Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaids

“What does this say?” enquired a lovely visitor, holding one of my articulated paper mermaid dolls. The room was packed, as it was during our very busy Open House for the Whitstable Oyster Festival, this last weekend.

First, find spectacles underneath a couple of goats. Next, focus. Goodness, I don’t think I would write anything quite so small any more. Not that I designed this an awful long time ago. Obviously pre these specs though.

“Malacophonous Magnicaudate” says I, with satisfaction. “Yes”, says lovely visitor, “but what does it mean?” I think, I think, as I dredge in my brain, that it means….. ah yes, gently voiced. And big tailed.

paper mermaid doll by whitstable tail


A room full of incredulous faces turn to me. “You made that up”. No, no, I didn’t. Honest. Look I’ll show you. Oh no you won’t, says internet. Internet says no such words exist. Butter wouldn’t melt in its technological mouth as it asks me if I mean all sorts of other things because it has never ever heard of those two words. Never. Lying little internet. It gave me the words in the first place.

“I think it means ‘Bad’ – you know ‘mal’, it means bad. Its all cod-Latin. You definitely made it up.” No, not Bad. I know my mermaids are quite often naughty, but I really don’t like to advertise the fact. And I can remember being delighted when I came across these words, because they were so perfect. And I do so like a perfect word.

Finally the pixies of technology decide to stop messing about, and throw up one lone dictionary definition to back me up, allowing the Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaid to swim off to her new home, laughing at all the fuss she had caused.

Not everyone was convinced, I could tell. One online dictionary doesn’t prove anything. And I do like to tell stories, so you cannot blame my visitors for their lack of trust. Of course, later, much later, the Big Old Dictionary finally wakes up, and I find “malaco- or malac- denoting softness: from the Greek malakos”. I missed it because it was hiding behind a snail, slightly above a bunch of herrings and salmon. And if you want to know what I’m on about, you’ll have to look in the dictionary. A proper one, with paper pages. None of that online pedanticness.

Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaids are downloadable from my Etsy shop.


Books of Wonder

around swam a host of tiny mermaids, illustration by alice e newby from 1920s

Now, once upon a time there was a little girl – who lots of people thought was a little boy because she didn’t have much hair and was always dressed in her brother’s cast-off clothes, and in fact, the only reason the family were lucky enough to live in their lovely home was because the old witch who owned it had wanted a family with two boys to live there after her. She came back to visit most bossily and was very cross to discover this was not the case; fortunately by then her powers had grown weak and she couldn’t do anything about it apart from insist the little girl gave her thick powdered face a kiss. Which was terrifying. Afterward the little girl flew down the garden being as loud and fast an aeroplane as she could imagine. But I digress…

Wonder Book, image of cover of vintage book

The little girl’s mother had all these wonderful books when she was a child, and having an inherent hoarder gene (not too big a one to constitute a real problem mind you) she had kept them, even after they got soaking wet in Great Aunt Vera’s loft. These books lived happily in a rather Gothic sideboard with glass doors locked with a very tiny special key. Inside the cupboard were little figurines, and a silver shoe and a tiny horseshoe (from a wedding cake) and a really monstrous china water lilly and a  small chipped blue and white china teaset.  If the little girl was VERY good, or rather poorly, the little key was turned, and out came the magical contents.

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The pictures in the books were of fairies and mermaids, of umbrellas turning into turkeys, and rabbits that were princes. Later, when the little girl finally mastered the art of reading – and lets face it, she’s never really got the hang of spelling – she was able to read the stories that matched the pictures.  And such good stories they were. Some were rather long, it must be said, but over the next half century, she eventually read them all.
Really it is no wonder at all that instead of algebraic formulas and logical mathematical models or an understanding of the laws of physics, for example, my head is full of fairytales.  ‘Cos yes, of course, the little girl was me.
photo of two little girls
So much of my head is ‘elsewhere’ that when indulging in online displacement activity the other day,  I shared the most delightful little picture by Alice E Newby.  My brain obviously was trying to get my attention, but it was not until I was asleep that it succeeded in telling me to look in Mum’s Wonder Books.  For when I acquired my own home, with proper book shelves (built by my Dad), I was given guardianship of the Books.
The shelves in which I now delve are the offspring of those built by Dad, in another home, in another town, put up by The Engineer. For no apparent reason other than nostalgia, I pick up the Favourite Wonder Book, and that is the morning gone.  Then I turn to the Wonder Book, and sure enough, there is my picture. The Story is Far-Away and Far-Beyond.  Two Kingdoms separated by a long stretch of sea.  In the past, the islands had been friendly, but times changed.  In the time of telling, King Longbeard of Far-Away was very old and short-tempered with everyone apart from his granddaughter.  The King of Far-Beyond was long since dead, and two bad uncles had been trying to get rid of the little prince, take control and seize Far-Away.  Fortunately the fish (and the mermaids) intervened, and once again, everyone Lived Happily Ever After.  Apart from the uncles, who never did find tails to fit.


Isn’t the brain a wonderful thing?

ps. the colouring in was done by my mum as a little girl