a challenge. I was trying to capture the ‘spirit’ of a mermaid but the lines on the pool robbed my shots of mystery. Though Mia and Frankie looked terrific, I felt I was letting them down. Cough. Splutter. Sorry. I missed that. Could we please try that again? In the shallow end?

The breakthrough moment came at the end of the session, when the other swimmers went home. For a few glorious moments, we were able to turn the lights off. I shone my torch underwater and everyone went, “Ooooh”. As an artist, that’s what you want to hear, the word, “Ooooh”. We were finally onto something… but time was running out. In ten-minutes time, the canoe club would arrive to splash all over our magic.

By now, the girls were tired after a full synchro session and an hour doing butterfly in a tail, but they were terrific. Inspiring to see such a great work ethic in the young. Though we were all exhausted, with bright red eyes, none of us wanted it to end. With Live on torch and Sharon on light switch, we persevered and in the final moments, managed to capture something we were happy with. Then staggered out with a grin.

We’ve all seen Blue Planet, those beautiful visuals of staggering quality, that took years to create and truckload of money. Our photos are modest in comparison but that’s not the point. They are ours. With a borrowed camera, a couple of torches and two hardworking girls, we created our own bit of magic. I’m absurdly proud of Mia and Frankie who were an absolute joy to collaborate with. So were Sharon and Livvie, Anna and Ted. I even got to watch a Rykneld Synchro routine where I saw a girl jump from water to air, like a dolphin or dare I say it…

What the video and photographs don’t show is the evocative sound of lapping and breath that amplifies in the darkness to give the whole thing an ‘other worldly’ quality. The other thing that they don’t show is the sense of pride I felt. We met as strangers and left as friends and that’s when it dawned on me, it wasn’t about the photos at all. It’s about us.