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Writing Contest: What I Covet Most

By Amy Freeborn

Like ancient and medieval mythologists and Victorian curiosity collectors before me, I have a soft spot for mermaids.

I spent my formative years living by the beach, so the idea of being able to swim unhindered by lungs that need air to absorb oxygen was a fantastical one.

When I caught a glimpse on a TV program recently of what purported to be a mummified mermaid on display at the British Museum in London, I had to go and see it for myself.

Located in the Enlightenment Gallery, the merman, as the gallery plaque explains, was said to have been caught in Japan in the 18th century.

It was gifted to Prince Arthur of Connaught (the son of Queen Victoria) by someone called Seijiro Arisuye, and donated to the Museum by the Prince’s wife after his death in 1942.

The mer-mummy doesn't look like the creature of beauty that folklore has made mer-people out to be. In fact, it is kind of scary and ferocious-looking.

And that is probably because modern science and X-rays have proved that it is not the physical specimen of proof mermaid believers have been seeking for centuries, but a composition of the upper part of a monkey's body and the tail of a fish.

But I suppose it is a testament to the allure of the sea siren, and our want to believe, that even when taxidermically rendered grotesque, the mer-mummy is still a coveted treasure.

And while it has been categorically stated by authorities that "no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found", I still fantasise about the underwater freedom of being a mermaid; and back in the real world, would quite like a mer-mummy of my own.

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